RED Gemini: Innovations for Disney+ film Safety
- January 19, 2021
- Shane Hurlbut, ASC
RED Digital Cinema hit the market in 2005 and ever since the world of filmmaking has never been the same. RED was a major factor in revolutionizing the industry by making digital cinematography the standard for motion capture. And, trust me, I know a little something about that major turning point in the industry.
As an early adopter and trailblazer of digital cameras, I first applied new digital technology by using Canon 5D Mark II’s to heighten the action for Act of Valor. But it wasn’t until RED’s contribution to the medium that spurned the Age of Digital Cinematography. And it was the RED Gemini, for me, that has stood out from the rest of the pack — most notably for its impressive low light mode. That’s one of the reasons why I chose the RED Gemini as our workhorse camera for the Disney+ film Safety.
Keep reading to find out why the RED Gemini has the ideal versatility that allowed us to capture 2 distinct worlds — the dreamy over-saturated campus of Clemson University and the gritty projects of Atlanta.
To further supplement our RED Gemini Safety Innovations, we covered the story behind Safety and our 7 minute and 20 second Clemson halftime sequence with our free lesson: Sports Action Cinematography Part 1. But to understand the full scope of how we captured the right color schemes in-camera with specially-engineered natural density (NDs), we recommend our article on Tiffen: Innovations for the Disney+ film ‘Safety’.
Would you like to learn how to conduct location scouts without the need for large groups or multiple location visits? Then, dive into the free lesson: Insta360: Virtual Scouting for the Covid-19 Era. Now, without further ado, let’s unpack how the RED Gemini and its innovations allowed us to capture the story of Ray-Ray McElrathbey and his little brother Fahmarr with the Disney+ film Safety.
Why the RED Gemini?
Every project comes with its own unique story, world, colors, and textures. So, since each camera has its own idiosyncrasies, it’s up to you as the DoP to choose the right camera. This also means building it to meet your needs. The camera you use is the equivalent of how a keystone fits into a monument — it’s the central component that locks the entire structure together. Likewise, selecting a camera is an essential step in bringing the desired visuals and texture to reality. However, what may work for one genre or concept may not always work for another. That’s why when I was slated to shoot Safety, one of my earliest tasks was meeting with our seasoned director Reggie Hudlin to identify the look and feel for the film.
Together, Reggie and I collaborated on a look book based on our ideas for Safety’s imagery that we had both curated ahead of time. As I alluded to above, we were aware of our 2 distinct looks. We knew we needed a bright and colorful look for Clemson. Not to mention a real gritty, raw off-feel for Atlanta and the projects where Ray and his little brother Fahmarr grew up. Keep in mind that our look for Atlanta also extended to everything that was Atlanta. This includes Dade County Jail to social services and even community parks. But more on that below.
Right away I thought of the RED Gemini. It was clear that the Gemini would be the best camera for the job because of its dual ISO functions. It has a low light ISO that basically turns on a whole other capacitor to be able to handle and energize the light. This is actually a feature I used to enjoy during the big DSLR craze with the C500 and the Canon 1DC. The Alexa, Sonys, and RED camera systems didn’t energize the light at that time — but the Canon sensor did. In fact, you couldn’t light with such a camera unless it was powered on for reference. This is due to its sensor which energizes the light in a way that your eye can’t.
Just like Canon’s sensor, the RED Gemini energizes light when you enter its low light mode, except it’s even more powerful. The Gemini takes a light that you wouldn’t think has much key or source to it and then, suddenly, energizes the light source opening up a whole new world of possibilities.
The RED Gemini Sensor
The Gemini’s sensor is unlike any of RED’s other sensors. For example, where the Dragon and Monstro have more of a magenta-tinged sensor, the Gemini’s is more green-yellow. So, it feels closer to an Alexa — but rather than green-yellow, the Alexa is more green-cyan based.
The yellow of the sensor enables you to get incredible skin tones with both brown and white skins — this is especially perfect when you have a diverse cast like ours. Our custom Tiffen natural NDs boosted our image even further, creating a wonderful cocktail mixed with our NDs and sensor.
Did you know that RED developed its custom S35 low light mode to be able to function in the vacuum of outer space? That’s right, astronauts utilized the RED Gemini to record directives during their missions in the absolute darkness of space. Let that sink in! So, RED engineered the Gemini to work simply and straightforward.
Take a deep dive into the Gemini’s sensor capabilities with Custom S35 Sensor – GEMINI 5K: RED Goes Dual ISO.
RED Gemini Recreates the Texture of Film
When we think of digital capture, what first comes to mind is the clarity and crispness of the image. So, how does a digital camera like the Gemini give off the texture of film? Let’s break it down.
First, let’s consider the different forms of celluloid that you can recreate with the Gemini. When you shoot at 2K, you’ll get that Super 8 look. Then, you go with a high compression, and all of a sudden the grain is the size of baseballs like that beautiful Super 8 film we all know and love. When you go up to 3K you’ll get a 16mm filmic look. Just be sure to use that with a 12/1 compression; that’ll give you the exact grain that you’d need to replicate Super 16. Then, I’m sure you can surmise that 4K delivers you with a look similar to 35mm, which is perfect and clean. I’d recommend shooting that at a 2/1 compression ratio.
