Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Making Movies in the Not So Distant Future

You’ll never believe where I’ve just been! I recently returned from a possible future reality where I was visiting a movie set. The crew was so awesome and showed me so many phenomenal things. I can’t talk about the movie itself because they don’t want anybody to steal the idea before they get a chance to make it. But I can tell you about their workflow and the technology they were implementing.

Okay, lets start with the camera. Man, that thing was amazing! It didn’t really look like a typical camera you’d see today, more like a giant eyeball on a gimbal. They rigged it all sorts of ways and controlled it with a tablet. And when I say controlled it, I mean pretty much every aspect you could think of. You see it’s a light field camera so it captures everything in front of it with depth. Through an app you can control things like focus, focal length, exposure, and frame rate. What was even crazier is that none of that was baked into the actual raw files! It was all settings passed on through metadata. You could also control physical movements of the gimbal like pan and tilt with the tablet. Camera position and movement is also saved as metadata so camera tracking later isn’t even necessary for visual effects.

I noticed that the camera assistants were never reloading fresh media cards, so I began to wonder where the data was being saved to. What was even crazier is that most everybody was getting a live feed from the camera onto their tablets and smart phones, plus they could go back and watch earlier takes. The clips even had clean audio from the audio recorder and all the information from the script supervisor was saved with them. How was all of this possible? I asked and found out that apparently everything was being fed wirelessly to an on set server. The server was processing all of the files, combining and labeling them, and keeping it all organized. It was automatically generating dailies with timecode and title overlays and then pushing everything (including the raw camera files) to the cloud. What was more unbelievable is that all of this was happening instantly!

I had to go check out this server. It happened to be in the editing trailer and it was about the size of today’s Apple TV. I couldn’t believe that the massive amounts of data for an entire feature film shoot could be stored on there and on the cloud simultaneously! I noticed the editor was working on a large tablet, which was nicely mounted into a table, and the full size picture was on a bright 32” monitor in front of him. Magically, there was no cable running from the tablet to the tv monitor. In fact, I realized there weren’t many cables anywhere.

I was amazed by all of this and decided to strike up a conversation with the editor. He explained to me that a lot of the tasks he or an assistant would have done in the past were now automated. Not only was he able to see everything coming from the set live, his video editing application was creating an assembly edit for him! I thought this sounded ridiculous, I mean isn’t that the editor’s job? He explained to me how media and metadata from the set was analyzed and organized. Then that was combined with the shooting script. The more detailed the script, the more accurate the assembly was.

I got to see how this works in action. As each successive take would roll a clip would grow on the timeline. A new take would create an audition over the previous take. When the crew was done with a particular setup the script supervisor would label the director’s favorite take and that would be the selected clip in the audition. As they did more setups the video editing program would live switch between new angles depending on who had lines or what action was taking place in the scene. It kept doing this over and over until they completed the scene. It even added cutaway shots, but how? Well for example, the script might call for a cut away shot of a briefcase and the program automatically knew where to cut the actual shot in! Unreal!

This really got me wondering, why do you even need an editor? If he isn’t the one putting the scenes together, how was he earning a paycheck? The editor laughed at my questions and explained to me that while the artificial intelligence of these systems was good and could get a lot of the monotonous tasks out of his way, there was still a lot of creative work that needed to be done by humans. Humans have taste and style. And while perhaps those things can be somewhat emulated by a computer it always feels inauthentic and artificial. Our emotional response to material is very subjective. You can’t tell a computer to make the scene more funny or more sad, it just doesn’t understand that. Maybe someday, but even at this time in the future, it still wasn’t fully realized. 

For now, here’s what he actually had to do: he began working by reviewing the automated assembly, making notes, and adjusting edits for timing. Maybe some shots or entire scenes needed some reordering. Or maybe he needed a reaction shot where there wasn’t one. He then looked for ways to cut down the scene. Sometimes what looks good on paper and even feels real on set doesn’t jive in the edit, so it would need to be omitted. It was his job to make these kinds of creative decisions in order to tell the story.

