RED IPP2: Real-World Looks At An Image Processing Revolution
COW Library : : Christine Bunish : RED IPP2: Real-World Looks At An Image Processing Revolution
IPP2, the recently announced suite of enhancements to RED’s Image Processing Pipeline, extends across RED cameras, firmware and software to offer in-camera and postproduction benefits to both shooters of new content and filmmakers with legacy content.
Customers who own a RED camera body with a HELIUM sensor (WEAPON 8K S35 and RED EPIC-W 8K S35) can now monitor and control the new color pipeline in camera by installing a free firmware upgrade. They gain the ability to monitor in SDR and HDR simultaneously, along with better management of challenging colors, smoother highlight roll-off, improved shadow detail, more accurate mid-tone hues, and enhanced resolution because of a new demosaicing algorithm.
In addition, the ASC-CDL (American Society of Cinematographers’ Color Decision List) is now available as part of the new RED camera bodies, so grading decisions made on set can be carried through to post.
All RED customers will see the benefits of IPP2 in post via a free REDCINE-X Pro software upgrade for their existing R3D files.
IPP2 also offers REDWideGamutRGB, a new color space designed to encompass virtually every color recordable by RED’s current and past cameras, which simplifies many workflows. A new log encoding curve, Log3G10, precisely encodes the full tonal range from RED’s current and past cameras.
RED’S COMMITMENT TO COLOR SCIENCE
IPP2’s comprehensive approach, encompassing production as well as post, “tackles the technical and aesthetic aspects of the image as well as the workflow aspects,” says RED Problem Solver Graeme Nattress. It marks the logical evolution of the camera UI and overall user experience as the industry migrates to HDR.
RED Problem Solver Graeme Nattress
But that’s to be expected from RED, whose dedication to color science is long standing. “Getting color right is a problem that every camera maker faces not because color itself is complex, but because the observer of color is complex,” Nattress notes.
“When you’re testing something new, you’re so involved in what you’re doing that you learn to see what you’re looking for,” he explains. “You reach a point where it’s hard to be objective, so you put procedures in place to avoid that or you become stuck in a reinforcement loop.”
In developing IPP2 RED has involved filmmakers, colorists and cinematographers – “those with an eye for color who come at this from different directions,” says Nattress. “RED has always involved a lot of people in the testing process because their feedback is so valuable. We want to make sure that everything works and is stable and that people are happy with the new features.”
A mathematician by training, Nattress began his career writing 3D animation software, which involved working with Panavision lens metadata. This gave him “a good idea of the image process and what you can do with it” as did the low-budget films he made with friends purely for enjoyment.
When Nattress moved to RED early in the company’s history he set to work developing the original RED compression code. He watched as filmmakers, colorists and DPs embraced the concept of the digital negative and post houses learned how to get the most from a RAW image.
“The initial concept of RED ONE was not primarily a RAW shooting camera,” he reminds us. “But RAW shooting was adopted as the paradigm, and we continued to improve the image processing and the ability to go back to old footage and make it better. Today, I can take RED ONE footage of my daughter’s first steps and reprocess it so it looks better than ever.”
The trick to continual product improvements is to make the image look better without making other aspects of the process worse. “As soon as you start to be clever and get overly intricate and precise you can start to break things,” Nattress observes. “You can lose sight of the forest for the trees.”
With IPP2, RED aims to develop a form that anybody can use to get the best out of their RED images. “Not everybody can call on top postproduction facilities to make their RAW image look fantastic,” he says. “People want to see high quality results quickly. IPP2’s goal is to get them to a happy place really quickly, with sensible controls for a range of image options that work for a majority of cases, and integration with grading environments to take things further.”
Filmmakers who own a RED camera with a HELIUM sensor can monitor and control the new IPP2 color pipeline in camera by installing a free firmware upgrade.
