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Production

Two Compleat Idiots Discuss RED Post

Art and Adam discuss the aftermath of the Wii spec spot and Art’s venture into RED post

ART

I just posted my convoluted post process for RED on PVC.

ADAM

I should go read it!

ART

Okay, I can wait a few.

[The curtain is lowered for five minutes to denote the passage of a twelfth of an hour.]

ART

Uh oh, is it that convoluted?

ADAM

I JUST finished reading it. What a hoot!

ART

That’s good, right?

ADAM

Yes, very good. An entertaining read with all sorts of useful (and disturbing) comments.

ART

Hopefully none that are completely off-track. I still have no idea what I’m supposed to be doing with RED footage in FCP. On CML someone just posted this link: http://www.crimsonworkflow.com/videos/CrimsonDemo-H.264.mov

I’m not sure this software is much of an improvement over what I did.

ADAM

It’s early days yet, but at least the Crimson folks are making a stab at it.

ART

I’m still bothered by having to use RedCine or Red Alert and do everything by eye. I WANT A PARADE WAVEFORM! I do, I do, I do.

ADAM

Why, you can GET a parade. Just upgrade to Scratch.

ART

What’s the competitive upgrade path for that? Sell my car?

ADAM

No. You can’t get enough for your car to buy a Scratch system.

ART

I guess I could buy the new Scratch just for RED. It’s about the price of… oh, a RED camera, isn’t it? I’ll bet all those people who bought two REDs are kicking themselves now.

ADAM

Scratch runs around $65K as I recall [actually, $55k set up for RED 4K work]. Silverado is selling a turnkey system for $140K (it needs a hefty XP PC, the most expensive NVIDIA SDI card, etc.)

ART

If SpeedGrade HD supports RED at some point you’ll be able to grade RED footage, plus raw footage from every other camera out there, for not much more…

ADAM

A SpeedGrade DI system is less expensive, and cross-platform, but doesn’t yet officially support R3D files.

ART

I don’t need the key, I’ll just pick the lock or something.

Supposedly SpeedGrade doesn’t need the massive computer system, either.

ADAM

Consider REDCINE (or RED Alert! / Redline) as a one-light / primary grading system. For those of us on a [limited] budget, targeting HD or 2K output, there’s nothing wrong with getting each shot within grading distance in the RED apps, exporting ProRes422 HQ, and then doing a “conventional” grade with Color Finesse / Colorista / Color. In those apps, you can fine-tune, tweak, vignette, etc., and be happy. You have monitoring outputs, you have proper ‘scopes.

ART

That’s kinda what I’m thinking too. I hated that I saw banding in my color graded images… and baffled that the “linear” log-and-transfer images and the ProResHQ exported files out of RedCine showed the same artifacts with the same corrections.

[The banding may have been visible as a result of FCP’s 8-bit-only realtime previews; rendering may have cleaned up the ‘scopes’ view. But Art was asking more questions and I didn’t get a chance to explore this; we’ll talk it over next time. -AJW]

ART

Is there an argument for NOT using the log-and-transfer data in FCP?

ADAM

So many questions… I can’t answer one before the next comes in <grin>…

ART

It’s the way my mind works. Quickly, not efficiently.

ADAM

Several reasons for NOT using Log & Transfer:

1) No choice of frame size or aspect ratio: always 1/2 input size.

2) No choice of grade (aside from the still-unverified ability to import looks from RED Alert!)

3) I seem to recall hearing that the L&T pathway does a comparatively quick-and-dirty conversion to ProRes 422 HQ, possibly doing a simple four-pixel deBayer (hence the 1/2-size limitation). That’s why it’s so fast; the quality isn’t quite what it could be.

Actually, for half-size it doesn’t look so bad (though I should try L&Ting some of my res-chart footage to be sure). That’s (IIRC) what Cineform does for its real-time playback in Premiere: a 1/2-res quick decode for moving footage, reverting to high quality on stills.

ART

Okay, but otherwise… no problems, right?

ADAM

Yeah, pretty much. I’ve been fairly impressed with the functionality of L&T, especially for quick work.

ART

I can confirm that my Red Alert settings did not come across in log-and-transfer. I wanted a RedLog gamma to come across and it most definitely didn’t.

ADAM

Were you able to get any of your looks to appear in the L&T window?

ART

No, none. I didn’t really try for looks, though–I just wanted the RedLog gamma to see if I got access to any more information for in-FCP color grading.

ADAM

I’ll have to play with it and see if I can suss out the secret sauce, then.

ART

I’m frustrated at hearing about all these great looks people are creating out of their footage. How are they judging it, just on a computer monitor? I went to great pains to borrow a friend’s suite, with 30″ HD monitor, for the final color grading for Wii. Should I have bothered?

