An off-beat project
Client wants a two hour ‘cinema-quality’ docu-drama (similar to my movie The Impossible Murder), stressing on the documentary aspect. They need the best quality. Of course they can’t afford IMAX. We ‘compromise’ at 4K.
We’ll be shooting flat out for a month in the country, sometimes in tough weather conditions. Client needs high-quality stills, but can’t afford a photographer. The thousands (millions?) of images he has seen on Flickr has convinced him photography is something ‘anybody can do.’ We keep our mouths shut, because this misinformed client is only one step away from applying the same logic to our profession.
True to what I’ve said earlier in this guide, I start with audio. I know my sound engineer is precious, and he needs his boom operator. I’ll be directing, interviewing and wrangling. My DP will operate the camera, of course, and he’ll need an assistant to rack focus. We can’t afford to take any more people on board. If anybody is dispensable, it’s me.
Most DPs tell me to let go the sound guy. Any DP knows how to record audio, right? I take a deep breath. It’s not just the clients who thrive on misinformation. I have half a mind of retorting: Any 10-year old can shoot video, too, so why do I need a DP?
But he has a point, it’s going to be super tough lighting and operating the camera at the same time, so I promise him I’ll try to get ‘local help’.
Good enough isn’t good enough. We make some quick decisions:
- We need handheld and tripod shots
- DP will need 120 fps at full resolution
- We’ll need to account for at least 12 hours a day
- We will need tracking shots, and the occasional jib/aerial shot
- We need a rig that can be set up and dismantled in minutes
- We need the least number of components on our rig
- We need both prime and zoom PL lenses
- All data management will depend on one laptop
- DP likes viewfinders, won’t work without them
- We might need proxies on set for quick editing, but have no access to a data station
For better or for worse, we choose the Red Epic-X. It’s small, can be used as a still camera, has the Meizler module for quick proxies and dailies, and 5K can be cropped and zoomed in.
List your components
What do you do when faced with putting together your rig for the first time? You make a list.
What’s the point of writing a guide if I don’t follow my own advice?
From the chapter on Ergonomics, I learn that the Red Epic is a modular camera, which means I’m pretty much on my own, and will need all my experience to make it work. The Epic is probably one of the toughest systems to put together. Its cool modularity is also its Achilles heel.
Personally, I find the Red website confusing and frustrating. Information is hard to find, if it exists at all. Since the Epic-X brain is only a ‘module’ I’ll need to put together a list of components that are mandatory for operation. Try finding that information on their website.
The Red Epic brain does not work by itself. It needs a lens mount (we opt for PL) and an SSD recorder/module. Immediately we are presented with a choice: Do we go for the SSD side module or the rear module? We don’t know, so we include both in the list.
We opt for the side handle module so we can use it as a stills camera and hold a spare battery. Our core camera looks like a medium format DSLR:
We’ll be shooting interviews and lots of landscape, environmental portraits, time lapse, you name it. We won’t always have time to change lenses, so DP picks two ‘hero’ zooms:
Filters, Matte box and Follow Focus Kit
From the lens diameters I realize my matte box will need to support 114mm and I’ll also need an adapter ring for the 110mm Red Primes. The 300mm is the odd one out with a 117.4mm diameter, so we decide we’ll hack our way when we get to it.
The kit also includes the excellent Mini Follow Focus MFF-2 system.
Media, Recorder and Data Management
We agree on two recording formats for this production:
1. 5K FF (5120 x 2700) at 8:1 (24-60 fps) – approximate data rate of 60 MB/s.
Our delivery master is 120 minutes in 1920x1080p25 16-bit TIFF, and we expect our shooting ratio to be 20:1.
This means we’ll have to plan for 40 to 60 hours of footage at the end. This translates on a daily basis to about 1-2 hours of footage.
Calculating the media card size
Using the formulas I’ve given in the chapter on Media, 60 hours is 12 TB of data, or about 211 GB per hour (one day’s worth). I realize I’ll need to plan for 512 GB per day.
I feel we should clear about 10 setups or more per day. Using the second formula, I get the card size per setup as 51.2 GB. From the Red website, I get the lowest card size: 64 GB. However, I’m not going to backup every setup as it happens, simply because that’s not how documentaries work. It’s not rare for us to rush through 2 or 3 setups without stopping – and we don’t have a dedicated data wrangler on set.
From the chapter on Data Management, I know to read Redcode files, I’ll need the 1.8″ Red Station.
Which Laptop? Acer Aspire S7 running Windows 7 Professional:
Hard drives? I’ll need at least 24 TB of drives for this project only for the source footage. We can’t carry too many drives with us, so we decide to mail each day’s work to the nearest post facility for backup and conforming. I calculate each day’s drive should be 1 TB, including audio and images, etc. Some days we might shoot more than 512 GB, and a 750 GB size doesn’t seem like a good price advantage over 1 TB. Why skimp?
Therefore, it looks like we’ll need 15 (12+3 for backup) x 1 TB drives just for the post house.
For location backup, we decide 3 TB drives are fine, so we decide on a 15 TB JBOD setup – 5 x 3 TB drives.
The shipment cannot be overnighted, since there isn’t a reliable service in the area we are shooting in. The best we can do is 3-7 days. That means we’ll have to account for 5 days of backup in case the drives don’t reach on time.
For this reason I decide to opt for 256 GB 1.8″ SSD Redmags – 12 of them. This will allow me to shoot for 5 days (+1 backup) without erasing any card.
Now I have to deal with the issue of proxies for dailies. The client is expected to show up occasionally and he’ll need to see some ‘graded’ material. We’ll need a quick solution for dailies creation.
I vacillate regarding the Meizler module. It’s an added expense, but real-time proxies will save us a lot of trouble. We add that to our list.
Note: At the time of this writing, the Meizler module hasn’t started shipping yet, and information is incomplete or subject to change.
So if the Meizler module isn’t available in time for this project, we will need to consider a backup strategy.
Assuming I’m using the Shuttle and recording to 220 Mbps DNxHD MXF, I will end up with proxies worth 6 TB! I need a recorder that can record to the lowest possible proxy, and the Pix 240i can go as low as 36 Mbps on DNxHD. This will lower my total footage requirement for proxies to 1 TB. I decide to opt for a RAID 1 2-drive system for proxies. The data transfer rate is low enough for easy editing on the Acer via USB 2.0. I opt for the G-Technology G-RAID 4 TB Dual External Hard Drive.
For proxies I’ll need about 32 GB per day, so I don’t see the point in carrying 2.5″ SSD drives for it. Luckily, the Pix can record to CF cards, so I use the same principle I’ve mentioned earlier and opt for 16 GB cards.
Wow, this is how it looks:
It usually takes about an hour to transfer one 256 GB Redmag, so I’m assuming I’ll be spending three to four hours daily for data wrangling, backing up and editing. Hopefully, I might get 5 or 6 hours of sleep.
You can appreciate how shooting 5K on a Red Epic can get scary!
Note: If I’m using the Meizler module, I’ll be using mini Redmags and an adapter to ingest them via a Red Station, or whatever else Red comes up with. But there is no information regarding all this for now.
Next, let’s look at the external monitor, EVF, audio, timecode, etc.; and how to connect the dots.