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#1 Afton Grant

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Posted 07 July 2008 - 11:26 PM

In June, I was brought on as Steadicam Operator for the final two weeks of a seven week feature film shoot using the RED One camera. The following is a summary of my thoughts, comments, and reports on the camera after working with it.

Modularity. It is the buzzword around which the camera is built. This is indeed good for the manufacturer as it appeals to a wider base of customers. For a cine-style production environment, which is the perspective I will try to take in this report, it certainly has its pros and cons.

The obvious pros are, the camera has the ability to configure itself from a streamlined, sub-15 pound lightweight system, to a fully functional, studio camera system all thanks to a wide variety of brackets and accessories made by both RED and third party vendors.

The cons to such a modular system are the lack of conventions. 35mm, 16mm, ENG camera systems, and others, and even some of their newer digital relatives (F-23, Genesis, D-20) all have established and adhere by certain conventions over their years of service. Connectors, mounting options, screw sizes, accessory options are typically common, or at least very similar from camera to camera. Even in the case of the brand-to-brand differences, each camera has a common template for certain setups. For example, tell an AC to rig an Arri LT for Steadicam low-mode and they know exactly what to do. The rental house has provided them with exactly the proper tools and brackets, and it?s a job that?s complete in under 5 minutes.

Switching configurations on the RED is often no simple task. Depending on the ?what-to-what? it may involve a number of different tools, stripping the camera down to just its body and rebuilding it from there. This is not necessarily unlike changing configurations with any of the common cameras we?re used to, but again, with no template this can sometimes cause some head scratching. Add to this a potentially different set of accessories included with each camera package and you essentially have a one-of-a-kind camera with each shoot. Prep days are crucial. If you cannot make one, at the very least, get the AC or someone on the phone that can tell you what the package includes. Be certain to ask about everything: lenses, drives, rails, brackets, downconverters, everything.

It is understandable that a camera that has been available to the industry for less than one year will take some time to establish those conventions. I have a personal concern that since the camera?s user base is made up of a large percentage of non cine-style, independent users, these conventions will take a very long time to be worked out. Even great resources such as hands-on days for various union or guild members would be difficult to conduct due to the differences in each camera package. In the meantime, productions looking to save money will still be looking toward this camera as a viable option, and we will be forced to figure out how to use it. This is why it is very important to share any problems and solutions we have all experienced in the field with this camera.

Weight and weight distribution. Being a relatively small, lightweight body, yet made to be used with cinema accessories, the camera?s shape, size, and weight quickly become a factor of what you bolt onto it. For my first few days with the camera, I was given the Cooke S4 15-40mm Zoom, as well as the Angenieux Optimo 17-80mm Zoom, weighing in at 8 and 11lbs, and measuring 9 and 12.8 inches respectively. With the Cooke nearly, and the Optimo more than doubling the camera body?s length and weight, for applications such as Steadicam and handheld, you?re essentially operating a lens with a box on it. The difficult task is to now get the center of gravity, which is now very forward and high, back into a comfortable operating location (ideally low and centered within the body).

If the production had been shooting on CF cards, and relying on either AC or sled power, I simply would not have been able to balance the system. The camera would have had to sit so far back on my stage, my dovetail plate would not have been able to mount to both the camera and my stage at the same time. Adding the Arri sliding baseplate I suppose could have worked, but it would not have been pleasant. There are ?possible? solutions to everything, but not all are realistic. ?Fortunately? (quoted since they added another 6 lbs) they were shooting on drives and using the RED onboard batteries which we mounted as far back and low as possible to offset some of the lens weight.

Cooke Config

After a couple days, the production was nice enough to trade in the Cooke for the Angenieux Optimo lightweight 15-40 (about 4lbs) which solved all issues with weight distribution. Prime lenses would have provided the same relief, but the director liked to zoom.

Picture here
This is the ultimate Steadicam configuration we found. It was a tad long for my taste, but it was well balanced, a comfortable weight, and flew very nicely. (the picture shows it being built - the monitor was mounted only temporarily).

The camera design seems to encourage making an already top-heavy system even more so. I have seen many, many pictures of user systems with the drive, monitor, battery, and other accessories stacked on the top of the camera, providing access to the interface controls and connectors [pic]. While convenient for the assistants and technicians, it makes human-supported operating very uncomfortable. Sticks, and dollies don?t really mind, along with certain jib configurations. But a short (in length), tall camera on Steadicam is both lacking in pan-inertia, and difficult to balance - requiring a long post. I would encourage operators to urge for longer (within reason) and lower configurations of the accessories when on Steadicam.