ADAM

Well, there’s “great looks” and there’s “great looks”. We’ve remarked how some folks proudly show their footage, and the two of us go, “yeah, so what?” (me) and “that looks horrible!” (you). The simple statement “great look” doesn’t account for taste.

ART

I hear that’ll come in a separate plugin, available from RED next year.

ADAM

Also consider that I can definitely deliver you a great look using nothing more than my MacBook Pro’s uncalibrated screen and something to keep direct sunlight off the monitor. It’ll be a bitchin’ look, dude… but it may not look quite so good in a dark theater. There’s “tasty” and there’s “consistent and repeatable” and the two don’t always go together.

ART

The looks I’ve seen out of RedCine are good one-lights. Not real sophisticated, but good.

ADAM

As to the one-light looks: well, that’s what you get. No secondary tools at all.

I haven’t been in a single Scratch or SpeedGrade or other high-end DI tool demo that didn’t throw some secondary something on a clip.

ART

But even the one light tools aren’t that good. I love being able to place the ped just so, massage the gamma, hold the mid-tones in place and stretch the highlights up… you can do that in RedCine, but you have to do it by eye. You can’t isolate things like you can in Color Finesse. And I’m not even talking about secondaries. (I’m not very good at secondaries yet anyway.)

ADAM

By “secondaries” I include any sort of isolation tools (“tweak just the yellows”) as well as Power Window-style stuff.

ART

What I’m talking about is just working within the lift/gamma/gain parameters. You can do wonders with that in Color Finesse. Even if RedCine just had those three controls–lift, gamma, gain–it would be a VAST improvement. Plus a parade RGB scopes.

ADAM

The lack of better ‘scopes on the RED tools is, I agree, a problem. Perhaps the best thing to do is use a Matrox MXO, or the IO HD or other video output tool, as
the primary screen. That way you can get the REDCINE display on a component or HD-SDI feed, and put it through proper ‘scopes?

As to lift/gamma/gain, you have all those capabilities in REDCINE / RED Alert, just under different names and/or requiring curve fiddling.

I’m not saying that REDCINE is as quick to use for gamma as one of the other apps (lift & gain are OK, though), just that it’s possible.

But the ultimate answer (of course) is “they’re free, fercryinoutloud! Whaddya want fer nothin’?”

ART

Let’s see—HD for the masses, oh, except you have to become a post house take advantage of it.

ADAM

You can always get more capability for more money. Scratch is VERY capable…

The RED “revolution”, like most revolutions, usually winds up being a bit messier and a bit more protracted than the revolutionaries initially claim. There’s nothing here that hasn’t been said before. Remember how Portapaks were gonna set us free? How the marketing slogan for Video8 was “Be Cre8tive”? How the Video Toaster, and the Play Trinity, were supposedly world-changers?

ART

But the RED was supposed to put everyone on a par with the movie studios. Oh, except you now have to invest in all the other stuff a movie studio owns. Maybe someone will come out with a grip truck where all the stands are made of lightweight plastic and all the flags are papier mache. “New: a simple light kit for the RED! Simply soak in kerosene and light! Almost as good as what the movie studios use!”

ADAM

Art, I sense a grumpiness. Don’t tell me you swallowed the hype whole?

ART

What hype? There’s no hype there. Even I can tell… oh hell, who am I kidding! “New: the RED telecine suite! Runs on a $500 Linux PC, now available at Walmart! Puts you on a par with the big Hollywood studios!” Believe me, if the studios could do things that cheaply, they would!

I am SOOO kicked off Reduser.

ADAM

After some of the stuff I’ve seen on reduser, I think the sooner we can develop a community and a knowledge base independent of it, the happier everyone will be… oops, just got myself kicked off, too!

ART

I’ve seen a little bit of that stuff… It’s too bad, it really could be an immense repository of information. If only the signal-to-noise ratio was higher. How do you tell a community to “expose to the right of the histogram”?

ADAM

The RED folks were right in a limited sense: here’s a camera body (a camera BODY) for under $20K. It captures a true 3K+ image in compressed RAW format. It has realistic, non-stressful data rates, and there are tools for Mac and PC that let you get the image into an editable form (the real RED revolution is in the image-handling pipeline more than the camera itself IMHO). It takes PL-mount lenses and it has 35mm depth of field. These are, I think you’d agree, useful things.

ART

Very useful, yes. You got me there.

