It’s been traveling all over the forums and major blogs that John Schwartzman, ASC is shooting the new Spiderman movie in 3D with a pair of RED Epic cameras and Ultra Prime lenses. Spiderman is one of two major studio productions now falling into the hands of Jim Jannard and his next-generation digital cinema camera. The other is The Hobbit directed by long time RED fan Peter Jackson. Luckily for those of us on the sidelines, crew members of these productions have been posting away at REDuser.net, inviting readers willing to scour the threads with nuggets of insight into a whole new era of RED production.
It was Schwartzman himself who kicked things off in the forums, posting a message about an “Epic first day” that “marks the first day the Red Epic camera was used to shoot a major studio motion picture.” That picture, of course, is director Marc Webb’s Spiderman reboot. Full of the general hyperbole that seems to surround most new camera systems these days, Schwartzman did go on to compare the camera to its film counterparts, “For the first time in digital cinematography, small size doesn’t come with a resolution penalty, as a matter of fact there isn’t a higher resolution camera available other than IMAX, and this one weighs 5lbs with an ultra prime on it, suddenly 3D isn’t a 100lb beast! We had the cameras on dollies and a libra head today and we flew the 3D rig like it was an Arri 435.”
To shoot in 3D, the production has four EPIC cameras mounted on two 3ality TS-5 rigs. Its small footprint is a major reason why Schwartzman is so impressed, saying that “if Jim and the crew hadn’t made these cameras available to us I don’t think we could have shot this movie the way our director envisioned it in 3D.”
Steve Freebairn, also working on Spiderman and previously employed on RED shoots like the fourth Pirates of the Caribbean, also chimed in to claim, “The Epic is so compact, really, amazing, when you see it on a 3D rig, it’s easy to see why it’s going to become the de facto 3D camera out there [...] it’s going to be hard to ever look at the [Red] One in the same way now.” Freebairn even signed off his post warning for people to “get ready for the ride of your lives.”
That’s big news to those over at RED who shook up the digital cinema market with the RED One but came under a lot of heat for rushing out a camera that was bulky, slow and cumbersome. The only saving grace of the RED One was its affordability and resolution. Jannard rode the coattails of those achievements until the EPIC has now been declared for production and seems to have solved the issues the RED One posed to serious filmmakers.
Weight and size are one of the major issues the RED One suffers from, making it hard to mount RED cameras to Steadicams as well as 3D rigs which made the Arri Alexa the more practical choice. The RED One has also suffered from a buggy software history and issues of overheating. In short, the RED One is a camera that can make everyone on set nervous, especially when its put in a precarious position. The camera is not known for being rugged. Schwartzman, however, had the opposite to say about the Epic while shooting a scene in the rain:
The Epics we bagged for water protection for 3 hours without ventilation and didn’t overheat, they got very warm but didn’t shut down which was very encouraging [...] any DP who gets an Epic in June owes me a bottle of red wine and I ain’t talking 2 buck chuck, we are testing the crap out of this camera in every possible situation and it keeps working like a champ. Today John Frazier our special effects man did his usual big rain and drenched us, the camera was under a 100′ rain bar off a construction crane feed by a 5″ fire hose, we were looking down and seeing the rain drop in front of the lens while we were on a 50′ techno and it worked like a champ until the rain water got so high on the sidewalk it tripped my shock blocks.
It seems as if Epic is earning its stripes on this production and going through a gauntlet of tough production scenarios.
But while ease of use is an important factor in considering a camera system for a feature, the image quality is what most cinematographers will really look for and Schwartzman has not been disappointed. After only the first day, Schwartzman was sold: “The images we made today were stunning, rich beautiful color and the resolution of a VistaVision camera…”
Most surprising, however, is the choice of Schwartzman not to use HDRx in certain scenarios. While shooting in an open ended warehouse, the DP found that HDRx “wasn’t necessary.” This was a sentiment backed up by Jim Jannard who stated that, “with the new color science there are not a lot of circumstances that require HDRx.” The new color science, of course, refers to impressive new software that changes how the camera handles light coming into its sensitive Mysterium-X sensor. That sensor has challenged Schwartzman to “re-train myself to work at lower light levels.”
Increased image resolution and quality will be gold to the ears of creatives, but it will challenge those in the workflow positions to find ways to handle the vast amounts of data that Epic will serve up. This isn’t a slight increase in data either, as Jannard has stated that Epic will move about 60% more data than the RED One. That kind of data storage is made possible by a new SSD (Solid-State Drive) module mounted to the camera that handles 64GB, 128GB and 256GB media that Schwartzman referred to as “Hershey bars.”
The camera will still have the option of a CF module to record to 8GB and 16GB CF cards but Michael Cioni, working in the data management department of the shoot, estimates 6GB-8GB of data per minute of 3D footage at Redcode 5:1 (the terminology for Redcode compression has now changed to ratios with 5:1 representing an equivalent of Redcode 50) which almost renders CF cards an impractical solution for an extended shoot.
Schwartzman’s sentiment has readers at the forums fired up for the cameras that are expected to begin shipping soon. I still stand firmly alongside Roger Deakins in the Arri Alexa camp, although the hype surrounding the RED Epic has swelled too large to ignore. I wouldn’t be surprised if Schwartzman’s prediction comes to fruition when he says that Epic is “a true game changer.”