Interview with RED creator Jim Jannard

Leading up to this NAB, one word, perhaps more than any other, was on the collective lips of the industry: RED. Emmy-winning producer/director/DP Steve Gibby got a chance to sit down for an exclusive interview with Jim Jannard Founder and Chairman of Oakley and RED Digital Cinema, who answers all of the long-awaited questions and provides hints about what is yet to come.

What kind of form factor are we talking about for the RED Digital Cinema camera?

Jannard: We wanted the camera to be as small and light as possible, and to be able to build a complete system around it. The idea is it’s easier to make an eight-pound camera work and act like a forty-pound camera than it is to take a forty-pound camera and make it act like an eight-pound camera. RED can be used as a handheld 4K camera, then be bulked up with all sorts of accessories, sit on a tripod, and work in a studio.

So scalability is the concept?

Jannard: Modularity and scalability ‘ which also translate to a long service life.

What were the primary design considerations?

Jannard: To build the camera we always wanted… the one no one has yet built. To get the most feature-packed camera into the smallest form possible, then make it as flexible as possible by connecting all sorts of accessories, using what we call camera cages, to suite different styles of shooting.

Mysterium CMOS sensor ‘ its size, and is it made by RED or outsourced?

Jannard: It is our own proprietary sensor. You won’t find it available from any other company.

We’re not a fab house, so we contract fabrication with an outside manufacturer. Regarding the specific nature of the CMOS technology, it doesn’t serve us to give too many details. But I will say it’s a miracle sensor in its capabilities. Super 35 optical format, 24.5 x 13.7 millimeters, with over 11 Megapixels contributing to the image. The sensor delivers excellent dynamic range and low light sensitivity, and permit us to shoot at up to 60fps in 2540p, which is 4520 x 2540 pixels — bigger even than the 4K spec for digital cinema.

One reason the sensor is oversized is in the viewfinder, or on your monitor, you can actually see outside of the recorded area. When you’re shooting in 4K, you’ll have an extra 10% visible that’s outside of the recorded area. It’s one of the things the film guys really want, this ability to see outside of what’s being recorded, for lead-ins.

Because of the nature of the sensor, it can shoot at these maximum resolutions at up to 60 frames per second. Any frame rate you like, including 23.98, 24 and 25fps. It also scales or crops down to 2K — all the available HD outputs are actually created from that. There’s advantages to both: if you crop down to 2K, you can use Super 16 lenses, and shoot at up to 120 frames per second. Scale 4K to 2K, and you can take full advantage of 35-millimeter depth of field. So it just depends on what your intent is. And these choices continue down through 1080p, 1080i and 720p.

So it’s project-dependent, just like the modularity and scalability of the camera. It seems that flexibility of use is the essence of the system.

Jannard: One of the strongest features of this system is operational flexibility. The idea is to enable shooters with as many options as possible. You can shoot 35mm PL-mount lenses. We can’t announce at this point, although we expect that there will be other 35-millimeter mounts available for our camera. You can shoot Super 16 PL-mount lenses. We plan on a 2/3″ B4 mount option. So you’re flexible if you have a current set of lenses. The idea is that you’ll be able to use them ‘ not have to go out and get a whole new set of lenses. We’re also announcing a RED 300mm f2.8 lens that will ship around the same time as the camera. We’re flexible in the signal format: from 2540p, 4K and 2K and down to 720p. We’re also flexible on the data streams that you can output: RAW, 4:4:4, 4:2:2, or you can record to REDCODE, which is our Wavelet codec.

Its even flexible on high-speed data output, so for example, we can offer a choice between Infiniband and any other high-speed interface that comes along in the future. The idea is that this flexibility enables you with as much capability as is possible, in the smallest package available ‘ and, priced right, I might add.

So, could you summarize the formats the camera is capable of?

Jannard: 2540p, 4K, 2K, 1080p and 720p. Anything shot for NTSC or PAL would have to be downconverted in post.

Is 1080i also included?

Jannard: Yes, we’re also going to have 1080i, at both 50 and 59.94 frame rates. But that’s the only interlaced format. I will say at this point that the camera is under development. Anything I tell you can and may change by the time we release the production camera. We’re giving people a rare look at the process, not just a finished spec list and a prototype. Some things are absolutely deadlocked down, and some things remain open. The idea isn’t to surprise you with features that got lopped off, but to give us room to continue to add features before the camera is released.

That’s why when we talk about internal recording using our REDCODE codec to SATA based RED-DRIVE or REDFLASH magazines, we’re not describing any other codecs. Even though we expect to be able to support some others by the time the camera is released, we’re not announcing any at this point.”

