Building an Effective Workflow with RED Camera Systems
With RED’s lower-cost RED Raven and RED Scarlet-W arriving, more budget-conscious and beginner filmmakers are finally going to be able to work within the RED ecosystem. That’s great news if you’re getting your first chance to shoot 4K, 5K, or 6K RAW, but excitement can quickly turn to abject terror when it comes time to edit and color correct that footage. The files that these cameras generate are huge, and it can take a lot of storage space and processing power to deal with them. Luckily, there are ways to minimize the effort and cost involved without sacrificing quality. The following is a step-by-step RED workflow guide intended for beginners working with Adobe Premiere Pro, which is the NLE we find most of our customers using. It’s not the only way to do things, and it’s not the way you’ll see it done at professional post houses, but it’s the best set of solutions I’ve found for people with limited resources who still want to shoot on RED. To make sure everything I’m recommending here is doable for most people, I completed this whole project on my work laptop, a middle of the road Macbook generally only used for web browsing and word processing. It’s not the slowest computer in the world, but it’s not the fastest either, and it’s certainly not the kind of machine you’d usually see in an editing bay. Long story short, if your computer can run Premiere and play back 720p footage, it should be able to handle this workflow.
The first step is safely moving the footage you’ve shot from the card to your hard drive. This is actually less straightforward than it might seem. For example, if the budget allows, I always recommend transferring to two separate drives, so you have a backup. Depending on the project, you might also have to follow naming conventions set by a client. Finally, you always want some sort of verification that everything you’ve meant to copy has made it onto your backup drives without corruption.
For all of the above reasons, I’d highly recommend using software to help you offload your media. Shotput Pro is the industry standard, and the program I use personally. It manages multiple offloads, generates automatic reports, renames folders according to user presets, and allows you to pause offloading even if you unmount a drive. It also uses checksum verification to confirm that all of your data was transferred and that none of it was corrupted during the process. At $129, it might seem a little expensive, but that hit to your wallet will sting a lot less the first time it saves you from getting fired over missing media. There are also more affordable options, like Hedge and Red Giant’s Offload, but, whatever you choose, you’ll want to make sure that you’re taking steps to back up your footage and verify that nothing has been corrupted. Once you have all of your media on a working drive, we can move on to ingest into Adobe Premiere.
Ingesting Footage with Existing Proxies
The foundation of this workflow is proxy media. If you’re unfamiliar with proxies, let me explain. Proxies are smaller copies of your footage created solely for the purpose of editing. The sample project I’m using here, for example, was shot in 8K Redcode RAW. The resulting files are much too large for my editing computer to play back in real time, so I’m going to create lower-resolution, compressed proxy video files, edit those, and then reconnect the RAW media for color correction and export. Back when I started as a video editor, this was a complicated process. Often it was so time-consuming and confusing that the improvements in editing productivity didn’t even seem worth it. Now, though, as editing software (especially Premiere) has gotten smarter about supporting proxy workflows, it couldn’t be easier. You basically go about it one of two ways depending on how you set up your RED before shooting.
I’ll cover the simpler of the two options first. One of the biggest feature improvements in RED’s DSMC2 line is the ability to record proxies in-camera to the same card as your full-quality media. The advantages of this approach, of course, are simplicity and time management. If you set up proxy recording before you shoot anything, there’s really not much else you have to do. Proxy files are scaled automatically, stored on the same card as your originals, and have the same file names, which makes them easy to identify and reconnect later. If you’re working on a project with a quick turnaround time, the ease and speed of this approach could be invaluable, and there aren’t many disadvantages. Depending on the proxy data rate and resolution you choose, your Redcode compression rate options may be affected, but I didn’t encounter any limitations at HD ProRes 422 LT, which will probably be the most common proxy format. On the 8K Carbon Fiber Weapon, your proxy frame rates are limited to 120p in 2K and 29.97p in 4K, while the other DSMC2 brains limit you to 60p proxies in 2K and don’t support 4K proxies at all. Higher frame rate clips generate rendered slow-motion proxies at your project frame rate. Finally, your only proxy codec choices are ProRes or DNXHD, so, if you need a more specialized file format for some reason, you’ll have to generate proxies yourself. Overall, though, I’d say these hurdles won’t be a concern for the vast majority of users. Recording proxies in-camera is the best choice for most people.
If you’ve created proxies in-camera, then getting them into Premiere is remarkably simple. You start by importing your full-quality media using whatever method you prefer. I like the Media Browser window because Premiere is programmed to recognize RED’s default file structure, so there’s no hunting through folders for clips or avoiding proxies. Just select all the clips you want to import, right click, and select “Import.”
Once all of your full-quality clips are imported, select them in the project window, right click, navigate to the “Proxy” sub-menu, and select “Attach Proxies.” A new window will open listing all the clips you’ve selected. For the purposes of this project, you’ll want to make sure that the “Relink others automatically” and “Use Media Browser to attach files” boxes are checked. Under “Match File Properties,” make sure that “File Name” is the only box selected. What we’re doing here is telling Premiere Pro that we want to use Media Browser (which is programmed to recognize and simplify RED’s file structure) to attach our .mov proxy file. Then, by selecting “Relink others automatically,” we’re telling media browser to follow the same formula for the rest of the selected clips using the file name as a guide. Premiere then automatically connects all of the .mov proxy media as long as the filename of the proxy files matches the names of the original media files. This process will be familiar to anyone who has used the “Reconnect Media” dialog box in Premiere.
