The CinemaDNG Workflow (Part Two): Editing to Finishing

In Part One we looked at how you can prepare your CinemaDNG files for editing. In this part, we’ll look at how you can move from editing to finishing gracefully and quickly.

Exclusive Bonus: Download my free guide (with examples) on how to find the best camera angles for dialogue scenes when your mind goes blank.

Why DaVinci Resolve?

You’ll find many workflows for working with CinemaDNG, and they all follow the same paradigm. The only differences are:

  • The choice of software that you’ll be using to debayer your CinemaDNG RAW files.
  • The choice of codec or file format for your proxies or intermediaries.

The most important feature of the software must be the quality of its debayer. Look at the still photography world. You’ll find infinite battles over which RAW processor is better for which camera, and so forth. No one tool is perfect for all debayers. Here are a few issues affecting the end result:

  • The exact Bayer pattern of the camera sensor.
  • Filters used over the camera sensor.
  • Shooting conditions.
  • Quality of the lens.
  • Camera electronics. bit depth and manipulations in processing.
  • Resolution of the sensor.
  • Dynamic range and sensitivity of the sensor.
  • Software developer’s research of the particular camera model and sensor.
  • Specific algorithm used to debayer the RAW data.
  • Software processing, sharpening and ‘secret sauces’ used to get the best image.
  • Output file format and specifications after debayering.

Each and every thing I’ve mentioned above (and I’m sure I’ve missed a few) affects the quality of the debayer. Here are some important RAW processing tools in the market today:

  • Adobe Lightroom
  • Capture One Pro
  • DXO Optics Pro
  • Adobe Camera RAW
  • RAW Therapee
  • Apple Aperture (Not so good with DNG – DNG files must be generated by the Adobe DNG Converter with the “Convert to Linear Image” option turned off.)

Some Adobe applications like Photoshop and After Effects uses Adobe Camera RAW (ACR) to debayer CinemaDNG. As of Creative Cloud, ACR 8.1 recognizes the Blackmagic Cinema Camera (click to enlarge):

ACR Cinema DNG Screen

ACR only allows one kind of debayer (their kind), and Lightroom follows the same paradigm.

On the other hand, you have softwares like RAW Therapee that offer many debayer algorithms to choose from, and you could go crazy looking for differences between them.

Anyway, my point is, if you really want the best quality from your RAW data, you owe it to yourself to compare every possible RAW processing software out there. Not going to happen? Then, you could do what I suggest:

DaVinci Resolve also only offers one type of debayering, and this is my tool of choice.

The reason I recommend Resolve is because Blackmagic Design obviously must have extensively tested their camera and others with Resolve for best results. If it weren’t for them, we wouldn’t be talking about CinemaDNG today. And this is with all due respect to the other manufacturers who have used CinemaDNG in their cameras, but don’t have the global leverage that BMD has.

Finally, if you’re using Resolve, my proxy or intermediary codec of choice is Prores, because, again, that’s what Blackmagic Design has tested. Most NLEs can work with Prores. Why reinvent the wheel?

The idea is to keep things simple. Use DaVinci Resolve and if you like the results, stick with it. If you can’t afford Resolve, but own a Creative Cloud subscription for After Effects or Lightroom or whatever, use that instead. If you have absolutely no budget for RAW processing, try RAW Therapee. It is seriously powerful, and is available on both Macs, Linux and PCs (though the versions might be slightly different).

Whatever you do, try to find a software that can do batch processing (most of the RAW tools I’ve mentioned above can do that) or you’ll be shooting yourself in the foot. Bottom line, my top three favorite tools to debayer CinemaDNG are:

  • DaVinci Resolve (thanks to John Brawley for asking me to try it).
  • Adobe After Effects (it can ingest CinemaDNG as a sequence).
  • Photoshop (via ACR, which recognizes the Blackmagic Cinema Camera – but can’t export Prores or DPX).

Leave the rest to those who have the time.

After you finish editing – the finishing workflow

Okay, proxies or intermediaries, your edit is locked, and it is time to finish. From here on you could go several ways:

  • VFX
  • Titles and Motion Graphics
  • Color correction

VFX is a complicated workflow, and might require a lot of back and forth between your effects tool(s) and NLE. You might have to prepare high-quality TIFF or DPX sequences for such work. This workflow is beyond the scope of this article.

If you want to add titles and motion graphics, and want to move to applications like Autodesk Smoke or After Effects, then you can quickly port the project over. Here are three quick guides to get you started:

If you want to add motion graphics, some effects, and need to do color correction  – all in one application – I highly recommend Adobe After Effects.

However, if you only want to color correct, and if you have already used DaVinci Resolve to create your proxies or intermediaries, it might be a good idea to return to Resolve. After all, why learn or pay for more than one software? This is what a simple workflow would look like:

  • Resolve for creating proxies and 3D LUT
  • Edit using your NLE
  • Bring project into Resolve via XML and color correct directly in CinemaDNG.
  • Master your project in Resolve.

Here’s a quick video that shows the entire flow from Resolve to NLE and back:

The advantages of staying in CinemaDNG

Ask yourself: Why are you shooting in CinemaDNG? Really?