What really blew me away is how the producers and director, or even another editor halfway around the world, could collaborate with this editor in realtime through the cloud. In fact if a producer wanted to watch the latest edit of a scene they didn’t need to come in and bother the editor. They didn’t even need to open the project in a video editing application. Plus the editor didn’t have to export and upload a movie file. The producer just needs to login online and stream the latest edit through a video player wherever they are. This can be done on a home television set. Whenever they want to make a note they just pause the video, type it in or speak into the remote, and press play again. Then the editor receives a notification and can choose to sync those notes right in his timeline immediately.

That all sounds awesome, but what if the editor is in the middle of making changes? Apparently this system is smart enough to track the edit the producer watched and compare it to what the editor is currently working on and make the proper adjustments. For example, if the producer made a note on a specific shot and the editor moved it earlier that change is tracked and the note would find its proper place. Honestly a lot of this was over my head, but I can say what I saw worked elegantly.

You might wonder how multiple editors collaborate on the same project. Well, their work is constantly backed up and revisions are searchable, even by the name of the editor. It is really important that the editors communicate so they aren’t wasting each others time working on the same scene. But let’s say they didn’t communicate and they did just that. Their two timelines can be merged, and where there are differences a compound or nested clip is created for each variation of the edit and grouped together as auditions. They can show the director both versions and decide together which edit to go with. I thought that was a very elegant solution to a potentially messy situation.

This system was really responsive and fast. I was really curious about what was happening under the hood. I mean the files generated by the camera must have been massive and therefore processor intensive. At the same time everybody was working off of mobile devices. It appeared invisible to me, but apparently what was streamed over all the devices were extremely high quality proxy files generated immediately on the camera at the same time it was capturing the raw files. The settings and metadata of the original clip is always accessible, changeable, and new proxy files could be regenerated. Let’s say you wanted to reframe a shot. It instantly creates a new proxy. Now when it comes time to export deliverables all the original data is accessed to produce the highest quality output. But honestly, you didn’t have to think about all of that, because it just worked!

As I returned from my trip to the future I was obviously overwhelmed. How on earth did we come so far? As I thought long and hard about that I realized that the seeds of this technology already exist today. In fact many pieces of the puzzle are already being used or are in development. Obviously companies like Lytro, Light Iron, Lumaforge, and Intelligent Assistance are doing a lot to push towards this kind of future. But I also had a new found appreciation for what Apple is doing with Final Cut Pro X. It thrives on metadata organization: Content Auto-Analysis, ranged based Keywords, Smart Collections, Compound Clips, Auditions, and Custom Metadata were crucial to making the system I saw in the future work properly. The proxy workflow in Final Cut is already seamless today. Not only that, but the current Magnetic Timeline will make editing a breeze on multitouch devices. A track based timeline would be cumbersome and slow on the future system. Is this the future that Apple and others are already seeing now? They must be at least seeing something like it.

Before I left I was reminded that this was just one potential future and there could be variations to it depending on what we decide to do today. And those who embraced the changing world now had such an advantage in the future. The ones who got it were creating at their pique potential. The ones who didn’t were bitter and unemployed. I realized that even though many people had held on to what they already knew and fought really hard to prevent this future from happening, the change was inevitable. Somebody out there was taking advantage of new technologies and workflows and pushing them forward. It really is in my best interest to always be learning and keeping up with these changes. I’m not talking about blindly embracing every new idea. But testing things out, breaking them, and improving them realizes the full potential of the future. If we have this attitude I really think the future I saw could become a reality within the next decade. I really hope that is the case, because it was incredible!