There are other ways to accomplish these goals of course: offline/onlining, reduced playback resolution, etc. But the advantage to this workflow is that Premiere knows that your proxy files are proxy files and performs accordingly. Once the proxies are attached, you can add “Toggle Proxies” buttons to the program and source monitors. Clicking this button will immediately switch the playback back and forth between your proxy and your original media. If you want to reference your full-quality footage for, say, a focus check, you don’t need to offline or reconnect anything. Just click the button and your source media changes automatically. Any media or XML export automatically references the original media rather than the proxies. These are all huge time savers.
I should stop here to mention that this attachment process is super flexible. Proxies don’t have to be in the same folder or even on the same drive as your original media. They can be disconnected, re-attached, or regenerated as needed, and, once attached, they can operate completely independent from your original media. Freeing yourself from the burden of having to deal with giant raw files opens up your editing options in ways far beyond saving render time. For example, you could easily create proxies small enough to fit on a thumb drive, take the show on the road, complete your whole edit using just those proxies, and then reconnect the original media when it’s time to export. But what if you don’t have proxies pre-made?
Luckily, since Premiere makes it easy to attach proxies at any point in the editing process, you can use just about any proxy creation technique you want. My preferred method, though, especially if I’m working on a long-term project during which I’ll import multiple cards, is to have Premiere create and attach proxies automatically at media ingest. This takes a little more work in the beginning, but it happens automatically once it’s set up, which I like because there’s nothing to remember. Just import your footage, and Media Encoder does the rest in the background. If your computer can handle both tasks at once, you can even start editing while your proxies render.
After creating your project, the first step in setting up automatic proxy creation is to navigate to the “Ingest Settings” tab of your Project Settings window. First, you’ll see a checkbox with the word “Ingest” next to it. Checking this box will tell Premiere that we want it to take some sort of ingest action on media import. The remaining selections on the page will tell Premiere exactly what actions to take. For our purposes, you’ll want to select “Create Proxies” from the drop-down menu next to the “Ingest” check box. The other options are pretty self-explanatory, but they’re covered in more detail in the Premiere Pro manual if you’re curious. After selecting “Create Proxies,” you’ll want to select a proxy type from the “Preset” drop-down menu. Adobe Premiere comes pre-loaded with a few presets, including 1280×720 ProRes, which is the format I use most often for 16:9 aspect ratio projects. This 8K RED footage is a little wider, though, so I had to create my own preset in Media Encoder. That process is a bit more than I have time to detail here, but it’s pretty simple, and it’s covered in detail in this Adobe tutorial article. You’ll find the relevant instructions under the headline “How to Create a New Ingest Preset.” Once your preset is chosen, you just need to pick a destination folder for your generated proxies. When all of the above is finished, Premiere will automatically create proxies using your selected preset every time you import footage.
If you’ve already imported footage, though, or are using footage of varying resolutions, aspect ratios, or frame rates, you may need to create proxies after importing. Luckily this process is just as simple as creating proxies on ingest. Just select all the media in your project that you want to create proxies for (I’d stick to batches of clips that are the same resolution), right click, select “Proxy,” then select “Create Proxies.” A window will open that looks similar to the one used to choose a proxy preset for creation on ingest. You can choose from pre-loaded presets or load one of your own. You can also choose whether Premiere places the proxies in a new file or in the same location as the original media, whichever works best for your project. Click “Ok” and Media Encoder will open and start to creating proxies for you. One of the nice things about creating proxies this way, through the proxy creation window in Premiere rather than directly in Media Encoder, is that you don’t have to remember to attach the proxies once they’re created. Premiere takes care of that for you in the background.
Next Steps and Advantages
Once you’ve created and attached your proxy media, you’re ready to edit. When it’s time to export a movie file or send XML data to a color correction application, Premiere will only ever refer to the original media files. No offlining or onlining should ever have to happen with this workflow, which is a vast improvement over how proxies were typically handled in years past.
Another advantage, which I mentioned briefly a little earlier, is that proxy workflows free you from having to work only with your original media. By using the techniques in this article, you’ve set up a file structure that neatly separates your proxies from your raw files. It’s pretty easy to just copy/paste all your small proxy files to a thumb drive, duplicate the Premiere project file, and edit in a coffee shop without having to cart around a terabyte of 8K footage or a desktop computer that can play it back. All it takes is a little preparation and organization from the outset, and your video projects can be far more flexible and portable than you might have thought. If you have any questions about any of this, feel free to comment or e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org, and if you’d like to give this a try, we have plenty of RED Camera Systems available to rentals now.
Author: Ryan Hill
My name is Ryan and I am a video tech here at Lensrentals.com. In my free time, I mostly shoot documentary stuff, about food a lot of the time, as an excuse to go eat free food. If you need my qualifications, I have a B.A. in Cinema and Photography from Southern Illinois University in beautiful downtown Carbondale, Illinois.