Today’s Independent Filmmaker – Choosing the correct RED Workflow Part 1

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The approaching Fall usually signals the end of the shooting season here in the Midwest. Most productions aim to head into post production in the upcoming months and that usually signals our busy season here at the studio. With the Michigan film incentive tanked, the list of big Independent films is down from last year and that’s allowed us to spend a good bit of time refining our workflow and working closer with DP’s to deliver a better solution for them. And as new DOP’s and Producer learn to work with bigger budgets and more ambitious projects, it’s imperative that they find successful workflows and we help them to find them, together.

Early in the year, we wanted to see what workflow performed best for our clients. Being primarily a VFX company we have our own internal workflow that revolves around 32 bit Linear based formats such as OpenEXR or Tif and for grading 10bit DPX. But recently an increased amount of RED work has come into the studio often from DOP’s we have never worked with before. Last year saw everything from REC 709 baked DPX’s to CameraRGB and PDLOG LUTed 8 Bit Jpeg shots coming in. True, the look is just that, a look (if we get the r3ds) and the metadata can be changed at any time (CameraRGB can be changed to REC 709 easily inside REDCine) But the choices the DOP made while looking at this “Look” are forever. DOP’s who light via the 720p output of the camera could almost be considered a plague now. Whether it’s ArriRaw, Canon StuLog or Technicolor color science, DOP’s who don’t test or know what the color science is doing inside the camera, and adjust their style to match, are all too common.The last thing we want to see is a look of surprise on the DP’s face as he sees his footage on a 10 bit Cinetal display for the first time. (as opposed to their own 14 inch LCD MacBook Pro)

At the beginning of the year we set out to develop a workflow best suited to the Indie producer but which allowed us to deliver a good product. We hoped to be able to engage Producers and DOP’s before they shot as to solidify the workflow. Some had time, some did not. After the conversations we took some RED footage we shot from last year and treated it like it had come in from the three most common color science choices. The results….

Dailies/ProRes Transcode REC709 Gamma
VFX REC709
Grade:REC709

No Brainer here, if we setup the files this way, we had the best reaction to dailies, the grade versus the FCP offline and/or VFX Shots that were delivered back to the client. The reason- the shots at all times most closely resembled the shots as seen in the onset monitor and the editors FCP/Avid pass. But the loss of latitude in the highlights or dark areas, the baked in contrast, coupled with the response curve mimicking video more than film, left the final prints looking more like a good 5D shoot than a 4k image lens on a film lens. This is also the quickest workflow because so many decisions have already been made.

Dailies/ProRes Transcode REDGamma2
VFX REDGamma2
Grade:REDGamma2

Definitely an improvement, the REDGamma2 curve allowed us to be able to get a curve closer to film and take advantage of the latitude available with the MX Sensor. Only in a side by side could the clients see a difference in the onset look (Rec709) provided by the RED monitor with all of them choosing the REDGamma2 as a more film like image. True, RED considers the Color2/Gamma2 to be the closest Linear curve to film. While not log, doing VFX using this curve was definitely doable and meant that transcoding to 32bit OpenExr, gave us our VFX plates and finals for grading at the same time. This allowed us to grade in After Effects or Nuke, without a Speedgrade pass.

Dailies/ProRes Transcode REDLogFilm
VFX REDLogFilm
Grade:REDLogFilm

Our preferred format, it closely resembles the latitude of film and gives the greatest response back on grading. If you construct a beautiful shot, REDLogFilm will give it back to with the love, discarding the harsh edge of film. Not quite the Eterna look (yet) but REDLogFilm also gives us the best environment to grade and composite our vfx shots. Most major film post houses work in Log or Lin 1.0, and that allows them to squeeze every ounce of beautiful out of the negative. The drawback- The image in no way matches the on set image. Untreated, it looks milky and flat. To the untrained eye it is a disaster. But it is the color science we (and most of the industry) probably would like to be handed to deal with. To DOP’s working in Independent Film, asking the Director and the Producer to trust him to turn the milky image to beauty is a battle they have to fight if they want their images to compete.

The solution. For now we recommend REDGamma2 with REDColor2 as the color science. It strikes a nice balance between the DOP’s need to show an image that is vibrant and contrasty, but will not have the shock factor associated with learning that they had more latitude in the camera than what they saw thru the monitor. The majority of our clients are seasoned pros who know these things, but as new DOP’s and Producer learn to work with bigger budgets and more ambitious projects, it’s imperative that they find successful workflows. We are trying to educate our DP clients to get to know the curve of REDLogFilm and REDGamma2 so they can light for the extra latitude, even though they can’t see it on the set. Much like the old lady, good old film, trusting a light meter and experience will yield great results.

Part 2: We’ll grade the Log RED Footage, dealing with the image in several solutions such as Adobe, Sony, Iridas and Finally Final Cut Pro.

(Note:) We decouple the Quicktime gamma on all our workstations in order to not let Apples 1.8 Gamma influence our decisions.


 

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