January 12, 2012

'Pull Back,' My RED SCARLET Test Short

I mentioned previously that I'd shot a micro-short to test out the RED SCARLET, and here it is. To put the camera through its paces, we wanted to use it in a real-world setting instead of shooting charts in a studio -- but we also didn't have the time or budget to put together a "real" short. What we set out to make (and what we ended up with) is something more than a series of test shots, and something less than a proper short. This was a no-budget, quick production on which everyone donated their time. Let me know what you think!

Here's how it came together: I was at co-director (and guest-poster) Raafi Rivero's office and saw that the building had a unique rooftop; I felt it would be a good setting in which to shoot some test footage (my SCARLET had recently arrived). The next day I sketched out a dialogue-free scenario on my phone and emailed DP Timur Civan, who had a SCARLET of his own on order, but had not yet received it. I emailed him, "I have a SCARLET and no lenses, and you have lenses and no SCARLET," and so it was set. Timur brought his Cooke Panchro primes, I brought the SCARLET and some batteries, Raafi brought in actor Harlan Short, and we grabbed some shots on the Brooklyn roof for a few hours.

Ultimately, a project like this is about familiarizing yourself with workflows, getting in some on-set reps, and most of all finding collaborators to work with in the future. Editor Sasha Friedlander cut the short in Final Cut Pro (7) and then passed on an XML file, which I further tweaked in Premiere Pro CS5.5. Timur's friend and collaborator Thomas Wong, a DIT and colorist, did the grade in DaVinci Resolve. Composer Milosz Jeziorski (also a guest-poster!) gave us a beautiful original piece of music to cut to.

Lighting/Technical

We shot with all available light, didn't use a bounce card, and didn't have a light kit. For some of the interiors we moved a practical or replaced a bulb, but anything more would've been outside the scope of this test.

Since writing about infrared pollution on these sensitive digital sensors, I wanted to get ahold of some IRND filters but was unable to find any for rent on such short notice. So I settled for renting stock Tiffen ND filters (necessary to drop exposure while maintaining a somewhat shallow depth-of-field), which do indeed cause Harlan's black leather jacket to look brownish-red in some scenes (in post, my quick fix was to have Thomas desaturate the blacks, which works better on some shots than others).

However, because the threads on the bottom of the RED are nonstandard spacing, Timur's Zacuto baseplate wouldn't work with it. So we couldn't hook up a shoulder rig or matte box, which meant Timur had to use cloth tape to attach the 4X4.56" ND filter to the lens:

Not fancy... but it worked. I'm planning on getting ahold of some Schneider Platinum IRND filters to see if they give better blacks when using ND filtration (note that despite this being a problem of far red light pollution, this is not a problem specific to RED -- it affects most any camera with a sensitive digital sensor). Here's another look at our fancy "matte box:"

The fact that the Zacuto plate wouldn't work with RED's base (Zacuto has new RED products on the way) also meant that, except for a few tripod shots, Timur had to handhold the camera without any support. Thanks for being a good sport, and thanks for not dropping it, Timur!

RED Problems/Bugs

No crashes or bugs to report on this shoot; the camera worked flawlessly.

The one thing I will say is that the touchscreen interface makes the camera much more user-friendly than a RED ONE. The menu system is intuitive for the most part and I think people will be able to get up and running very quickly (especially important for rentals). Timur, for example, had never touched a SCARLET but had it configured to his liking in no time (then again, Timur knows a lot of cameras). The resolution of the 5" RED TOUCH monitor was also good (better than I thought, given it's 800x480 and the similarly-sized SmallHD DP6 is 1280x800). However, the touch sensitivity is not on par with, say, an iPhone, and you'll definitely "miss" a menu occasionally. The pulldowns (for file selection during playback, for example) are especially difficult -- ACs may want a to keep a capacitive stylus handy if they don't have a RED side handle or REDMOTE with which to control the menus. I'd also recommend some touch screen gloves if you're going to be shooting in the cold. But I think the upside of having an intuitive interface far outweighs any touchscreen drawbacks -- especially because, on a camera this small, it would be difficult to incorporate a control panel like the ALEXA's.

