Tag Archives: RED

New codec, workflow options via Red, Nvidia and Adobe

By Mike McCarthy

There were two announcements last week that will impact post production workflows. The first was the launch of Red’s new SDK, which leverages Nvidia’s GPU-accelerated CUDA framework to deliver realtime playback of 8K Red footage. I’ll get to the other news shortly. Nvidia was demonstrating an early version of this technology at Adobe Max in October, and I have been looking forward to this development since I am about to start post on a feature film shot on the Red Monstro camera. This should effectively render the RedRocket accelerator cards obsolete, replacing them with cheaper, multipurpose hardware that can also accelerate other computational tasks.

While accelerating playback of 8K content at full resolution requires a top-end RTX series card from Nvidia (Quadro RTX 6000, Titan RTX or GeForce RTX 2080Ti), the technology is not dependent on RTX’s new architecture (RT and Tensor cores), allowing earlier generation hardware to accelerate smooth playback at smaller frame sizes. Lots of existing Red footage is shot at 4K and 6K, and playback of these files will be accelerated on widely deployed legacy products from previous generations of Nvidia GPU architecture. It will still be a while before this functionality is in the hands of end users, because now Adobe, Apple, Blackmagic and other software vendors have to integrate the new SDK functionality into their individual applications. But hopefully we will see those updates hitting the market soon (targeting late Q1 of 2019).

Encoding ProRes on Windows via Adobe apps
The other significant update, which is already available to users as of this week, is Adobe’s addition of ProRes encoding support on its video apps in Windows. Developed by Apple, ProRes encoding has been available on Mac for a long time, and ProRes decoding and playback has been available on Windows for over 10 years. But creating ProRes files on Windows has always been a challenge. Fixing this was less a technical challenge than a political one, as Apple owns the codec and it is not technically a standard. So while there were some hacks available at various points during that time, Apple has severely restricted the official encoding options available on Windows… until now.

With the 13.0.2 release of Premiere Pro and Media Encoder, as well as the newest update to After Effects, Adobe users on Windows systems can now create ProRes files in whatever flavor they happen to need. This is especially useful since many places require delivery of final products in the ProRes format. In this case, the new export support is obviously a win all the way around.

Adobe Premiere

Now users have yet another codec option for all of their intermediate files, prompting another look at the question: Which codec is best for your workflow? With this release, Adobe users have at least three major options for high-quality intermediate codecs: Cineform, DNxHR and now ProRes. I am limiting the scope to integrated cross-platform codecs supporting 10-bit color depth, variable levels of image compression and customizable frame sizes. Here is a quick overview of the strengths and weaknesses of each option:

ProRes
ProRes was created by Apple over 10 years ago and has become the de-facto standard throughout the industry, regardless of the fact that it is entirely owned by Apple. ProRes is now fully cross-platform compatible, has options for both YUV and RGB color and has six variations, all of which support at least 10-bit color depth. The variable bit rate compression scheme scales well with content complexity, so encoding black or static images doesn’t require as much space as full-motion video. It also supports alpha channels with compression, but only in the 444 variants of the codec.

Recent tests on my Windows 10 workstation resulted in ProRes taking 3x to 5x as much CPU power to playback as similar DNxHR of Cineform files, especially as frame sizes get larger. The codec supports 8K frame sizes but playback will require much more processing power. I can’t even playback UHD files in ProRes 444 at full resolution, while the Cineform and DNxHR files have no problem, even at 444. This is less of concern if you are only working at 1080p.

Multiply those file sizes by four for UHD content (and by 16 for 8K content).

Cineform
Cineform, which has been available since 2004, was acquired by GoPro in 2011. They have licensed the codec to Adobe, (among other vendors) and it is available as “GoPro Cineform” in the AVI or QuickTime sections of the Adobe export window. Cineform is a wavelet compression codec, with 10-bit YUV and 12-bit RGB variants, which like ProRes support compressed alpha channels in the RGB variant. The five levels of encoding quality are selected separately from the format, so higher levels of compression are available for 4444 content compared to the limited options available in the other codecs.