Accessories. As with the camera itself, the RED brand accessories all seem to have their own batch of bugs that need to be addressed before the camera system as a whole can be recognized as a reliable production tool. Element Technica has begun to prove itself as a frontrunner in the aftermarket accessory race.

The battery mount (part of the Red Cradle) has proven to be one of the most widespread and problematic issues. I have documented it extensively here.

The drive mount (also part of the Red Cradle) is hardly 100% secure, opening the door for vibration. Ours had to be held into place with gaff tape. Not quite a comforting thought when the entire result of the production is being stored in this device. One catch 22 is the drive ought to be completely secure within the mount, yet not being solid state, a lack of shock absorption can lead to drive errors - another well reported problem. Element Technica is reportedly releasing a shock mounted drive mount in the near future. Ugrip already has one, but it seems to be hard to come by here in the US. Will a shock-mounted item that is allowed to wiggle a bit within its own mount be good or bad for Steadicam?

The Red Bottom Plate is the accessory critical for mounting 19mm rods, the Red shoulder mount, and Red cheeseplate at the base of the camera. If anyone has taken a close look at this plate, the holes on the sides through which the screws thread to mount the plate to the camera are not nearly substantial enough to stand up to repeated mounting and unmounting. During camera setup one day, I took a close look at the plate and found something extremely disturbing.

Pic 1
Pic 2
Pic 3
Pic 4
This is quite simply poor design. There should be far more metal around the mounting holes for the screws to bite into and distribute the force. There aren?t even washers provided with the screws to distribute the pressure. The design of this is so poor, I?m reasonably confident that every bottom plate out there now will succumb to the same fate sooner or later. Keep an eye on these as the result of failure while operating could be catastrophic.

The shoulder mount (which requires the Red Bottom Plate for use) has been documented to not be a solid connection and should be avoided at least for Steadicam use. The Red Cheese plate is actually a decent mounting option. It also requires the bottom plate and needs to be mounted to the bottom plate BEFORE mounting to the camera. When switching from Steadicam to X, the bottom plate/cheeseplate combo might be one of the better options for saving time - that is if the bottom plate has not yet broken. On our film, when not on Steadicam, we would use the Arri sliding base which included 19mm rod mounts of its own, eliminating the need for the Red bottom plate. Since the bottom plate screws into the camera at the sides, you can remove the camera from the bottom plate (and thus the Steadicam) leaving the bottom plate, cheeseplate, and dovetail securely mounted to your stage. When it?s time to go back to Steadicam, you can remount the camera without the need to rebalance. Almost like a [semi]quick-release plate.

The Element Technica cheeseplate is virtually essential for Steadicam low-mode. I don?t believe we can, at this point, count on the camera owners to provide this. The full topside combo is a very good solution for providing 15mm rod mounts. Combined with lightweight aluminum rods, this would be a good solution for motor mounting that could remain permanently on the camera, regardless of configuration. The battery and drive would need to be mounted from rods on the bottom, but this would aid in keeping the CG of the system low.

As I write this and read it over, I realize there are many things that may need elaboration, or that I have forgotten to mention. I could go on for many more pages, but this is enough for now. I would simply love to see some commonplace established for this camera. It is not going anywhere soon, and next year we?ll see the release of the Epic, which is not looking to be any more conventional. Any conventions that get established will aid in communication, efficiency, and ultimately production in general. Ultimate freedom is a wonderful idea, but we all know what state civilization would be in if anarchy reigned.
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#2 Robert Starling SOC

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Posted 07 July 2008 - 11:39 PM

Thank you Afton for such a thorough assessment.

I had about ten days with the RED in Phoenix on a short and had it relatively easy; CF cards, modest primes, the breakout box and a loaner AJA converter. The DP / owner had most every accessory to build it out properly for Steadicam. Terry West built the cabling for me and it was straight forward other than having to fly the little 5" RED monitor on a Israeli arm. We did over 35 scenes on Steadicam. Power consumption was moderate running off my PowerCubes.

The only problem that made it a deal killer was overheating despite our best efforts to shade and cool the camera. In the 95-115 deg heat +/- we could only get maybe 20 minutes in the field before it had to go back into the moho to cool down.

The RED and its future incarnations are likely here to stay in some capacity and form for a long time so I'm very appreciative of your posts and others who have had challenges flying the system.

