If you were shooting film in 1896 you were an early adopter. One hundred and thirteen years later, if you use a Red camera, there's no doubt about it — you are an early adopter. Red users are excited. Liberated. Proselytized. They are advocates and feel like revolutionaries. Some see no need to use film again. Others still love film, but…
With all the hoopla that's surrounded Red's advent and ultimate introduction to the industry, it hasn't taken very long for the camera and its low-cost 4K acquisition to get the attention of decision makers in the commercial world. The high-end commercial paradigm, of course, has been and continues to be 35mm film, lab work, transfer, dailies, rough cuts, offline, online, color grade, graphics, etc. But the Red users who recently spoke with Post are wondering how long that paradigm will last.
One director, Cris Blyth with Crossroads, likes to get involved in all phases, from capture to post, and he recently performed a laptop rough cut on a Red commercial for a videogame while flying across country on his way back to LA from a Florida shoot.
Another commercial producer, Greg Milneck, the founder of Digital FX in Baton Rouge, loves traditional film but uses his Red for virtually everything these days.
"I've seen a lot more interest in the Red," Milneck says. Digital FX (www.digitalfx.tv), which is a full-service post operation, has a front-end production division. "Last month we had three or four large, national jobs that came through — all shooting on Red."
Besides shooting, out-of-state production companies will come to town and rent a Red camera from Milneck, who also supplies data technicians, on-set expertise and post production services.
And Red rentals make a good side business for users shooting for a film look: "You're shooting straight onto the sensor through a film lens," he says.
Digital FX is in the middle of a major infrastructure overhaul and facility expansion that will result in a new color-grading suite and 2K theater. Red was a big factor in the renovation: "We put in a huge SAN system" and also now offer special Red-friendly recorders for location shoots. Developed by Bright Systems, the BrightDrive TxP is a transportable hard drive with the ability to hold and offload high data volumes, even, the company says, full-length motion pictures. "They have removable, 2TB cartridges; one rack frame holds four of those. We have one frame in the machine room and one on this cart that we use on location. We back up all the media to this cart."
Digital FX actually adapted the Bright TxP, originally developed for use with film transfers, to handle Red files and Milneck got Bright to drastically reduce the noise the unit made.
Now, Red media cartridges from Digital FX's location shoots come back to the facility and slip into the machine room's Quantum StorNext system where they're "instantly accessible to everybody on the network." The Bright TxP is completely digit-agnostic. Milneck's shop offers Linux-based Autodesk Flame and Smoke, PC-based Avids and Apple Final Cut. "They're all connected to the SAN and sharing the same data at the same time."
"We spent a lot of time and money coming up with workflows and we're seeing people come in who want us to tell them how to do it," he says. Milneck has shot and posted commercials in Red since early 2008 and, especially for SD broadcast, he's used some very simple workflows. Red records "raw" R3D files. Each clip also contains QuickTime proxy files in four resolution sizes. "You could drag one of those proxies into QuickTime, and play the clip you just shot in realtime on a MacBook. We have finished local projects where we edited in Final Cut in realtime from a proxy and finished the project without ever going back to the raw file."
In standard def, Milneck says, viewers could never tell the difference. He stresses that his staff is very anal about working in Red raw files, but "if you're going to standard def, there's not a lot of reason to go to the raw file." But when standard def broadcast goes digital, "you will still have a spot that's in HD. We don't post anything in standard def. When the client needs an SD dub, we just downconvert it."
"Flame, Smoke and Red integration is now working great," says Milneck. "[Autodesk] created a separate app to bring in Red raw footage. They work with RGB DPX files. You bring the R3D in, set all the parameters and LUTs, and it exports the files to DPXs in the background so you can start working on the footage while it's rendering into your drives." The raw file always remains untouched and ready to serve as a film master if and when you want to create a high-res version.
Milneck likes another new product now in use at Digital FX — the DVS Clipster. "It's the missing link that fills in all these gaps at the facility," he says. "Now they work natively with the Red. It's a huge workflow tool because Clipster will play 4K in realtime, and it's also a color corrector. I can take the day's footage, drag it into Clipster, hit play and I'm instantly playing 4K footage realtime." Clipster is a DCI tool that uses a custom JPEG 2000 accelerator card and "JPEG 2000 is at the heart of the Red raw file." Now Red also has developed Red Rocket for this app.
