It’s movie awards season, always a time to highlight any connections to Australia among the nominees. Winning gongs at the recent Golden Globes, the hit films Bohemian Rhapsody and Vice, and the Netflix series The Kominsky Method all used post-production software Da Vinci Resolve, which is owned by Australian company Blackmagic Design.
We spoke with Blackmagic Design founder and CEO Grant Petty [pictured] about DaVinci Resolve.
Can you tell us the story behind Blackmagic Design’s acquisition of DaVinci Resolve?
First, it’s important to understand the DaVinci Resolve software you see today is very different to the product it was when we acquired it 10 years ago. Originally it was a colour correction only system that was sold at a price of $250,000 to $850,000, depending on the configuration. After our acquisition of the product line we transitioned it to becoming a software only product because we knew modern GPUs [Graphics Processing Unit] could be used for the image processing. Plus, we ported it to Mac and then Windows operating systems.
At the time, our main motivation was to save it. Back in 2009, the global financial crisis was in full effect and we felt the technology in DaVinci was too important to see the company flounder. The image processing technology was also years ahead of anything else and it was used on most Hollywood feature films and all through the post production industry, so it had an important place for many companies. However, they had lost almost a million dollars in the preceding months and so we did have a lot of work to do.
Why did you see it as valuable?
The image processing technology it contained was extremely advanced. DaVinci had been the leader in colour correction since the 1980s and had developed some very clever processing, and did colour correction really well. It also had better workflows, and customers trusted it as the gold standard in colour correction and had been the standard for decades.
What strategies were put in place to turn the software around?
DaVinci had multiple problems that needed to be urgently addressed. Firstly, they needed to change the culture, as they had suffered from other companies trying to copy them and they had not done anything to respond to that. DaVinci was basically in the process of shutting down and it needed to be saved. Some tough decisions had to be made as it could not continue to lose money.
We needed to shut down some product lines as they were old, and we could not even get parts to support the older customers. DaVinci could not keep selling product lines until they run out of parts and then had no spare parts for product support. So, we had a lot of tough decisions to make.
Next, we needed to start investing heavily in DaVinci’s future. We massively expanded the engineering team and brought in a lot of new people. We redesigned control panels and other hardware to improve quality, and we completely redesigned the DaVinci Resolve user interface. And, of course, we started porting the software to Mac and Windows. We really wanted to focus on bringing colour correction out of the high end and into a much broader industry.
We felt colour correction was a secret art that not many people had access to. Colour correction is very creative and is the emotion of the shot, so we really wanted to let more people have access to it. So, we got moving reducing costs, expanding the market and the free version of DaVinci has really helped more people get into colour correction.
We also started to expand DaVinci into editing. Originally, we just needed a better interchange between other NLEs and DaVinci Resolve, so DaVinci could do the conform using the camera originals. DaVinci handles more camera original files than anything else, and it’s often doing the final mastering. So better interchange was critical. However, then the NLE market started to change in ways the customers were unhappy with, and people pushed us to make the editing better. Now DaVinci Resolve is a major NLE [Non-Linear Editing] in its own right and many people use it just for editing, even when they don’t need to use the colour correction tools!
We have continued on that path and have integrated Fairlight audio post production tools and its massive consoles. We have also integrated Fusion visual effects tools as well. So, DaVinci is a very different product than it was.
Why do you think it has proven so popular with filmmakers?
The first reason DaVinci Resolve is so popular with filmmakers would be due to its original high-end film production role. DaVinci Resolve has always been a high-end feature film tool, so we never had to modify it to try and attract filmmakers. It was designed for feature films right from the start, so it had all the technology required for that task.
However, the problem was it was too expensive. So, expanding its function, porting it to other operating systems and improving affordability have allowed it to become more relevant to more people. It’s still doing the most high-end work in film production, so even a student using DaVinci Resolve understands they can instantly move up into the high-end world without needing to learn a new product.
One thing that’s very important to me personally is the belief that just because someone does not have any money, does not mean they are stupid. They have just not succeeded yet. It’s our job to help them realise their ambition and lift people up to new levels. There really is no glass ceiling with DaVinci Resolve and we have not dumbed it down just because we wanted to see lower end productions using it.
Companies are all run by MBAs trying to turn people into market segments to be studied with metrics. I think it’s a disgusting use of computers to turn people into numbers. I believe we can imagine the world to be a better place and then our job is to get out there and make that world happen. That’s what businesses used to do in the old days and it was more exciting. We have to remember to be exciting. Not just tweets, but real solid things that help people’s dreams come true.
DaVinci Resolve is our purest expression of that philosophy because we can give most of this away for free. We then make money when people become successful and purchase control panels, capture cards, cameras and other items from Blackmagic Design so we can use that money to keep DaVinci Resolve moving forward. I think that’s a better business model because for us to make money our customers MUST succeed. If they don’t, we don’t get any money!
It’s much better than the cloud model where you get trapped in it the more you use it and so you are just penalised by being loyal. I think our model works best because we both have to lift each other up and Blackmagic Design does well when our customers do well, and our customers do well when Blackmagic Design does well. It’s the perfect relationship for a win-win!