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Interview: BlackmagicDesign CEO Grant PETTY

- “We are the stage our customers dance on and we are there to take our place in a support role to that.” -

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– It is definite truth that DaVinci Resolve from Blackmagic changed the way people think of color grading for video/film production. Had you expected this would happen?

Grant:We hoped that would be possible. I feel that color correction is the emotion track of a film or television program and the “emotion track” is just as important as the video and audio tracks. Its a subconscious way of communicating to the viewer and its a critical method for communicating the mood of the work.

– It was big news at NAB that you have combined Fairlight into Resolve. Resolve has become an all in one software with editing, grading and an audio suite. Tell us about how you come up with the idea to make it an all in one software.

Grant:I felt that no one had really solved the problem of audio in film and television. Its always been a separate industry and even in post production facilities I worked in, the audio post production was in a separate building. I had always thought that was strange and wondered if it could be fixed.
Now Blackmagic Design is larger and more capable and DaVinci Resolve has such a large customer base, I finally felt we could solve this very big problem. It was a relief when the customers really understood what we have done and also agreed with us the value of adding powerful audio post production into DaVinci Resolve. All these tool sets are just a click away from each other and it all collaborates over multiple users. It’s extremely powerful and it will be exciting to see how customers use these new workflows. I had some fantastic conversations with customers on the NAB show floor and it was very innovative time working with the customers on ideas for new directions with DaVinci Resolve and audio.

– DaVinci Resolve has become one of the standard software applications in video industry. What is your thoughts on Resolve’s future?

Grant:Yes we think there will be two types of workflows. Specialists in editing, color and sound will all use the part of the tool they specialize in and will work with each other collaboratively. Or you could get an editor asking a colorists to come in and spend a few hours working on the program. That’s the workflow that’s happening now with editing and color and it will extend to audio too.
However other people and specifically young people will never know a tool that only does one function. So this means they will just move between the toolsets and I think they will do all kinds of roles. Even the way work is done could change. An artist could mix music and then do the music video edit with the same timeline that has all the layers of music.
So this means instead of editing a music video to a finished audio track they could have access to all the source material. The benefit of this would be allowing an audio mix of a music track in surround sound for the music video, while the normal track is stereo.
I am not sure if this kind of work will happen, but its possible so it will be exciting to see what happens.

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– To know your taste regarding color, I would like to ask your favorite piece of creative works or style of color grading. Could you tell me your favorite movies or TV dramas?

Grant:That’s a very good question! I am often surprised by the looks of various work our customers do. I feel the color also becomes one of the characters in a film or television program in a similar way to what the actors bring to their roles or in a way the photography does. Its all component parts of the finished work and it all adds up to the overall result.
When I worked in post production the colorist were always complaining that there was no academy award for color correction. I used to think they had a point, because what they contribute is so significant.
However my personal preference for the style of color correction I like the most would be for any color grading that’s so subtle you don’t really notice the scene has been color graded. What I mean is the color correction work just makes the images look nice and really compliments the work of the photography.
Specific color styles I like would be organic styles where it brings out the earthy tones of materials in the scene. I think the biggest advantage of Ultra HD is textures. We all remember going from standard definition to high definition video and I think what surprised people was the detail in the image. But Ultra HD is all about textures and that’s what you really notice. There is so much you can do with these textures when color grading.
I also love the clean look of modern architecture when it’s graded to be absolutely clean and precise where the materials in buildings and environments looks pristine. There are just so many scenes that can become shockingly beautiful when an experienced colorist does their work. I am always surprised.

– The USRA Mini Pro seems more for broadcast/ENG/EFP(Electronic Field Production). What was your purpose to make the camera?

Grant:URSA Mini Pro does have the look of a broadcast camera, however to understand the product, its important to understand the great features that broadcast cameras have and how broadcasters work with their cameras. All the features of a broadcast camera have evolved over decades based on the heavy workload broadcast and ENG camera people need to do.
We thought it would be fantastic to add all those features to a digital film camera. I am not sure who created the rule that a digital film camera needs to be ugly and limited in operational features. I felt that if we could add all the good ergonomics and features of a broadcast camera to a digital film camera then it would make a digital film camera much faster and much nicer to use.
But best of all, is why cannot broadcasters also get the benefits of digital film in a camera that works like cameras they have used for years. We think with URSA Mini Pro, broadcasters can bring the quality of digital film and even color grading to their work and it could revolutionize the quality of broadcast work and bring something to the market that has not been possible in the past.
This is what I love doing and its solving problems, and often solving problems customers don’t even know they have. But thats what our task is and its to look at technology and then think about how we can change the industry and make it better. We have been very happy with the reception to the URSA Mini Pro and our biggest problem has been building enough of the cameras fast enough!