While RED maintains formal hardware testing procedures for IPP2, the process is more informal on the image processing side. “It’s driven by interactions with customers whose interesting images and problems make me think,” Nattress explains. “The camera is very much part of the creative process, and we have to deal with real customers with real concerns. You can’t relate your camera to the world if you don’t interact with its users.”
Nattress uses real-world RED footage, not contrived images, for IPP2 testing and loops back with their creators when he has something to show them. He finds hurdles in testing are often “not so much technical but language-based: how to describe what you’re feeling and seeing, the dialogue you need to have to achieve understanding. A lot of science and math goes into this, but the hard part is the human observer. We want things to measure correctly and look right. We want to make the camera suit the needs of customers.”
“SONORA” MUSIC VIDEO TAPS IPP2 IN-CAMERA AND IN POST
Cinematographer Chris McKechnie upgraded to a RED WEAPON 8K S35 with HELIUM after half a dozen years using RED EPIC. An active participant in RED forums and user groups, he got a sneak peek of IPP2 from Nattress.
“I was blown away,” says McKechnie. “It takes the RED image pipeline to a whole other level. The image looks so much better in terms of resolution, highlight roll-off, and skin tones: It revitalizes the RED image. It’s great on set and makes old footage look better than ever.”
McKechnie joined the IPP2 beta program and recently put the IPP2 pipeline through its paces on a music video for underground band Spendtime Palace. The video was co-directed by Finn Wolfhard and Josh Ovalle. Wolfhard, the 14-year-old co-star of the Netflix supernatural hit Stranger Things, plays the video’s young male lead who saves a girl from her controlling father.
“I had worked with Josh on short films, and he’s insanely talented for being only 18,” McKechnie says. “He and his good buddy Finn wanted to do a music video. We were working with a limited budget of about $12,000, raised through an Indiegogo campaign, for a three-day SAG shoot with lots of company moves. But I knew that Josh and Finn wanted a big-budget look so we set out to achieve that.
“Josh and Finn were excited to be shooting 8K,” he reports. “People usually think they don’t have the budget for it, but I tell them it’s always best to acquire in the highest resolution. I also chose to use Lomo Spherical lenses – the vintage glass adds character to the high-resolution sensors and replicates the film look. Everything looks more organic.”
McKechnie also strapped the camera onto a MoVI Pro gimbal for continuous tracking “on some amazing traffic shots.”
The DP used the camera’s Low Con R4 setting for most of the shoot. “I believe it most accurately captures skin tones,” McKechnie says. “It’s very soft with great highlight roll-off paired with the vintage glass. The directors were very happy with the image straight off the camera – it gave them a nice comfort zone to work in.”
Low Con R4 setting
In addition, he believes that IPP2 made his job easier given the speed at which they were working. “The pipeline sped things up and established a consistent base that I could monitor throughout the three-day shoot.”
McKechnie ran 2K proxies for Ovalle’s edit simultaneous with 8K R3Ds; McKechnie performed the color grading although he’s quick to state that he’s not a professional colorist. “With Low Con R4 as the baseline, the images looked great out of the box, but we could give a different creative look to the piece or to certain scenes in the video in post,” he notes.
RWG_Log 3G10 setting
“Josh wanted a slightly less saturated look with more muted tones that still felt organic and natural,” McKechnie explains. “So, we added a creative LUT with Phil Holland’s PhilmColor and tweaked that more within Color Finale in Final Cut Pro X – an amazingly powerful tool for the price that brings back a lot of color functionality to FCPX.”
McKechnie also used Gorilla Grain to add grain to the final look and replicate film stock. “They have 4K resolution film scans/grain, which obviously worked with our 4K final output file,” he says.
McKechnie has done more than a dozen projects as part of RED’s IPP2 beta program, and plans to continue to use it on his current and future projects. Having completed “Sonora,” he’s especially impressed by how RED repeatedly empowers young filmmakers.
“RED is always pushing boundaries in ways that once seemed unfeasible. IPP2 really is RED’s new image pipeline; It’s the way all RED files will be processed now,” he declares. “It’s a new way of working with RED content, but it’s just as seamless as before. I can’t imagine anyone not wanting to take advantage of it.”
