Vijaya Cherian recently caught up with Ted Schilowitzto get a glimpse of the brand new EPIC camera and to explore where the company was heading with its technology. Around five years ago, when the Oakley boss Jim Jannard, also a diehard cinematography fan, announced that he was going to develop a camera that was leap […]
Vijaya Cherian recently caught up with Ted Schilowitzto get a glimpse of the brand new EPIC camera and to explore where the company was heading with its technology.
Around five years ago, when the Oakley boss Jim Jannard, also a diehard cinematography fan, announced that he was going to develop a camera that was leap years ahead of anything available on the face of the earth and called himself “Madman” on his business card, sceptics thought he had at least got his job title right. When the first employee of the company was designated “Leader of the Rebellion” and others took on similar unconventional job titles, it was difficult not to take notice. Since then, the RED camera they developed has come a long way and earned the respect of the entire film community. What was once thought to be the tool of maverick filmmakers has now entered mainstream cinema. At least four of the 2011 Oscar winning movies were shot on the RED and six of Hollywoods biggest budget movies today are being shot on the brand new EPIC as we speak. Schilowitz brings us up-to-date with REDs technology and philiosophy.
Yes. I was the first employee at RED.
Whats your background?
A long time ago, I used to shoot and direct so I came from a production background and then got involved with AJA, which makes fantastic video cards. Then I moved on to helping create the RED with a small team of very brilliant people. I was initially on the research side but now, I give public presentations and am the voice of the company.
Is this your first trip to Dubai?
Yes, and its good to see that there are plenty of RED cameras in use here. All of the promotional videos on the Burj Khalifa, I hear, are shot with the RED and that is fantastic news.
I believe you have in your bag what every RED owner wants right now? What makes the EPIC so special?
Its more resolution than a RED ONE. A RED ONE is already, by far, the highest resolution digital capture camera on the planet. All of the other cameras from competitors such as Sony, ARRI or Panasonic are very good cameras but they are HD level and TV level cameras.
Our cameras are cinema-level cameras and offer much higher resolution.
The EPIC offers 60% more resolution than a RED One so the EPIC actually eclipses the resolution you would get if you scan film at 4K.
Is that a good thing? I hear actors are beginning to complain about being in such sharp focus on screen.
Its interesting you mention “sharper”. Resolution does not mean sharper. It means resolution, which is the actual ability to see things.
The reason you get that kind of sharpness from HD cameras is because these cameras are not actually that high resolution HD. They do sharpening tricks in camera to increase the perception of resolution and this causes the actors to look unflattering.
But they do like themselves on film and on RED because both do the same thing. Its all resolution without any sharpening. Pure resolution is very flattering.
How then would RED define resolution?
For RED as a company, our goal was to create a device electronically that could be respectful and a true alternative to 35 mm motion picture film. The RED ONE was scientifically measured … by Warner Bros … and found that its sensor measures about the same resolution as when you measure 35mm film scanned at 4K. This is why when you see movies such as The Social Network, District 9 or the Oscar winner for Best Foreign Film last year, they look like movies and do not have a low resolution look.
But RED does not produce the kind of grainy look associated with 35mm? Of course, I agree your footages do look unique and different although I do not know how to describe the image quality.
Shot properly, the RED has no grain at all. In fact, our sensors are so sensitive that you can shoot them in very low light to 2000 ASA and higher with almost no noise characteristics at all. If you want to add noise, you can add it in post to give the illusion that it is more film but sort of an old style film. Most modern filmmakers are going for essentially no grain in their images. That unique look you are talking about is “resolution”.
How much does the EPIC cost and can you share your unique style of selling, upgrading the cameras?
The EPIC is about US $28,000. The way it works it is that anyone who owns the RED can get a discount on that price. There are two choices. They can take in the RED ONE and upgrade it to the newer, more sensitive sensor and they keep that newer, updated RED ONE and get an approximate $8500 discount. Or they can choose not to upgrade their RED One and later in the line, they can trade it in. They get the full price of their RED ONE as a credit toward their EPIC. Thats about US $17,500 off their cost. Its a pretty good deal.
How many EPICS are in production now and when will it be out in the market?
A very small number and those are being used on about six big-budget movies. They are being used on set now for a big action movie [We reckon its Spider Man although Schilowitz was not willing to reveal that]. Peters Jacksons The Hobbit and Jack The Giant Killer will be shot on EPIC. Ridley Scott is going to shoot with the EPIC plus there are others, and they are all 3D, big-budget movies.
I believe by spring of this year, we should have a few EPICS around.
You have a reputation for delayed delivery schedules.
Yes, we fail miserably on predicting engineering and delivery schedules to the point where it is almost ridiculous to predict them anymore.
But on the bright side, the EPIC, the SCARLET and even, RED ONE is so far advanced compared to anything in the market that we are still five years ahead of schedule in those terms. But we do have a self imposed schedule that we want to hit but the demand is so high for these cameras and we do not have enough output from the factories. These cameras are very complex to manufacture and we have very high level engineering challenges that make it difficult to produce more.
There is still talk about colour grading being an issue with RED cameras. How is this being addressed?
In the very early days of the RED ONE, because the camera is so much higher resolution than HD, every step of the post production process was tricky although we have been working with Apple and Assimilate right from the beginning. The final steps were time consuming. Now, we have a good piece of hardware called the RED Rocket and that goes inside a Mac or a PC, and all the things you had to render are now real time or faster than real time including the grading, and the finishing.
It is exceptionally easy. In fact, if you talk to people who do this for a living, the RED and the post production workflows are the easiest compared to any camera, regardless of the resolution.
What are some of the challenges ahead for RED now?
We are only competing with ourselves, to be honest. Our goal is to build higher and higher resolution tools while also making them more affordable, accessible and logical at every step of the game.
If you think of what RED does at its essence, it is respecting the logic of motion pictures, of high resolution camera and the big screen cinema experience.
When will you stop?
We dont put any limitations on what technology can do and how people use it in the future. We try to see how we can keep enhancing the tool.
Why is it that other manufacturers have not come up with 4K cams yet?
I do not know. Perhaps they do not have the technical capabilities to do this or are probably holding back a little bit because they do not see the market like we see it. But it has been proven that there is a market for high resolution cameras. We have sold thousands and thousands of RED ONE cameras around the world so we know there is a market for them.
Where are you heading from Dubai?
I will go to the North Western University of Qatar (NUQ), which has a few REDs. From there, I shall visit some RED users in Istanbul and then, to China, Malaysia and some other places before I finally head home.