Milneck has an agreement with Mark L. Pederson of New York City's Offhollywood (which has 10 Red cameras) and they've created a joint venture called Offhollywood South. With Offhollywood involved more in films and Digital FX focused more on commercials, "We have a lot of things we can share and it's just a great synergy."
Digital FX recently won a number of Addy awards for a campaign for Our Lady of the Lake Children's Hospital, featuring actual young patients. Offlined on Final Cut and finished in Smoke, the campaign's filmic look helped it win Best of Show regionally, and it's now moved on to national competition.
Film will always be revered at Digital FX. Milneck has a large collection of antique cinema gear and motion picture cameras, many still in working order. There are Edison Kinetoscopes (c1899), Zoetropes and Pathes on display. One favorite is a Butcher & Sons Empire 35mm Camera (c1912) Milneck calls "the first amateur movie camera."
NEW CS4 WORKFLOW
The Olson brothers, Obin and Amariah, make some intense statements about their Red camera and what is does for them.
"The Red blows the doors down with latitude and range and dynamic high def imaging," says Obin Olson. "It's not an evolution — it's a revolution. It represents freedom in so many ways, it's nothing short of a playground every time we go out and use it."
"The amazing thing about the Red is that no matter how 'small' you go, you always see that high bit-depth and that pixel accuracy," says Amariah, even when Red footage is displayed on humble screens — or phones. Both brothers favor Red's single-sensor technology, which does away with the RGB off-setting that even top-of-the-line three-chip cameras produce. "It's a very simple principle," Obin says, "of a single lens and a single plate to capture the image." The Olsons operate DV3 Productions (www.dv3productions.com) out of Wilmington, NC. They co-direct their shoots, with Obin specializing in camera/DP work and editing while Amariah focuses on VFX creation and VFX supervision.
They make it their business to understand film's proper use and makeup, from on-set lighting down to pixels and grain structure, but the Olsons are from a new generation — one that is unapologetic about not using film, and have no plans to ever use it. "The Red camera opened up a creative world that made it a lot easier for us to present the production values we always wanted," says Obin Olson. The partners have previously used Panasonic and Sony HD cameras.
When shooting and posting commercials, Amariah says, Red's 4K image area allows lots of room to push-in if the client so desires or if a rampant mic looms in the shot. "Because you're shooting 4K it's no problem. Even if you're mastering at 1080, you can push-in to double size and crop in your shot if you need to reframe it. It's pixel-accurate — there's no degradation. We've found that it gives you a whole lot of freedom to reframe and re-color and stabilize and crop."
Obin adds, "Everybody's shouting '4K is too much!' and we're quietly laughing, saying, 'Give me 8K! 12K! 40K!' That just means, once the workflows are worked out in post production, there's no more overhead, it's simply more room to do stuff."
When the Olsons first started working with their Red camera, they transcoded their raw files to "an editable format." Then they got word of an alpha plug-in for CS4 before it was publicly available. "You could actually open [Red files] in CS4 and start to look at them and cut them," Obin says. "We learned a lot about how to deal with raw footage." Since then the brothers have gotten closely involved with Adobe to help make what is now "a pretty darn bullet-proof workflow with CS4."
You import your Red raw files into CS4 without any conversion to another format, Amariah Olson says. Not unlike the functions Photoshop provides to still frames from a DSLR camera, for Red files the new version of Premiere in CS4 has "a raw importer that lets you adjust your exposure, color balance, color temperature, your curve etc. with no processor overhead. All of that's happening in post now."
On set, Amariah often has a good idea of the final color time they will use. "So we'll put a curve in the camera that matches that. Then, when you're lighting your scene, basically you're seeing what your final image is going to be." So, if you intend to create a crushed, contrast-y look, you can immediately see if your lighting needs to be changed to make it look right. "Once you make that curve on set, you then import it right into Premiere and it brings that curve right into the editor and your footage still has that look." It's all non-destructive. The raw converter panel can remove the curve "and you can modify it or tweak it or change whatever you want."
For a recent spot promoting the launch of the Freestyle Music Park in Myrtle Beach, SC, the Olsons shot in 4K on Red and then posted as HD files. "The entire commercial was cut on a laptop," Obin says, including color. The brothers favor HP's new laptops with a DreamColor LCD-backlit, 30-bit display that promises over a billion colors. It has four processors and 8GB of RAM. They can now do their preliminary work on the laptop and bring it via USB hard drive to a formal suite for a client sit-down session.