Is it for the best image quality possible, with the greatest dynamic range, and for maximum flexibility in post? If this is so, you must preserve that quality until the very last moment. What’s the point in shooting CinemaDNG and then using Resolve to create a high-quality Prores HQ or 4444 (or DNxHD or CineformHD) intermediary from a quick grade? That’s like ordering the chef’s special at a fine-dining restaurant and pouring ketchup over it. Hey, it’s your meal.

For this reason, I strongly recommend, above all other workflows, the following:

  • Shoot in CinemaDNG and use a 3D LUT (either Rec. 709 or your own sauce).
  • Create proxies in DaVinci Resolve (Prores LT is perfect) and make sure you save this project. You’re going to return to this.
  • Edit in your favorite NLE, and export an XML when done.
  • Bring the XML into Resolve and make sure you leave the ‘Automatically import source clips into media pool‘ box unchecked. This will ensure your proxies don’t get linked, because you don’t want them anymore.
  • Conform in Resolve, correct XML errors and problems, and grade. Export your master from Resolve as TIFF or DPX (16-bit if possible).

I prefer editing files natively, regardless of the workflow. However, CinemaDNG doesn’t allow that yet, so the next best thing is proxies. Why? Here are a few reasons:

  • Proxies take the least time to render, and you don’t have to worry about their quality. This gives you a fast edit, even on a consumer-grade laptop.
  • You are using the RAW format till the very end, and have total control over your grading. You don’t need a lot of additional drive space for high-quality intermediaries or TIFF sequences.
  • You can reuse the 3D LUTs you have created for a quicker grading session, and don’t have to start from scratch.
  • You have the full advantage of a 32-bit float environment, and can master to any resolution you please. An NLE will usually limit you to 10-bit (or 16-bit in the case of Smoke).

That’s it! I hope you have found my CinemaDNG workflow simple to understand, and beneficial for your own projects.

What do you think? Is there a better workflow in your opinion?

Exclusive Bonus: Download my free guide (with examples) on how to find the best camera angles for dialogue scenes when your mind goes blank.

7 replies on “The CinemaDNG Workflow (Part Two): Editing to Finishing”

  1. Hey, for VFX handoffs, just give them the raw files with NO color correction and that should be it. They will convert it if needed, but most all pro vfx tools read CinemaDNG and work natively.

  2. AndreasWo  That’s strange, I’ve never seen that error before.
    Once you complete VFX, you can no longer have RAW. RAW ends at VFX. The image is fully composited and formed. If you want to grade with RAW then grade in AE – it’s as good as Resolve.
    My workflow – Edit native DNG in Premiere. Move project to AE. Complete VFX on some shots. Grade in AE. Master from AE. Zero transcoding.
    It depends!

  3. Hey thank you. My main reason is, that i don’t want to loose the RAW ability but add VFX and after adding VFX i’ll grade my footage (with the raw ability).
    ex. i’ve got a shot (tilt) from a backyard up to the sky and without the raw ability i never get back the details from the sky. So i need that raw ability. But my current way would be: correct the shot, export as DPX, make VFX, export as DPX, Import in Davinci and make the final grade.
    Thanks you a lot!
    p.s.: if i’m answering and add your name, i got the error message about malformed content.

  4. AndreasWo  I don’t know the details of your project, so all I can really say is ‘it depends’!
    Generally speaking though, you don’t need Resolve to create proxies. Premiere Pro handles CinemaDNG and can create proxies for you, but you may also be able to edit in low res playback without issues….depends.
    You can move to AE without exporting anything, and work in native DNG…depends.
    Once you make your VFX, you can bring it back into Premiere Pro without any rendering or exporting…depends.
    Once you lock your edit, export XML to Resolve for grading. If there are effects, titles, etc, then you’ll need to render DPX/TIFF from AE (I recommend AE over Premiere Pro for this)….depends
    Grade in Resolve, or grade in AE…depends.

    There is no ‘one’ way to do everything. It depends on what you’re trying to achieve and the constraints of your system and workflow.

  5. @Sareesh Sudhakaran Hello and thank you.
    So my workflow would look like this:
    1. Import DNG to Resolve.2. Export Proxies for Editing in PPro (than XML to Resolve)3. Export DPX or TIFF for AE4. Make VFX in AE and Export as DPX or TIFF.5. Import into Resolve.6. Color Grade in Resolve.7. Deliver in Resolve
    So im bit scared about problems round about VFX Quality. If i create in AE VFX and just match the grade (in AE) after that i export the stuff to Resolve and start to grade…it’s maybe a problem about different grades?

  6. AndreasWo  Mmm…it depends. If the VFX is complex, which involves compositing, then you should composite first and then grade at the end. Many times the grading happens during compositing, so it all ties in together.
    If the VFX is minor, then you’ll be exporting individual shots via TIFF/DPX/OpenEXR, depending on what the facility asks for. There is no other option, because you’ll need to bake in the grade.

  7. Hey,

    great article. But i have still a question.

    Okay i shoot DNG make (in Resolve) my Proxies, edit in PPro, export XML, Import in Resolve. This is clear…so far.

    But if i want make VFX, i should export (from Resolve) TIFF or DPX for usage in AE? And after adding the VFX…export as? Color-Grade Finish for Resolve?

Comments are closed.