Friday, July 8, 2016

What Video Literacy means for Video Professionals

In the 21st century everybody has the means to make a movie. You no longer need a lot of money or connections to Hollywood to get going on your first project. Got an idea and a smart phone? Great, go out and tell your story! Of course that doesn’t mean your movie will automatically be an Academy Award Winning Blockbuster and make over a billion dollars. It’s a little more complicated than just that. But on a fundamental level, whether you are shooting a video of your kid playing in a pool or a scene with Tom Cruise running through the streets of Paris, the basic principles are the same. Light reflects off of objects, gets captured by a camera, and moving images are produced.

The power now found in ordinary people’s hands cannot be overstated. We no longer live in an era of trade secrets only shared to the initiated. The curtain has been pulled back and we see the Wizard of Oz for who he really is. Very technical processes have been demystified and simplified to the point that a child could understand them. Video has been democratized. Hallelujah!

But hold on a second! Thousands of people make a living by creating videos. I’ve devoted most of my life learning how to wield this complicated technology in order to create high quality work. And now you’re telling me that my special skills have little value? Video is a commodity, it is ubiquitous, and anybody can learn how to do it. So, have I wasted my life? This is a scary realization to come to.

I’ve come across many video professionals that feel threatened by our current environment. It is easy to get frustrated with all the changes. Budgets have shrunk. Most videos made today are just noise. Equipment that once costed hundreds of thousands of dollars has depreciated in value and is now worthless. These professionals often react to change by guarding what little they have left and defending old ways of thinking. But that attitude doesn’t get them far or make them happy.

There is a way to succeed amidst all the turmoil. It involves being open to the new and embracing change instead of fighting it. We have to accept that while technology used to take decades to evolve it now only takes mere months. You don’t necessarily have to be on the bleeding edge of adaptation, but you should avoid getting blind sighted by new disruptive technology by staying informed. Keep your head up and always be learning. Share your ideas freely with others and ask questions. We can all benefit from this together. Don’t close yourself off in bitterness because things aren’t the way the used to be.

I think about these philosophies when I see debates about what a video professional should do in different challenging situations. When should I work for free? A client just asked me for the raw footage, should I give it to them? Someone asked for my professional advice, should I charge them? While the circumstances can vary greatly in these situations you can be guided by some core values and principles.

Lets start with working for free. I’ve seen people get really bent out of shape when it comes to this issue. The obvious fear is that someone might take advantage of you. I’m going to make this bold claim that may sound contradictory at first: You should never work for free, but at the same time, you don’t always need to be paid money for doing a job. Instead, look for how this job may benefit you in other ways. Based off of that, decide whether or not it is worth the time you will put into it. If you are just starting out in video production you need to gain a lot of experience. Don’t pass up opportunities to learn just because they pay little or no money. For those of you that are further along in your career there are still reasons to take on a non paying job. You could be working for trade or calling on a favor later. Maybe you are sponsoring a cause you believe in. There are many situations where free work makes sense. Give these kinds of offers some consideration. Evaluate the deal. If you honestly won’t get anything out of it then perhaps it isn’t worth your time after all.

What do you do when a client wants a copy of your original footage? This can be an awkward situation. Especially if you haven’t discussed these terms before hand. You may worry that the client is unhappy with your work. Or maybe they are too cheap to finish paying you. And if they take the footage away from you to edit it themselves the project could turn out to be total crap! In these situations I try to be as easy to work with as possible. I believe that if my client has paid me to shoot the footage they already own it. Of course it is reasonable to charge them for the time it takes to copy off the footage and certainly for the cost of the drive if they’re not providing their own. But in my opinion, I’d feel like I’m nickel and diming them if I’m charging extra simply because I want to protect my work. It really boils down to the trust you have with your client. They could have a completely valid reason for wanting the footage that has nothing to do with you. Maybe you finished your video, they loved it, but they want to repurpose the footage for other simpler videos that really aren’t worth your time. Communicate with your clients and be generous and understanding. If you still believe they are making a huge mistake that’s their problem. If they don’t trust you then you probably don’t want to work with them again anyway. But the truth is that as a result of video literacy we are going to collaborate more closely with our clients as their understanding of the process of making videos grows. And if you are stubborn and difficult to work with they won’t hire you.