Thanks!
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#3 Brad Grimmett

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Posted 08 July 2008 - 02:22 AM

Afton,
Thanks for a really informative and well thought out post. It comes at just the right time as I'm leaving for a feature with the Red tomorrow morning. I notice you liked the setup when you had the rods and batteries mounted off the top of the camera instead of the bottom. Why wouldn't that same setup be better with the rods and batteries mounted from the bottom of the camera? I would think you would have preferred to mount everything lower and move the batteries in towards the center of gravity. Is there a specific reason that didn't work for you? I have a few days prep when I get to location, and I have time to consider what the best option is, so any thoughts or suggestions would be appreciated. I've flown the camera before, but that was just a few days on a commercial, so I probably haven't had to deal with many of the situations you have.

On a side note....did you have any problems with the camera itself? I've heard story after story about Red's going down on jobs and I hope we don't have the same problems, but we are working in the Bahamas on a movie with a lot of water work, so there is heat, humidity, and water to contend with (including underwater work), so I have my reservations about the camera bodies holding up throughout the shoot. Considering many people are having problems on jobs with none of the weather issues that we have, I'm wondering how many bodies we'll actually go through.
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#4 Afton Grant

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Posted 08 July 2008 - 05:41 AM

Hi Brad,

There were a couple reasons for mounting the accessories from the top. The first being, since I was thankfully given a lightweight zoom, my problems with weight distribution were gone. The CG was in a decent spot, and I also liked the idea of bolting my dovetail straight to the camera. The other reason, that sort of forced us into this configuration, was the completely crappy Red Bottom Plate construction (refer to pictures). Essentially, we had no way to mount rods from the bottom since that bottom plate was trash. We did get a replacement, but I had already grown used to and fond of the top rod config.

Camera problems? Where do I begin? The camera itself is incredibly temperamental. I should note, we went through 3 different camera bodies, and encountered similar problems with all three (one replacement had something to do with the owner, the other was because of problems). The power issues (see post) plagued us throughout production. Figuring out the problem was a help, but not a cure. The camera would often freeze during playback, requiring reboot. Frequently, it would not recognize the drive at all, forcing us to record on the CF cards. Frames were dropped during high speed shots. The majority of my "days" were nights, so we were free of most of the heat, but I was told the above mentioned quirks were far more frequent during their day shoots when the temperature was high. Consistent problems are easy to figure out and diagnose. The camera was anything but consistent. Everything we did with the camera was done with our fingers crossed. The poor Red Tech was really put through the paces.

I was testing a few of the cables included in the camera package. Here's a question for the cable gurus out there: should a cable have electrical continuity between the two connector shells? I suppose if it's just shielding it shouldn't be a problem, right?

Best of luck with your shoot, Brad. If they have multiple camera bodies on set, you hopefully will at least be able to swap bodies should one become too problematic. Bahamas, heat, humidity, water and sand..... oh boy. I might take up a religion. Please document as best you can, my friend!

Peace,
Afton
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#5 Emre Tufekci

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Posted 09 July 2008 - 04:37 AM

Afton, Thank you for writing such a detailed account of your experience. Aside from helping ops with the mechanics of using a red I think this will be very valuable for DP's and directors to read and learn what they can/should ask for when using the system. I certainly will be pointing a few producers/Dop's to your thread to read up before they go red.

Thanks again for your time in putting it together.

Emre

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#6 mark morgan

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Posted 10 July 2008 - 02:20 AM

hey afton great stuff
i have a feeling you posted something on the red user forum
have you had any feedback or did they boot your post off
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#7 Afton Grant

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Posted 10 July 2008 - 07:30 AM

hey afton great stuff
i have a feeling you posted something on the red user forum
have you had any feedback or did they boot your post off


I posted my report on the camera power issues over there. It has not yet been booted. There have been about a dozen people that have chimed in declaring the same symptoms. My summary above is really geared toward us Steadicam folks, so I'll keep it here. There's an excellent summary about the Red and its ergonomics posted over there by Brook Willard. It hits on a few of the same points, but it a much more detailed manner (our points on modularity are almost identical - I swear there was no plagiarism). His post can be read here.
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#8 Jaron Berman

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Posted 23 July 2008 - 09:16 PM

Thanks Afton for the posts, they came in handy before I ended up in the field with the RED. These are obviously just my opinions based on working with the camera for the 4 days it cooperated, so perhaps they don't fully reflect the cam's capabilities or positive aspects. Anyways...

I was booked on a 3-week indi feature shooting on the Texas/Mexico border between Roma TX and Miguel Aleman, MX. The day I headed to NY for a quick in-between gig, I was informed that we were no longer shooting S16 through panavision Hollywood, but rather RED through indirentals. Fine. Terry west was great and got me a power cable ASAP, and Jim Bartell got me the run stop ASAP as well, so I was pretty happy. Referring to posts from all you guys I requested all the bits I would need, and things seemed fine.