So that’s an open situation where codecs may not be included at the time of NAB announcement, but could be added before the first prototype shoot in the fall?

Jannard: Absolutely, and I think it’s important to note that our intent is to include as much capability as possible, in one camera system.

Frame rates — we’re talking 1 to 60?

Jannard: One to 60 in 35mm, and that includes the option for the output to be scaled down to any of the HDTV formats with a 35mm depth of field. Or shoot at up to 120 in a cropped scenario.

Like Super 16?

Jannard: One to 120 with Super 16. Scaled to 720p HD that makes for wonderful slow motion effects in sports. The supported frame rates and formats matrix is quite large, so its best to go to to see precisely what you can do with each lens/video format combination.

So, those are in steps of one, correct, so you can have a huge number of options for capturing motion, whether you’re going to overcrank or undercrank?

Jannard: I will say that it is our intent that we offer steps of one with all the primary formats. That means all the primary progressive scan acquisition formats available in steps of one, with some of the lesser used formats perhaps only available at discreet speeds like 24, 25, 50, 60fps. Then 1080i will operate in its standard broadcast frequencies only. But to certify every possible combination in steps of one, we’re not prepared to do that at this point.

Data rates? You’ve published 100, 80, 60, 50, 25, and 19. Are there other data rates, or are those set?

Jannard: I think that goes to the first comment about this being under development. Those were put up as estimates, and quite frankly, that’s one of the things that changed. We’re now looking at data rates that may be as high as 200-plus mega bits per second onto a REDDRIVE, and we’ve seen encoding solutions down as low as 12. There are a lot of exciting developments going on with compression, and we’ll take full advantage of these as we optimize our REDCODE codec.

Which brings us around to REDCODE. You mentioned that it’s Wavelet. I personally think that’s a good choice. It’s essentially lossless. What would you like to say about the REDCODEC codec?

Jannard: I can’t say too much about REDCODE at this point. We still have several options on how this finishes up, so to comment in detail about it before it’s finished would be premature. But it will be Wavelet-based, it will also be variable frame rate, and very scalable. The target is that it supports internal recording and then is easily editable up to at least 2K, all in real-time.

What’s included for inputs and outputs for the camera?

Jannard: There’s going to be dual link HD-SDI, XLR audio, USB, FireWire, a couple of SD cards slots to support future features, HDMI, D.C power in and out, timecode and many others.

In some of these cases, we’ve made the conscious decision to go with small format connectors, as opposed to standard size, because we’re trying to keep this camera as small as possible.

It sounds like you’ve included the ins and outs that would be needed with a camera of this scalability and options.

Jannard: Yes, that is correct. There are basically two styles of operation we support. You can record internally to the camera. There the choices would include REDFLASH, which is a multi-gigabyte flash memory device in a 21/2″ SATA form, or RED-DRIVE, which is a high capacity 21/2″ SATA drive. To get the information off them, there are FireWire, USB and SATA that let you get that data to wherever you need it to go.

The other style is external recording, and the idea is to give the shooter as many options out of the camera as possible, and therein lays the dual HD-SDI for 1080p or 2K RGB at 24fps, and support for RAW camera data via a high speed serial data interface, such as Infiniband etc.

So you could use this camera in a trucked shoot, an ENG situation, or cine-style. Essentially we have a Swiss Army Knife here, so that you just pull out the tool that you want to use, and go for it.

Jannard: That’s the idea here ‘ no limitations.

I’m glad to see you included an LCD with the camera, especially for the ENG-style shooters, for run-and-gun, sports, news, reality, or whatever. Are we talking LCD, OLED, LCoS, or what?

Jannard: We’re still working on which exact screen we’re going to use. The idea is to get something larger than 31/2″, and higher resolution than what you’ve typically seen before. If there is a problem associated with shooting 35mm depth of field, it is the ability to focus, and a high-resolution display helps make critical focusing possible. So a high-resolution LCD – it may or may not in-fact be an LCD – serves double duty obviously, or maybe not so obviously, for focus and also the menus.

You also have the ability to use a larger LCD or any other monitor that the camera will drive, either separately, or in conjunction with the onboard LCD. In addition, we’re providing a HDMI digital viewfinder port for somebody who wants to add an accessory electronic viewfinder, like an AccuScene, or something else that may come up. So for those who are used to shooting with viewfinders, as opposed to LCD’s, we’re enabling that option.