ADAM

But the RED “revolution” didn’t promise every other part of the production package delivered on a RED velvet pillow for no charge. It’s a freakin’ CAMERA and some post tools, that’s all. Grip, lighting, direction, production design, audio, editing, finishing, VFX, even craft services… all these are part of the “production value” equation. It’s like the usual arguments against digital as a money-saving exercise: film / processing costs are such a tiny fraction of total expenditure, it’s not worth the savings for a major studio to “experiment” with digital acquisition. The camera’s just a tiny bit of it.

ART

But how many people thought of that in advance? Most just said “Hey, a 4k camera for $17.5k! Woohoo!” and placed their orders.

ADAM

Lots of folks, of course!

ART

I saw some a great shot done by Terry Flaxton, a British DP who was in the area recently for a shoot. It was a long zoom-out from a waterfall in Yosemite to reveal the Yosemite valley. I was amazed at the RED’s ability to hold such an extended range of highlights and shadows. Turned out he used at least two ND grads.

ADAM

Was that the Angel Falls clip on Chater’s Mac?

ART

That might be the clip, yes. Starts tight on the falls, pulls out very wide.

ADAM

A superb shot. But sure, two ND grads. If you’d use ’em on film (even Vision 3 stock or Vision 2 Expression), why wouldn’t you use ’em on RED? The talent is in the DP, not the camera (or in your case, the art isn’t IN the DP, Art IS the DP).

ART

If only Art was the DP for that shot. It was very, very good. I don’t think you’d need the grads for film, necessarily. You could bring all that out in a DI or telecine suite.

ADAM

I’d be hard-pressed to shoot that Yosemite clip on film without any grads and still pull that level of detail out of both highlights and shadows! Not saying it couldn’t be done, just that it’d take a better judge of exposure than I.

ART

I think if you overexposed it a little and used a Kodak stock you could pull it off.

By the way, here’s the Terry Flaxton piece shot on RED at Yosemite: http://www.flaxton.btinternet.co.uk/yosemite.htm

It looked better on his laptop.

ADAM

I recognize that lens Flaxton’s using… <grin>

ART

Yup. From Chater Camera, of course.

ADAM

That looks like the same angle at least. The clip at Chater has the full zoom-out from 290mm to 24mm, including the sky with a few bright and puffy clouds. Sweet. So nice to see it in 2K res on a 30″ Cinema Display!

ART

He was the one who told me he’d seen some really great looks come out of RedCine, and then showed me some that he’d played with. Nice stuff for primary corrections. I still want to run out and buy a lot of grads, though.

By the way, I just heard that Schneider is sending me a 30-day loaner set of Digicons. We’ll have to set up some play time with a RED somewhere.

ADAM

Indeed? With any luck Build 16 will come out soon, too.

ART

Build 16, the build that will change everything… again?

There’s nothing we like more in the film biz than change. Repeatability is SOOO boring.

Changing cameras, changing rules, changing DPs when we get burned by a new set of software…

…yes, we love change.

ADAM

Yeah, change stinks. I still wish we were all shooting ECO and VNF, right? Or Kodachrome 40: ISO 25 when corrected for daylight. Man, the Good Old Days….

With a film cam, change comes in the form of new stocks. With RED, at least we have the option of upgrading to new firmware builds. Would you rather be shooting build 13, or build 15? I rest my case!

As to the Digicons, Tim was saying that all you really needed to do was put a bit more base illumination into the Wii spec spot shots. The Digicons will sorta do that, but when you already have a controlled set, just raise the base lighting a bit… (and of course, expose the histogram a bit more to the right). Why not do it that way?

ART

Well… you don’t always have that option, for one. The other is that the “base” light can just be ambient spill from the lighting you’ve already done, and can have a character of its own. I’d hate to spoil that.

For example, in the final shot where Bob sits on the couch, that was lit with one light. I was trying to bounce it off a part of the ceiling that dropped down (is that a mullion? I never get that right) so that I could have a soft backlight that lit the entire room without hanging a light there, something we couldn’t do. I placed a key shadow on the proper zone, but the image still ended up thin on RedCode RAW. In the good old days I’d shoot a fast stock, overexpose it a third or half stop, and get exactly the look I was going for without a lot of grain.

ADAM

Don’t get me wrong: Digicons, Ultracons, and the like are lifesavers. Should be in everyone’s kit.

ART

I never liked Ultracons for film, but I think I’ll like them, or Digicons, for HD. I like the idea of building up the pedestal and bringing it down selectively in post.

ART

My sense is that the RED is a slower camera than it’s given credit for, and that rating it at EI 320 plus “exposing to the right” of the histogram makes up for this.

ADAM

You still think it’s really an ISO 160 cam?

