Epic Film-Making: The Red Epic

The RED Digitial Cinema Company revealed plans in 2009 to introduce the follow-up to its RED One Digital Cinema Camera. The result: the RED Epic, which lives up to its name.

A few handmade Epic bodies were sent out to early adopters and feature film productions, including The Hobbit and — apparently — to James Cameron for an Avatar sequel.

One of the main attractive featured of the RED Epic is its size — it’s reduced more than 50 percent, but still manages to have higher frame rates and increased resolution. Its smallest configuration is roughly the size of a Hasselblad medium format body, operable with one hand; in this way, it’s powered by a small battery (or external RED brick). It can beef up to a larger production unit by adding modules, including hot-swap large battery cellmodles, input/output modules with a range of video, audio, and time-code sync options, and a H.264 proxy module. The startup time after pushing the power button is only an efficient 9 seconds — that’s down from 50 seconds. Most of Epic’s settings can be controlled wirelessly using the REDmote.

RED’s new initiative for Digital Stills and Motion Capture (DSMC), linking digital cinema and photography, includes its Epic. How? The operator is able, using Epic, to go back and forth from full motion video and stills mode using a slider on the side grip. It’s a feature already being used by big name fashion photographers like Greg Williams and Annie Liebovitz, as it allows them to run full motion video instead of stills and then pick and choose frames easily in post. The side handle also includes side sync ports for connecting to light triggering devices. RED is set to release various camera mounts for it, allowing electronic focusing through the camera’s touch screen, which should allow for a unique connection between digital cinema and the wide range of affordable lenses for DSLR.

The Amazing Spiderman, Prometheus, The Hobbit and three 3D features are shooting with dual Epic rigs. The size of the body leads the way for extra possibilities for lightweight 3D production; Epics can be placed side-by-side in places they’d never fit before. It shoots a max of 5K resolution (6x high definition), or 14 megapixels at 20 frames per second (300fps at 2K). Oz: The Great and Powerful, Sam Raimi’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz prequel, and Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby are set to begin using Epic stereoscopic principal photography.

Epic allows for a dynamic range of 19 stops through its HDRx feature — beyond the range of 35mm film — and allows cinematographers to focus on both bright and dark detail at once. It accomplishes six stops more of highlight protection than the Arri Alexa (though the Alexa has more stops of DR) by recording an X-track specifically for the scene’s highlights, which can be blended into the main image in post and bringing highlights to the fore that wouldn’t have been as visible on 35mm.

HDRx is an important feature, not only because of its uses in the RED Epic, but because of the implications it has for shooting and post-production. RED footage has seldom reached its strongest point when the digital negative goes through post-production –despite its revolutionary REDCODE codec, which makes very high resolution available to be recorded at small data rates and brings RAW power to the post. The RAW data is where the gems are when the RAW data filter is accessed after filming and using ‘onelight’ colour corrections, especially when shooting with HDIRx. Its features don’t show up on the monitor; only in the edit bay, when a blend point between the X-track and normal image can be chosen. Using HDRx can make a lot of “impossible” shots possible by seamlessly cross-fading two outputs in post.

RED is ever-evolving, with new firmware updates released regularly, both fixing issues and ushering in even more capabilities. Within approximately the last four years, surprising leaps have been made in the way we film, and with options like the RED Epic, the moving image will keep being revolutionized.

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