RED EPIC-Shot 'City In The World' Paints a Darkly Beautiful New York City in HDR
I'm as captivated by striking portrayals of urban nightscapes as anyone, ranging back to the existing-light-only Nocturne, to the aerial ghost-eye-views of FIREFLY. There's just something breathtaking about seeing the biggest centers of life and activity during the desolate, slumbering hours. Filmmaker Colby Moore has added another quieting noct-urban document to the list. City In The World lays some high dynamic range RED EPIC sights on the city that never quite gets to sleep. Check out some of New York City's dark side below, plus some details from Colby about his non-HDRx workflow.
Colby has created his HDR effects manually, choosing to eschew RED's internal HDRx function and instead doing it himself in RAW processing. Some of the final footage does have "that HDR look" to it, but my personal favorite material here is the night street stuff you might not have guessed was HDR'd. Colby's method in such shots creates the precise effect at which HDR excels the most: representing extremely high-contrast scenes of harsh falloffs with a bit more detail in streetlights and headlights, and greater sight into the texture of dark streets and shadows. In the video's description, Colby goes into plenty of detail about his specific process and how he created the look of City In The World, including why he chose to avoid HDRx and the potential downsides of his method:
A short and creepy montage of scenes shot around the ever-photogenic island of Manhattan -- filmed entirely in high-dynamic range and comprised of some HDR Timelapse footage I shot, along with a collection of slow-motion and normal 24fps footage processed from Red Epic-X RAW video that I recently captured and then exported as -2, 0, & +2 TIFF stacks to be tone mapped in Photomatix using a batch processing workflow. Please note that none of this was shot using HDRx -- only normal exposures from the camera post-converted into HDR using the traditional faux-HDR method of pushing and pulling the RAW file to create bracketed images.
While HDRx is a powerful tool with a lot of benefits for shooting realistic looking extended dynamic range, I chose to steer clear of it this time in an effort to avoid the motion artifacts that come with it. Especially in light of the fact that I imagine those slight artifacts would have been particularly problematic when working with a more "surreal" method of HDR tone-mapping, as opposed to the more subdued and natural proprietary algorithm Red uses. Also, in this case, the goal was to show the added "pop" you get with HDR video when tone-mapped using a Photomatix detail compressing workflow, while trying to avoid going too far over the top and completely "cracking out" the image.
Please note that my method admittedly has several drawbacks -- namely the grain from the pushed footage is a little excessive at times (a lot at others), and additionally, the push/pull limitations of the RAW file still won't allow me to capture the full dynamic range of an extreme lighting location like Times Square the way I can with DSLR bracketing of many more stops. Additionally, unfortunately in an attempt to mask some of the excessive noise, I took some artistic liberties with noise reduction, and the overall sharpness suffers a bit in several shots. There are also some flickering issues, some related to the high-frame rates I shot at for certain scenes, and others related more to the processing of the HDR itself, since preventing the ugly halos associated with bad HDR is even more tricky with moving footage.
This process won't suit everyone's HDR applications, especially in similar night conditions and if noise is a total deal-breaker for you. I do think that in this case, the dirtiness actually suits the piece very well. There are many shots here that look incredibly filmic, down to that layer of digital grime. The quality of noise has a definite 'granularity' to it, very visible in the grabs below (2:1 & 1:1 crop). Keep in mind these images have passed through a few generations of lossy encoding by this point, and the grain looks a lot better flurrying in motion than frozen:
What do you guys think of Colby's HDR process, and its results applied to this type of scenery? Have you used a similar HDR workflow in Photomatix? What did you think of City In The World overall?
[via Filmmaker Magazine]