Monday, September 29, 2008

Red Raves - Rants "Red-Bull"

The following is in response to an article posted by Director Rian Johnson (Brick, The Brothers Bloom) which has created a stir in the Red One user community due to its negative portrayal of the marketing of the Red camera system.

I found this article to be a fantastic read. I was not all disappointed, as I was cautioned I might be due to my interest in the technology. I am however always more interested in dispelling conjecture and misconception than regurgitating supposed fact. I have built my career on determining first-hand the actualities of ‘real world results’ both good and bad. So much of what cinematographers do on set relies on our ability to control the environment to the point where it fits into the given shooting format. It is therefore prudent to understand the parameters of that format thoroughly. One of my personal statements is to “test it ‘til it fails” as any other test never shows the edges of usability. Or in other words “where the sweet spot falls apart”. It seems that increasingly I am being approached by producers to help them wade through the hype of all the techno-speak: log, linear, 4K, 2K, long GOP, 8 bit, 10 bit, 12 bit 16 bit 42 bit . . . . so to have the opportunity to add my two cents is welcomed.

While Rian Johnson’s “Red-Bull’ article does clearly refute the marketing hype responsible for Red’s current moment in the limelight, the article is written in a form and with a tone that unfortunately doesn’t do much for the author’s credibility. It comes off as a personal rant rather than as a level-headed and thoroughly researched argument. I can see from his website that he likes to stir things up which is apparently what he’s doing here.

Here are two things that are keeping the Red system on my radar. Firstly, I can honestly say that I have never seen better looking video on-set or screened in 2K than I have from the Red system. I am speaking here of the live 720 preview out directly from the camera . . . of course it could be due as well to the fact that the cinematographers I have had the opportunity to work with using the Red include Gale Tattersall (House) and Amir Mokri (National Treasure II, Lord of War) :) Secondly, in my opinion the integrated controls and operational functionality of the Red camera system rival the best available in HD acquisition.

When the images on the on-set monitors are delivering crisp, clear, natural colors (or real-time corrected as per the D.P. and/or the director’s wishes) it begets a confidence on set which allows the creatives involved (directorial, camera and art dept) further freedom to adapt and refine their work depending on the situation and variables of that moment. In other words the technology becomes secondary to the creative process. At its best the camera simply does its job without becoming obtrusive. Just like the good old days of film except . . . one can truly see what one will ultimately get . . .

For too long shooting HD has meant intervention from the DIT and assistant team while problems are solved in order to get to the point of looking at an image to begin refining it. In my on-set experience I have found that, unlike other more expensive cameras, the Red offers both a WYSIWYG on set preview and film-camera like functionality to the assistants and operators,without any compromise. Neither the Sony F23, Panavision Genesis, Thomson Viper, Panasonic Varicam, Sony F900 or any other 1080 HD camera (excepting the Arri D20/21) gives lookaround to the operator and the director! Having ‘lookaround’ is something that should be a basic requirement on any ‘professional’ acquisition camera. It just makes sense to see what you are framing out – just like we have done for decades in film. Additionally, neither the Genesis nor the F23 offer a realtime corrected output for a subjectively pleasing colour preview without the rental of additional equipment like the Genesis Display Processor, LUTher Box or a Cinetal display with LUT support. All in all, the Red One achieves unprecedented functionality and image quality in a camera body which is one tenth the price of the F23.

Discreet DOF is part of the director’s toolset that is becoming even more important to utilize with many short form projects being viewed in massive numbers on YouTube. The 1” sensors of the RED and the Genesis, in the hands of a skilled camera person can deliver wonderful images with beautifully discreet depth of field. Unfortunately I’ve had a number of conversations with producers who are of the belief that an HVX200 with its 1/3” CCD’s will deliver perfectly ‘adequate’ imagery for web-based delivery. It’s a cheap rental. I hear things like, “It’s just for the web anyway.” And I suppose it would be adequate if your story is not necessarily a visual one and it’s acceptable to have everything equally soft focused. I think generally though most producers agree that, like a still photographer, the higher the resolution of the original the better the final product will be . . . and in the case of video – allowing the cinematographer and director the tool to direct an audiences attention via selected focus is even more important than ever.

This is a link to an excellent response by Chris Kenney of ‘Nice Dissolve’ to Rian Johnson’s ‘revised RED rant’:

and here is part two dealing with compression:

– his arguments all seem sound except perhaps his belief that RED is perfectly suitable for theatrical projection . . . which is a topic better saved for a night with more hours left in it . . .

No comments: