Monday, 14 July, 2008

First TV commercial shot on Red in India

Some days ago, on the one hand there were Reds withdrawing support to a Government, and on the other, a Red that was probably ushering in a revolution in acquisition for mass entertainment.

Unless someone has completed a TV commercial in India before the 12th July, this is the first TV commercial in India shot on the Red camera. I'm not sure I can name the product, but maybe I will after its released.

Two old friends worked on this commercial - Rajesh Krishnan and Murlidharan. Actually they are both very young, 'old' friends means we go back a long time. Rajesh's company Soda Films produced it with Rajesh directing and Murli as the cinematographer.

The commercial was also simultaneously shot on 35mm with an Arri 435 camera. I had to edit the Red material while the film material was edited at Rajesh's office. Eventually we'll tally both edits so one can have a comparison.

My editing workflow...
1. Tried to do log and capture in FCP with the Red data. It was taking ages as the files were on a USB drive. I set the Log and Capture all night on a Quad core Intel MacPro, and it stopped sometime after doing 41 (out of 123 clips). This method seems completely impractical, unless one wants to mark and capture.
2. Tried Redrushes to convert the clips to Apple ProRes. I set it up to convert all clips to Apple ProRes SQ at 1920x1080. Earlier, I did small tests scaling at different sizes, and the scaling size doesn't seem to affect speed. My rush of 123 clips totalling about 23 mins, on an Intel Quad Core took 4 hours to convert from Red to Apple ProRes. Again, this method isn't very impractical.
3. So I decided to edit the _H or _M clips directly. First I tried this on my 24" Dual core iMac, (only 1 Gb RAM) but that choked and couldn't play the _H or _M clips smoothly. For some reason, even the MacPro couldn't. Somehow my MacBook pro Core2Duo managed.

Incidentally all the said machines have MacOSX 10.5.3 or above and Quicktime 7.4.5 or above. And I downloaded the latest QT codec, Redcine, RedAlert and Redrushes on all 3 machines.

So eventually the edit went like this.

I edited on a MacBook Pro. Using the the Apple ProRes clips since they played most reliably. After the edit, I made a new edit by eye matching the _M clips. So now I had two edits. I gave both EDLs to Mithun.

Guess why I had to eyematch to make an edit of the _M clips? Because FCP cannot reconnect an edit made of ProRes converts to an edit of _M clips. Because file names are different. More importantly, Redrushes when converting Red files to Quicktime, changes timecode after 22 hours to 00 hours. Not after 23 hrs. So one set of clips had wrong time code.

About the look. On a MacBook Pro screen its hard to say. The Red files when opened in Quicktime, and also FCP, look a bit dull, almost like log. When made log to lin in Shake they look better but not quite right. I did a 'send to Color' on the ProRes sequence and could muster up a decent grade. With Rajesh guiding me and Mithun looking jealously over my shoulder.

Eventually we'll grade this film's film version and the Red version, both on a Scratch system to make them look the same, colour and contrast wise. And maybe output both to film and see them in a theatre.

Conclusion. Working with Red files is not terribly different from working with 'normal' film and tape media. There is s slight lag when working with the _M or _P files. FCP appears less responsive. But apart from that its similar. An important difference is that if one is working with _M files, one is actually editing at 2k resolution. Wow!

Stability. There were no crashes throughout the edit. My MacPro was also doing other things when converting. And my MacBook Pro was doing a software update and mail checks while I edited. No crash. Not even with the client (Rajesh) present. Most machines behave well till the client arrives.

Software issues. Before one edits a film shot on Red, one should get all the latest software updates and install them. And spend a day or so, doing converts and timing stuff. On a long project, you cannot take one route and then change midway. 10 hours of Red footage can take up to two days to convert, so you better do it right.

Overall I'm positive with this Red working. Its really here now. Depending on how Benchmark manages the marketing in India, the revolution is upon us.

Initially, many editors will crib. Some won't be able to import footage, others won't be able to play it right. Timecode issues will come up. Entire edits and rushes will be lost to drive crashes. Mostly it will be human error. An entire set of folks, cinematographers and editors will trash this Red workflow and say it 'simply doesn't work'.