The promo focuses on the super-intense roller coaster (originally dubbed "The Led Zeppelin" when Hard Rock first opened the park) and comedy bits with actors. And their Red — mounted very carefully after an early near-mishap — shot the scary ride with both a forward POV and a backward POV to capture the riders' reactions.
Red can speed-ramp up to 120fps for slo-mo shots. This may not be tabletop speed, but Amariah can easily ramp up and down between 24 and 120 in After Effects.
Amariah points out that Red raw files are 12-bit and extremely low compression. "It keeps the detail [even] where it looks like there is no detail." So, on one pick-up shot where the sky appeared a seamless gray, Amariah brought it into the CS4 color app. They ended up with a beautiful shot of finely detailed, wispy clouds.
SNOW IN PUERTO RICO
Michael Forrest and Post Box Post, based in Hollywood, specialize in using their top-of-the-line Avid DS Nitris and Symphony systems to cut and post indie films and big-budget trailers. But last year Forrest went on a working trip to Puerto Rico for Medalla Light beer. Director Michael Abt had a deal to create five spots for the brewer, which is making a play for the market in the States, and Post Box (www.postboxpost.com) wound up with 10 days to cut and finish the batch.
Forrest managed it all, including color work and compositing, finishing the campaign — for standard def broadcast — entirely in Avid's Nitris DS. Okay, it took longer than 10 days, but the client was happy. The campaign strives to equate the beer brand with a fun, sexy social life and juxtaposes beauty shots of young, convivial adults with beauty shots of the beer being bottled and packed off for distribution. Director Abt was enamored with the Red camera and used it on his Puerto Rico shoot.
Forrest's biggest shot climaxes the Medalla Playa :30. Preparations for a big outdoor concert/party culminate in a reveal of the exotic setting — a fragile, government-protected atoll off the P.R. coast. As throughout the campaign, all the live action is shot on Red except, in this case; the tiny island was shot from a helicopter bearing Abt and a Sony XDCAM camera. Forrest's job was to put the crowd on the no-trespass island using his DS. "We tracked in hundreds of people, a DJ, a stage and made it look like they were on the island. We took everything through RedCine and dropped everything down to 1080p on DPX files."
To give a Medalla Christmas spot a traditional Christmas-gift-opening feel, Abt used greenscreen for the living room windows and Forrest then added fluttering snowflakes. Forrest also made the Christmas tree ornaments pop with highlighted colors and glossy reflections. Medalla's signature color is a bright, golden (beery) yellow. Forrest uses Tinder plug-ins from The Foundry, to create classic film-look anomalies, including lens flares and "a super-saturated glow."
Forrest is a proponent of all-in-one finishing services. He is capable of making lots of fixes while working on color in the DS. "We have all the tools inside the DS that you'd normally book an Inferno or a Quantel suite for. We can do tracking, painting out odd things in the shot, trimming — all that's available while you're color grading. You know, there's never a perfect online. There are always things that slip by that you have to fix."
Additional color work was required to perk up the tropical waters surrounding the little island in Medalla Playa. The day Abt shot the aerial, the water was an unappealing brown from an algae bloom. Forrest used the DS's Bezier drawing tool to feather and blend the appropriate Caribbean hues into the water without affecting the skin tones of the comped-in partiers.
"We really loved not having a $90,000 deck sitting in the bay for a few weeks," Forrest says. "Working file-based is our future. We can dial-in the look for the footage and later, if the client wants, we can go back into the raw files and make adjustments; we're not locked into anything."
Today, Post Box Post can do native conform of Red files for use in Avid using Avid's new MetaFuze to automate the conversion of Red R3D to Avid DNxHD 36 media. Forrest recently ran a test in which he transcoded over 90 minutes of Red footage into the Avid and it took about four times realtime. Once converted, "You can open it up immediately and just start cutting and all of those realtime effects are available to you." Forrest points out that visual effects can then up-res "to 2K or even 4K without any loss of quality."
LA-based director Cris Blyth is represented by Crossroads Films (www.crossroadsfilms.com) and in him they have a lot to represent. Blyth, besides being a busy commercial director, is a veteran of heavy VFX work, particularly at Digital Domain. He often does his own edit, his own color and VFX, and composes music and provides sound design from his own studio (try www.crisblyth.com/crisb/Music.html).
