Ryan E. Walters, Cinematographer

Cinematic Excellence at 24 Frames a Second

Tips For Maximizing Your R3D In Post:


How an image is handled in post will greatly effect the quality of the final deliverable. Nowhere does this ring more true then with any of the Red cameras. Setting yourself up well at the start of the process will enable you to get the best results possible. Unfortunately with Red, this has been, and continues to be, a bit of a cryptic process that is shrouded in mystery and confusion. I'll help you wade through this mystery so that you can have a better understanding of how to get the most out of your raw image.


One of my biggest pet peeves with Red has been the lack of documentation, and the lack of explanation when cameras & software are updated. Time and time again, things are improved, and more options are given - which is awesome! But many times things are given cryptic names like FLUT or Alchemy, and then in the supporting documentation, nothing is explained. If you hope to make sense of anything, you have to wade through pages and pages of "atta-boys" on Reduser in hopes of finding any kind of useful information - it's almost a full time job in itself. And the one Recon Thread that is actually useful still takes time to sift through due to the many posts extolling the greatness of Red. (Shouldn't the useful info here be included in the user manual? I'm just saying ...) As an end user, we are told here is the new RedColor3 and RedGamma3; use it and everything will be great. We are not told why to use it, or what it is intended for. We are just told that we should use it because of how great it is. A case and point about FLUT:
Taken from the RedCine-X Pro Manual, page 56, 04/2012 publishing. (The most current version as of this writing.)
Versus what is said on the Recon Thread:
"FLUT doesn't allow anything that is not actually clipped (ie 12bit value = 4095) to actually clip. They will get crushed up towards 4095, might actually reach 4094, might in extreme circumstances get quantized up to 4095, but that's it." (Post #19, on 01/22/2010)

That is much more helpful and useful information! Don't misunderstand me - Red has some truly talented people working for them who know what they are doing, and this camera packs a lot of punch into a small body - nobody can touch that. But that doesn't outweigh the confusion that comes when it is time to understand how to process the R3D file in order to realize the full potential of the raw image. If you don't understand what you are doing and blindly just follow the herd of "this is cool, now I'll just apply this new option to everything" mentality then I think you'll be missing out on the benefits of shooting on Red. (You wouldn't just apply Magic Bullet presets on all your footage would you? I hope your answer is no ...) So let's dive in and take a look at how to maximize the image quality of the R3D file in post.


Tips For Maximizing Your R3D In Post:

- Stay in RAW until your final deliverable.
There are a million different workflow options, all of which are beyond the scope of this article. So you'll need to do some additional research to figure out how you are going to get this done. But whatever you do, keep the image in its native R3D format all through the edit, and through the grade. It isn't until your image is compressed for final delivery that your image should leave "raw" land to the land of compressed formats for delivery. If you have to leave the world of raw, make certain that you are exporting out the highest quality image, at the greatest bit depth possible in order to preserve as much of the original raw data as possible.

If you are looking into an edit system, I'd recommend checking out the Adobe Creative Suite, and DaVinci Resolve as a grading application. Both of these offerings can work natively with the R3D files preserving all of the raw data until final export.

- Balance your image in Raw, not in RGB.
If you have to leave the land of raw, be sure that you have your image balanced correctly before you leave. You will never have more information available to you than when you are in raw land. From that point forward, you will have less and less information available to you. So if you want the best colors, and the best chance at balancing your image correctly, do it in raw. Here is a grossly over exaggerated example to illustrate the point:
Incorrectly set white balance.
(Image from a short I shot for AJ Brooks, "The Butcher & The Fox".)*
Correctly set white balance.
(Image from a short I shot for AJ Brooks, "The Butcher & The Fox".)* 
Now, from which of these two RGB images do you think I'll have an easier time grading to the look that I want while maintaining a good looking skin tone? Just for grins and giggles, I tried to balance the image back to neutral using Colorista II in Premiere.
Post corrected white balance.
(Image from a short I shot for AJ Brooks, "The Butcher & The Fox".)* 
Notice how the image is already more saturated, and there are more yellows and greens in the skin tone? As the grade continues, I'm going to have to continue to fight the incorrectly set white balance, and it will never have the same richness that it could have had if it was done correctly before the RGB conversion.

*This image was shot using the Epic-X and an old Angeniux 25 - 250, which were both provided by Shawn Nelson. I love the old vintage look this lens adds to the footage. :)

- Choose The Proper Color Space & Gamma Space For The Project
As of this writing, in RedCine-X Pro there are the following options for Color Space: RedColor, RedColor2, and RedColor3. The options for Gamma Space are: RedGamma, RedGamma2, RedGamma3, RedLog, RedLogFilm. When I open up the manual, not only does it not have any helpful information about these choices, but it also lists choices that are no longer available in the application. (Okay, some of them are still accessible if you happen to dig up really old R3D's, then the options magically appear in the menu. Still it is a bit confusing if you only read the manual.) So I go to the Recon Thread and what do I find? Nothing- except behind the scenes pictures of cameras being made at Red (not helpful for my purposes ...), and the last cryptic comment posted on 02/01/2012 that says:

"There will be a new camera firmware build, with a corresponding REDCINE-X Pro build, that introduces REDcolor3 and REDgamma3. You will want to upgrade to these. Trust me."

