'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.
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!
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 800×480 and the similarly-sized SmallHD DP6 is 1280×800). 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.
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.
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.
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
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]