Blyth is naturally an early adopter of Red camera technology and 4K, and has about eight Red commercials already to his credit. Blyth got involved in Red's "infancy" and rented one of the first Red cameras ever built. "I saw its potential," he says, and acquired his own about a year ago. "They promised an outstanding image and being able to edit it in normal ways — a real democratization of filmmaking.
"I like to get my hands on the [imagery] and play around with it before I hand it over to the editor — if I'm not editing myself. The Red completes the puzzle — the best image acquisition you can get for a reasonable amount of money." He adds that for commercials people are now choosing Red, not just for budget, but "because they like the image and they like the quality — the depth-of-focus, the color and the detail. It's not a magic bullet; it's another tool and it's a really good one." He also likes being able to test creative "crazy things" with the Red and then show some to the client and get approval in advance.
Blyth thinks of his editing/VFX/color suite, with attached recording studio, as his "play area." "If I need to do a test, I can shoot something, bring it in, edit it, color correct it, do the music and hand it all back to them. Pow!"
Blyth edits on Final Cut and has a "really huge RAID array" in his studio, as well as an eight-core Mac with 16GB of RAM. Working in Final Cut's Color with an ATI graphics card, he does true 4:4:4 uncompressed color correction in his own studio. "A lot of directors say we shouldn't do [all the post work] but the cat's out of the bag, and I think directors need to be dynamic and much more involved."
The director grew up shooting film and calls the medium "fantastic." But he says, "Especially in today's marketplace, it's more prohibitive to use because the budgets aren't there." He sees Red as part of a whole new democratized paradigm where there is no offline and no online — everything will be file-based. "Very quickly," he says, "we're going to be able to work in 4K and it's not going to be a big deal anymore."
Blyth has been busy with some game spots for Disney and for Midway, including Blitz 2, which he shot himself on Red. He also created the previs, edited the spot, did the sound design, color correction, compositing (being from Digital Domain, he uses Nuke), created some VFX and supervised the rest, and was involved in the music too.
He wanted a big-budget look. Set in a huge (CG) football stadium with live-action of former New York Giant Lawrence Taylor preaching as if he were a minister of football, Blyth laid down the original groundwork for Blitz 2 with an animatic (featuring a CG stand-in for LT) that demonstrated the sweeping camera moves he envisioned.
Once Blyth and company got their time with the flesh-and-blood LT in Florida for the greenscreen Red shoot, they found that the star's schedule had been cut in half to only three hours. But the animatic served as their blueprint and, on the flight back to LA, Blyth was editing the footage on his Final Cut laptop. "I edited two or three different versions going back on the plane on my Mac!" By the time Blyth landed in LA, he was able to email the client a rough cut the same night.
"We got edit approval really quickly, we locked edit and went into VFX," he says. "The way I worked — and the way the new model for directors should work — we managed to get such a big bang for the buck. Being able to edit makes the Red work so much more."
Shooting Red on set, Blyth employs a double-backup system of mirrored Red hard drives "so there's no chance I can lose anything. We treat them as if they were a 1,000-foot mag. We swap them out, take them to the other computer and back them up. I've got two copies. I make sure the producer takes one set of hard drives, and I take the other." They travel separately.
In keeping with his DIY mentality, Blyth created a short Blitz 2 how-we-did-it video for Crossroads (http://idisk.mac.com/cris.b-Public/PROJECTS/MONKEYCHI/CASE_STUDIES/BLITZ-workflow-iPhone_v04.m4v). "I'm utilizing more of my skill set," he says, "and I really enjoy that."
Founded by producer/VFX supervisor Emery Wells about 18 months ago, Katabatic Digital (www.katabatic.tv) in New York specializes in Red workflow. They got into Red early and one of their two cameras bears the serial number 40.
In early 2008, while Wells and company were proving out their Red workflow, they found unexpected rental demand, simply by word-of-mouth and online forums. "Everybody wanted to shoot with it and there were very few out there," Wells says. "That's part of our business now."
Wells says Red cameras, and other new high-end digital cameras, are much more closely tied to the post end of things. "Now, what you decide to do in-camera really has an impact on post production, so it's really important to bridge the two worlds of production and post."