Great, now what do I do? Well, let's start with choosing the correct Color Space. The color space is what tells the program where and how to map the color in the image. RedColor was the one of the original color sciences that was developed by Red, and it contributes to the "Red Look".
RedColor + RedLogFilm
After RedColor, the development process continued to refine the color space to get a more natural and pleasant color space for the camera. RedColor2 delivers a much more pleasing color rendition that is more natural, and doesn't have the same "Red Look" that RedColor imparts to the footage. (I find this to be a more pleasing image).
RedColor2 + RedLogFilm
And then the DSLR revolution really grabbed ahold, and many people were getting used to the baked in look that these cameras provided. Instead of a nice gradable flat image, another option is needed, one with more saturation, and a stronger look. So out pops RedColor3. It is not as neutral as RedColor2, but it doesn't have the same issues as RedColor.
RedColor3 + RedLogFilm
Now what? Well, choosing between these three color spaces will depend on a couple of issues. First of all, are you trying to match original Red One footage that has already been processed to RGB? If so, RedColor will probably be your best bet. If not, then just pretend that this option doesn't exist - it isn't pretty. So that leaves you with RedColor2 and RedColor3. At this point it is going to be one of personal taste. Do you want a less saturated image that is more malleable in post (RedColor2), or do you want a little more life in the image (RedColor3)? Either option will yield a good result, you just need to know which direction you are headed in for the final look.

Now on to figuring out the Gamma Space. (As if the Color Space wasn't enough trouble ...). There continues to be a lack of documentation here, so hopefully, this will help clear up these muddy waters. In very crude terms, the Gamma Space maps the dark and light values of the raw image for viewing and manipulation in post production. (Here is a more technical description.) RedGamma was Red's first implementation of a viewable gamma space.
RedColor2 + RedGamma
Along with the refinements to RedColor2, the original RedGamma was modified and released as RedGamma2. When used in conjunction with RedColor2, RedGamma2 yields a very pleasant image that has a definite look to it. It is not a Log image, so it could be used as is, or it could be further graded to one's liking.
RedColor2 + RedGamma2
To complement RedColor3, RedGamma3 was also developed and released. RedGamma3 is a more aggressive Gamma and definitely imparts a look to the footage. So those who are more familiar with DSLR's will be more at home with this Gamma. Tread cautiously here, as this is a strong look when coupled with RedColor3.
RedColor2 + RedGamma3
The power of shooting Raw is being able to have access to all of the information in the original file. However, the recorded information is in linear space, which is not very conducive to viewing. (Hence, the need for Gamma Spaces!) Creative software engineers over the years have developed a gamma space that allows for a useful representation of this data in a viewable form: Log. So one of the original offerings from Red was RedLog- their spin on the Log format. Allowing us to see everything that was recorded from shadows to highlights in as "raw" as a form as possible. Log is the most versatile gamma space to start grading from.
RedColor2 + RedLog
As with everything at Red, nothing stands still. So the development of RedLog continued. The latest implementation of log is now RedLogFilm. This version is a much more accurate version of Log for the Red cameras and conforms into other Log based workflows much more nicely than RedLog did. This is the best gamma space to use if you want all of the recorded information available to you in the grade.
RedColor2 + RedLogFilm
Recommended Parings:
Here is a quick cheat sheet for the pairings I use: (In order of least to most recommended).

- RedColor + RedLog = To match original Red One footage where the R3D files are not available.
(Really? You shot on Red, and didn't keep the R3D's? What was the point then? That is the power of Raw - all of that old footage can, and should be updated and processed with the new color science ...)

- RedColor3 + RedGamma3, or RedColor2 + RedGamma2 = Baked in look for quick turnaround.
(If this is the look you are going for great. :) But, in my opinion, you are missing out on the power of Raw & Log. If you want to shoot with a baked in look so that no grading has to be done for a quick turn around time. Then maybe you should be considering another camera system. Can I interest you in a DSLR?)  ;) 

- RedColor3 + RedLogFilm or RedColor2 + RedLogFilm = Flattest image possible best suited for grading.
(Cameras that shoot in Raw/Log are most useful because of this feature, and that feature should be taken advantage of in my opinion. When I shoot with the Alexa, I shoot in Log, not Rec709, so why would I want to bake in such an extreme look like RedColor3 and RedGamma3?)

Now all rules are meant to be broken, and I do not follow these recommendations 100% of the time. It is probably closer to 85% - 90% depending on the projects needs. In the end, as long as you keep the original R3D, you can always go back to the "negative" and start over. Whether that is in the budget or not, is a different question - but at least the option is there.

- Other Parameters to be aware of: 
FLUT: (AKA Floating Look Up Table)
This adjusts the image in a similar manner as ISO, however, it will not allow the image to clip. You can slide the bar all the way to 8, and the image will not clip. (Provided there wasn't any clipping in the first place).

DRX:
This parameter is actually covered in the manual! Yeah! It will extend the highlight information from the unclipped color channels to the clipped channel, preserving as much information in the highlights as possible.

ALCHEMY GROUP:
Crudely speaking, this group adjust local contrast to effect overall contrast levels and perceived sharpness. Clarity adds extra sharpness, and Skin removes the sharpness from skin tone values.

Now that you have a better understanding of what is going on under the hood of RedCine-X Pro, you should be able to go out and process your footage while maintaining a higher quality level. If you are working with Premiere, when you save you look in RedCine-X Pro, it will update the RMD (look file) with the R3D folder. Just refresh the R3D/RMD file in Premiere, and you'll have your look already applied. It couldn't be easier. :) In the end, there is no magic button to "make it look good". It is a matter of shooting a good image upfront, and then processing it correctly - both of which take skill and experience. But this should get you one step closer towards that goal.

I hope one day proper documentation and explanation of everything will exist and be freely accessible - but I might be asking for too much ...

Until Next Time, Get Out There And Shoot!
Ryan E. Walters, Cinematographer
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