– Also, Cloud system seems to be one of the keyword at NAB this year. Avid plans Cloud Editing, and social media, OTT(over the top), and internet communication companies like Facebook, Youtube, Vimeo, Amazon.com put up their booth at the NAB. are you or Blackmagic interested in such fields?
Do you have any plan to go into Cloud, Social Media or OTT field in the future?

Grant:Some of these items are kind of fads and we don’t run our company based on fads and what “everyone” is doing. We try to look at things from the point of view of the customer.Without mentioning any specific other brands, as I simply don’t know other companies reasons for doing what they do as I am too busy running Blackmagic Design, but lets use cloud licensing as a good example here.
I think the cloud is a disaster for the television industry and is only for software manufacturers to make more money by forcing them to pay constantly and its a kind of forced upgrade. Its much worse than the old philosophy of forcing customers to pay for upgrades by making the software break on new operating systems. Whats in it for the customer with the cloud anyway? Whats the benefit for them?
The reason I say this is it can become a forced upgrade where you have to pay each month. It can be a valid way to release software in some industries however its critical that you have a way of getting software to customers in the television industry that means they don’t have to pay monthly.
The reason is that people in the television industry are often freelance and don’t get paid regularly. So if their software shuts down because they cannot make the payment one month then you shut down their ability to get work in the future, just when they need that work the most.
Also, people in the television industry work remotely and cannot always get an internet connection. Plus, high end customers often simply cannot connect their workstations to the internet in any way because of the security issues around feature films and high end television programming. DaVinci primarily is a high end tool used on feature films and television programming. So customers have to be able to use the software without being connected to the internet and the software constantly checking back to a server.
Even though DaVinci Resolve is moving to a license key to make it easer for laptop customers, they can still buy a dongle version if they need to isolate the workstation from the Internet
However the other big problem with cloud licensing is that it forces an upgrade on a customer when they are in the middle of a job. I have seen some operating systems where the apps auto upgrade and thats a horrific thing to happen when you are in the middle of a job. If anything goes wrong you cloud bring down the whole production and there’s millions of dollars on high end work so its scary.
I believe the cloud is a very scary way to sell software in the film and television industry. At least there should be non cloud options. The cloud is being sold to customers as a benefit for them and its very trendy. However is it really a benefit when you look at all the problems? It just looks like PR spin to me.

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– These days, it would be difficult to find any production/post production that does not use your products all over the world. What is a significant change you’ve found now the company has grown so big? And what is something that has never changed?

Grant:Thats a wonderful observation and I think what makes Blackmagic Design different to other manufacturers in the industry is that we are angry customers. When I worked in post production I was surprised by the poor quality of the products and the poor design of them. Why could Sony build products that were so good and so well finished but all other manufacturers did such a bad job?
So being an engineer I wanted to do something about it and so we started building products. We started doing capture cards for computers with 10 bit SDI as we felt the computer and the software running on it would open up the television industry the most and had the most possibilities to make a change to the industry for the better.
In many ways we feel we have been vindicated and the industry has mostly changed for the better. If you wanted to pick the main difference between Blackmagic Design now and what it was like when we started, it would be the incredible team of engineers and designers that allow us to solve problems by designing products at a higher level than we could in the past. We also have the resources to work at a higher level than we have at any point in our past.
However the areas that have not changed is our understanding that we are not the hero of the television industry, our customers are. We are still focused on making the creative talents of the editors, colorists, designers and photographers who work in the television industry the main heroes. They are the ones that matter and all we do is support them.
My feeling is if we can design and build products at such a high level, that are reliable and affordable, then in many ways the equipment becomes less important. Our goal is that the equipment becomes so common and so available to anyone who is creative that in the end the creative work itself is the focus of attention and the equipment fades into the background. We are the stage our customers dance on and we are there to take our place in a support role to that.
That is my belief and it has never changed as we have grown in size as a company. My job at Blackmagic Design is primarily to preserve that culture.