Post Workflow

I sent a drive with all of the .R3D files to Sasha, who batch-exported them from REDCINE-X Pro into ProRes. She cut in Final Cut Pro and sent us rough cuts via Vimeo, which I then uploaded to Adobe's CS Live so Raafi and I could leave time-specific comments. Sasha exported an XML file from Final Cut and I opened that in Premiere Pro CS5.5, relinking the ProRes files to the original 4K .R3D media. While doing some tweaks I found that Premiere Pro was able to edit the native .R3D files in real time at 1/4 resolution without using GPU acceleration (on account of my Hackintosh not properly recognizing my nVidia graphics card since upgrading to Lion -- I'll look into this when I have some time). 1/4 resolution of 4K is just as good as most "offline" editing workflows, with the benefit that you don't have to go in and later swap in online files -- you're editing at lower resolution, and as soon as you pause it jumps up to 4K or 2K or whatever you have your paused resolution set to. If you're editing RED footage, I think Premiere Pro is a great choice; more on the tight integration between REDCINE-X Pro and Premiere in a future post. Then Thomas opened the Premiere Pro timeline in Resolve and we color-corrected from there.

One of the obstacles we ran into was that the "zooms" in the short are in fact added in post. With a 4K file going out to 1080p you have an extreme amount of reframing to play with, and even if you're doing a full 4K output, for cinemascope material you have a good amount of vertical padding (the SCARLET's native aspect ratio is 1.9:1, which for a 2.39:1 output gives you about 20% of extra vertical resolution). I didn't reframe many shots, but as we shot on primes and didn't have a dolly, I added the zoom on the door (and Harlan) in post. This is not ideal -- but since Resolve did not import the camera move, Thomas and I kept laughing at how awful the door sequence played without a push-in. It was definitely necessary, but I add to re-add them once I had the resolve output... which was fine since Thomas rendered out a ProRes 444 file without any output blanking (masking), so I still had the full 1.9:1 frame to work with.

The "story"

By never showing what's below rooftop-level, and by witholding diegetic sound until the end, the idea of my script was to use audio to reveal that, as I put so eloquently to Harlan, "shit has gone wrong," and that maybe this isn't just your average rooftop in a tranquil city. The gunshots and sirens were a reveal, and it would've killed the vibe to show what was below Raafi's office building:

Signs, stores, etc... they would take you right out of it. So even though there was no dialogue, hopefully what you don't see -- and what you don't hear -- makes this something more than a series of shots. I felt if we just went on the roof without guidelines we wouldn't end up with a story -- thus the script.

Image quality

I'll post more thoughts in the days to come and will look for a good way to share some .R3Ds for anyone who wants to try their hand at grading them. With RED's RAW workflow, you have a lot of latitude to dial in any look you want -- this actually makes it hard to comment on this short's look as a function of the camera, as you could take it in a vastly different direction if you wanted. I might do a pass of my own in REDCINE-X Pro to familiarize myself with the workflow as well. And while I haven't mentioned the image quality of the SCARLET in this post, to sum it up I think it "looks like a movie" as opposed to video, and the 4K resolution and 16-bit RAW workflow is not marketing hype but has very real benefits. The main downside is the sensor is noisier than the latest Sony and Canon Super35 sensors (a problem that may be remedied in a year or two with the forthcoming Dragon sensor) and therefore the RED is less sensitive in low-light situations. It also means that 60 FPS at 2K is noisy -- there are three slow-motion shots in the short, and the digital grain is definitely more pronounced in those shots. However due to better processing, reduced compression, or just a change in their color science, SCARLET/EPIC footage looks much better to my eye than RED ONE footage.

All of that said... a camera does not make good images on its own. It is about lighting and framing and staging. This was the first time any of us were working with the camera and I'm looking forward to shooting more in the years to come (including my first feature).

Thanks to the team

Thanks to Harlan, Raafi, Timur, Milosz, Sasha, and Thomas not only for making this good-looking and -sounding, but also for making this a fun experience!

One more thing...

We snuck a Canon 5D Mark II shot in there. Can you spot it?

UPDATE: if you want to know which one it is, see this comment. Many of you got it right!

[photos by Raafi Rivero]

Your Comment

113 Comments

Koo, excellent job on this. At first I was very impressed with what I saw visually, then as things unfolded, what I heard lent a nice understanding to the overall concept. Awesome story and execution. Very well done.

January 12, 2012

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Anthony

I liked this a lot. The gunshots seemed a bit too "muffled" to me, but then again I don't hear that much gunfire. I wasn't sure if they were supposed to be gunshots at first, though. Is the 5D shot at 1:27? I wouldn't have suspected any of them were not Scarlet if I didn't know in advance.

