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From Print to Pilot with Alexis Van Hurkman and "Nuclear Family"
Alexis Van Hurkman has had a remarkable year. His Color Correction Handbook hit shelves in early December. He completed grading work on many varied projects, including a sitcom pilot called "Nuclear Family", an acerbic comedy about warring spouses in an acrimonious divorce. And he has managed to find the time to successfully incorporate a new color correction system into his workflow and use it to grade the "Nuclear Family" pilot.
Professionals like Alexis, who have experimented with their fair share of new technologies, come to expect a certain level of volatility as early adopters. After years working as an editor, effects artist and director, and a stretch of time spent as a writer for Apple, Alexis developed an impressively diverse skill set, but over time has focused his post production activities almost exclusively on color.
When Alexis found out DaVinci Resolve was moving into the desktop space via Resolve Software, he approached Blackmagic about incorporating the grading platform into his workflow. When given the chance to test Resolve Software, he jumped at the opportunity to be one of the first colorists to put the product through its paces.
Coming from a man who believes that an absence of instabilities means the beta tester isn't trying hard enough, Alexis was struck by the stability of the beta version of Resolve for Mac. "It was the most ridiculously stable beta product I've ever used," he said. "It impressed me right out of the gate."
In a week's time he was comfortable with the Resolve interface. After two weeks he was sailing along without complications. And within a month, Alexis was confident that he could accomplish any grade he set out to create on Resolve. This coincided with the official release of the product, and could not have been better timing, as Alexis was ready to begin working with clients on the new platform.
The first client-driven project he graded on Resolve, completed without a single crash, was the pilot for "Nuclear Family". The pilot was directed by Glenn Kaiser and written by Dan O'Keefe, an alum of both "Seinfeld" and "The Drew Carey Show". This first episode was editorially structured and shot in a single-camera style on a Panasonic AG-HVX200 camera. It was then edited in Final Cut Pro and exported as a QuickTime master in ProRes 422 (HQ).
The LA-based director discussed his visual goals with Alexis on the phone prior to the session, giving him the opportunity to experiment with different visual approaches while prepping the project. Kaiser then flew to New York to supervise the first session. Time was tight, so Alexis graded two to three example shots from each scene to nail the look while the director was present for comment. The tight schedule was made seamless by Resolve's real-time performance and widely talked-about tracking features, enabling Alexis to relax and focus on creating the different looks for the program that the director was going for.
Alexis explained, "The entire process was fast. It was a cuts-only edit, so I prepped the project by splitting up the footage using Resolve's automatic scene detection. After the supervised session where we determined the look of each scene, I went ahead and balanced the rest of the scenes to match in a later unsupervised session, and rendered out a self-contained ProRes version of the entire timeline." After sending a hard drive with the graded file back to LA, Alexis had only one shot to revise, which he was able to render and upload onto an FTP server for the editor to integrate in LA.
Though the project sounds like a breeze, Alexis admitted that certain shots demanded more work than others. Case in point: an evening shot-reverse-shot sequence. Due to an editorial change, the lighting scheme of the initial angle with the wife walking around a corner and up to a doorway did not match the reverse shots of the husband sleeping on the couch. Alexis recalled, "This is where the tracker paid dividends. After I created a bit of a day for night treatment by using PowerWindows to cut down on the ambient illumination, and cooled off the remaining highlights, I needed to cut the actress out of the darkening matte I'd created, which I was able to do by drawing a curve around the actress and tracking it to her as she walked. I've used a lot of trackers in a lot of applications, and Resolve's made miraculously short work of a very tough shot. And I don't use the word 'miracle' lightly."
Alexis continued to discover many other useful features of Resolve after whipping through the 24-minute pilot. "EDL matching makes it a lot easier to work with programs that have been exported as self-contained master media files," he said. "With cinema-style edits or spots, clients don't have to waste time (and money) prepping the timeline. They just bring it in, I load it up, and we get to work. That's what dedicated color correction should be all about."
Other efficiencies of Resolve include its exceptional rendering speed, real-time performance and clean user interface. Alexis explained, "I find that Resolve's UI is very intuitive and quick. Overall, it's an incredibly cost effective solution that allows me to deliver quality work to my clients without jacking up my rates by leasing equipment I can't afford."
Alexis is also a big fan of node-based image processing. He continues, "Being able to explicitly control the image processing pipeline is an incredible ability to have." Though not all of his work calls for this capability, he maintains, "Nodes are great because they free you from the limitations of a linear stack of filters; you can route image data from any point in your order of operations to any other point, depending on which state of the image you need to manipulate in order to create the necessary effect."
Alexis also enjoys the way in which Resolve works with stills. "I am a huge fan of the way saved grades are combined along with still frames." He finds it incredibly handy to be able to copy grades from any still to shots in the timeline, a process made even faster by keyboard shortcuts for applying grades from multiple memories, a feature that was included in the Resolve 7.0.3 update. In addition, Alexis found another time-saving feature in Resolve's ability to save stills and grades from every single shot in the timeline.
To Alexis, the best thing about Resolve is the fact that it keeps getting better. Blackmagic Design has released five free Resolve updates over a span of three months and recently announced Version 8 of the software, as well as a free version, Resolve Lite. This commitment to improving and expanding Resolve on OS X makes desktop users like Alexis feel very welcome. He explained, "These days, I'm seldom impressed with new software, as each new version tends to be an incremental improvement over the last, but what Blackmagic has done with DaVinci Resolve on desktop hardware is extremely impressive."
Related Keywords:blackmagic design, Alexis Van Hurkman, Color Correction, DaVinci Resolve, digital intermediates, DI, Panasonic AG-HVX200, Final Cut Pro, ProRes 422,