We built the camera day 1, using Ultraprimes, 1 motor, LW mattebox, no drive or battery mount. It was VERY light. Then I was asked to fly the onboard, downconverter up-top, the transmitter up-top as well. No problem. Still light and easy. I chose to use the Element Technica rods base, as it gave me a very secure mounting point for the motor and accs, as the DP wanted to do lightning-quick transitions from the rig to sticks or handheld. I used the Element O'connor plate, and just ran my dovetail to that, which gave me a HUGE range of fore-aft adjustment, and felt extremely solid. I tried the RED cheese plate, which worked but was molasses slow for the transitions in comparison. All good. I flew 2 of their batteries on the bottom of my sled, which let us keep the camera powered during battery swaps (though unfortunately not during transitions between the rig and sticks/handheld).

Then I was asked to start flying the drive, as they "forgot" to bring a loader and preferred to dump the whole day at once. Ok, no problem. Still balanced fine - used the long rods on the bottom, and pushed the cage as close to the camera as possible, pointing roughly straight up and down (slightly tipped towards the camera). This helped lower the CG quite a bit and made the camera more of a normal weight. Only problem is that the power connector, GPI connector and drive connectors all plug into the back of the camera, so you cant really snug the batt/drive cage up close to it. As mentioned by everyone else - it ends up longer than necessary...poorly designed layout on the back but otherwise fine. Still lots of velcro necessary to hang accs, otherwise you end up adding about 5 lbs of RED hardware...to stick velcro on.

So for the first 3 days, all was well. Shooting indoors in Texas/Mexico summer heat and so far so good (about 108 degrees and 90% humidity). Then we stepped outdoors and the camera essentially quit on us. Nothing to do with heat, the drives or steadicam, it simply would not record. The camera began spitting "codec errors" and other random messages no matter how they formatted the cards, etc.. This was on build 15 (supposedly the stable, proven build). It was bizarre, we rolled, slated, and I held the first frame, but as soon as the actor stepped into frame, the camera puked and quit. Tried again, same thing. We tried shooting another scene, which worked fine, and then the scene after that it did the same thing. The best answer we got was "oh, yeah, the camera will do that sometimes. There's too much information in the frame for the compressor." Uh..... Wrapped early, had some fun in Mexico, then back to set the next day. This time, they recommended upgrading to build 16, so production did. Same thing. Indoors, fine - no problems. Outdoors with any movement in the frame - codec errors. Sticks, handheld, drives, CF cards - all the same thing. So I got another day off while the sat on the phone with indirentals and RED. Same answer - the camera sometimes gets confused with high-contrast scenes that contain movement. "It does that sometimes, but most people don't have a problem with it." They offered to trade-out bodies, but almost guaranteed that it would happen no matter what, just an issue with the compression implementation. Oh, and then it overheated. And a few batteries went down until I remembered Afton's post and cleaned the plastic bits out.

F900R and digiprimes came the next morning thanks to a Panavision bailout, reshot the first 3 days and finished the shoot with no camera problems (but plenty of production issues......so fun).

I was really hoping to fly it the whole shoot, but it appears the camera has a long way to go before being reliable enough to take a single body a long way from help. The images were beautiful, it flew nicely (though I agree with Brook on the modularity - interesting idea, not so great in practice. Takes too long to build and you can never REALLY build it ideally steadicam at this point in time). A couple years from now the bugs should be worked out and it'll be a good camera. All I know is that right now if it were my money backing a project, I wouldn't touch RED with a 10' pole. Film or HD are a LOT cheaper than reshoots and downtime. And the worst part is, you never really know if it'll do what it did to us, or just work perfectly. So many people report great experiences, and then after you have a bad time, it seems like there are guys coming out of the woodwork who have had similar experiences . Oh well. We tried.
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#9 Alan Dague-Greene

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Posted 24 July 2008 - 08:41 AM

I suppose a positive experience won't really help to sort out the issues at hand, but I just got off 4 days with the RED that were relatively uneventful. The most problematic day was shooting with rain machines. We were all cold and wet, and the camera was dry and overheating inside the improvised rain gear (look of horror when I literally poured water out of my G-50 arm cover). The soaked towels on top of the rain gear didn't help any, we just had to open up the bottom and let it breathe once in a while.

Using build 15, we shot in bright sunlight with harsh shadows, and nighttime with lightning flashes and rain, but didn't have any codec errors. I think we dropped 12 frames once during the time I was there. I'm surprised to hear those codec errors being brushed off so casually by the support crew. I suppose that's why there's excitement over the higher bitrate REDCODE that's coming (if I remember right).