Katabatic's business model provides soup-to-nuts services, starting with Red rental and including on-set technicians and ultimate post services. Wells notes that there are more cameras (the Phantom, Sony's F-35) starting to acquire digitally in their own raw file formats. This can cause customer confusion "and they're changing all the time, so we try to stay on top of everything."
Katabatic also offers color grading and finishing. "We have a 4K Scratch DI suite here and that's the main focus of the post side of our business," says Wells, who is also a bookable colorist. He contends that his VFX skill set carries over quite well to color and DI.
Since Assimilate's Scratch was also an early Red adopter, including ingesting Red raw R3D files, purchasing Scratch was an easy decision. "It's become the backbone of our post pipeline. It has really excellent data management and it's clear that we're moving into a tapeless acquisition/workflow environment. The Scratch conform tools are really strong."
Katabatic recently finished an all-digital Miller Chill commercial created by Saatchi & Saatchi, New York, and currently airing nationally. (Unlike Corona, this beer already has lime flavor in it.) Acquisition was a combination of Red and Phantom — Phantom for its ability to capture images, such as a beer pour, at very high speeds for very slo-mo playback. Katabatic and Wells worked with a new editorial shop, Ladies & Gentlemen (www.ladies-gentlemen.tv), which handled art direction and editorial. "Ladies & Gentlemen provided us with an EDL of the cut," Wells says. "We did a one-light grade, did our repos, etc., and then rendered out DPX plates of everything for Ladies & Gentleman to use for compositing. They did a rough grade of the footage in After Effects and applied their speed ramps. They then sent the material back to us where we refined the grade in our Scratch suite — which is properly color managed — laid in graphics, titles, and mastered to D-5 with a 5.1 surround mix."
Typically, Katabatic works in the acquisition format's native frame rate and resolution, such as 24p, Wells says, adding that interlace can always be added at the very end. Katabatic worked on Miller Chill's footage in 4K and the Phantom high-speed shots in 1080 — all combined in Scratch. The Red imagery was scaled down to 1080 to match the Phantom but, "we had access to the full 4K at any time, we were just viewing it in 1080. We can punch-in and pan-and-scan and know that we're not going to run out of resolution."
But do you really need to shoot 4K for television spots? "My answer is always, 'yes.' You always want to start with the best acquisition format. But no, you definitely don't need to post the whole thing in 4K. We have Scratch and the ability to work in 4K, so there's no performance hit — it doesn't take any longer and we don't charge clients more for a 4K grade." The Miller Chill spot was directed and shot by Michael Schrom.
For a Rocca Wear spot (a young woman is shown, uh, waiting for her man), slo-mo was achieved in Red, which can over-crank to 120fps with a drop-down in resolution to 2K. "For broadcast that's more than adequate," Wells says. Rocca Wear was shot and directed by Dewey Nicks. Katabatic recently finished spots for Snickers and Avaya as well.
Even when Katabatic does not get the whole soup-to-nuts job, they help enable clients' workflows with services such as one-light color correction and a 24-hour "digital lab" service, providing needed upconverts and downconverts and "transcoding of all kinds."
The new Snickers spot was cut in Final Cut. Wells recommends that serious Red spots be done in a mimic of the traditional offline/online model. "We rendered 720p ProRes files for the offline edit and all the metadata is carried through — your source timecode, your real ID — and we have the ability to bake in a one-light look so the footage is somewhat representative of what you want your final to be. The raw footage on its own looks pretty bland and boring."
Freelance editor TJ Herrington, once finished, sent Snickers back to Katabatic with an EDL and a reference picture, and Wells and company matched back to the 4K in Scratch. They loaded in all the R3D 4K media and did a data-conform and color corrected only what was needed for the spot. Wells says, "Assimilate had a much deeper access to the [Red] file format. They are continually reading from the R3D file and doing the de-Bayer and the color matrix is being applied to that file completely in realtime." The Red camera boasts a 12-bit linear sensor and Katabatic wants to exploit its image capture without taking a loss-y intermediary step into DPX files. "Working completely natively, the whole time, in that raw file format allows us to access the full range. We can bring back lost sky detail, we can bring stuff up in the shadows — that stuff's just not there if you were to go to DPX."
Katabatic's Scratch system uses RAID storage by Dulce Systems which Wells describes as "phenomenal."