I love the free flow of information and ideas. I seek out opportunities to share advice. I find it very fulfilling to help people out. So the idea of charging others for my advice is very foreign to me. Some might argue that since it takes years to learn video why share all that hard earned knowledge freely? Personally I find the desire to protect trade secrets doesn’t really do anybody any good. So much is in constant flux now and as a result we are all having to keep up with the new information. What’s the point of holding on to ideas for ourselves? Everything will be different tomorrow anyway. Of course there are educational services that I would expect to pay for. There are in-depth online courses and seminars that took a lot of effort to prepare and therefore they should come with a price tag. But it doesn’t hurt to take a few minutes to answer a question or to point somebody in the right direction. Why not be the go to person as a source of knowledge? The clout and authority that comes with sharing your ideas open up doors to new opportunities. The reality is that proprietary intellectual knowledge and trade secrets are relics of the past. Those who fail to understand this are doomed to a similar fate.

Ultimately this all has to do with your perception of change. If you choose to evolve with the times you will find new opportunities for business. This is a healthy attitude that will assist you when you have to overcome unforeseen challenges. If you resist change and all you see is doom and gloom ahead then you will become a miserable self-fulfilling prophecy. As for me, I am very optimistic about the future of digital video. It is the current state and a piece of the much bigger art of storytelling. Because it is always changing we must always be learning. And often times learning something new requires us to take a step back in order to leap forward. You must accept this in order to find success.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

4K won't save you...

4K is quickly emerging as the new standard for image resolution in the world of video. With 4x more pixels as compared to HD one might wonder, does it really give you a picture that is noticeably 4x better? Television manufactures would tell you "Yes, of course!" However, based on my own experience, I'd say that in most situations it is hard to see the difference. The leap from standard definition to high definition was far more significant. But my opinions aside, I will concede that 4K, at least as an acquisition format, is quickly becoming ubiquitous. After all, even smart phones are capable of recording 4K video.

But in that ubiquity I feel like there many misconceptions about how we should take advantage of these extra pixels. A word of caution: don't rely on 4K as a safety net! It does not replace proper lighting, framing, and coverage. While it might solve specific issues in post production, no self respecting cinematographer should expect it to make up poor planning or sloppy camera work.

The following are circumstances I've seen where 4K didn't help:

4K won't save you if your shot is under or over exposed. Capturing more pixels doesn't help if those pixels are too noisy or blown out.

4K won't save you if your shot is out of focus. If your lens isn't sharp or if you don't have proper focus it doesn't matter that there are more pixels when they're all blurry.  This also applies if your shot is excessively shaky.  Yes, you can do better image stabilization with the extra resolution. But keep in mind that a really shaky shot can have more motion blur.

4K won't save you if you didn't get coverage. There are many scenarios in which you may need to reframe. For example, the boom mic or a c-stand is in the shot. Maybe the framing could be improved. Sometimes you may want to punch into a interview shot to hide an edit or for a dramatic effect. But these aren't always the most ideal solutions. The worst is trying to get all of the coverage for a scene out of a single wide angle shot. There's a big difference between physically changing a lens and the camera's position for a new angle versus cropping in on a single shot.

While there may be advantages to shooting in higher resolutions, that doesn't make up for bad filmmaking. Proper planning goes a long way. And always do your best work.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

5 Predictions for the Future of Filmmaking

Being obsessed with the movie making process I often speculate as to where the technology is headed.  Here are 5 predictions I think we'll see in implemented or invented in the coming years.

1.  We'll start with Video Literacy.  Educational institutions teach reading and writing as a basic curriculum.  Soon it will be necessary to teach at least some level of to make movies as well.  I'm not sure who coined the term "video literacy" but I do know George Lucas, among others, has often talked about it.  I envision a future where businesses will not rely on video production companies to produce everything and will start doing it themselves.  And I'm not just talking about a dedicated department.  I believe everyone, from the CEO to the new intern, will have to at least have some basic video production skills.  Employers will come to expect it on applicants resumes.  It seems obvious to me that because the tools are so accessible and affordable today it's only natural for more people to begin how to use them.  Video is the best way that I now of to communicate and idea, so why wouldn't we take advantage of that?

