Post house conducts tests to discover best Red, Final Cut Pro workflow

About six months ago, The DR Group in Los Angeles pulled up stakes on its stock film business and committed a sizable effort to supporting digital cinematography –specifically post and color-correction services.

With interest growing among the creative community in the Red One digital cinematography camera and rumblings from clients that it should anticipate work shot with the camera, The DR Group has launched a regimen of tests to identify how best it can integrate source material shot with Red into an Apple Final Cut Pro workflow.

HD Technology Update spoke with the president of The DR Group, Lowell Kay, to find out what he hopes to learn.

HD Technology Update: Please describe the tests you’re conducting related to the compatibility of the Red camera with Final Cut Pro?

Lowell Kay: What we are doing is we have media we’ve been capturing and bringing directly into Final Cut Pro and not processing. We are also checking from the process to ProRes and checking the results back and forth. Then, what we are doing is edits and checking the output and doing the full circle for output.

HD Technology Update: What aspects of compatibility will be tested — specifically some of the criteria you are using?

Lowell Kay: We are looking at the time factor as it relates to how long it takes to go from raw footage down to ProRes. The edit we aren’t worried about because that is just standard Final Cut Pro, and then we are looking on the backside at how long it takes us to use the standard applications, Final Cut Pro or Red Cine, to transcode that so we can get an output.

We are also looking at the different resolutions within Red Cine to see which one gives us the best results.

HD Technology Update: What medium is involved, or is the Red output being recorded straight to the computer via something like an AJA card?

Lowell Kay: The recording medium involved is direct to disk drive. So, you take that disk and you drag and drop directly into Final Cut Pro.

You can’t go directly to the Mac through an AJA card. First of all, the KONA cards can’t record 4K. The second problem is it’s being compressed. The way the Red camera works is there is a 4K raw file that has pointers. These are basically pointers to a 2K file, an HD file — you get all of these different versions and each is half of the subsequent resolution. So, it’s 4K, 2K, 1K and .5K. You can use anyone of those proxy files to edit with directly in Final Cut Pro.

Our initial tests show you can do straight cuts, and it works very fast within Final Cut Pro. There are no problems there. I think when you get into more complex cuts, your best bet is to transcode it to a ProRes and then you can have complete freedom in editing.

The real key, though, is maintaining the file structure and names as they relate back to that 4K large file. Everything has to be grouped together, so you have to keep all of those four files together at all times.

HD Technology Update: What was the impetus behind the decision to conduct the tests? Was it related to your business decision to get out of the film aspect of the business?

Lowell Kay: We have discontinued the film. We used to offer raw film to our clients, and we discontinued that in October 2007. Since George Lucas shot his first HD movie — “Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones” — he said everything is going to go digital.

So, I believed in digital capture for almost nine years. Red is just one more incarnation and one step further toward a completely digital workflow. We’re not only doing Red, we’ve looked at Viper, Genesis and other companies that do capture, whether it’s S2 that works with Viper and Dalsa. So, we’re conversing with a lot of people and trying to find the best way to make this move forward.

I think it’s Red, but it’s larger than Red. It’s the whole concept of digital cinema, digital acquisition.

HD Technology Update: Is it too soon to think the impetus for the tests is coming from your clients looking for information on Red? In other words, are these tests something you first need to do to be able to determine how you will approach the market?

Lowell Kay: For our company, it looks good. There is no question about it. We’re not quite 100 percent there for supporting it. There are systems out there that really move this forward much faster. I know within six months it is something that we are going to be doing on a consistent basis. There are enough cameras out there and there’s enough information being discussed and enough product that’s going to hit that we are going to see a lot more Red product.

Right now, we are seeing trickles. People are saying, “Hey, we’d like to do this.” A lot of people who have invested in the Red cameras also have a lot of Final Cuts, so there is a very strong integration there. Where I think the DR Group comes into play is you ultimately have to color grade it and be able to work with this product.

That’s where I think that we are really going to shine. We have a 2K theater that allows us to color grade and look at it on a very large screen. It’s a color-accurate screen with a Barco at a size that’s a big difference from using a small CRT or LCD —God forbid an LCD.

Projects are shot, they’re edited and they have to start looking for color correction. That’s when this starts becoming an issue.

HD Technology Update: Is the need for color correction evolving, especially because a DR or director can instantly see what’s being shot in the field or at the studio and can create the desired look in the camera?

Lowell Kay: I think DPs who have their game going on will create a look and create a LUT (look-up table) on-set, but they will capture the media raw without a burned-in look. The LUT and the image they are designing will be stored in Flash cards and transferred back to the post house where it will be applied later on, so you have complete flexibility.

If you burn it in on the et, you are locked into that particular image. You may change your mind. You may say, “Hey I want to go a different direction.” If you’ve committed on set, you’ve lost that ability in post, or you’ve made it much more difficult to go in a different direction.

It’s not like the old Ansel Adams capture it on the film itself and what you see is what you get. I think, create the look, look at it, create a LUT and say, “OK, this is what I’m really going far.” Share that with the colorist and let them see what you’re talking about. Then, take the raw captured media and dial it in. It’s very easy to apply in post and you can apply that to multiple shots very quickly as compared to burning it in and saying, “Opps, I want to go a different direction.”

HD Technology Update: So, this approach where the LUT is set up in the field and the look and LUT communicated to the colorist is making it easier to do color correction in post?

Lowell Kay: We aren’t seeing it right now, but this can even be applied in Photoshop. That’s one of the really inexpensive ways of doing this. Take a still —because it’s all digital — and just bring it into Photoshop. Add to the color in Photoshop, create the curves and everything you want in Photoshop and then send that digital image to us. We can project it and then do a split screen and literally match against that and create a grade and apply it toward all the rest. That’s a really simple, cheap way of handling it.

So, is it becoming faster and easier? Yes. But you are still dealing with creatives, and when you get involved with color correction and you start touching all of this stuff, all of a sudden it takes time.

HD Technology Update: What else would you like to add about the tests?

Lowell Kay: The Red presents an issue in that it’s completely datacentric and it raises the question of how to process those 4K files faster. How do we get them done faster? We are constantly looking at this, but I think that within the next couple of months the testing will be done.

It takes a while. There are a lot of man hours. There’s shooting and then you have to go through it, test it and go through multiple iterations before you say, “This is really the way I want to do it.”

And, you have to work with multiple individuals to find out what feels good to each one of them. How does it affect the image?

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View the Red Digital Cinema’s RED ONE camera at NAB2008