LEGACY MATERIAL AND NEW FOOTAGE BLEND SEAMLESSLY
In Italy, filmmaker David Battistella is finishing The Innocents of Florence, which tracks the restoration of a 600-year-old painting. He began shooting the project four years ago on a RED EPIC MX in 5K, and has completed it on his EPIC DRAGON shooting 6K and using the IPP2 post workflow.
The Innocents of Florence follows art restorers Elizabeth Wicks and Nicoletta Fontani in Florence whose restoration work leads them on a journey that uncovers the story of the city's forgotten children – and the women who saved them.
“One of the great benefits to shooting with RED cameras is that even if I don’t want to change cameras or upgrade until next year, I still get the benefits of the new color science in the post workflow,” says Battistella.
“RED does not sit back on anything, they are always looking to be better, to tweak, to improve, to listen and interact with customers,” he adds. “I am excited most about color consistency and continuity, and the fact that you can get to 90 percent of your image by processing with the options they present to you. If you like a low, medium or high-contrast image, whatever your style, RED will get you very close to your final look with IPP2 because it is so accurate, but still smooth and distinct.”
Like many other filmmakers, Battistella has a long-time rapport with Nattress. “I share a wide variety of images with Graeme so he can plug in his algorithms and see what happens under different circumstances,” he explains. “We have conversations about image aesthetics, and Graeme might share some image processing results for impressions about how the color separation looks or how the processing affects the depth of the image, the perceived noise, the character of the image. I am all about the character of an image and the emotional effect it has on me. It’s great that RED’s top color scientist is accessible and interested in hearing about those points of view.”
Battistella is grading The Innocents of Florence on a Blackmagic DaVinci Resolve system and finds the integration of footage he shot four years ago with present-day footage to be seamless. “It’s really a testament to the idea of a RED file being a data container rather than shot footage,” he notes. “The mini-miracle of RED is the fact that the image improves over time. It is not the data that changes but the way the data is extracted from the RAW container that changes. So, it is really easy for me to mix old footage with new footage with IPP2 because all of the footage benefits and mixes pretty perfectly.”
Still frame extractions from REDCINE-X of the original color RAW files of “The Innocents of Florence” with IPP2 color applied. Click to enlarge.
Since he shot all the restoration footage with the same lenses, Battistella says, “I just set the Resolve project to the recommended color spaces and picked the output transform LUT I wanted and started grading from there. RED has provided LUTs for just about any possible situation you might come up against in post. I am finding that by applying REDWideGamut and Log3G10 I can plug in the output transform LUT and the image just goes pop – I’m so close to my intended look right out of the box.”
Shooting with RED cameras and employing the IPP2 post workflow has been the ideal technical and creative solution for Battistella’s passion project, which evolved over time as he collaborated with Wicks and Fontani to capture the evolution of the restoration of a master work.
“RED might be the only digital acquisition format that improves over time,” says Battistella. “Sure, film negative can be scanned at higher resolutions, but everything about exposure and the color in the negative is baked in (it can no longer be pushed or pulled). With RED, provided you expose correctly and do not blow out any pixels, all of the available information is there ready to be extracted. Even if you don’t know it today, it will eventually get better as RED finds better ways to extract the data. And as display technology improves you will begin to see things that are in your RAW data that you never saw.
“IPP2 is the pinnacle of this work. If you are a RED owner, like I have been since buying #758 of the first batch of cameras available, you can take the first shots you made on your first camera look better now than the day you made them. I think that is pretty incredible!”
The filmmaker plans to premiere The Innocents of Florence in Florence, Italy, where Battistella resides. Later, the film will make the rounds of the art film festivals.
“RED’s philosophy is one of continual development,” states Nattress. “While we have improved the image processing pipeline in the past, IPP2 does that to an even greater degree now. And it’s just the foundational point for future development and improvement.”