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The Hobbit to be 3D Epic

Peter Jackson's The Hobbit will be shot in 3D using at least 30 of RED Digital Cinema's upcoming Epic digital cameras.

Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit will be shot in 3D using at least 30 of RED Digital Cinema’s upcoming Epic digital cameras.

The Hobbit will start shooting in New Zealand early next year and will use some of the first, hand-machined Epics – full assembly lines probably won’t be running before about February, although RED’s founder, Jim Jannard, expects that there will be widespread availability by NAB.

The first Epic kits, including Epic-M body, titanium PL mount, Bomb EVF, 5-inch touchscreen LCD, a REDmote, four batteries plus charger, and solid state storage with four 128GB SSDs, will cost $58,000.

The Epic promises 5k resolution, up to 120 frames per second recording, and a new HDRx mode for “the highest dynamic range of any digital cinema camera ever made”.

It has taken everything they learned from building the RED One, and then designed Epic from scratch, to produce “a smaller, lighter camera that is an order of magnitude more powerful.”

The Hobbit will be one of the first productions to use Epic and RED claims that its “small size and relatively low weight, makes it perfect for 3D – where two cameras have to be mounted on each 3D rig.”

Jackson has been a RED supporter since directing a war movie short, Crossing the Line, as a very early test of prototype RED One cameras. “I have always liked the look of RED footage,” he said. “I’m not a scientist or mathematician, but the image RED produces has a much more filmic feel than most of the other digital formats. I find the picture quality appealing and attractive, and with the Epic, Jim and his team have gone even further. It is a fantastic tool, the Epic not only has cutting edge technology, incredible resolution and visual quality, but it is also a very practical tool for film makers. Many competing digital systems require the cameras to be tethered to large cumbersome VTR machines. The Epic gives us back the ability to be totally cable free, even when working in stereo.”

Jannard and several of his staff went to New Zealand earlier this year so that Jackson could test Epic and assess its suitability. “Everybody at RED is incredibly proud that Peter has chosen the Epic,” Jannard said. “The Hobbit is a major production, and could have chosen any camera system that they wanted. The fact that they went with us is extremely gratifying.”

Dynamic pictures

One of the most interesting aspects of Epic is its High Dynamic Range mode, which extends the usable dynamic range of the camera from a little over 13 stops on the M-X sensor, to 18 stops. “Now we’re well beating film in terms of its overall latitude,” claimed RED’s principal spokesman, Ted Schilowitz.

HDRx is simple to enable and shoots “two conjoined frames” that are linked together: a normal exposure and a very fast exposure that protects the highlights (you can select how many stops to protect). “You can choose to use as little or as much of this HDR effect as you want in post production.”

It means that users won’t have to change their shooting style. “There is really no penalty for shooting HDR, other than a little more data,” he claimed. However, it means that if you shoot in 24fps mode, you record 48fps.

This could be substantial, as the 5k image is “more than 60% more data than the 4k image” delivered by the RED One.

Epic is a complete redesign, addressing many of the problems the previous system had, such as cooling. Although it is smaller, it uses a much more efficient cooling engine, which also avoids any electronics getting wet if rain gets in. The camera will also be a lot easier to service, with parts like the fan user replaceable.

Although the camera will ship “when it’s ready,” it is now functional, and there are only a few minor issues to address. “There is a lot of pent-up demand and desire for a camera that is this small and this powerful,” he said.

Epic has a 14megapixel sensor that can do both stills and motion, quickly switching between them.

It is highly modular, but a typical shooting rig will weigh about 4kg, and the body will have three independent monitoring paths or feeds, with the possibility to add more outputs if necessary. Almost every accessory available for the RED One will work with Epic.

RED is building electronic lens mounts for use with PL-mount, Nikon and Canon lenses (Canon L series initially, although it is also working on Tamron and Sigma Canon-mount connections), and it is developing RED lenses that will also have electronic connections. These should be able to autofocus, with touchscreen control for pulling focus, and Schilowitz promises that it will support a wide range of lenses eventually.

For post, it is working on getting its Redrocket accelerator to support 5k files for real-time workflows, which should be done in time for Epic’s release.