As for balance, we found the quickest way to go between sticks and Steadicam was to just leave my dovetail on top, and flip the camera for my shots. They insisted it wasn't a problem, and it brought the lens lower. We were using primes instead of heavy zooms, but every little bit helped. We also hung the hard drive and battery below the bottom rods (the top ones, upside-down), and I saw only minor vibration issues in one shot. Incidentally, the problem I had with the cradle was not that the hard drive mount wasn't secure, but that even at what seemed to be its very tightest, the bracket that adjusts the cradle position could still be knocked out of position.

Oh, and the image quality slays me.

Alan
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#10 Jaron Berman

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Posted 24 July 2008 - 02:29 PM

Yeah, it was a huge bummer that we couldn't finish with RED, the footage was great when it recorded! Glad you had a good experience.
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#11 Ed Moore

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Posted 24 July 2008 - 03:12 PM

Thanks for all the research Afton.

I know there are a lot of us a little further down the steadicam pecking order working with REDs on Archers, so thought I'd share a few pics of my most recent 'lightweight' RED setup.

I mounted the steadicam plate directly to the base of the camera without any of the various accessories. Obviously this means no matte box, but I used a long bar on the top mounts to hold an M1.

Combined with a Tiffen-made sled>RED power lead, the balance was very nice.

http://img.skitch.co...1r16c3mb2b1.jpg

As usual with the Archer, I needed some horrific gaffer tape action at the base of the post:

http://img.skitch.co...w7i442ee97i.jpg

(I made it a little neater than this once I was DB'd)

Until I can afford one of the nice little Blackmagic downconverters, I also had to deal with the tiny viewing angle of:

http://img.skitch.co...e858tyaqxb8.jpg

It's one thing rigging that and thinking "gosh, this is crap" but old habits die hard - I blew the first take by automatically switching into DJ when the actor moved in a slightly different direction than rehearsals and I suddenly couldn't see picture. I'm looking forward to having the chutzpah to just brazen on in that situation monitorless and end up with takes nailed through pure Zen, but I'm a way off yet :)

Onto three days with a 750 and digiprimes now, not really looking forward to the extra weight and length!
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#12 Afton Grant

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Posted 24 July 2008 - 04:02 PM

Hey Ed,

A couple things... If you're finding the gaff-taped battery to be a "usual" thing with your setup, have you considered changing your plate to Anton Bauer, as that will let you use some heavier batteries? Your other option would be to fashion a mount for the second battery down below. That would probably be more ideal.

Also, why no matte box? Clip-on's don't require rod support, and are always preferred for Steadi work.

As I currently understand it, Blackmagic does not make an HD to NTSC downconverter. Be sure to double check before you buy anything.
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#13 Ed Moore

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Posted 24 July 2008 - 05:38 PM

Hey Afton,

Yeah the ideal solution is a second IDX plate under the post (everything I have is V-lock so I don't want to invest in AB). It's more the placement that is important, I can stack IDXs to my heart's content on the existing plate but the sled ends up too back heavy. I'll get a plate made when I have some spare cash - don't know how you guys with the endless lists of kit do it, you must have very patient bank managers / wives / girlfriends :)

You're completely right about the clip-ons, of course. We only had a MB-19 on that shoot.

The Blackmagic things are new and very awesome - only $500. http://www.blackmagi...miniconverters/ Haven't yet actually seen one or confirmed a power lead can be made up to run off the sled power, but looks no less likely than the AJA one to work in that fashion.

Take care,

E

Edited by Ed Moore, 24 July 2008 - 05:38 PM.

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#14 Charles Papert

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Posted 24 July 2008 - 07:36 PM

Afton is correct, Ed, those Blackmagic mini boxes will accept both SD and HD signals but will not downconvert HD to SD. For instance, with the one box you can convert HD-SDI to HD component and the same box will convert SD-SDI to SD component, but not down or up convert between the two formats. The other boxes do similar things (reverse direction conversion, or HDMI conversion).
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#15 Jaron Berman

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Posted 25 July 2008 - 12:23 PM

I'm curious - I was about to buy one and then called blackmagic. Twice. One guy said "yes, it will downconvert in software, so it's not a broadcast-quality picture, but it will downconvert." The other guy said no, it's simply a cross-conversion. These things are still tough to find in stock right now, but I'd love to actually try it, as even the guys at blackmagic don't seem to know all it can do (their "tech" department as well as their sales).
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