Magazine article Filmmaker

New Frontier

Magazine article Filmmaker

New Frontier

Article excerpt

Brian Chirls leans about the differing Red One workflows of Steven Soderbergh's Che and Arin Crumley's As the Dust Settles.

With this year's release of Steven Soderbergh's double feature Che, the long-awaited Red One camera proved itself in the field, but the device presented new challenges to the director and the team at Technicolor in postproduction.

The Red One, the first offering from start-up Red Digital Cinema, is billed as the first digital camera capable of competing with 35mm film. It captures images at 4k resolution (4520 pixels by 2540 pixels) on a sensor large enough to achieve a depth-of-field equivalent to that of a 35mm film camera. The camera generates image data at up to 36 megabytes per second, which can accumulate into multiple terabytes on a feature film. Red uses a wavelet-compression algorithm called Redcode, which requires storing the recorded images in a proprietary file format that is incompatible with Quicktime and other industry standard video formats.

The Red One camera body costs $17,500, which is a fraction of the price of top-of-the-line HD cameras. However, the Red Web site recommends a $30,000 basic-accessories package just to start shooting. Many filmmakers are enticed by the combination of film quality and digital convenience at a relatively low cost. However, as Che demonstrated, the costs of handling the enormous data stream and nonstandard technology can offset some of those savings. "It's a dangerous time," jokes Christian Zak, the vice president of Independent Feature Films at Technicolor. "Everyone is talking about the price of the camera, but they're not looking into what goes into making a professional finish. It's like when El Mariachi was made for $8,000. Well, yes, but how much had to be spent to properly finish it?"

After Soderbergh shot Che on the first two manufactured Red One cameras on location in Spain, Puerto Rico and Mexico, he worked closely with Zak to set up a postproduction workflow across Soderbergh's New York City office and 10 Technicolor facilities around the world. Zak estimates that the total footage for both films came to about 120 hours, or about 10 terabytes of data, which had to be backed up and moved around physically on hard drives and digital tapes because the files were too large to transfer over a network "When you start working in this type of workflow, you really need an experienced data manager on set and as part of the postproduction process," Zak said.

Technicolor's DI engineer Mike Whipple helped Soderbergh set up his own digital intermediary studio in his office, where he did all the creative editorial work and a rough color correction. Soderbergh purchased for his studio an Assimilate Scratch system and several workstations running Final Cut Studio. At the time, these were the only software solutions that directly supported the Red "R3D" files without converting them to a more standard format. Final Cut reads a small "proxy" file, which points to the R3D files and allows editing of the Red footage at 2k without having to rerender to preview the cut after each edit.

Editorial was able to edit with the proxy files throughout the cutting process. Once the picture was locked, Soderbergh and Technicolor used Scratch to color grade and render the complete film from the native R3D files. "Think of the original code as your camera negative and the proxy as your standard def telecine tapes," Zak said.

After Soderbergh finished the cut and initial color correction, he transferred the Scratch files to Technicolor's colorist Tim Stipan, who fine-tuned the color with Soderbergh. Technicolor finally rendered the film as 2k Digital Picture Exchange (DPX) files, which were used to create the 35mm film prints and the Digital Cinema Package (DCP) for digital projection. Zak says it's possible to stay in 4k through the process, but an increase from 2k output to a 4k output is a significant increase in time and money due to the increase in file size. …

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