I've been through this many times before. When Movieolas and Steenbecks gave way to Avids, many said it would never work. Now it does. When Umatic and later Betacam tape came to TV acquisition, when FCP grew in popularity, basically whenever a large scale change in working happens.

Eventually there will be two sets of people left. Those that have successfully understood and adapted to this new digital workflow, and those that are yet to manage.

Friday, 4 July, 2008

Western Digital My Passport™ Studio™ 320GB

Another great small drive from Western Digital for editors on the go. Now available at AutSun for a shade over Rs 10,000.

I had written about an earlier model Western Digital pocket drive 250 GB on my blog. I used one of those with my MacBook Pro to edit a feature on. With Final Cut Pro.

All rushes for the feature, nearly 170 GB at DV-PAL were copied on to the WD pocket drive and connected via USB to my MacBook Pro. Through many months of editing, presentations, playouts for sound, and exports for preview DVDs - the kind of stuff that goes into feature film editing - the drive held firm.

No dropped frames, no crashes.

Now this new drive has 320 GB as well as Firewire and USB interfaces. It should be even faster and even more reliable. The advantage of the USB port is that you can reliably use your Firewire bus to take on a deck/camcorder or even a Mojo if you edit on a new Avid MC. And its bus-powered so no more lugging around and connecting a power supply, cables and such.

The price at AutSun is reasonable and only marginally more than the US online price. But hey, the US online price doesn't include taxes, and shipping. So it might even be cheaper to buy from Autsun than from WD itself.

Recommended. A great buy for the mobile editor.

Wednesday, 2 July, 2008

Red camera in Mumbai, India

Ted Schilowitz, of Red camera, the 'Leader of the Rebellion' as his card says, and like the main spokesperson for Red was in Mumbai yesterday. As was Nacho, Vice President of Scratch. They launched Red for DOPs and film-makers in India.

It was a small party The Club, Andheri West. A collection of film-makers, Cinematographers and others gathered on a rainy day. I was possibly the only editor around. No wait, Rajesh Choudhary was there too.

Among the cinematographers were very old friends Anoop, Vijay, Murli, Mahesh, Chiang, Rao saab, and lots of others. Names on the tip of my tongue but not 'coming out'.

Benchmark is their (Red and Scratch) representative in India. They have one camera now that they'll use for promotion and plan on bringing in about 50 more in maybe a few months now. So the first step for Red camera feasibility in India seems licked if even half of these many can be made available by year end.

Not many film technicians seem to have heard of Scratch. This is a Windows based DI software. Scratch can conform EDLs to scanned material, grade rather well, and then output to film or HD/SD tapes.

Assimilate is the company that makes Scratch and there are already 16 in India. If someone tells me the last Hindi movie graded totally on Scratch, I'll put it up here.

I'll write about post with Red in a bit. It starts with editing natively on FCP.

For Red finishing workflows, there's a low-cost product called Scratch Cine. This can open and conform Red R3D files, but not other formats. It can play back, at 24fps, Red files at 1k and 2k (not 4k) There's no info on how many sound tracks it can play and how good it stays in sync.

So, for now, Red has made an official entry into the Indian film production industry. Soon more and more cameras will become available. Cinematographers will start using it, Sound recordists will love it for the zero noise, but will need to get used to the connections and recording system.

Editors will have to get used to 'rushes' with cryptic alphabet-number names, folders within folders, a good storage and backup regimen, but no more keycode-timecode-telecine log grappling.

Post and DI houses and systems will need to come to terms with workflows that involves FCP, Scratch and others. And DI houses geared only to film and DPX, will have one more reason (after HD) to get real and equip themselves to handle non-film shooting for film release.

There will be many who will scoff at this whole new digital film thing. But then, it was another rainy day almost 8 years ago when Apple launched Final Cut Pro here. Many scoffed, some still do. And even before, on a not so rainy day six years before FCP, when Avid launched editing on a computer. The Steenbeck crowd laughed heartily then.

Will Red be a revolution in the way we make movies here? I doubt if we'll take 5 years to find out. Ask me around this time in 2009.