2.  Recently I delivered my first DCP (Digital Cinema Package), which is the digital equivalent of a film print, for a limited theatrical release.  It was exciting but it was also an intimidating challenge.  I read as much as I could online and asked a lot of questions to local projectionists as I could.  In the end it passed Deluxe Digital Cinema's quality control so I guess I did alright.  But during this whole process I couldn't help but think there must be an easier way.  The software plugins to make DCPs can be expensive and the servers to play them back at the theater have outrageous price tags.  I believe a company, perhaps Blackmagic Design or AJA, will develop an affordable digital cinema server that will not only play DCPs but more common formats like Apple ProRes files.  And this may by naive, but I'm hoping they'll find a way to do it for under $5,000.

3.  If you've seen my previous blog posts you may know that I'm a huge fan of Apple's editing software, Final Cut Pro X.  I've used it to edit 4 feature films now as well as many hundreds of other projects.  For years I've been dreaming of the day when I will be editing on a giant iPad.  Already we have iMovie on iOS devices, so I'm sure it's going to happen at some point.  I imagine myself moving clips around, trimming edits, playing with the color, and adjusting audio levels all in a multi-touch environment.  Someday soon I hope....

4.  A company that I've been very fascinated with is Lytro.  They make really cool cameras that are the next leap forward in photography. At a time when DSLRs have stagnated for years, Lytro has leaped into the future.  Their images allow you to adjust focus and perspective after you've taken the photo.  Plus you can even extract a 3D image.  So it's only a matter of time until this technology gets implemented into moving pictures as well.  Someday I believe we'll be ditching the lenses and heavy tripods and flying around with touch screen tablets.  In a virtual interface you'll be able to chose your field of view and depth of field to any custom setting.  And for those who liked how certain lenses looked I'm sure they'll have packages you can rent or buy from an app store to emulate a specific lens package.  It'll all be simple metadata that software will allow you to alter at any point down the road.  Further more we'll eliminate the need for chroma keying because the depth information of objects in front of this next generation camera will be stored digitally making it easy to cleanly replace backgrounds and objects.  This will require a lot of emerging technologies to be combined, not just Lytro, but I just got carried away describing my vision.

5.  This final idea I've had for over 10 years now.  I was playing Indiana Jones and the Emperors Tomb when I noticed a bit of cool sound design in the game.  As I got closer to these torches they got louder.  I started to think about how they may have programmed that and came up with an idea I hope to see implemented in the games and movies of the future.  Part of this idea is already in place with Dolby Atmos.  But I'd like to see it taken a step further.  So first think about how 3D modeling and animation tools work today.  You can assign textures and light objects in a virtual environment with a lot of detail and photorealism.  What if you could do the same thing for sound?  Imagine creating or reconstructing a movie set in the computer and then assigning properties to the objects and placing sound effects and dialog into this world.  Then you could place virtual microphones to capture it all in a very realistic way.  You could even create new sounds virtually.  It all comes down to accurate mathematical equations in this physics driven software.  I'd love to help develop a tool like this if anybody reading this has an idea of where to start development.

So there's a glimpse into the inner workings of my brain.  It all might be impractical or things could take a completely unforeseen turn.  But speculating on this kind of stuff helps me wake up in the morning.

Monday, May 26, 2014

What Star Wars means to me

Even though it can upset me, I don't blame anybody for asking, "Hey Brad, what do you think about them making more Star Wars movies?"  I am a huge fan, have been since I was a kid, and Star Wars is a big deal to me.