Or shoots with both. With convergence, a lot of shooters have to shoot cine-style and ENG-style, and accessorize the camera up, so I think that a convergent cinematographer or videographer needs to be able to use both. That segues over to the types of viewfinders. Are we talking an optical and an electronic viewfinder option?

Jannard: For size and other reasons we decided to delete the optical viewfinder from our first camera. We recognize that there are people out there who want an optical viewfinder, but it will not make our first model. There are a couple of reasons that an optical finder is an advantage.
One we heard about often is the ability to see outside of the recorded frame. The good news is the way we use our sensor, we can now offer that same capability. There are some other features that people like in optical viewfinder, but they’ll just have to wait for those in another camera body.

Let’s talk about shutter type and shutter speeds. What can you tell me about that?

Jannard: We have some really incredible shutter breakthroughs, and for a variety of reasons I can’t speak of them right now. NAB is to get the foundation of the camera out to the public so they can see exactly what we’re up to. But there will be times throughout the rest of the year when we’ll be able to provide more information. What I can say about the shutter is we have created a very flexible electronic shutter, and I think that no one ‘ from either a film or video perspective – will be disappointed.

Could you summarize the lens options for the camera?

Jannard: I think that one of the primary differentiators of this camera is its ability to digitally shoot 35mm depth of field and high speed Super 16, both of which are, I want to say, better than the 2/3″ B4 mount lens format. Super 16 isn’t significantly larger than 2/3″, but it still is larger. So those would be the first things on the lens mount list ‘ 35PL and Super 16PL. But, we also understand people have a lot of B4 mounts. They’ll have to crop the sensor to use these with our camera, but we wanted to make that option available. There are certainly other camera companies out there with their own proprietary lens mounts – Canon and Nikon quickly come to mind – that provide 35mm compatibility. We don’t have anything formally in place, so we certainly can’t announce a deal with any of those companies, but if they’re listening, we’d certainly like to get that finished. We also do recognize that there is a void in the 35mm PL lens mount for a compact, lightweight, inexpensive, high-quality zoom. That really is the focus of the RED team – to fill that void. That is definitely something we feel is hugely important.

Will there be RED-branded accessories, and can you talk about any accessory partners?

Jannard: If you have a chance to come to our booth at NAB, or go to our web site, you’ll see we have thought about a comprehensive accessory program. There’s a lot of hard point mounts on the camera and our camera accessory cages to accommodate a tremendous amount of creative accessory opportunity. We will provide some of them, but we also encourage the community to develop their own. If somebody has a better way to add an accessory to our camera than we do, then we welcome and embrace that. The idea for this camera is to be flexible. Flexible means to have as many options and accessories as possible. Our goal is to not only create the camera that can enable that kind of thinking, but to also provide complete operational solutions.

Editing options and workflows?

Jannard: I think there’s a lot of people in the community that are addressing digital workflow out of the camera, either in 4:4:4 or more traditional 4:2:2. We have kind of a unique situation on the two extreme ends. We’re in development of a RAW workflow, both in record-to devices, and high performance decoding of RAW to RGB. We’re also keen to make sure that the REDCODE codec is embraced in NLE situations. We do understand that having a camera without a workflow ‘ well you may as well as not have developed the camera at all.

That’s a good point. It’s one thing to get great images, but you need a process to get them to market.

Jannard: I wish I could give details on each specific solution, but we just can’t at this point.

To be announced

Jannard: To be announced…

Target markets? Obviously this camera, by its design and accessories, and what’s been said about it, it can be used for the digital cinema market and the ENG market. It can be used for everything from a feature film, an indie film, a commercial, a music video, stock footage, high-definition television, you could do news gathering if you needed to ‘ so address the latitude of target markets, what was your thinking?

Jannard: You just named it. You did it perfect. I’m not sure I could add much to that, except to say the idea is to create a camera that is inclusive.

Knowing that this interview is going to be released on the first day of the NAB exhibition, what can you tell us about the price point for the RED Digital Cinema camera?

Jannard: The price of the RED ONE camera is $17,500. Standard equipment on the RED ONE camera includes a S35mm Mysterium sensor, S35mm PL lens mount, LCD, HD-SDI output (4:2:2 capability), dual HD-SDI outputs (4:4:4: capability), battery and charger. Complete details of additional standard features can be seen on our website. The prices are subject to change without notice.

