As The Foundry booth was being built around us, the fxguide crew managed to get the world's first Storm demo. Storm is a workflow tool, initially aimed at working with RED files, highly focused and leveraged off a wealth of GPU R&D and years of GUI development. Storm will not be released for several months but in this exclusive look we profile the product, uncover its projected cost and discover a few surprises.
Where does Storm fit in the workflow?
Storm is a workflow tool that is aimed at any facility who wants to go beyond the free tools provided by RED and is designed to be used on set and in most post-production houses. The product is scheduled for an IBC launch but fxguide got to spend time on it with the developers before the NAB opened this week. Since the product is still some way off the Foundry will only be showing it in limited showings, and for a brief period during the RED day, Wednesday at the Tropicana.
The product is not ultimately aimed for just RED but the Foundry has seen a real need and set out to address the workflow of major RED productions first. We would expect over time that the product could just as easily be expanded to include other cutting edge digital camera workflows, such as the Arri Alexa, Phantom Flex and others being shown here in Las Vegas.
The Foundry is leveraging their recent Blink GPU tools from their new plugin development and many years of GUI technology from their flagship product Nuke. This is how they have been able to develop the Storm product so quickly, and it is advancing very rapidly. fxguide first saw the product three months ago in London and there have been vast improvements since then.
The most surprising feature that Storm has right now, fully working, is the ability to edit an R3D file directly , not edit with an R3D but actually trim an R3D. Imagine you have an edit based on actual R3D files (not a transcode of them but the core files) and then you want to hand a couple of these shots to Nuke or flame for effects. At the moment 'pre-Storm', if a shot uses say 37 frames in the edit, you would have no choice but to deliver to the effects team the original R3D file containing the entire take, camera start to camera stop. In the case of R3Ds for even something like 37 frames this could be gigabytes of data, since until now you could not cut out a section of an R3D. One can only hand on an entire take - you just can't cut down an R3D file.
With Storm now you could trim the edit to just the frames used plus say 5 frame handles. Hours of rushes may go into a short edit - but until Storm you had to hand over the entirety of those takes to anyone wanting to deal with the shots. Now you can trim the edit to a sensible amount. Given the ease of not cutting on set and having rolling takes, this can make a vast difference to a serious post workflow.
Which begs the question: Does this signal a new direction from RED?
Well not exactly, RED has announced that it will at some point be supporting this operation but nothing in or outside RED currently does this. While the developers at the Foundry are using the new Red SDK 2, this feature is not a new RED SDK feature. Under the hood we discovered that the Foundry is not re-encoding and writing original R3D files, instead it is cleverly regenerating the file around the already encoded data or frames and throwing away the data/frames outside the trim.
No company but RED knows how to write original R3D files. Rather the Foundry's engineers cleverly realized that they don't need to actually encode individual frames. While the Foundry doesn't know how to write a frame of original imagery into a frame of encoded R3D, they simply know that this data is a frame of encoded material and that you either want or don't want it, and then they rebuild the new R3D container around the frames you want.
What does is mean to an end user? You can trim an R3D, but you can't encode something that was shot on something other than RED or you can't even encode R3D frames that have been color corrected beyond the amount allowed by adjusting the normal RED meta data. But you can take any huge R3D file and set an in and out point and export the a new cut down R3D clip, quickly and simply.
This export function is part of the editing timeline the Foundry has implemented. The product is aimed at being able to either review material - perhaps on set on a laptop, or process material on a Mac tower with a hardware accelerated RED ROCKET card installed.
Storm is able to manipulate a series of clips, edit, adjust, transcode or color grade them with ease. It is not aiming to replace an AVID or FCP, in fact it is specifically designed to work with XML workflows, but it is expected the product will have multiple concurrent audio and video timelines, with a fully icon driven drag and drop metadata tagging and colour grading workflow.
The product converts all files internally to 32 bit (16 bit half float OpenEXR style files), with floating point color pickers and grading. It does this in real time with the help of the RED ROCKET card, but read/write times will be dependent on RAID and systems configurations as much as anything.
Which just leaves the price. While still completely not locked in, fxguide has been lead to believe the product could ship for as low as US$1999, RED ROCKET card and Mac hardware not included. The product works without the RED ROCKET card on something as small as a MacBook Pro, but of course higher resolution clips will no longer play in realtime.
"We have aimed to make a really targeted product that immediately solves a bunch of problems for our clients, built on the combined work the great development team have been doing recently, but we want to price it agressively so as many people as possible can use it", explains Bill Collis, CEO of the Foundry. " We aren't officially selling it yet, but the response from customers we have shown has been incredibly strong, so we have high hopes for it, come the IBC timeframe", he added.
The system we tested had an initial set of plugins running more as a test bed than any indicative product feature, but in our testing we were adding god rays to full resolution 4K frames in near real time. The responsiveness was astoundingly impressive. It is fairly unlikely the product will ship with effects like "god rays' but it worked extremely effectively to demonstrate the GPU speed the Foundry R&D guys have found even without the RED ROCKET card.
The Foundry has been effectively using social media to start a buzz about Storm and has launched a web site, www.kickupastorm.com, where you can register interest and get additional information when it is available.
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