Playing with Epic frames

As RED Digital Cinema moves beyond the RED One camera, post production folks will need to keep up with the changes in files mastered on these next-generation RED cameras. RED’s Epic camera is starting to make it into the production world in ever-increasing numbers, but to date, most NLEs on the market aren’t ready yet to accept these files. Adobe has been leading the charge with Epic support available in Premiere Pro CS 5.5 and After Effects CS 5.5. To date, Premiere Pro is the only desktop NLE to be able to open media files and edit sequences using Epic frames in native sizes, such as 5120 x 2160 and 5120 x 2560.

I still advocate conversions prior to editing using RED’s free Redcine-X or The Foundry’s Storm and then editing in the NLE of your choice. If you want to start cutting straight from the camera raw Epic files, then today, Premiere Pro CS 5.5 is just about your only option. This could change with Final Cut Pro X, but we’ll have to wait and see. If you prefer Media Composer or FCP7, then for now you are limited to smaller frame sizes and only RED One files.

So far, my Epic testing has been purely experimental, with only a few test frames generously posted at RED User by Jarred Land and others. I haven’t really been able to check real-world performance – merely how the files work within Premiere Pro. To that end, I’ve focused on color manipulation. I feel there are two viable approaches to the workflow, when you are color correcting the raw files within an NLE like Premiere Pro.

Source clips set to REDcolor2/REDlogFilm – Click to see an enlarged view

The first is to make all the color adjustments within the RED raw source settings pane. Here you can make all the raw-to-RGB adjustments, as well as subjectively adjusting curves, color balance, levels, etc. The second approach is to set a base level with the intent of doing all of your color grading using the regular NLE color correction tools, plug-ins and filters. From a standpoint of image quality, I don’t see much difference between color adjustments made within the source settings panel and those made in the timeline using standard color correction tools. With that in mind, I feel that the best workflow is the latter – use a basic raw setting that applies to all clips and then do your subjective grading in the standard environment.

One thing to point out is that Redcine-X and Storm update the .rmd (camera metadata looks) file when a clip is altered. You can use either of these applications to set the grading for a raw clip and then simply load that preset from the source settings pane in Premiere Pro or After Effects. By doing so, you can make color adjustments in Redcine-X or Storm and have those show up within the Adobe apps without any exports or renders.

The camera “look” that seems most conducive to a workflow where you grade after raw conversion is to use a flat setting that can easily be manipulated. In the newest Premiere Pro RED Importer source settings pane, this means using Color Version 2, a Color Space of REDcolor2 (or REDcolor – slightly more saturated) and a Gamma Curve of REDlogFilm. ISO, Kelvin and Tint should be adjusted to taste, but basically Kelvin/Tint should be set to a neutral white balance. An ISO value of 800 will tend to place the signal in the middle to middle-lower part of the histogram; however, experiment with the ISO setting for an optimal value. Now leave the other color controls alone.

By doing this you have effectively created an image that is very similar to the Log-C profile of an ARRI ALEXA or a scanned 35mm film negative. It provides a good neutral starting point for grading, which can be readily moved into a wide range of creative looks. In fact, this setting responds well to the built-in Cineon Converter, with a few tweaks.

One of the biggest advantages to working this way is that you can stay within the world of all your familiar tools. Premiere Pro CS 5.5 has become much more responsive to third-party plug-ins. I’ve found that common filters like Magic Bullet Looks, Colorista II, Mojo and GenArts’s Sapphire have a much-improved responsiveness compared with earlier versions. As such, it’s quite viable to grade an entire project within a Premiere Pro timeline without bouncing over to After Effects or relying on a dedicated grading application like DaVinci Resolve. In short, drop your native Epic clips into a Premiere Pro project, set the clip source settings to a neutral preset and then adjust the clips on the timeline by using the standard and/or third party filters.

I’ve become particularly found of using the Sapphire plug-ins. Now that they work rather well inside Premiere Pro, you can quickly develop “looks” by building up a stack of filters. For instance, in one of these examples, the combination of HueSatBright, Gamma, FilmEffect, BleachBypass and GlowDarks filters result in a very rich grade. Likewise, the Epic files respond nicely to Colorista II and Magic Bullet Looks.

This is, of course, only one of many ways to work. The outlined workflow is designed to appeal to the editor who wants to work inside the NLE as much as possible. Adobe has now made it possible for Premiere Pro editors to have a viable solution when dealing with RED Epic footage. I’m sure other companies will also get up to speed, but for now Adobe is leading the pack.

Some grading examples using MB Looks (click to see enlarged views)

Some grading examples using MB Colorista II (click to see enlarged views)

Some grading examples using GenArts Sapphire filters (click to see enlarged views)

A grading example using MB Mojo + Sapphire (click to see enlarged views)

Some grading examples using the Cineon converter (click to see enlarged views)

©2011 Oliver Peters