Sunday, May 8, 2011

Client Monitors and how to create a look in REDCINE-X and transfer it to camera

One of the most frequently asked questions I receive is about how to manage color on the client monitor.

On most shoots, we output directly from the camera via HD-SDI to our Panasonic 1710. The Panasonic 17" series is the most standard monitor on set worldwide, and therefore most clients are familiar with it, saving time and effort in setting expectations.

It's important that your client understands that one of the great advantage of shooting raw, arguably the greatest advantage of the camera, is the level of flexibility that raw files provide to dial in the final color and overall look of the piece. The way I describe it is to say that the monitor out is a really great monitor tap, with a preliminary LUT applied. It's a general approximation of the final output, and while it should be "directionally correct" it's a big mistake to spend a lot of time on set trying to dial in the final look of the project.

The reality is that ambient light, and the colors inherent in the environment make it impossible to do any serious color evaluation on set. Get the performance, get a solid exposure, and the images are going to look great.

Occasionally you are going to find yourself with a client that just gets stuck on this issue. They commonly come from a video background where painting in the camera and in camera adjustments to match multiple cameras was common, and where there was far less latitude in exposure and color space, and their experience has taught them to dial things in as close as possible to the final look on set to protect themselves.

While completely understandable, it's just plain madness to have talent and crew standing around while you dial in color on the camera.

If you find yourself in this situation, I suggest one of two approaches. The first involves a little sleight of hand, and will be a harder sell to more experienced directors. (but frankly the more experienced directors understand RED pretty well at this point.)

Rather that use a standard monitor like the Panasonic, output via HDMI to a cheap 24" computer monitor, and tell them they will be better able to evaluate performance and framing on the larger screen, both of which happen to be true. As long as you know you are nailing exposure, you can also accurately tell your client that color space is different, and so they shouldn't be concerned about the color balance as they are going to able to have huge leeway to make adjustments in post.

This strategy works even better if you can have a DIT station with a Rocket on set, placed in a more light controlled environment where more critical evaluation can take place. This is a far better way to evaluate your work than relying on the camera monitor path.

Now if you find yourself in the situation where you just can't sell that approach and you have to output something that is pretty close to final output, you can take the second path, namely to create a look in REDCINE-X and export it to the camera.

I'm not a huge fan of this approach, but it's a good option to have when needed.

This turns out to be a little tricky due to some very specific constraints required by the camera for the media that it will save looks to. Check out my blog article "How to format a SD card for RED One looks transfer" for detailed instruction for what is required.

The other thing to remember is that at present all looks have to be in REDColor Color Space and REDgamma Gamma Space. No other color space or Gamma space are supported for looks transfer at this time.

Once you've prepared your media, the rest is pretty straight forward. Shoot a quick clip, open it in REDCINE-X and use the Look Control features to dial in the desired look. Once that's done go the File menu and select "Save current look to camera" and save your look the SD card, and you are good to go.

You can then upload the look to the camera via the SD card reader, and the Video menu. There is no way to output a look to SD card from the camera, but frankly that not really an issue, and all clips coming off the camera capture all the meta-data that is used to define the in camera look you have created, so you have ready access to that data and can create a Look Preset in REDCINE-X from your clip.

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