Like countless others, Star Wars inspired me to pursue my movie making career.  Before seeing the behind-the-scenes TV specials and making of documentaries for Star Wars I had no clue that movie making was even a legitimate career choice.  I began making videos by helping my brother and his friends with school projects and continued doing it with my own friends.  By the time I was 12 years old I was determined to become a movie director.  My parents were less thrilled, it didn't seem like a practical or realistic career goal to them.  But Star Wars ignited a passion in me and it has not stopped.

There is a whole other type of Star Wars fan, one that still loves the visuals, the stories, and characters as much as I do, but has no interest in knowing how it was all put together.  I have shelves dedicated to the making of books and all things George Lucas.  I can't get enough of it.  The immediate impact Star Wars had on the world is obvious, there were huge technical advances made in cinema for the first time in decades and "blockbuster" became a regular word in our vocabulary.  But George Lucas' digital revolution had more far reaching implications than just the way Hollywood movies were produced.

Anybody starting out in filmmaking today owes a great deal to George Lucas' original vision for the future of cinema.  The tools I use everyday were envisioned decades ago by Lucas and he stood out from the crowd by pursuing their development.  I am not just talking about big visual effects.  As a direct result of Star Wars we have ultra high definition camcorders, computer editing software, and surround sound in our homes.  Before Star Wars no one really cared to realize any of these technologies.  Now anybody has access to the tools to tell a great story, even with limited means.  The far reaching affects of this cannot be understated and it should not be taken for granted.

That is why I am so upset that JJ Abrams is so adamant that the production of the new Star Wars movie ignore all of these advancements and go back to shooting on celluloid film.  It's a technology that is over 100 years old.  It's expensive.  It deteriorates.  It isn't good in low light.  It scratches easily.  It has a lot of noisy grain.  It requires a lot of processing time and extra work.  Plain and simple it is not the most ideal way to capture an image.  I don't understand why anybody would ever want to shoot on it today other than for nostalgia or because they think they're too good for newer technology.

Is digital cinema perfect?  No.  Is film better?  Maybe in a few ways, but not even close when you go down a check list of every consideration.  Overall I'd pick many digital cameras over any film camera regardless of my movie's budget.

The decision to shoot a new Star Wars movie on film is a blasphemous statement that George Lucas got it wrong.  Everything he invested in and developed was a waste of time, money, and effort.  They're openly stating that the Prequel Trilogy was a failure and that it's time to go back to the way things were done over 3 decades ago.  I agree that the Original Trilogy is better than the Prequels.  But I don't believe it's because George Lucas was too caught up in pushing digital cinema further.  In fact, I would say that advancing digital cinema was the Prequels greatest strength.  To say that the Prequels were failures because they had computer generated characters and were shot on HD tape instead of film is as ill-informed as saying that Pixar movies are always number one at the box office because they are 3D animated instead of 2D hand drawn.

So what were the shortcomings of the Prequels?  It can be boiled down to one word, story.  I hope that doesn't sound like an oversimplification.  In fact story is the culmination of thousands and thousands of decisions, big and small, made by hundreds of people.  In the end one man was at the helm and the final decisions were his alone.  There are redemptive qualities that the Prequels possess, in spite of their shortcomings.  I still enjoy watching them and am happy that those new movies were made in my lifetime.  Likewise, I am thrilled that Star Wars gets to continue for the foreseeable future.  Currently I am most looking forward to the series "Star Wars Rebels."

What about Episode VII?  Sure, I'm jealous that I don't get to be the one to make it (as are many others).  But it's more than that.  Star Wars means so much to so many of us and I have my reservations.  Part of the magic of Star Wars is giving us something new in a way that we haven't seen before.  So I am highly suspicious of the Episode VII crew's idea that shooting in London on traditional film cameras with the original cast will somehow recapture the nostalgia of the originals.  Lightning seldom strikes in the same place twice.  So instead of looking back, why don't they look forward?