It usually plays back extremely efficiently on Windows, but my recent tests show that encoding to the format is much slower than it used to be. And while it has some level of support outside of Adobe applications, it is not as universally recognized as ProRes or DNxHD.

DNxHD
DNxHD was created by Avid for compressed HD playback and has now been extended to DNxHR (high resolution). It is a fixed bit rate codec, with each variant having a locked multiplier based on resolution and frame rate. This makes it easy to calculate storage needs but wastes space for files that are black or contain a lot of static content. It is available in MXF and Mov wrappers and has five levels of quality. The top option is 444 RGB, and all variants support alpha channels in Mov but uncompressed, which takes a lot of space. For whatever reason, Adobe has greatly optimized DNxHR playback in Premiere Pro, of all variants, in both MXF and Mov wrappers. On my project 6Below, I was able to get 6K 444 files to playback, with lots of effects, without dropping frames. The encodes to and from DNxHR are faster in Adobe apps as well.

So for most PC Adobe users, DNxHR-LB (low bandwidth) is probably the best codec to use for intermediate work. We are using it to offline my current project, with 2.2K DNxHR-LB, Mov files. People with a heavy Mac interchange may lean toward ProRes, but up your CPU specs for the same level of application performance.


Mike McCarthy is an online editor/workflow consultant with 10 years of experience on feature films and commercials. He has been involved in pioneering new solutions for tapeless workflows, DSLR filmmaking and multi-screen and surround video experiences. Check out his site.

Red’s Hydrogen One: new 3D-enabled smartphone

In their always subtle way, Red has stated that “the future of personal communication, information gathering, holographic multi-view, 2D, 3D, AR/VR/MR and image capture just changed forever” with the introduction of Hydrogen One, a pocket-sized, glasses-free “holographic media machine.”

Hydrogen One is a standalone, full-featured, unlocked multi-band smartphone, operating on Android OS, that promises “look around depth in the palm of your hand” without the need for separate glasses or headsets. The device features a 5.7-inch professional hydrogen holographic display that switches between traditional 2D content, holographic multi-view content, 3D content and interactive games, and it supports both landscape and portrait modes. Red has also embedded a proprietary H30 algorithm in the OS system that will convert stereo sound into multi-dimensional audio.

The Hydrogen system incorporates a high-speed data bus to enable a comprehensive and expandable modular component system, including future attachments for shooting high-quality motion, still and holographic images. It will also integrate into the professional Red camera program, working together with Scarlet, Epic and Weapon as a user interface and monitor.

Future-users are already talking about this “nifty smartphone with glasses-free 3D,” and one has gone so far as to describe the announcement as “the day 360-video became Betamax, and AR won the race.” Others are more tempered in their enthusiasm, viewing this as a really expensive smartphone with a holographic screen that may or might not kill 360 video. Time will tell.

Initially priced between $1,195 and $1,595, the Hydrogen One is targeted to ship in Q1 of 2018.

‘Wolf Hall’ DP Gavin Finney: modern tech for a period drama

By Ellen Wixted

Based on Hilary Mantel’s Booker Prize-winning novels, Wolf Hall was adapted by the BBC in conjunction with PBS as a six-part series for television.  When the show first aired in the UK in January on BBC Two, the first episode attracted nearly six million viewers. In the US, the April premiere drew 4.4 million viewers on PBS and through streaming services.

Capturing the volatile mix of sex, politics and religion that defined Henry VIII’s Britain, Wolf Hall was directed by Peter Kosminsky and shot entirely on location by cinematographer Gavin Finney, BSC. The show stars Mark Rylance as Thomas Cromwell, Claire Foy as Anne Boleyn and Damien Lewis as Henry VIII.

