February 12, 2014

U2 'Invisible' Video Shot in B&W on RED Monochrome (Pushing YouTube Compression in the Process)

U2 Invisible - Shot on RED EPIC MonochromeBesides the wonderfully confusing fact that this is a U2 video shot on RED EPIC Monochrome for the unrelated (RED) foundation (which is raising money for the fight against HIV/AIDS), it's pretty fantastic to look at. I will admit to being a digital black and white junky at this point, but there is a pureness to the image that color can't quite replicate yet,mostly due to the fact that light has to go through an additional layer. So if you're not with me on the black and white bandwagon, it's also a worthy test of YouTube's compression.

The video was directed by Mark Romanek (who has been a pioneer in this industry), and was apparently shot on 7 RED EPIC Monochrome cameras:

And a little more background on the song and video:

The official video for 'Invisible', directed by Mark Romanek. Shot in black and white, in a Santa Monica airport hangar, over three days in January. 

A sixty second clip premiered on February 2nd during the Super Bowl, launching a partnership with (RED) and Bank of America in the fight against AIDS. 

In 36 hours downloads of #U2Invisible' raised more than $3m. All proceeds from 'Invisible' on iTunes continue to go to (RED) for the Global Fund. Learn more http://www.red.org/en/bankofamerica

While it's not a part of the video in any way, I'm impressed by how radically the visuals destroy the YouTube compression in some parts. This is probably the toughest thing for any compression scheme to keep up with -- high contrast and fast movement -- and if it were in color the macro blocks would be even more noticeable. I think it's actually impressive how well the encoding keeps up considering how difficult this is to encode.

Head on over to the link below if you'd like to contribute to the cause by purchasing the song, which again will go towards the fight against HIV/AIDS.

Links:

Your Comment

25 Comments

Mark Romanek's been doing black and white for a while. His (gorgeous) Jackson B&W clip still the most expensive in history.
So he mixed B+W with his other love of anthemic bands playing in front of screens/banks of lights.
Plus his whole' documentary/live event' style.
Got it.
/get back to features already Mr Romanek.
/RED Mono is very nice. Very rich.
/have worked on a bit of (RED) stuff. Huge in Europe. Possibly Bono's best achievement.

February 12, 2014 at 5:06AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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marklondon

How many videos has Romanek made that have a band behind a big LED screen? Two maybe? Nick picking because your jealous won't get your anywhere.

You should also read the trades too an you would know he's soon going to be directing a TV pilot and a film on the Boston Strangler for Warner Brothers.

February 12, 2014 at 3:18PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Softcell

These background LCD screens always destroy the online image quality. Try watching a streamed EPL match on NBC Extra ... each time there's a corner kick, a player steps right in front of huge LCD advertising displays that align the field ... and until the camera zooms out, the image is crap even at 3.5 Mbps.

February 12, 2014 at 5:17AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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DLD

I'm confused here. A big part of grading B&W film are the choices of colour filters used in front of the lens for entirely different creative effects. Then came digital and the same manipulation was done in post using the colour stills.

But this is recording a B&W image and removing the post processing possibilities. Its all taken a step backwards to having to do it in front of the lens again.

I realise there can be a better image with a purely B&W camera but I wouldnt want to give up that post flexibility.

February 12, 2014 at 5:38AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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I am guessing they give up on the color to gain dynamic range otherwise not achievable with color.

February 12, 2014 at 5:50AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Raul

Nah, it just looks great.

February 12, 2014 at 5:58AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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JPS

Do you know about bayer pattern? Most Cmos sensors use them.
The thing is, cameras need to filter color as sensors are colorblind. Cameras with 3 cdds use each ccd for each color R, G, B.
With single Cmos sensors they use a bayer pattern, RGB colored filters in the pixels/photosites that are then decoded so that each pixel/photosite simulated the three colors, even though the only receive Red, Green or Blue.

Because of this, bayer patterns mean a loss in resolution and sharpness. A monochrome camera doesn't need a bayer pattern. So, the key thing I think is that by not having the bayer pattern you really get the most out of the sensor.
(this is a vert rough explanation, a quick google search can give you all the tech details)

So you loose the flexibility of post as you say, but gain a lot of other stuff. Think of it as a digital BW film.

Cheers,
Francisco

February 12, 2014 at 7:49AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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I realise that but there is no shortage of resolution in highend cameras these days. But I would never give up having colour to grade the B&W with. Filtering orange, red, blue etc, having the flexibility in post to try different looks rather than a bit of a resolution gain when its going to be scaled down and sharpen to HD for 99.9% of viewers anyhow.

February 12, 2014 at 8:17AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Color grading to B&W not only loses richness, it's downplaying the "one-ness" of motion pictures. More importantly, it strips away what makes the capturing of B&W in monochrome so special. I understand that you feel a loss of flexibility. But many people would (rightfully so) flip out if a DP shot underexposed/overexposed and said, "in post, I can correct it to the right exposure." I know you aren't talking about exposure, but capturing B&W in it's correct values is just as important as correctly exposing your image.