I admire filmmakers like Peter Jackson who are bold enough to experiment and try something new.  I didn't originally agree with his decision to shoot the Hobbit in 3D HFR, but I respect him for doing it.  Setting my own biases and personal tastes aside, I sincerely believe that new Star Wars movies should be done with a similar approach.  There is an entire generation of Star Wars fans that have spent more time in the Star Wars Universe playing video games than watching the movies.  And looking to the future, many movie goers will see traditional 24fps film much like we look at 16fps silent black and white film today.  The technology already exists to please the audience of the future as well as audiences right now.  So why not take the risk?

Whether it's old technology or new technology, it is still technology and therefor requires a technical process.  The advances that have been made in digital cinema are there to benefit us as filmmakers by removing unnecessary difficulties and allowing us to stay focused on more important things like story.  Digital is not a distraction, it enables artists to do better work than ever could before.  Thank you George Lucas for making movies better.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Northern California Family Trip 2013

We returned from a family trip a week and a half ago.  I finally took the time to pick out some of my favorite photos from the excursion, enjoy!

Armstrong Redwoods

Fun at the Park

San Fransisco

 The Coast and Bodega Bay

Windsor and Wine Country

Jelly Belly Factory and Johnson's Beach

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The Overrated RED

If you read my previous post about my ideal digital cinema camera may have noticed that I didn't talk about the RED cameras.  They are easily some of the most popular cameras out there.  And for a long time I bought into the hype.  What's not to love?  Extremely high resolution, variable frame rates, wide dynamic range, raw recording, all at a competitive price point.  The RED has it all, right?

A couple years ago I became disillusioned with RED.  And my frustration with their cameras and the company itself has only grown.  Currently I am in the middle of editing two features both shot on RED.  I was on set for working directly with a RED Scarlet for one of them.  So I have first hand experience with what has become a love/hate relationship.

The number one (and most obvious) reason a producer or director wants to shoot on RED is resolution.  I've heard, "If I don't shoot in 4K I don't have the option of a theatrical release!" and the famous "I want my project to be future proof" many times.  But is that really true?

The founder of RED, Jim Jannard, crossed a line for me when he went from preaching about the advantages of super-sampling, cropping, and down-scaling from 4K to HD to preaching that 4K delivery is here now and your project isn't good enough unless it's mastered in 4K. The belief that HD isn't good enough has led to a resolution race that has no end in sight.

So can I release an HD movie in theaters?  Well, the biggest mega-blockbusters in the last ten years have almost all been finished in 2K (which is close to HD resolution).  Just to name a few: Man of Steel, Star Trek, Hobbit, Avengers, Avatar, Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings Trilogy... has anybody complained about these movies not being sharp enough?  In fact I can only think of a small handful of major movies that have been finished in 4K: Amazing Spiderman, Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and Skyfall.  Oh and Skyfall wasn't shot in 4K, it was uprezzed.

So what about future proofing?  Maybe HD resolution is good enough today but what about tomorrow?  I don't know about you, but I still watch DVDs.  One of my favorite shows is Flight of the Conchords and it was shot in regular standard defintion.  Clearly content trumps quality.  That doesn't mean I want to shoot in a lower quality format.  But my point is obsessing about the format of tomorrow isn't going to make your project any better today.

Some projects don't need to be future proofed.  Do you really think we'll care what format a shoe commercial or a corporate training video was shot in ten years from now?

And to be honest, future proofing is impossible.  How can you know for certainty what the standard ten or even twenty years from now is going to be?  What if we make a switch to holograms?  Who really knows?  But what I do know is that if a movie is worth hanging onto it will be for its story and not simply because it was shot in the most advanced format of the day.

Yes, 4K is technically better, but it's advantages are barely noticeable.  We should be focusing on improving color sub-sampling and and compression quality instead of the number of pixels.  We got in this resolution race to beat out the quality of film and when it comes to sharpness digital clearly wins.

