Updated July 25, 2009
More and more producers are considering the RED ONE camera acquisition yet many fundamental questions about the post production workflow remain shrouded in mystery.
This article is an attempt to clarify the RED post process. It is intended for producers who need to decide if the RED is a viable option for their specific circumstances. Those who need specific step-by-step technical instructions on the RED workflow should start their research at www.red.com.
Everything about the RED is a work in progress. What this really means is that the camera system and the post production processes are getting better and easier every day. Frequent firmware updates for RED ONE are an integral part of the RED philosophy. These updates often affect post production handling of RED ONE dailies.
The Camera Basics
The RED ONE camera records so called “RAW” files onto a hard disc or solid state memory cards. These files are compressed and unprocessed data dumps from the imaging sensor. The files must be processed in post in order to create high quality images.
The image size can be as high as 4k which is more than sufficient for theatrical projection. The camera can also be configured to record smaller frame sizes and various frame rates up to 120 fps.
In addition to the RAW files the camera also generates QuickTime proxy files that are suitable for immediate viewing. At this time the QuickTime proxies are compatible with Intel Macintosh only. The proxy files are vehicles for QuickTime player viewing. They can not be emailed or recorded to a DVD-R disc without the corresponding RAW files. All picture and audio content reside inside the RAW files and proxies merely point to the RAW files.
Various NLEs like Avid Media Composer, Final Cut Pro and Premiere Pro are capable of handling RED dailies.
QuickTime proxies can be used for editing in Final Cut Pro but there are known issues that affect this approach. At best it is suitable for short form editing. This is the most simple RED workflow
In Final Cut Pro it is advisable to convert the QuickTime proxies into hard coded files prior to editing. ProRes is a good choice in FCP. Alternately, RAW files are captured to Final Cut Pro using the RED Log and Capture plugin from red.com.
The recent addition of QuickTime timecode import in Media Composer made it possible to use RED proxy files in Media Composer without third party utilities but on Macintosh platform only.
There are other ways to capture the RED media in Avid Media Composer. Avid MetaFuze can be used to convert RAW R3D files directly to DNxHD encoded files for Media Composer. This process retains all the metadata necessary for the finishing process.
Older Avid workflows used RED proxies and third party tools like MetaCheater or RedRushes. They can still be viable on older versions of Media Composer that can not read QuickTime timecode. Third party tools can bridge this gap by generating an ALE file which connects RED media with the corresponding metadata inside Media Composer. Please review step by step Avid RED workflow at www.avid.com/red.
Adobe Premiere Pro can access the RED R3D files without any intermediate steps.
Capturing RAW files can be very time consuming. Smaller productions may use multiple computers to speed up the process and larger productions typically outsource the RED dailies service to post facilities that use high throughput workflows and equipment.
The real advantage of the RED ONE is the ability to produce film quality images. Digital intermediate is an important step when a filmout is required. Overall, the process is very similar to the established film style DI.
Assimilate, Adobe and DVS are the only RED Digital Cinema partners capable of working natively with RED raw files at this time. Most other systems like Digital Vision Film Master, Quantel Pablo, Avid DS, SpeedGrade, Smoke, Flame and others offer non-native, direct RED R3D support. You can learn more about native vs. non-native RED support.
Any other DI system capable of handling standard 10-bit log DPX or 16-bit TIFF files can also be used for this purpose.
There are third party tools like Monkey Extract, CineXML and Crimson that facilitate the various stages of RED post production.
Finishing (HD or SD)
The material captured into an offline edit system can be used for HD or SD finishing provided it was captured at an appropriate frame size and compression (or no compression) quality.
Even the camera QuickTime proxies can be used for the final output as long as the picture quality is acceptable.
There is a very important picture quality issue to address here. Like film, raw files can record a very wide dynamic range. When film is transferred to tape the telecine colorist makes decisions on how to transfer this content to videotape which has a smaller dynamic range. Picture information often has to be sacrificed in this process and it comes to the artistry of the colorist to make this information loss as transparent as possible.
RAW files are the equivalent of 35mm film. They are typically captured to an offline system without a skilled colorist making decisions on how to best transfer wide dynamic range of RAW files into 10-bit or 8-bit video. It is either the automatic process inside the camera or the assistant editor or who makes these blanket decisions without taking picture content into consideration. Relying on an automated process to make color choices and repair production mistakes almost always generates unusable shots that have to be retransferred manually.
While it is possible to use the same material from offline edit for your final delivery, you may be severely limiting the visual quality of the piece.
The RED ONE post production is as complex as it gets although there are different levels depending on your finishing and delivery choices. At its most complex it resembles file based video workflow and film based DI combined.
It is very important to test out your entire workflow prior to the offline editing stage and make sure that everything in the chain is performing as expected. It is entirely possible that before you lock picture new tools and methods will be available which in turn may require additional testing.
Although this complexity can raise the post production cost it is important to consider the high end picture quality and production side savings when making your decision whether or not to shoot with the RED ONE.
Igor Ridanovic is a co-founder or RED Los Angeles User Group.