January 12, 2012

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cows

Yeah, I just used gunfire from a sound effects CD... had we the time/budget for a proper sound designer that probably would've worked better.

January 12, 2012

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Ryan Koo
Founder
Writer/Director

Fantastic job, thank you for sharing! What a great team.

Did you use the 5d on the 'beard from below' shot?

January 12, 2012

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The branches against the blue sky shot in the beginning...is that the 5D shot?

January 12, 2012

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sean

I take it back...the chest cam shot

January 12, 2012

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sean

I'll send another "great job" your way. If this was merely a test Then I can't wait for the feature!

January 12, 2012

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Darius

I'm looking really hard for that 5d shot...very sneaky. 0:13 (grainy)? 1:27 (up on girders)? 1:53 (shakier)? Fooled me.

January 12, 2012

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Thanks for this, Koo. I love the natural light look the Scarlet provides. Can you post links to your battery setup? Mostly everything I'm researching is out of stock. Thx

January 12, 2012

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January 12, 2012

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Ryan Koo
Founder
Writer/Director

I like the sharpness of the images. The first teasers for this shot made me look at my economy and see if I could afford a scarlet,. But it soo much money, and I would be better of renting or attleast being able to get some business from it.

Is the 5d shot at aroud the 2:00 mark?

:)

January 12, 2012

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One of my fears with this new equipment is an attack of artsy, film school shots that take away from the storytelling. It's a very real concern, and a tough line to walk. No doubt the imagery is lovely. Thanks for putting this together.

January 12, 2012

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Roark

I thought the 5D already did that.

Sometimes artsy shot are what I want to watch.

January 12, 2012

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Sam

Nice work! I love it!

I'm surprised the RED Fanboys and the RED Haters haven't hit up the comments yet. Maybe they're taking a break.

January 12, 2012

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Matthew Reynolds

3... 2... 1...

January 12, 2012

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Ryan Koo
Founder
Writer/Director

So I actually watched the short on mute by accident and I totally still got the "story" of it down. Reading the rest of the article and finding that there was indeed sound makes rewatching it a different experience.

Great job guys!

January 12, 2012

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Jordan

Love the test, Koo. I'm going to be DPing a feature in a little less than a year and the idea of renting a Scarlet is appealing to me. I like your tests.

January 12, 2012

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AJG

whoa! first time seein it, (im overseas on a shoot)...

looks great dude! great job everyone!

January 12, 2012

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Great job Timur... I guess you're keeping your SCARLET? ;)

January 12, 2012

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Ryan Koo
Founder
Writer/Director

Yea Eff it.... i'll keep it.. ;)

January 12, 2012

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Yeah, dude. You killed it. Excited for the next one.

January 12, 2012

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Raafi Rivero
Director
93

I like the way the gunshot sounds slightly muffled, when contrasted with the siren it gives some extra depth to the audio, like the gunshots were further away, muffled by a building. Great work Ryan.

January 12, 2012

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i dont really like the aesthetic. its too "sharp" for my tastes, im used to the softness of dslr's

January 12, 2012

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John Jeffreys

You can DEFINITELY use something like a Soft FX 1/2 filter, or a ProMist to help take the edge off. Part of the fun of RED is that once you have the resolution of film, like a film work flow, all the aesthetic choices of filtration dont fully destroy a "softer" image.

January 12, 2012

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^this

January 13, 2012

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chris

Was the 5D shot the branches against the blue sky? That seemed sorta 5dish...

January 12, 2012

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Micah

Wonderful test short. Shared on FB. I'm guessing the 5D shot is the cel phone CU inside the office.

I absolutely love that wider shot of the office.

January 12, 2012

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Nice work Koo! Lovely short! What I really liked where the lowlight scenes. Damn, that looks pretty awesome. Makes me wanna have it! But hey.. What do you want with a pair of those sick Cooke lenses.

January 12, 2012

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Tim

The only problem with it is I need a part 2 to see what happens when that door opens at the end! The story actually grabbed me pretty good!

January 12, 2012

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Clayton Arnall

Nice footage. I didn't get the story though. I was waiting for some sort of purpose for the hand washing and stress shots? The person through the door at the end lost me. I'm a story guy, and I got lost sorry...too much back story on the roof, with no purpose(?) and not enough connect the dots to resolve. I actually tried playing it backwards thinking...maybe 'pullback' meant I should pull the slider back. HAHAHA.

