The Roman Frontier in Jordan – Re-editing and Re-mastering a documentary with DaVinci Resolve

In 2008 we created a 13 min. documentary about the Romans in Jordan and their archaeological remains. The film was part of a DVD created for an EU project – the Frontiers of the Roman Empire. At that time the footage was optimized for DVD output in SD and you can have a look at the 720p version on Youtube. The final film was also shown on several archaeological film festivals in Europe.

Capital of Jordan – Amman
Desert landscape with Sandra Walkshofer (director)

The production of the documentary

The documentary film at that time has been created under time pressure and I always had the idea in mind to get back to the footage and create a new re-mastered version of it. In winter 2018 we finally were able to find some time and I decided to test the first time a complete workflow without any Adobe products at all. So the idea was to look at the old project from 2008 and see if it is possible to create a Full HD output of the film with enhanced quality in comparison to the available Youtube version.
As production camera in Jordan we used at that time the Sony HVR Z1E, a well-known HDV camcorder. We actually wanted to use the Sony EX1, but could not get hold of one for the Jordan trip. So we used again our HVR Z1E as it was important for us to travel with light equipment.

Sony HVR Z1E with DOP Erik Dobat

However, in comparison to our equipment today it is not so light at all. To me the biggest difference is: at that time we only took one camera (at least with Sony silver support) with us and therefore you always worry about technical problems with the camera. Also the tape based HDV format is not really an advantage. Whereas today we have at least three 4k cameras with us and still we have to carry less. Anyway today technical issues with one camera do not stop the film production. But at that time we simply had to use the available equipment to create the film within the available budget.
To enhance the production value we decided to rent a light camera crane in Jordan and the camera assistant Tim Kuhn took a self-built dolly with him. We only needed to find a ladder to use them as rails. So when we came to Amman city we went to the local market and looked for one. We finally found a ladder and it served well as rails on several archaeological sites and in museums.

The ladder of Amman
Self-built dolly used in Amman Museum with Tim Kuhn
Recording and checking the footage directly on a notebook

The rented camera crane is a special story again: we found a rental company and we asked for the smallest crane. So when we met to get the crane we realized that we had an additional vehicle, a crane operator plus assistant and a huge crane. The crane had a reach past the pivot point of about 9 meters (approx.: 28′). Certainly this increased the production value!

The 9 meter JIB at Qusr Bashir
The small HVR Z1E on the massive camera crane

So in the end the 10 days in Jordan have been successful. We had no technical issues with the camera and we were able to create a lot of cool footage from archaeological sites and landscapes in Jordan.

The new post production workflow

It has been a long journey… we have always been Adobe users from the mid-90s until let’s say 2012-16. But I have not been happy with Adobe’s move to force customers into a rental system. It is not about the price tag, I simply do not like the restrictions that come with it.

We are a small production company mainly creating documentaries about history and archaeology. And for quite some years I have been looking now for new editing solutions and establishing new workflows. First I had a look at Lightworks, I tried it a few times, but I did not like the interface that much. I then remembered DaVinci Resolve. I used it for an older project once to do some color corrections and I did like it then already, but its performance in the timeline was not that satisfactory. In the last years I often had to go back and use the Adobe CS6 production suite again and again. And sometimes it is also: you just become lazy and you just use your existing workflow to get the project done in a shorter period of time.
For me the year 2017 was then a game changer – DaVinci Resolve 14 became available and finally editing really became fun with it. The performance increase was just awesome and also I really enjoyed the color panel – I really got the impression that it helps increasing the quality of your footage without spending to much time. The two other things to mention: with Affinity Photo I finally found a software that replaced Photoshop to my satisfaction and the integration of Fusion into DaVinci Resolve allowed me to replace Adobe After Effects.

So this January I decided to test the complete new workflow with DaVinci Resolve, Fusion 9 and Affinity Photo. First I started to load the old Adobe premiere timeline of the project and created an EDL. The EDL then was brought into DaVinci Resolve and there we go: the first major problem occurred. The HDV footage is not supported by Resolve. I decided to batch render the whole footage to the mxf-file format. I tested different setups and finally decided to render the 1440×1080 / 25Mbit / 4:2:0 HDV format to 1440×1080 / 50 Mbit / XDCAM MPEG2 / 4:2:2 into the mxf container. The two reasons for the decision was: I could not see any quality loss and the performance in the DaVinci timeline was really good.

DaVinci Resolve Timeline with the Jordan footage

Then it was time to re-link the clips manually and after only a couple of hours I had the 10 year old project fully customizable in the Davinci timeline. Then the fun began and I started integrating previously unused footage. Also some new basic graphics animations were created with Fusion 9 and Affinity Photo. For me the best part when working with Davinci Resolve is the integration of the color panel with the timeline. It is just so convenient to perfectly enhance the footage in the color section of Davinci Resolve and then you go back to the timeline and all the amendments are there.
I was really amazed what was possible with the old 25 Mbit HDV footage. It just looked so much better after the color correction with Davinci. Certainly there are a lot of limitations and when you push the codec to hard you will see ugly motion artefacts in the picture. But by using it cautiously you can get some pretty good results in the end.
Finally after all clips were color corrected and sharpened the timeline was rendered to a FullHD mp4 file for upload to Amazon Prime video.

„The Roman Frontier in Jordan“ is available for free with Amazon Prime in English
UK: Amazon Video UK
US: Amazon Video

and in German:
DE: Amazon DE