Review by Adriana Craciunescu, colourist, Mile Studios
Having been involved in colour grading since 2010 I was excited to be given the wonderful opportunity to test the new Mini Panel from Davinci Resolve. My relation to grading surfaces is rather personal and intense and I am all too aware that the quality of the surface dictates the precision and fastness of the grade.
As Blackmagic Design (BMD) states in its product presentation, the Mini panel has “three professional trackballs along with a variety of buttons for switching tools, adding colour correctors and navigating your node tree. It also features two colour LCD screens that display menus, controls and parameter settings for the selected tool, along with direct access buttons that let you go to menus for specific DaVinci features.”
It does all this while being slick and elegant. It has weight and texture; it has attitude and shape and I love the fact it combines the full power and precision of a studio grade control surface with portability.
If I think mainly of on-set movie projects, like the ones I’ve been involved with, for example: “Dragon Heart 3”, “Scorpion King 4” , “Lady of Csejte”, “ Son’s of Liberty”, “ Fright Night”, I always find it vital to have as many options as is technically possible; I need to know I have the tools available, and I can reach them anytime, not to search for alternative ways of doing basic things, or going on and off from a control surface to a computer interface that I need to tweak options from, with the mouse or a pen. As another colourist I know said said about the system interface, it “lets you move left and right through different pages of control”. That’s why the panel is so comfortable: options; different modules displayed on both sides, knobs, control screens, buttons and trackballs are all in perfect logical assembly. Did you load the files, and you’re working from R3D? Do you have a button to directly access the RAW menu? Do you want to start your grade by working on the curves? Again you have a button for that; you can have your first node in two seconds. That is important whether you are working with a client in the studio or on set.
I tested the promptness of grading a medium shot against a window, with the intention of a silhouette effect, only using the control panel. The shot was fairly exposed, backlit, with an abundance of details on the character’s face; it worked wonderfully with precision knobs for each portion of the curve and the tools that allow me to gang and un-gang channels, and this, in my opinion, is simply beautiful.
Mini’s little brother, the Micro, is a more compact version. It keeps the 12 dedicated primary colour correction control knobs and the trackballs as a base, but has some important differences. It seems built specifically for on-set work, and to be dedicated towards DITs and editors. There are no displays and the connectivity is done only via USB cable that is fully powered so you can simply plug and play. (This is an important difference to keep in mind in regards with the Mini, which includes a standard AC computer plug and a four-pin XLR connection). For the Micro, it means a fast approach and less cables.
Mile Studios was one of the first post production facilities in the area to use this panel during a film production. It has proved itself as safe, direct, reliable, and sturdy; its size makes it perfect for portability and it fits well with a laptop or a full system. It works well with a keyboard and/or a Wacom tablet for example. Unfortunately, the buttons on the Micro are not backlit, like the Advanced and Mini, and there are no customisable soft knobs on the Micro panel (in comparison with the Advanced (30) and Mini (8)). But this didn’t stop our DIT, Liviu Popescu, with a vast experience in this domain, from having a good connection with this panel. He was extremely happy working with the Micro while grading on set, and creating looks for the specific desired mood. The movie was special and achieved the desired look. The ability of the DIT to achieve what was required was vital. Accomplishing this, at the end of the production day, made everyone happy.
My favourite is the Mini Panel, which I found to be user-friendly and professional. It provides easy access, and has a logical interface. It is compact yet assures enough breathing space in between all components, so that when working with it, I don’t find myself stretching or trying to squeeze my gestures.
The texture is enduring yet delicate, and offers a good support for the hands when working with the trackballs. Once each colourist adjusts the sensitivity to its most comfortable level, it feels natural grading with the panel.
I like the clean-cut approach of both panels; they are ideal for on-set productions or studio work; for beginner colourists to learn intuitively, or experienced colourists. They can be a 100% complete professional solution for small spaces in postproduction facilities. They are extremely affordable and can serve the purpose of colourists, digital imagining technicians and editors alike. The Mini, especially, is a wonderful fresh instrument and I think BMD is doing a great job in offering accessible options to everyone; from a passionate student, to an independent filmmaker, to well-known post houses.