Love the test and even more, the collaboration.

January 12, 2012

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Ken

The shot at :12 looked like an oddball to me. Maybe the bloody hands and face shot at :59

Nice test. Thanks.

January 12, 2012

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Granville

Koo, what did you use for capturing sound on set?

January 12, 2012

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Ha! We recorded sound on exactly three shots, and then didn't use any of it. All the sound was done in post.

January 12, 2012

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Raafi Rivero
Director
93

Great images! Did you have to use any noise reduction at all?

January 12, 2012

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Didn't get the story. Just a lonely guy? A lot of effort for not much content. Of course I have only made one narative short, so take my input with a grain of salt. I wish I understood what is so special about the Scarlet the colors in eveything I have seen on the net seem so washed out and bland. I really think the video would have benifited if is was high contrast Black and White.

January 12, 2012

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Charlie

yes, more than 'some test shots'. Loved it. Good choice of music.

January 12, 2012

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Really enjoyed the short and interesting article as well. Nice to hear how you made it more than just a technical test.

I liked the acting and feel you really got across that something had gone badly wrong for this guy and that he was only just holding it together. I would never have thought to leave out all the dialogue in something like that but definitely works and encourages you to try and get under the characters skin to understand him more.

Hope you have some more of these in the pipeline and any chance you could post the script you wrote to see how you envisioned it up front?

January 12, 2012

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Kevin

Thanks Kevin. Sure, will post the script -- it's nothing amazing but it did give us the structure.

January 12, 2012

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Ryan Koo
Founder
Writer/Director

Some takes had a real vintage, film looking feel. Really cool. Very well done.

January 12, 2012

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maghoxfr

Nice job, loved it! I look forward to shooting on a Scarlet once more rental houses start getting ahold I them.

January 12, 2012

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Scott

Very nice! (p.s. 5D shot is the overhead shot when hes looking at the phone)

January 12, 2012

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1:27-1:30

January 12, 2012

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January 12, 2012

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Josh

Great Job! Love the grain and shallow depth of field. My favorite part is the sharp contrast between the warmth of the office scene, and the cut to him on the cold cold roof. The color change alone is powerful. I'm guessing the 5D shot the one with the camera on his chest (27 seconds in) or the insert of the tree branches at the beginning (10 seconds in).

January 12, 2012

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David

Great blog Koo.
Timur did a great job handheld with no handles/support to speak of I thought.
Did you do any stabilising in post?

Best

Lliam

January 12, 2012

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Lliam Worthington

Nice! Love how sharp it is, even at 720/1080... and the color is beautiful those office shots!

btw, in the picture of your Resolve setup (or maybe Thomas's?), how did you get the viewer to show up on a second monitor? Assuming it's just a normal second display setup instead of a video monitor. I've been researching and keep reading it's not possible... but maybe it is?

January 12, 2012

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Koo, I salute you for providing a short instead of an unboxing and some uninspiring shot at different settings to show the camera off. I think the websites who do that are lazy asses. I also appreciate that you wrote the detail of how you got this together, how you pulled in a guy with lenses but without a camera (perfect!), and how you made your very elegant mattebox. But all in all, even with all this raw-ness you still ended up with a fantastic looking, well directed and structured short. Looks more like a teaser to amovoe to me. And I love how you used frames and sounds and not just suggestions to pull in the story rather than all visually showing everything like viewers are all dumb.

The grading is fantastic! Id love to see more of these from you. You are the best camera reviewer yet man! Phillip Bloom just went to No.2 on my list.:D His christmas shootout is pretty awesome though.

A little request, can you please do a short on the 60fps 2k slow mo? Id love to see it in good light, and you to showcase its capabilities when slowed down. Thanks.

January 12, 2012

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quobetah

Thanks Q! Glad you appreciate our storytelling efforts.

Bloom does fantastically useful reviews, this is more of a test with some thoughts attached --I think they're both useful!

January 12, 2012

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Ryan Koo
Founder
Writer/Director

Yeah I respect Bloom's honesty very much! Fine you two are tied at my No.1 spot.:D

January 13, 2012

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quobetah

So did you guys actually shoot with anamorphic lenses? Or did you crop in post?

January 12, 2012

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Dima

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