I spoke with Finney about how he achieved the series’ distinctively fresh, contemporary look. The story of Henry VIII is familiar, but Mantel’s depiction of Thomas Cromwell is a significant departure from tradition. I asked Finney what the response to the series has been in the UK, and he was quick to note that while the historical events are well known to Brits, the show’s goal was to do justice to the novel — which is, at its heart, fiction. “Cromwell was the first plebeian power broker who wasn’t aristocracy or clergy,” Finney points out. “He was a mercenary, a lawyer and a banker.

Gavin Finney, behind the camera.

Gavin Finney, behind the camera.

In that time, especially, you had to be fleet of mind to stay alive. Typically, Thomas More is presented as a saint, but in Wolf Hall his darker side is portrayed, albeit with deep religious convictions. What’s great about Hilary’s writing is that no one comes through as an ogre or an angel.”

Documentary Immediacy Meets Historical Drama
Unlike most period dramas, which lavish visual attention on every surface, Finney notes that Kosminsky wanted the visual world of Wolf Hall to feel more like a documentary than a traditional drama. “For the people of the time, these weren’t historically important sites or fabulous costumes, they were the buildings they lived and worked in, and the clothes they wore.”

In the 16th Century, art played a key role in helping define the visual approach. “The witnesses to that time were the painters” points out Finney, noting that the team spent time in London looking not just at the Hans Holbein paintings that figure prominently in the story, but also at works by later painters from Caravaggio and Rembrandt to Vermeer and Gerard van Honthorst. “In that era, people are always painted by windows, and night scenes show how that world looked by candlelight. Peter staged the action so that interior shots are illuminated by natural looking light from the windows, and nighttime scenes are lit using candles.”

In part an aesthetic choice, the strategy had clear practical benefits as well. “Because we were shooting in some of the UK’s most important historical buildings — many of which Cromwell, Henry and Anne had walked through — we couldn’t just stick film lights in those rooms.” It also meant that the actors’ movements had to be carefully orchestrated in order to ensure they were illuminated, particularly in night scenes.

While accurate period detail was important, both Finney and Kosminski wanted that authenticity to be communicated without the visual grandstanding typically associated with period dramas. “We wanted the camera to be loose and fluid and reactive to the action, so the series had the immediacy of a documentary.” To that end, the team shot the entire series handheld — including most wide shots — to help place viewers in the action and give the show its unusual sense of intimacy.

The story is filmed almost entirely from Cromwell’s point of view. While true to the author’s intent, it also reinforces the show’s immediacy. “Almost all of the scenes in the show are witnessed from where Cromwell is standing,” explains Finney. “We don’t see Henry until nearly the end of the first episode, because Cromwell doesn’t meet him until then. Even though we had access to these amazing architectural spaces, we avoided using crane shots to move down through them because doing so wouldn’t make visual sense or be true to the novel.” The one exception — an aerial crane shot at Catherine of Aragon’s funeral — adds emotional impact in large part because it stands in stark contrast to the rest of the show.

Putting Digital To The Test
While Finney has extensive experience with both film and digital capture, Wolf Hall was Kosminski’s first foray into digital production. Two key requirements were that the camera had to be handheld, and the image quality — both in daylight and low light — had to be pristine.

The team spent weeks shooting test scenes with actors using a dizzying array of cameras and lenses. Cameras tested included the Red Epic and Dragon, the Arri Alexa and Amira, the Sony F55, the Canon C500, C300 and even the Canon 5D Mark III. They also tested multiple lens packages: the Cooke S4 series, Zeiss Master and Ultra Primes, Canon K-35s and Leica Summilux-C lenses. Shooting candlelight proved especially challenging with some of the camera and lens combinations — notably the Red cameras with Ultra Primes. The light from the candles reflected back onto the sensor and created a double image.

“We found the best combination was the Leica Summilux lenses on the Alexa,” says Finney. “Not only were they a kilo lighter — important given that I’d be carrying the weight for hours at a time on shoot days — but the lenses performed astonishingly well wide open. And the Leicas showed the least chromatic aberration of any we tested… even the Master Primes had some color fringing.”

