DSLR to RED: Smoothing the Transition

Classy Deer Productions, LLC Video Production Service Los Angeles CA

So you’ve mastered the 5dMKii, which brought life to your video career or hobby. Now you’re ready to take it to the next level with RED Digital Cinema. The Scarlet and Epic will be the key to your next set of glory days, as RED’s flagship model the RED One has become more of a $4k doorstop. Let’s try to smooth the transition from DSLR to RED.

At first, transitioning may seem like a bear: new user interfaces, more options, 4k, R3D files, LUTs, RED CINE-X, RAW, DSMC Modules…. and most importantly, the dough $$$.

While most may see all these new features as a learning curve, let’s approach them as taking our filmmaking to the next level with more precise control of your creativity.

I’ll walk through the three basic stages of production, going through some of the essentials and tips as you set aside your 5dMKii as your B-cam/BTS camera and take yourself to the next level.

By the end of this post… well…you may still feel overwhelmed, but at least here you’ll have a solid understanding of the entire workflow when considering using a RED Camera for your next shoot.

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Pre-Production

The key to any successful shoot, whether it be an event, commercial or narrative piece.. is planning. Transitioning from a rather out-of-the box ready DSLR will be MUCH different than a RED that comes in bits and pieces.

Familiarize yourself with the RED website. They have really taken the initiative to walk their users through their system with blogs on Demos, Workflow and 101. This is the FIRST place to look.

Secondly, have a complete understanding of what and how you will be using your RED. Does your client prefer hand-held shots, tripod, what type of lenses will you use, what kind of lighting is desired, will you be shooting with accessible electricity, god-forbid underwater, will you have a DIT… have a complete understanding of what is expected of your camera and cinematography.

Once you figure this out, you will be able to figure out what you need to configure a RED Scarlet or Epic package.

This is a GREAT article on packaging a RED package.

Along with packaging your RED camera system, you absolutely need to make sure all the supports, tripods, and accessories will accommodate your new heavy duty and much more pricey camera system. Not only will you need to make sure the camera department is ready… but also the G/E department as well as post-production (we’ll get to that in our next acts). On our latest shoot, Ink, and as pictured in this entire article, we used a collection of fantastic gear by industry standard companies including Teradek for wireless iPad monitoring, Redrock Micro for rigging and support, SmallHD for on-board monitoring to name a few.

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Budget

Last but not least, obviously, your new package will be worth MUCH more than a 5dMkii package. You probably won’t be able to rent this gear without proper insurance.. but if you do get to use this gear without needing to provide insurance, I’d suggest you get a solid insurance plan. Be prepared to budget much more than just a camera rental package. Make sure to ask the rental house the COMPLETE cost and requirements for rental. Most production houses are helpful if you let them know this is your first time. Just be honest, sometimes this industry is much more pleasant than we assume.

Once you have reached the stage of budgeting a RED into your production, really look back and make sure you have not compromised any other departments that need funding. A naive/young producer may be excited at their four digit budget, thinking it’s now time to shoot RED. But again, with all these other accessories and rigs that also cost more, you NEED to make sure you do not cut out other necessities like crafts, locations, permits, and overall safety.

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Production

The moment has come… did you plan correctly? Let’s hope so…. because at this point, any last minute configurations or parts will surely be costly, both in time and money.

The key for a smooth transition from DSLR to RED cameras in production is having the right crew. With your 5dMKii, you could manage your camera staging, rigging and location moves on your own or with an assistant. Not anymore… at least not the first time.

You’ll have three times the amount of pelican cases, probably twice the size of what you used to have to support all your new gear. You can’t do it all by yourself.

1st AC

They are your right hand… almost literally.Well, maybe your SECOND right hand… don’t make them do what your right hand does. While you spend time working with your client to understand the next scene, your first AC can keep an eye on the camera and even start configuring your rig for the next shot. When it comes to roll, let your 1st AC pull focus.. you’ll be blessed with new features like frame guides, LUTs, Electronic Viewfinders, peaking, etc.. let them enjoy making sure your image is as sharp as can be.

And once your card is full after a few takes, give them the responsibility of running the REDMAGs to the DIT to offload footage.

2nd AC

They are practically your other left hand…. While their main duty will most likely be slating, that’s only right before a shot. Have them also help with camera adjustments and rigging. Don’t move the camera by yourself, have them hold the bottom of the tripod and you hold the camera. Everything will be so much more efficient and most importantly, SAFE.

Along with a complete camera department, have a gaffer you can trust. The last thing you want to do is prepare your framing and find a light that needs to be tweaked, run away from your camera and find that you’ve left your 1st AC with a toppling camera.

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The Image

And of course, the IMAGE that the RED captures is the reason why we’ve decided to transition to RED. While shooting 4k and raw are HUGE leaps from a DSLR, it doesn’t promise a good looking film. Remember to stick to the fundamentals of filmmaking… a fancy camera and lens does not make a beautiful image, rather how you use your camera, lighting and movement together. Yes, the blacks and whites of a RED are more forgiving, but don’t forget to add your own personal dabs of light and color play.