ART

I don’t know if the RED is EI 320 or 160. I’m tempted to keep rating it at 160, without protecting highlights as aggressively, and see what it does. Other people don’t seem to have the noise issues I did, but then I tend to light a lot darker than a lot of people do.

I like dark. Nice, rich black tones, please.

I’m thinking of creating a digital version of bleach bypass, where you don’t make a copies of the bits the camera sees but you retain the original bits as well, making the image darker with more contrast. I’ll call it “blanking interval bypass” or something like that.

ADAM

As to exposure, you can’t treat RED like the zone system. You really have to protect the highlights that you want to “see through” (as Bill Holshevnikoff puts it) and let the rest fall where it may (like reversal film). So light it “dark” but push the exposure up as far as you can tolerate. You can pull the shadows back down in post; get a nice “flat neg” and keep your detail above the noise floor. The Digicons will help, but letting your histograms just start piling up on the right edge instead of having lots of unexploited headroom is the real key here. Remember that the histograms and traffic lights are ISO setting dependent; they’re the readouts for the 709 grade at the current ISO. And ISO 320 has about a half-stop of headroom in the RAW data before hard clipping occurs, so turn on the three-color histograms and push ’em a bit.

ART

So what you’re saying is that a little clipping is a good thing? Basically, let the speculars clip, let a white highlight clip, just don’t let any crucial highlights lose detail?

ADAM

Yes! Clip the hard specular reflections and the point sources (stuff that’ll blow out no matter what). Just keep the hottest highlight uyou want to see detail in, but push it right up the the right edge of the histogram.

ART

Also, is it true that the histograms and traffic light relate to the white balance you’ve captured, not to what’s actually going on in the chip?

ADAM

Exactly: they’re the measurements for the current monitoring output, not the RAW capture. You can prove it easily by changing ISO in the menus and seeing what the ‘grams and traffic lights do.

ART

Argh. So you really need to watch for spikes and pileup, no matter where they appear. Someone said you need to look for histogram pile-up, not just watching whether it hits the right side or not.

ADAM

Histogram pile-up on the right edge is more or less what you want to see, as long as you are aware of how much is piling up, and what’s being lost.

And yes, if you see a color channel “piling up” before it hits the right edge, that probably means that channel is clipping below 100% at the current ISO; it can happen when the lighting or the highlight has a very different color balance than the RED’s native color sensitivity, as we’ve seen before.

ART

I guess the trick will be figuring out just how much you’re willing to lose, and using your “hold your hand in front of the lens and watch the histogram” trick.

ADAM

Yes, you need to learn how to really read those histograms and relate them to picture content. That, and using the ‘scopes display on the monitoring outputs, like the WFM we had in the Panasonic BT-LH1700W monitor, or the parades/WFMs in the Astro monitors.

ART

But those just tell you where the bad highlights are. Here you have to think a bit more, wave your hands in front of the lens a bit more.

ADAM

Absolutely. Vignetting or flagging the image with your hand, so as to only see what you’re interested in in the picture and the histogram, is an essential trick.

ART

It’s an obvious trick, but one I learned from you. It was one of those “Please wait while I kick myself hard” moments.

ADAM

Oh, dear…

Or, you can zoom in (when you’re using a zoom) to see only the important detail. Or pan / tilt to exclude stuff that you don’t want to meter.

ART

Does the zoom in function have an affect on the histogram?

ADAM

I mean “zoom in” with a zoom lens.

IIRC the zoom in function on the camera loses the histogram (but I may be confusing it with the image-mag button on the LCD). If not, it’s a simple test to see what happens with the ‘gram when you enlarge the image.

My plan is to bring a WFM / parade capable monitor (the Panasonic I have, or the Astro I pine for, grin) to any critical RED shoot, so I can have more feedback as to where things are falling in the brightness range. And, of course, to always have a Mac loaded with REDCINE or RED Alert! available (or SpeedGrade OnSet when it supports R3D files) for truly critical checking.

ART

I’m hoping for SpeedGrade as it would run on my PPC Powerbook, grin. One thing I remember from our tests is that a waveform is reasonably accurate at telegraphing when something is clipping. It’s not perfect, but it’s still helpful. Although I was pretty happy not having a ton of cables running to the camera.

Well, thank you, sir. A lovely chat, as always. Perhaps we will do tea or cawfee later this week or early next.

ADAM

Righto! Have your agent call my agent…

ART

Okay, off I go.

ADAM

Next time let’s discuss REDCINE workflows to avoid the crashes and the file renaming you suffered through.


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PVC Staff
Adam Wilt has been working off and on in film and video for the past thirty years, while paying the bills writing software for animation, automation, broadcast graphics, and real-time control for companies including Abekas,…
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