The team shot ProRes 4444 Log C at 1920×1080 onto SxS cards on the camera. Files were then transcoded to Avid. LUTs were applied to dailies to convert them to REC 709, and a preliminary grade was applied using DaVinci Resolve so it was easier to visualize the end result.

“You have to test the full pipeline,” Finney insists. “Ansel Adams wrote in the 1950s that you can’t consider the film, camera and development processes separately. That’s still true today; you need to test your lens, camera and entire post pipeline before you can know what your image will look like.”

A Documentary-Style Shoot
Finney was responsible for filming all of the scenes in the series — literally. Shooting solo for 65 of the 85 filming days, Finney worked with a personal trainer in advance to prepare physically. Here again, approaching the shoot with a small, documentary-sized crew reaped big rewards. “The actors really responded to having such a small crew. They were able to walk into 500-year-old rooms that were dressed and lit the way they would have been at the time without the distraction of a large crew. There’s a scene in Episode 6 at Anne Boleyn’s trial — when [actress] Claire Foy entered the hall the first time, she gasped,” remembers Finney.

While replicating natural daylight through windows and using candles at night for most scenes, Finney used supplementary lighting for some shots. For night scenes, the team built reflective trays that contained 20 to 30 church candles, primarily so the lighting would be responsive to the actors’ movements. “Candles don’t flicker all the time,” explains Finney, “but the flames are very interactive when someone walks past. If you bring in extra light, you want it to behave the same way.” Finney also occasionally used Kino Flo LED lights, dimmed down to between 1.5% & 3% with diffusion filters and color gels.

Subtle Color On A Tight Schedule
Grading was done at Lipsync Post in London using FilmLight’s Baselight. Adam Inglis was the colorist. The grade for all six episodes took 13 days to complete, and both Finney and Kosminsky were present for the entire process. With such a tight schedule, it was imperative that the team collaborated effectively.

“Adam had a very sympathetic style, and really understood the very naturalistic, organic look Peter and I were trying to achieve. We didn’t want anything showy, and Adam was able to achieve fantastically subtle and precise effects very quickly and skillfully,” says Finney.

Reflecting On 4K
With a long and celebrated career to draw upon, I asked Finney about the changes he’s seen in the industry. “Obviously, it’s been a big transition from film to digital,” he says. “Film still has a place, but digital acquisition is now as good in terms of the dynamic range. For TV production, the transition to digital been massively positive; we can now use the same cameras and lenses as the biggest budget feature films, and we have a much greater ability to shape the picture in post than we did in the past. We couldn’t have shot Wolf Hall the way we did without the new cameras and lenses that are available.”

Gavin Finney

Gavin Finney

Finney began his career as a photographer, and he observed that if you want to know where cinematography is going, it’s smart look at the changes in still photography. “Still cameras have reached a point where you don’t need or want more megapixels; it just makes the images slower to process and move around… with more noise and less dynamic range,” he notes. “The public doesn’t benefit. The cameras I’m interested in are the ones that deliver greater dynamic range, less noise and more color depth.”

What does that mean for the push to 4K? Finney had strong opinions on the topic: “4K is great if you like sport, and it definitely matters for visual effects work, but super high resolutions aren’t necessarily great for drama, and I’m not convinced the public likes it either. I’ve never heard a critic wish for higher resolution, and the films that have recently won Academy Awards were all shot at 2K or 3.2K.” Finney notes that streaming services like Amazon and Netflix that are commissioning content are requiring 4K, but that his preference would be to spend the budget in other ways instead. “That said,” he concludes, “if I found a 4K camera that looked great, I’d use it.”

NAB Day 1: Me, myself and Monday

By William Rogers

Let’s dive right into the craziness.

RED sat me down with the other members of the press in a comfortably dark theater, as they blasted my face with footage demoed from their new Weapon-sensor equipped cameras. There was a bit of awkwardness in the air shared between the RED representatives and the press members—RED admitted that they hadn’t done this sort of sleek, private reveal before at NAB.

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