If you’re shooting anything where you’ll need stabilization, then you can shoot at 5K. For example, say you’re going handheld or using a Ronin or MoVI. When you shoot in 5K, you can easily use that 25% that’s now all the way around your image. You can stabilize it without image loss or pushing in on the image.
I like to shoot in legacy mode instead of IPP2 because I feel that it looks much more like film. For Safety, we shot all of Atlanta in 3200 ISO because of its noise which gives off the texture of celluloid. This is important to add that extra dimension — including the projects, the prison, the park, day, night, etc. And if you were to go to 800 ISO, you’d get even more noise and therefore injecting more of a grainy texture.
So, how, you ask, is this possible? Well, it’s all about the size of the Gemini’s film buckets. They’re massive — huge compared to the more expensive Alexa and Monstro. This gives the Gemini the capacity to lap up light similar to film.
Film has 13 stops of latitude and falls off significantly. Let’s say 5 stops of underexposed would go completely black. The Gemini has a little more range than that while also delivering a cinematic texture.
RED Compression Code
Another feature that is great about the RED Gemini is its RED Compression Code. There’s no other camera that does it, and that compression is a whole other layer of a cocktail that brings me back to my organic film lab exposing days.
By comparison, the Alexa is more Procter & Gamble. It comes out of the box and then you have some features, mainly for the post-process. But with the RED cameras, there are many more unique functions and so many ways that you can alter the RAW image that is baked in. So, even though it’s a RAW image, you’re baking in all of your specific components for a more organic form that’s similar to exposing and developing film.
Capturing Atlanta with the RED Gemini
The texture and grain of the Gemini in 3200 ISO was exactly what we needed to convey the atmosphere of Atlanta, in all its rugged beauty. That along with the low light OLPF using Skin Tone Highlight Filter. Next, we needed a lens that could accentuate our gritty concept, so we went with the Bolex 135-degree Shutter.
When I was coming up in the industry, I used the Bolex for music videos because it really heightens reality. What it does is take the edge off the motion blur, while also tightening and crispening it up.
Next, we dove into our color science and created LUTs that were designed with a level of desaturation that muted specific colors. Yet, skin tones were left unaffected by the desaturation of the LUTs.
Now, I didn’t need to change that low light OLPF since the camera has plenty of power to pick up the lowlight. But sometimes I like to try different things for a unique look and feel.
That’s another reason why I love the RED cameras. I feel like I’m back in the lab when using its camera systems. Back in the days of film, I used to inject so many creative and experimental techniques for commercials and music videos. And while working with the RED cameras, I feel that they have a similar versatility and flexibility of use and experimentation. I could change different OLPFs, I could shoot with low light functions, I could change different color spaces and the color science, all from within the camera.
Capturing Clemson with the RED Gemini
Our concept for Clemson was the polar opposite of Atlanta. Where Atlanta was desaturated, Clemson was oversaturated. So, what was our motivation for this? Ray had a rough childhood in the projects, and Clemson University is a place of opportunity with an amazing student atmosphere that radiates a familial spirit. It was of the utmost importance that we distinguish these two worlds by color, texture, and tone.
We wanted Clemson’s school colors of orange and purple to drip off the screen. This meant the campus, classrooms, football field, uniforms, helmets — everything, had to exude that school spirit. So, naturally, we upped the contrast to the nth degree so the colors would pop.
The RED Gemini is capable of delivering better chroma than any other kind of camera. So, not only is it energizing the light, but it’s also stimulating the color. At Clemson, we shot using the standard OLPF which gave us the cleanest and most crisp image possible.
Filming at Clemson University
I’d like to give a shoutout to Clemson University. They laid out the red carpet (or I should say ‘orange’ carpet) while we were there. They were gracious and appreciative of our commitment to telling a story that had become ingrained in the culture of their campus. It’s not always easy to handle a film crew, but they did so with amazing patience and willingness. And this paved the way for our success.
We were really able to present Reggie’s vision by all coming together. And we had amazing teamwork on all sides. The executive producer Mark Ciardi was instrumental in pulling everything together so we had a smooth ride. And when it came to placing cranes, putting people where people were never permitted before, working with fire guidelines, and keeping everyone safe, our locations department was an absolute dynamo.
The Bottom Line
When it comes down to it, the RED Gemini was absolutely essential for providing the filmic grittiness in low light mode for Atlanta and the bright colors and colorful chroma for Clemson University. Safety is far from your average Disney movie. Yes, it’s a family-friendly film full of comradery, hope, and that inspirational Disney-feel that we all know and love — but it’s also a drama that illustrates a sobering reality that isn’t always explored in such a medium.
It was the RED Gemini’s amazing innovations that helped us achieve our look and texture for these unique worlds. For one, the Gemini’s low light mode provides the feel of film without the headache of loading and processing. And, by utilizing the Gemini’s differing OLPFs, like its Standard for Clemson and the Skin Tone Highlight Filter for Atlanta, we were able to create these polar opposite looks.
The RED Gemini is like a supercomputer with amazing processing speeds. It has the ability to shoot up to 300 frames per second and in a variety of different compressions. The Gemini can also capture all the Ks (2K-5K+). For a camera that’s around $20,000 (far lower than the Alexa or Monstro), the Gemini is not only priced much lower than most other cameras, but it outperforms them in key areas.
To learn more about RED’s cameras and workflow, hop on over to our REDucation article for all the insider details!