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Beta Sight: Avid and Red Digital Cinema

For the feature film Heist, Kappa Studios digital-intermediate supervisor Igor Ridanovic (pictured, left, with president Paul Long) and team used a post-production workflow that integrates the Red Digital Cinema files with Avid Media Composer and DS v.10.

Brand allegiances play a major role in postproduction decision making, but clients are also increasingly looking past the logos and choosing equipment that can perform quickly and on budget.

These two factors worked to our client’s advantage on a recent Red Digital Cinema Red One camera project when editor Drake Silliman, A.C.E., decided to sign on the project under the condition that he would work on Avid Media Composer.

At the time the feature film Heist was going into postproduction, it was unclear whether Media Composer was an appropriate tool for Red editing because of the company’s exclusive agreement with another NLE manufacturer. However, we knew that Avid had been working on a workflow for Red/Avid, and we decided to put that to the test. By the time we completed the project, the answer was very clear. Media Composer, along with digital intermediate in Avid DS version 10, were not only appropriate but possibly the best tools for the job. Other NLEs simply cannot deliver the extensive media management, realtime capabilities, and flexibility offered by an end-to-end Avid workflow.

A new game

The Red One camera is a relative newcomer to the digital-cinematography scene. This remarkable camera captures images of outstanding dynamic range — comparable to the latitude of a film negative. While the Red One can reduce production costs, it also complicates the established postproduction processes because the file-based workflow requires considerable computer processing, storage, and networking resources.

At Kappa Studios in Burbank, Calif., we analyzed these challenges early in anticipation that our film clients would be asking for Red postproduction, and we spent a good deal of time designing and testing various Red workflows, including Avid DS v.10.

Avid workflow from start to finish

Kappa had previously completed several Red projects, some of which were filmed out to 35mm for theatrical distribution, but Heist was a unique case because it was the first Red film to go through an entirely Avid-based workflow. Offline editing was done in Media Composer 3.0; all the finishing, including visual effects and digital intermediate, was done in Avid DS v.10. Last but not least, Kappa’s supervising mixer Humberto Zamores performed the final mix in our Dolby 5.1 surround-sound dub stage using Digidesign Pro Tools.

The Red workflow for Avid was not yet formalized when we started this project in June 2008. Some of the third-party applications used for Red postproduction have evolved or nearly disappeared from the scene since. Part of my duties as digital-intermediate supervisor was to identify, test, and develop tools and workflows that would ensure a smooth path from the Red’s .raw files in Media Composer to the finish in Avid DS.

The challenge

All existing third-party Avid/Red solutions revolve around bridging Media Composer’s inability to read timecode from QuickTime files. While it is possible to edit in Media Composer using the Red proxy QuickTime files, the difficulty lies in translating the final sequence into a timecode-accurate edit decision list (EDL) or another type of file that a grading workstation can understand.

You also have the option to work with Avid DN×HD media wrapped in native QuickTime files. The advantage of Avid’s DN×HD format is that it delivers mastering-quality HD media at significantly reduced file sizes to increase realtime HD productivity.

Timecode and other metadata must always be tracked carefully through the process to ensure that the Avid DS system is properly linking to the master files. Media Composer’s unsurpassed ability to track all kinds of metadata gives it a clear advantage when it comes to Red postproduction.

The Red One camera is particularly prone to filename duplicates and timecode issues created during the production. As with most things, the garbage-in, garbage-out principle applies to the postproduction workflow. Any inconstancies during production will ripple through third-party tools and will require manual attention.

Ultimately, Red .raw files need to be transcoded to standard .dpx files for finishing in Avid DS. There are standalone tools for this part of the process. If we employ the telecine analogy, this part of the workflow would be similar to telecine transfer of selects using a pull list.

The solution

In our case, we used MetaCheater, an
application that extracts metadata from QuickTime movies (reading
filename, reel ID, and timecode) to prepare files for Media Composer,
and a combination of tools for the creation of .dpx files for Avid DS.
The back-end tools we used included Monkey Extract’s latest beta
version as well as a proprietary software application we developed in
order to address any metadata inconsistencies. Monkey Extract is an
application that facilitates Red RAW transcoding to DPX or other
standard file formats via an EDL.

Several new features in Avid DS v.10 fit well
into most Red workflows such as the improved color management in 4:4:4
and 4:2:2 domains. These realtime capabilities, especially with the
extensive debayering in Red workflows, are a huge timesaver so we can
deliver what the client expects in terms of speed and accuracy. Kappa
used custom-built 3D look-up tables throughout the project.

File-based conform on the new 64-bit Avid DS
workstation is quite fast and allows us to use folders as reel names,
which adds much-needed flexibility when dealing with the Red file names.

Avid DS can now use Avid’s AFE format for
file-based conforms. Color-grading workstations typically rely on EDLs
to import projects. Using EDLs is limiting because it can accommodate
only straight cuts, simple transitions, and some speed changes. The AFE
connection between Media Composer and Avid DS passes most of the
effects information to DS and reduces the need to manually rebuild
effects and titles — dramatically improving the old process.

The compositing environment within Avid DS is especially effective for last-minute changes and fixes. For example, Heist
required a complex moving-camera-boom-reflection removal and a large
number of muzzle flashes that we could easily accommodate up to the
last minute with DS.

The near future

The Red workflow can be overwhelmingly
complex, but most equipment manufacturers are working on creating new
solutions that will streamline the process. Avid’s announcement of
MetaFuze support for Red .raw files will automate the conversion of
.r3d files to DN×HD media for HD offline or finishing — to be edited
like any other film-based project. Additionally, the Avid DS Red RAW
importer will greatly simplify and standardize the process by offering
the full range of Red-based adjustments, such as color temperature, ISO
speed, optical low-pass filter processing, and curve adjustments.

Until then, we are taking the same approach as
a service provider as we did before the advent of Red by providing the
bridge from acquisition to completion as directly as possible. We also
bring together Red aficionados through Red User Group Los Angeles and
educate the entertainment industry professionals through Kappa Studios’
Red Boot Camp classes.

Igor Ridanovic is a digital-intermediate
supervisor at Kappa Studios in Burbank, Calif., and a co-founder of Red
User Group Los Angeles.