You really don't have to do everything in 4K.  And shooting with RED means dealing with 4K or even higher resolutions.  Not only that but it records in raw.  raw images have their advantages, ISO and white balance aren't baked into to the image and more information is saved from the sensor.  But it also comes with the bane of extra processing later and more data storage eaten up.  Don't get me wrong, this can be completely valid if you have the time and money to deal with it.  But if it isn't necessary for a particular project then why deal with it at all?

However, the workflow for Red has improved dramatically over the last couple of years.  I am editing footage shot on RED in Final Cut Pro X.  It's quite a simple process to import the footage and transcode proxies in the background which allows me to get straight to work.  But it still isn't nearly as simple or quick as working with footage shot directly to ProRes.  If I want to playback RED footage natively in real time with some reliability RED expects me to fork over thousands of dollars on one of their RED Rocket cards.  Yeah, that's not going to happen.

RED really wants you to buy into their ecosystem when there are many other valid cameras out there to shoot on.  As an editor and shooter I want to be able to shoot on whatever camera best meets the needs of the project.  If I've invested heavily in RED it really limits my options.  And RED is a heavy investment, with many hidden costs.

All cameras have accessories, but RED takes it to the extreme with their modular camera system.  All the pieces, the brain, the lens mount, the handle, the viewfinder, pretty much everything is sold separately.  Even their complete kits aren't very complete.  The idea behind this was to allow you to upgrade your camera bit by bit in order to keep it from becoming obsolete.  But in reality it is quite annoying when you find out you're missing a certain custom cable or modular piece and end up spending another couple grand to make it work.  Those costs add up quickly.  And when you've become fed up with that game and want to sell your RED don't forget about the ownership transfer fees.

One point that Jannard himself can agree on is how frustrating it has been when their company fails to deliver on time and as promised.  It is a very open company.  If you follow their forum there have been many announcements about tech that never got released or evolved and was delayed.  I admire RED for their initial efforts that changed the industry forever.  But I don't think they are that company any more.  While they dreamed up new cameras the competition caught up to them.  They no longer have an edge.  And I feel they have stopped focusing on the little guy.  This has allowed Canon and Blackmagic to fill a void.  Once upon a time I would done anything to purchase their 3K for $3k Scarlet, but it never came out and was replaced by something much more expensive and very different.

But there's not much point in obsessing over cameras that will never be.  What is it like to work with one of their existing cameras?  Well, I've had better.  For one thing the cameras overheat, a lot.  And when they over heat they don't even give a warning.  They just shut down suddenly.  Not cool when you're in the middle of a take.  The camera also takes forever to boot up.  And why is the power button also a record button?  I'm not a huge fan of the form factor, especially with all the little bits you put together to build it up.  It's not the worst thing ever, but it is far from my ideal camera.  Don't even bother with RED Volt batteries.  They are crap and don't last much longer than ten minutes.  Get a third party battery solution.  Don't shoot HDRx, what a waste of time!  RED attempts to sell off the unwanted mixed shutter speed artifacts as "Magic Motion" when it really looks like crap.  Plus it requires even more work in post to process those images.  Thankfully the menus have been improved since the days of the RED One.  Overall the experience is bearable since the picture quality can be impressive if you know what you're doing.

I've been on this rant for a long time now because I feel like many video production people are duped into thinking they must shoot RED and it's the best camera out there.  But it really isn't.  Not a bad tool, but depending on the project you could go with something much more preferable.  The Canon and Sony cameras are far better in low light for example.  Arri Alexa has mind blowing detail retention in the highlights, but who can afford it?  The Blackmagic Cinema Camera is extremely affordable, renders beautiful colors, and shoots straight to ProRes as well as raw.  There are many great tools to pick from.  Don't just choose RED to be a fan boy.  These really are just tools.  Don't get blindsided by hype.  Pick the right tool for the job.

About Me

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Sandy, Utah, United States
I make movies with my friends. I like to find humor in just about anything. I live in a dark cave similar to Batman's as far as cool computer equipment goes. But my cave lacks the gym, car, and suit...