All-in-all, have a team when you’re shooting with a RED. Yours (and their) life will be much easier and hopefully fun. And in all honesty, I wouldn’t be anywhere as a filmmaker (or person for that matter) without all the solid Camera teams/friends I’ve had on set.

So, a shout-out to you special people who I’ve worked with time and time again as my right and left hands.: Jessie Lee, Matt Cheah, Naofumi Kudo, Edricdale Silla, Chris Liang, Daniel Ryan (sorry if I’ve forgetten anyone) but… seriously THANK YOU!

Post-Production

As many of us know, post-production does not begin in the editing room. Heck some may say it even begins in pre-production.. but at least for this discussion, it’s most important that you actively start post-production during production. RED does offer advanced features with raw files, 4k resolution, and color adjustment… but with that comes much larger file sizes, longer encode times, and more responsibility.

As a producer, make sure your DIT and Editor have spoken at least once or twice before going into production. The success of your editor will be determined by the workflow and organization of your DIT.

And as a Cinematographer, also speak with your DIT. They will have duties that can assist you with achieving your image.

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The DIT (Digital Imaging Tech)

You may think they’re pretty lazy…. and hey some might be.. just chilling in their chairs all day watching paint dry- I mean watching data move… but they have one of the most important duties on set!!! Unlike your 5dMKii files, the smallest REDMAG memory card is 48GB…. and if you’re shooting at 4k resolution, that isn’t much at all.

The DIT’s number one duty on set will be ingesting the footage as cards are full. Make sure your DIT is a meticulous organizer and is sharp. Because every action you take moving files, rendering dailies, and making back-ups is a time investment.

Make sure your DIT watches the workflow videos on the RED website.

Another responsibility the DIT can take upon is preparing LUTs for the cinematographer. LUTs are a great professional system of giving the cinematographer and directors a better idea of what the final image will look like. Check out this video on http://www.achaten-suisse.com/ loading LUTs for RED.

As for equipment… you may or may not have to upgrade your current setup.

Have a fast computer. Generally, the minimum you’ll want to go is a Macbook Pro with i7 and 8gb ram. Anything lower, you may find it frustrating to be a DIT.

RED Stations (REDMAG card readers) have only three connections, eSata, Firewire 800 and USB. Unless you plan on bringing your Mac Pro, plan on making a connection with fw800. And if ABSOLUTELY necessary, you can use USB.

Transfer times can be quite demanding. Yes, the REDMAGs are SSD, but still moving that data will take time. Make sure your Camera department has at LEAST two REDMAGs so once is transferring while one can be in use. Best to have three!

Have back-up harddrives and RAIDs. Personally, I’ve had great success with G-Technology G-Raids. Also, using small portable hdd’s like the Lacie Rugged and Seagate GoFlex are also great secondary and tertiary backups.

The Editor

Well…. goodluck. It’s all in  your hands….

The good news is, most NLE programs are becoming extremely friendly with the RED workflow.

In fact, it’s clear that RED is working very closely with Adobe, Avid and FCP to make this possible.

Check out RED’s workflow page with insanely detailed and informative guides and plug-ins.

Once you have figured out what works best for you, communicate it to your DIT and also give your producers a heads up too, they like to be in the loop.

And now that you have decided your best workflow, you’ll have a blast! The general “budget” workflow for a narrative piece… and by budget i mean…. without RED Rocket card or fancy Mac pro… is that…

Your DIT will provide you with proxy files that best suites your workflow.

Keep these organized and ingest them into your NLE.

Make your cuts. Once pictures is locked, you can now reconnect the hi-res files into the same timeline.

And from there you can send out to your colorist and let your audio engineer get to work.

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In conclusion

You’ll have a blast.

It’ll surely be a treat coming from a 5dMKii or any DSLR for that matter. Yes, it may seem like a steep learning curve, but it’s surely worth it. Just approach it as your step into the professional workflow. From here, you’ll see similarities working with Arri Alexa and Sony Cinema cameras.

To recap.. some of the most important things…

1. Be prepared.

Do your research. Talk to anybody you know and get to know their RED experiences. Pick their brain. If you don’t know where to start, email andrew@classydeer.com you’ll have a start.

Check out the RED website, get familiar and join the family.

Also, check out REDUSER.NET. Not only is it a comprehensive professional forum for using RED cameras, but a great community for industry work in general.

2. Have a solid crew

Filmmaking is a team effort. As many successful filmmakers have learned, you can’t do everything yourself. You have to learn how to trust others. But of course, trust those who will work and are dedicated. As a cinematographer, your camera operators, AC’s, gaffer become some of your best buds!

3. Be organized

Especially when it comes to post-production, being organized really pays off until the very end of production. Knowing how your files are managed, keeping track of all your gear, having back-ups in three different places at once… it’s all a large part of the success of production.

I hope this general beginner’s guide gives you a better understanding of what goes into shooting with RED. It will be a great experience as long as you tighten all loose ends. And once you are comfortable with the entire workflow, you will be happy your transitioned from the basic functions of a dslr to a professional format of a RED.

Have fun! Always feel free to contact us with any questions or suggestions. We love to share our knowledge – that’s how our world progresses.

Classy Deer Productions, LLC Video Production Service Los Angeles CA