Resolve Setup

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Visit Resolve’s download page at BlackMagic Design’s site and make sure to download the non-Studio (AKA free) version unless you have a Resolve license. The license can be purchased online (preferable to purchasing via Apple’s app store). A Resolve license also comes with the purchase of most Blackmagic cameras. If you’ve purchased Fusion in the past, the Fusion dongle also works to run Resolve Studio. Each license allows the software to be run on two machines (one via dongle and the other via license code) so BlackMagic is quite generous considering the software is only $299, that’s for a perpetual not a subscription license, and each of the softwares that now comprise Resolve cost tens of thousands of dollars at one point in time.

There isn’t all that much difference between the free and paid software. There used to be almost nothing of consequence to the majority of users, but as Blackmagic has added features (particularly built-in effects) they’ve chosen to add some to the paid version only. That said, 90% of the professional work I’ve done would be easily possible with the free version of Resolve. Specifically, these are the things I find I most miss in the free version:

  • No collaborative projects
  • No scripting
  • No noise reduction (temporal or spatial)
  • No motion blur
  • No color stabilizer effect
  • No deflicker effect
  • No dehaze effect
  • No camera solver
  • HEVC decode and High Profile 10 h.264 support

That’s it. Suffice it to say, if you don’t know what those mean, you probably don’t need the feature. Download Resolve, unzip the installer file and run it. If you have an old version of Resolve, simply rename the folder in your “Applications” directory before installing. In this way you can keep an old version of Resolve, but still try the features of a new beta, for example. Just be aware you’ll frequently see a Red decoder error if you do this.

Resolve is a powerful, professional application. That means a little bit of upfront set up will go a long way in helping you get the best user experience. Before working in Resolve, understand these points:

The Database

Resolve works a bit differently than you may be used to with other software. Instead of creating and saving a “project file”, everything you do inside Resolve is saved inside a “database”. Though this might sound intimidating, it really doesn’t affect you in the day-to-day process of media editing, but does allow for a bunch of cool features (like multi-person collaboration. You can’t create a project inside Resolve until you create a database to house the project. Those databases come in two varieties:

Disk databases are usually used in single-person or small workgroup setups where the database most often exists on the hard drive of the computer you’re using. If, however, you have multiple individuals in a facility, and they all need to access the same projects, or work in them simultaneously, then you’ll want to use a network-friendly database built on the awkwardly-named “postgreSQL”. In this case, one machine acts as a server and the others as clients which “query” the server to access all the information related to your Resolve project. Obviously, this requires just a bit more setup and maintenance, but affords an enormous degree of flexibility down the road.

Creating a Database

Simply launch Resolve. Make sure the database panel is expanded to the left, your “Local Database” will likely be selected by default. Just click “New Database” and then make sure you’re clicking “Create” and not “Connect” at the top. Give your database a name (it won’t allow capital letters or spaces). Choose a location for the database (anywhere on your internal hard drive that has read and write privileges is fine) and you’re set.

Make sure to “Create” not “Connect” your new database

Mobile Database

Some scenarios further complicate things. If you frequently move between machines, you may want to make your database mobile. It’s not difficult to put a database on an external hard drive, but it’s also not necessarily best practice. If an external drive disconnects mid-session, you’re at much greater risk of corrupting the entire thing, and that means all the projects inside the database could be compromised. This isn’t likely to happen, and in all honesty I’ve never heard of it actually happening, but the possibility is there and the casualties are major enough it’s generally not going to be your first approach. That said, if you work in multiple locations, like a school lab and at home, you’ll need to create your database externally so you can take it with you. You’ll reconnect to this if you move to a different computer. The database creation process is the same; just choose the external drive after clicking in the “Location” field on your hard drive.

Resolve external disk databases do NOT support the ExFAT file system. This is an issue if you’ve formatted a drive as ExFAT for interoperability between Mac and Windows machines. ExFAT is not a robust file system. While it works fine on memory cards, full-fledged hard drives are designed with several features that protect and optimized your data. Because there’s no journaling with ExFAT, an unanticipated shutdown is more likely to cause you to irretrievably lose vast amounts of data. Unfortunately there’s no easy solution, but if you want to use a drive with both Mac and PC, sticking to HFS+, APFS or NTFS and using a plugin such as Paragon is probably your best bet. Alternatively, you could partition your drive into Mac and PC sections which could work in some workflows.

Relinking To An Existing Database

Now you’re somewhere else and need to access that database from another computer. Relinking to a database on an external hard drive is simple. You’ll open Resolve, click the ‘New Database’ button at the bottom, but this time, instead of “Create”, you want to “Connect” to an existing database so click the button in the upper left. The name field here doesn’t have to match what you used initially (you’re basically just renaming your new connection to the existing database). Now, click the ‘location’ bar and then click the very top-level folder of the location where your database resides and it will automatically find the database within the directory.

Exporting a Project

All that being said, it’s still possible to export a project file from Resolve and it may be an easier solution for you. If you just can’t get jiggy with the whole database thing, and you’re used to the idea of a project file, that’s ok. There are three ways to do it: Simply press cmd+e on the keyboard; go to file>export project; or right-click in the project window when Resolve opens (also accessible via the ‘home’ icon in the lower right) and export the project from there. That will create a project file similar to Adobe Premiere™’s .prproj projects. That does not contain any media, however. The size of many projects is only in the kilobytes of data. This is simply the project your working in, its settings, the timelines and their edits, color, audio and effects information. The actual media needs to be moved with the project to make the whole thing usable.

Another important thing to remember here is that this project file will not be modified unless you once again go through the project export process. Pressing cmd+S or initiating a save operation will simply save your open project’s changes back to the database, not to a previously-exported project file.

Project Settings

There are a couple other things you must set in Resolve before proceeding. Open your project settings via shift+9 or the keyboard shortcut in the lower right corner. Under “Master Settings” look for “Working Folders”. The first of these is your cache files location. Cache files, designed to facilitate playback, audio waveforms and more are stored here. Resolve can behave unexpectedly if you don’t set this path to a place on your drive you have read/write access to. You’ll also want to make sure the “Gallery stills” location is defined as this is where Resolve will store your custom look reference files once you get into color.

It’s also not a bad idea to navigate to the “Capture and Playback” area and set your capture path while you’re in Project Settings. Any voiceover recording or studio video capture you do will use this directory.

As of Resolve 16, you can now change the resolution of individual timelines within a project, but you can define the default resolution here in Project Settings. If you’re working with 4k footage downscaled to a 1080 timeline, for example, you can set your project to HD1080 resolution. Deliverable render files can still render at “source resolution” if you’d like to export at 4k. Timelines and media are now separate in Resolve; a much more scalable approach we’re all glad to see.

Resolve Preferences

Exit the project settings and press cmd+, or go to Resolve>Preferences in the menu bar at the top. As you’d expect, these are general settings that apply independent of the project that’s open in Resolve. There are many useful things here, but make sure to click the “User” button and define your “Save Settings” under “Project Save and Load”. Especially useful is “Live Save” which will auto-save changes as you work on the project, so if Resolve crashes your loss should be minimal.

There are lots of other useful settings to consider: playback preferences to optimize performance, scaling and color preferences to make sure footage coming in looks the way you want it to. We’ll cover all those later, but for now, congratulations, you’re up and running with Blackmagic Resolve.

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