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.

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