Digital Studio talks to Red users in Dubai and finds out why it's thought to be hot.
The launch of the Red camera has caused a stir in the production market. Suddenly, 2k seems passé and 4k - the much talked about Holy Grail, which was always there but not really attainable - is here, and it's easy to see why the production world is excited.
Here is a camera that delivers ultra High Definition at at least one-third of the price charged by traditional manufacturers for high-end HD cams. Although the traditional players have tried hard to downplay its significance, the Red One is becoming increasingly attractive not just to independent filmmakers and low-budget players but also to Hollywood and Bollywood studios wanting to deliver something new and unique to their viewers.
The Middle East has not been far behind in adopting the Red. The first of the Red cameras in the region have trickled into Dubai, Kuwait and Abu Dhabi. Two Dubai-based production houses, Flicker Show and Alchemy Films, recently took delivery of their Red One cameras and both have expressed delight at the results produced by the camera.
"In my case, I've never had a film background," says director of photography and owner of Alchemy Films, Nicholas Davidson. "For me, it's great to be given a tool that can achieve that sort of quality. What I have noticed though is that there is a completely different feel to the footage from the Red.
It doesn't look like images taken on any of the digital cameras that have come before and it doesn't look like film either. It's just got a very new and different feel to it."
Davidson is also a fervent Red fan for another major reason. Like most cameramen, he has always resented the fact that digital cameras - whether entry-level or high-end - have a very short shelf life and are outdated within a couple of years of their entering the market.
"Camera manufacturers have this way of making the technology go really slowly. And there is a whole consortium of companies behind them that is trying to make a profit from holding the technology back," says Davidson. "This camera was designed by Jim Jannard to break their hold and build something that would take the technology forward.
"When you buy the Red, you're not thinking, 'I've got this camera for three years and then, it will be outdated'. No doubt, they keep making changes to the software and the hardware but once you have bought a camera, all future software upgrades are free.
If you want to upgrade to one of their newer models in the future, like maybe the Epic, which will have a still higher resolution, you merely have to trade it in or send it to them to fit in a new motherboard and pay them the difference. It ensures continuity and means that this camera will never go out of date. So in essence, obsolescence is obsolete."
David McDougall, producer at Alchemy Films, is ready to write off film with the introduction of this camera. "I feel film is dead because as a producer, you are looking at how to maximise your profit and balance the artistic and commercial push and pull. With film, there is just too much expense on the way before you get it to the big screen. Here, you have a camera that offers an extremely high resolution and also promises to eliminate the steps in between."
Jacques Mulder, technical director and partner of Mudville, a production house based in Dubai Studio City, is not ready to dismiss film yet although he agrees that Red brings something fresh and original to the production scene.
"I have worked on a lot of film projects as well as digital shoots. Film gives you something special. I want to have a closer look at what the Red can do outside when the sky is not grey as it is now in Dubai.
I want to see a blue sky, greenery and the landscape on a clear evening before drawing any conclusions. So far, the two commercials I have done with the Red are in a studio environment and they are stunning but I haven't tested them outside just yet."
But the picture is not as rosy as Red users paint it. The wait for the Red camera has been very long and so far, only 2000 units have been delivered at the time of going to press.
Several bugs still need to be fixed, one may have to wait long for a hardware upgrade or if an error needs to be rectified and for most Red users, post production is far from easy with 4K requiring a lot more storage. Additionally, support and marketing are not as sophisticated as those offered by traditional players.
Alchemy, however, feels that the pros outweigh the cons. Davidson says fixes are continuously being posted online; the user forum, which is growing by the day helps new users with any problems they might have and a lot of people are developing solutions around it creating a whole new market.
Alchemy itself has purchased a lot of hardware for the Red including four different kinds of 35mm lenses, grips, batteries, cards and other accessories, all of which has worked up to approximately US $100,000.
More importantly, with the Red, Davidson expects to see different work styles on set.
"I think people from a video background are going to become much more disciplined in their shooting. Lots of people just keep their camera rolling. Now, there will be more discipline because you won't want to end up with hundreds of clips in 4K. Because it is so data intensive, you'll probably be rehearsing more properly," he says.
