A Model Prancing Around in Her Lingerie on the Beach at Night (RED + FilmConvert Test)
Here on this site we have previously posted about the promising FilmConvert film stock emulator, and when my photographer friend Mario Torres asked me join him in filming the beautiful Nayara Bandeira in lingerie on the nighttime beach, I thought it would be a good skin tone test, fitting for the almost agonizingly male audience here at NFS (this may be borderline NSFW, depending on what kind of W you do). We got kicked off the beach after only a few minutes, but here's what I shot and edited:
We shot back in October just for the sake of shooting it, but since this is NFS, I'll share anything I can think of that might be a potentially useful technical insight -- and we'll also take a look at FilmConvert, of which I'm a big fan, and which I used to grade the video (before pushing it blue/purple to give it a colder look).
I shot it on the RED SCARLET, mostly at 48FPS in 3K resolution, and edited it on a 24p 3K timeline, downscaling any 4K shots to 3K in the timeline. I only had 4 shots in the camera, so this edit represents pretty much every quality moment strung together with some different layer modes and dissolves. It's all done in Premiere Pro CS6 except the end which I had to go into After Effects to get better control over masks.
When dealing with clips of multiple resolutions -- which happens often with RED if you are shooting at different speeds, especially on the more limited SCARLET -- you can have Premiere automatically scale all clips to the sequence resolution (instead of manually zooming in/out). To enable this behavior, which is not checked by default, go into Preferences --> General --> Default scale to frame size.
I find 2K at 60FPS to be fairly noisy -- especially if you're doing a night shoot like this -- but we wanted a noisy, "dirty" look to the piece, so there is no noise reduction applied at all. 3K at 48FPS was an appropriate look, I thought -- the grain you see in the image is the native RED grain at 3K (I did not add any with FilmConvert). If you didn't want a grungy look, you would want to bring more lights or shoot on a more sensitive camera (I did bring more lights but we didn't use them as we wanted a single source look).
The only light source was a Lite Panels Ringlite Mini that I had to gaffer tape to my rig due to the light having an attachment that would work on (if I recall correctly) 19mm or 15mm studio rod standards but not the 15mm lightweight standard that I was set up for. Is it a pain in the ass that there are three different rod standards? Yes.
Speaking of the rig, I used a Wooden Camera shoulder rig along with a bunch of other Wooden accessories. Wooden has since added RED packages which can get you started faster than buying accessories piecemeal, but if you'd like some suggested accessories check out our post, A Guide to Building a RED Camera Package: An Accessory List for Every Budget Level.
FilmConvert is really interesting. It's not a grading program like Resolve, though there is a standalone version. It's also not a color-correction plugin like Magic Bullet Colorista, though there are plugins for After Effects, Premiere Pro, Photoshop, and Final Cut Pro (X and 7). What it is is kind of an "automatic first light" color correction pass based on emulating the 35mm film stocks that we know and love. Given many of us born in the '80s or '90s don't have much if any experience with shooting celluloid, that love may be more theoretical than based on experience (I doubt we have any readers born in the aughts yet). Here's a look at the standalone version, which includes more temperature and lift/gamma/gain options than the plugins, but shows how the overall program works and the different film stocks:
There are plenty of "looks" programs out there but there would be no way to emulate a particular film stock with any accuracy unless you knew what settings the source camera was using. And that's FilmConvert's killer feature. The engineers went and shot source charts with many different digital cameras -- including different picture profiles for each -- and then shot the same same charts with various film stocks. They adjusted the digital source material to match, and now when you film using a particular camera you can apply the same source:output settings for a much more accurate film simulation than any other product on the market (to my knowledge). Their list of supported cameras currently reads -- and they are adding new cameras, including the BMCC:
- Arri Alexa
- Canon 5D Mk II + Picture Styles
- Canon C300 + Picture Styles
- Panasonic GH2 + Picture Styles
- RED one
- RED one MX
- RED EPIC / Scarlet
FilmConvert also offers grain emulation but I have not experimented extensively with it. There are a lot of other options for grain out there -- including those in the Magic Bullet products, as well as the scanned actual film grain of CineGrain -- but I will say of FilmConvert that the grain looked good to my eye at first glance, and playback performance with both grain and film stock applied seemed indistinguishable from the native footage.
If you're like me and you find a film stock that is more pleasing to your eye than the default look, are you still going to color correct on top of the FilmConvert "stock?" Sure. Think of FilmConvert as a first pass, where you are still going to go in and do secondaries and other adjustments. If you're using the plugin version you apply the desired film stock and then use the host program's built-in controls (or other third-party plugins) to make your tweaks. If you're using the standalone version of FilmConvert -- which I haven't had a chance to use in-depth yet, as this was all Premiere/AE -- then there are more adjustments you can make before exporting from there.
With RED, footage FilmConvert is going back to the RAW material so the adjustments you make in REDCINE-X or elsewhere are being tossed in favor of their film stock processing -- think of it is a different color science. For this shoot I applied FilmConvert and then also used Magic Bullet Colorista II for some three-wheel color correction to push it towards a colder look -- we shot this in October, so it was cold but not as cold as it is now! It wasn't until I exported the following file that I realized just how cold and purple I had pushed it. In the following clip watch the middle compared to the bottom third -- the skin tones in FilmConvert are much more pleasing and natural to my eye (I used the Kodak 5213 stock):
In the past if I've had any issue with RED footage it has generally been due to some excess yellow I've perceived in the skintones. And while this has been less and less the case of late, as the color science has improved by leaps and bounds since their early days, I still think the FilmConvert's out-of-the-box filmic look is something I'll use frequently (especially if it's a project where we don't have a dedicated colorist).
LUT that you could apply directly in the camera. If that's the case, couldn't you then have every film stock available for your RED? You're still recording RAW so you're not throwing away information or committing to a particular film stock, but you'd be able to preview in your desired look right there on set. Wouldn't this make for kind of the ultimate digital cinema camera package? Not only would you have your default looks (REDcolor2/3, REDlogfilm, etc.) but you'd also have every film stock at your fingertips. Maybe not every film stock, but several... You could walk into any shoot and say, "I'm going to shoot with Kodak Vision 3 stock today," and know what you're getting while also retaining the RAW data.
I shot the folks at FilmConvert an email about this and they're looking into the possibility of how their technology could play an on-set role. Another thought: if I were, say RED, I would just try to buy these guys -- the ability to apply any of several different film-stocks in camera would be a very nice feature for any camera manufacturer, but it would make an even nicer exclusive feature for one camera manufacturer as far as differentiating themselves from the competition.
Just a thought. Regardless, as it stands today as a post tool, I think FilmConvert is a valuable addition to any digital filmmaker's toolbox.
DISCLOSURE: Wooden Camera and CineGrain are No Film School advertisers.