Command+Edit Podcast

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Assistant Editing in Davinci Resolve 12

Nick Montgomery4 Comments
assistant editing in davinci resolve 12

How well does Davinci Resolve 12 behave as an NLE?

If you follow me on Twitter (@Merc_Media) then you probably saw a few days ago that I started assistant editing on a new horror feature. The final phase of filming for The Ghost is a Lie was filmed in Southwestern Ontario only a couple of weeks ago over the course of 7 very tiring days. The director asked me to setup the project file and sort all of the assets to save him time. Interestingly enough, he wanted to use Davinci Resolve 12 Studio to edit the picture to make the post workflow to colour grading easier.

This being a first for me, I was interested in taking on the challenge. Resolve has been a powerful tool in my arsenal for a while for grading. And after version 12 was released in April 2015 with NLE features, it became a strong competitor in the industry and started turning editors' heads.

So when I took this task on would my head turn as well, or be left spinning?

The production allowed me to release a few snapshots of the process (no spoilers for the movie). So herein I will describe my experiences using Resolve to setup a long-form edit project.

STEP 1: Ingest and correct clip metadata

Bringing the footage and audio in was easy enough. Sorting it was something else. The Smart Bins allow you to automatically sort your footage based on certain criteria. If your footage has the proper metadata attached to it, then sorting is a breeze and the smart bins update as you make changes.

We shot using BlackMagic Cinema Cameras that, despite their appearances, give you great control over the metadata of the clips as you record. It was tough to keep up the habit of changing the metadata whenever we changed scenes or setups, so first we needed to do a quick pass on the clips and correct the scene and shot numbers for each.

What was slightly more painful and time-consuming was dealing with the naming structure of the audio files. So those had to be looked over and corrected, as well.

STEP 2: Organizing media into bins

Once that tedious task was done, organizing the footage into bins was a breeze...

BUT...trying to arrange the order of those bins within the media panel proved to be impossible. Strangely enough while you can sort your bins and footage within the main media panel, trying to rearrange them in the sidebar where you are constantly going to navigate to your media was not happening. Apparently that's a feature that's been oft-requested for a while now. Kind of left me scratching my head...isn't that a pretty BASIC feature to include?

So you must create your bins in the exact order that you want them to appear and hope to god that you never have to rearrange them or add one in the middle later.

STEP 3: Syncing video and audio (aka Bend over...)

This is where the proverbial shit really hit the fan. So Resolve is supposed to have this handy autosync feature where you simply select all of your video and audio assets, click a magic button and it will sync all of your audio to your video based on either timecode (we didn't jam sync timecode on set so...) or the audio waveform of each.

A bit of background: I've always hated PluralEyes for not being reliable so never use it. FCPX syncs video/audio incredibly well...but I'm not about to use it for a feature. Premiere (as much as I love it) work very well when it comes to syncing, but unless you're using multicam it merges your clips and thus destroys the original metadata making roundtripping to other programs later a royal pain.

So when I heard about Resolve's autosync and how well it supposedly worked, I was thrilled. And sure enough it does have some good things going for it. For instance, when you autosync you are given the option to append or replace the audio tracks on the camera footage. So you can choose to remove the guide tracks or hang on to them (which I usually do just in case). Also, it attaches your recorded audio to your video clips and retains all of the metadata of each. High-five for problem-free roundtrippin'!

The downside...IT DOESN'T WORK!


Autosync maybe worked successfully 1 out of 10 times when we ran it for a group of clips. When we only used it on an individual clip, those odds improved to about 1 in 3. The possible outcomes when using it were:

  • Video/audio would successfully sync (rarely)
  • Video/audio would attach the audio but it would be out of sync (by as little as a second to as much as a minute!)
  • Or Resolve would slap you in the face with the above error message (highly likely...even when selecting ONE clip and it's appropriate audio in telling Resolve "Here is the clip and here is the audio that goes with it. Half your job is done."
  • ...oh, and also the metadata for your audio files better be right because Resolve will replace your clip's metadata with it when you autosync them. Tried to see if there was an option here to prevent that from happening or to at least give you the choice of which metadata to go with over the other. Nada.

STEP 4: Okay, we'll manual sync them?

I'm used to manually syncing up footage a lot so figured "No problem! Time to do it the old-fashioned way!"

So that's what we ended up doing. Using autosync to see if it would work and when it didn't (almost always) go through and manually sync the ones that needed it.

A funny side-effect that occurred was that when you manually (re)sync footage, it would only assign one channel of the audio (most of our files had 4 mono channels) to the clip. So we would then have to go into each clip and reassign the proper channels to the clip tracks.

After manually syncing...

...we have to reassign the audio channels for each clips. What fun!

STEP 5: *facepalm*

All together setting up the project took 2 days. Resolve and me are not on speaking terms the moment. It took way more time than expected, was pretty damn frustrating and turned a couple strands of my beard hair white. BlackMagic tech support was involved at a couple of times and they were very responsive, however didn't have all of the answers for us.

"Submit a request to be able to sort your media bins?!? Are you kidding me??"

But it got done. And nobody's feelings were hurt. That's the important part.

There's an opportunity to use Resolve to do some actual editing of the footage in the next week, so hopefully the program can win me over with how it behaves as an NLE.

For now, my opinion remains: Great colour grading app, but a long way to go becoming a reliable NLE.

Nick Montgomery editor at Merc Media host of Command+Edit Podcast

Nick Montgomery

Feature film editor, vfx artist and cinematographer. Host of Command+Edit Podcast (if you didn't already know) and owner of Merc Media.