Alchemy recently did a commercial on the Red for a major airline in the region. "I quoted a certain number of days for digitising and organising the post for them. It must have been three times that requirement because you have to go through every shot, grade it and then output it to the format in which you want to edit it. The amount of work in post came as a bit of shock really but challenging as it was, it was also a lot of fun.
He also lauds the quality of the images. "We shot the whole thing in 4K. When you bring that onto an HD timeline, you know you've got four times the resolution to track the shot or to take a different crop that you want to use at full resolution. There is no cheating here and no pixelation at 100% like you'd get with some of the high-end HD cameras in the market. Even if you go to 130, it still looks very good," says Davidson.
"I can now genuinely see the difference between 2k and 4k; 4 k looks a lot crisper. People today are paying a lot of money for plasma screens and they are very unforgiving. 4K will make a big difference to the viewing experience even if it is down-converted eventually to 2K."
Mudville's Mulder, however, is just as happy with the results in post. This could be in part because Mulder is a specialist in visual effects and animation. It could also be because he has, thus far, done his shoots in 2K claiming that this is the resolution available for screening.
Thirdly, he points out that as a professional who has worked on both film and digital projects, he never keeps the camera rolling anyway. "We found the workflow very simple. We follow the same procedure as we would if we were shooting on 35mm and never keep the camera rolling. We used to do a few takes, pull out the flash drive, plug it into our Mac, which has FCP as well as the other Red software applications like Red Cine and Red Alert.
All the data was transferred to the hard drive. Everything was really quick and you could watch the footage in real time; drag it into the timeline, and edit it then and there. It was very tempting to start editing right there on location. If it was film, you would have to get it on tape, digitise it and so on. Here, it is literally just drag and drop and it's a completely different way of working."
Ahmed Abdulqader, partner of Flicker Show, Dubai agrees. "The workflow is a lot more evolved. At the end of the day, I'm still able to offer TV commercials to clients at a lower cost because you are skipping out on two very expensive processes -- film processing and telecine, if you were going to be shooting on 35mm," he says.
At a time of economic recession, the entry of this camera has also created a lot of new and different kinds of jobs in the production market for people looking to spread their wings and explore new avenues within production.
We expect to see more crossovers between an editor and a colourist or an editor and a data manager because of the nature of this camera. There is a guy in Dubai, for instance, who purely manages the data for the Red now. As data manager, his job will be to take all the R3D files (rushes on the Red), organise them and deliver them to the client.
Data Information Technicians (DIT), as we call them will be important on set along with another person to check the footage and ensure there are no dropped frames, codec errors etc. So, although the camera is small, you might now need a bigger crew on location.
Davidson recommends this camera only for structured, storyboarded, organised shoots but thinks it might not be ideal for observational documentary features, where a cameraman does not have a set script.
It has such a wide application use. You can use this for structured documentary work; you can build it up for what is traditionally done for high quantity work and we can actually take it all the way up to a feature film shoot by putting on all the add-ons. However, we don't recommend it for observational documentary."
Producer McDougall agrees. "For observational documentaries, you tend to do a lot of shooting and you are not in control. Traditionally, documentaries are three-camera shoots, high volume tapes and you will be filming for about 10 to 12 hours a day, and this is not meant for that kind of thing. Using a Red for observational documentary shooting would be like using a Ferrari for taxi driving."
Alchemy warns though that backing up footage is essential. "We have three safety measures in place. We keep it on the capture cards, on the camera hard drive and on a portable hard drive. So hopefully, all three won't break down. We haven't had any problems so far and the camera hasn't heated up or crashed or anything. It has survived the summer in Dubai so we are quite happy with this camera."
A look at the user forums and even reviews on the internet seem to reflect a general contentment with what this camera has had to offer. Make no mistake.
The Red is not as cheap as it is made out to be but the potential it brings to filmmaking and the attractive price point does make it appealing. While the camera body may only cost US $17,000, other accessories such as the lenses, grips, cards and so on that will enable a proper production could easily raise your investment by another $40,000.
What makes this camera special, however, is the fact that with its entry, the playing fields between high and low-budget films are being levelled.
Cinemagic - Kuwait: US $3012 Red camera with two camera assistants.
FlickerShow - Dubai: Available on request.
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