That price does not include a lens, digital media storage or RAW data export module (such as Infiniband). Optional RED accessories available at additional charge will include several RED-CAGE systems, RED-FLASH, RED-DRIVES, RED-GUN and others that are being developed as we speak. We intend to offer the RED 300mm f2.8 lens for a price of $4,750. The full line of RED offerings will continue to grow and be posted on our website as time goes on.

Which raises the observation that the camera hasn’t been dummied down or disabled from any functions. The camera box itself seems to be capable of everything, rather than having strata or levels of camera that do this, this, this, and this, RED’s approach seems to be to not dumb down the camera, but make it capable, depending on the accessories that users put on it. Correct?

Jannard: That is correct. We’re not trying to create a pricing program with different tiers for different capabilities. Quite frankly, the cost to manufacture this is about the same whether its dummied down or fully feature-enabled, so it seemed artificial for us to try and package different price point cameras just by disabling features.

After NAB, what can we look for in a production timeline? What would be a target schedule at this point?

Jannard: As long as you keep the word target in there, the target is to shoot and show images from the camera in the Fall of this year, and to have first cameras assembled at the end of this year. I certainly would comment, because we’ve been cautioned that there’s a lot of black holes out there, that while our target is to begin shipping at the end of this year, if we achieve that goal, it would be in limited quantities, and there is certainly a likelihood that meaningful production quantities wouldn’t begin until the beginning of 2007.

Quarter one, Quarter two?

Jannard: Again, we haven’t been down this road, so I don’t want to get too locked down on how many we can produce at what exact moment, but that’s really our target.

That’s ambitious in itself.

Jannard: It is ambitious. We recognize it’s ambitious. We did leave ourselves a little bit of elbow room though in here, although it is our intent not to use it.

What is the future of the RED Digital Cinema camera? What’s the next generation?

Jannard: Well, ideally this one camera will last somebody for decades. But in a world of fast-changing electronics, the more practical idea is to make this camera capable of accepting upgrades. Our goal is not to come out with a replacement model that has a completely new feature set, and that leaves the buyer of this first camera behind. The idea is that this camera is upgradeable as much as possible.

The design is fundamentally flexible, so that for example, if you record to REDFLASH and you have X gigabytes of capacity, and Flash capability grows in gigabytes and shrinks in dollars over the next couple of years, its easy to add those kind of capacity advantages to the existing cameras.
As I said, the goal of RED is to not obsolete the camera, its to upgrade and update this camera.”

So, we’ve covered the camera system up one side and down the other. I take you as a goal-oriented guy. You seem to like new challenges and projects. You seem like a guy that is really motivated by that. Why are you doing the RED Digital Cinema camera system?

Jannard: I’ve been a shooter for 30 years and a collector for twenty. I’ve bought just about every camera that’s been released. I was really frustrated that in the move from film to digital for motion pictures, or for video, no one was building the camera that I wanted to buy. I can’t say that about the still photograph industry. I’ve got cameras that I’m very content with, but in the video motion picture side, I couldn’t come up with something I really wanted to buy and own, and it just seemed like a big hole in the market. I’ve been passionate about cameras and shooting for so long, and we have the capability here to pull a project like this off, that I decided that I’d just make my passion my business.

You’re enjoying this project, aren’t you?

Jannard: Very exciting! Very fun! The most fun I can remember having in a long time! It’s really terrific ‘ and I’m really building the camera for me. I have an old philosophy: If we don’t sell one, and its something I’d be thrilled to own, then we’ll go ahead and do the project, and that’s how I’m treating this…

You may be building a camera for you, but you’re sharing that camera, that R & D, and that capability with the rest of us in the motion media production industry, and that’s something that will be really well received.

Jannard: We’ll find out, if there’s any orders or not! Like I say, if there were no orders and no one else was interested in this camera, we would go ahead and finish it, because its something that I personally want to build.

Its an idea that’s time has come.

Jannard: Yep ‘ for me.

I think we’re done. Is there anything else you’d like to say?

Jannard: I wish I could give more specific details, and again I just want to reiterate the fact that this camera is in development. Everybody is getting a snapshot in the middle of the process. This is not near the end of the process. We’re in the middle of the process, and hopefully what we’re showing here will give people comfort that we’ve come a long way in a short amount of time, and that they can take a leap of faith that we can make it to the end of the road.


Copyright and use warning: The following interview transcript is Copyright 2006, Steve Gibby and Cut4 Media Group, All rights reserved. RED Digital Cinema, Studio Monthly magazine, Film & Video magazine, and the Studio Daily web site have permission from the copyright holder to edit for length, publish, quote, copy, release, or transmit this transcript, or derivatives thereof.