I hope that doesn't come off condescending, because it's not intentional. It's just that there are a lot of DP/Photographers who have been waiting for digital to create something close to digital monochrome, and we have it with the Epic Monochrome, and now the ALEXA XT. And it's very exciting because it means a truer B&W image can be produced.

February 12, 2014 at 11:44AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Ken

If you expose two white pieces of cloth, one behind the other, with different colors, what may look like a color contrast will be destroyed in post and become a near same color with no depth. You need to shoot in B&W regardless, because you need to light to luminosity, not color values.

February 13, 2014 at 12:28AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Tyler

No for that all I would do is set the monitor to B&W and light off that. Thats also how I shoot colour and have the viewfinders mode colour/B&W assigned to one of the assign buttons on the side of the camera just to pop into colour mode occasionally to check white balance.

February 13, 2014 at 1:47AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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What's to be confused about? It depends on the DP doing their job and NOT relying on post to "fix" it.

To me, its a step backwards when you have to make your look in post...

February 12, 2014 at 8:56AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Frank

Not in this case. Its a major benefit to be able to do what we used to do with lens filters for B&W now in post. A good DP does their best to maintain flexibility. Thats why we have RAW now after all.

February 12, 2014 at 9:07AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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When the medium was B&W film you had to use the color filters in front of the lens. The "step forward" to using color sensors and adding those color filters in post also cost the image dynamic range as well as sharpness and a certain clarity. It's a bit of a misnomer to say it is a "step back" to use an older process because the filmmaker is gaining certain aspects in exchange for that flexibility in post. And that loss of flexibility simply means the filmmaker has to make more decisions before hand. It's a different process with different benefits and short comings.

February 12, 2014 at 2:55PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Looks like they used this technique or something similar for the background http://vimeo.com/52099566

February 12, 2014 at 11:47AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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John

Looks great!

It's not the high contrast or motion that kills the compression, it's the amount of detail the codec has to deal with of those tiny LEDs in the video wall combined with the fast motion.

February 12, 2014 at 4:10PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Tone13

Maybe it's just the fact that the people playing with the Monochrome are just so good at what they do... Fincher, Romanek etc, but the footage coming off the RED Monochrome crushes what I've seen from the Arri version... The contrast levels just feel right with this version whereas the early stuff coming off the ARRI version was a bit underwhelming for me...

Either way bravo for an excellent piece and kudos to RED for putting them in the hands of skilled craftsmen. Viva la Black and White!

February 12, 2014 at 4:24PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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With monochrome sensors the sensitivity to light and ability to pick up details can shred color sensors. So I am not totally surprised the compression still looks so good. But most importantly, it's damn near perfectly executed in this video.

February 12, 2014 at 5:09PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Ken

Let's also not forget about the brilliance of these LED lights. They are becoming a huge asset to film as we learn more about controlling them and manipulating their abilities.

February 12, 2014 at 5:12PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Ken

Just watched it on a 50" FullHD LED Panasonic smart tv via the YouTube app. For the most part, YouTubes compression does a fantastic job. At its worse, it's still much better than HD DVB broadcasts in Australia.

February 13, 2014 at 5:23AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Tone13

A good proportion of the color sensors out there can be ordered without the Bayer filters in place, so it's generally possible to get a mono version of most medium to high end sensors. This gives a 4 times improvement in sharpness at the red and blue ends of the spectrum, and a square root of two improvement in the green. Also, you typically get an extra stop of sensitivity, sometimes two stops, which translates right back as less noise. You also don't need to do debayering, which has some loss associated with it in order to avoid artifacts, and as a further benefit, certain kinds of postprocessing, e.g. many noise reduction algorithms and particularly deconvolution (sharpening/unsharp mask) algorithms work much better. So basically a nominally 1 megapixel of monochrome sensor data is as sharp as just under 4 megapixels of Bayer data best case, but in practice the difference can be bigger than that. The numbers scale, so the difference between basically any color sensor and a filterless mono version of the same chip is pretty much consistent. Optical low pass filters can also typically be omitted for a mono sensor because aliasing is much less of a problem with monochrome, particularly if the pixel sites have a high fill ratio.

Loved the video, by the way -- I thought the light ring microphone was a neat idea and no doubt solved some huge problems getting the face bright enough against that LED screen. Nice work there.

(Full disclosure: I'm a lifelong B&W junkie, and my day job is designing cameras for spacecraft, so I may have a bit more background on this than most possibly)

February 13, 2014 at 4:06PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Artemis Jaen

Artemis I think NFS should get you to write articles too. We would love to read about your day job if there is anything your allowed to tell. Any techniques your unique job has taught you :)

February 13, 2014 at 5:46PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Great cinematography! Red Monochrome is very impressive camera it is amazing how it holds highlights and what quality it delivers clip to youtube. Love an idea with light around microphone. Love it!

February 13, 2014 at 4:46PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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U2 killing it.
Youtube is just killing...

February 14, 2014 at 9:41AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Natt

the projection images created with kinect and isadora I imagine...

February 16, 2014 at 11:44AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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bruper