Post Production Film Revolution

So I started this Blog.

I have been a Post professional since 1994. As a former founding partner of Orbit Digital, I had the opportunity to provide a myriad of services for hundreds of feature films. My most recent major job was the latest Narnia film, where I spent five months of location in Australia helping to manage the largest all file-based Post workflow in history.  (Most of the credit lies with the good folks over at Walden Media.)

I am CTO of the Mobile Services division of a SIXTEEN19, which has a DI facility and creative editorial in New York. We are managing complex Post workflows for several major films, including the latest Chronicles of Narnia:  The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

So what’s new about Post (besides 3D) which is ubiquitous now because of the box office receipts of Avatar and Alice in Wonderland? (I’ll talk plenty about 3D technology and workflows in this blog.)

Everything! And I mean that…

It’s a very exciting time in Post!  More changes will happen in the next five years than the past fifteen… And when I started in Post, I had a Quadra with 28MB of RAM…

The Post model has been more or less the same for 100 years. Yes, I stand by that. Tools have changed (including computers,) but the process itself has been a series of walled gardens where you made lists to match back later to original elements.

You shot something on set.  You then sent it to the lab to process images and have dailies made.  Cuts and lists were made in editorial.   VFX work, finishing and mixing largely happened in their own worlds isolated from one another…

Each of these worlds was its own kingdom largely mystified from the others…  Separate professionals, processes, cultures, communication methods, companies, vendors, etc.

So what’s new?

The walls are coming down.

Value in Post today comes from communication and collaboration between kingdoms and demystification of the processes such that they are unified.

Yes, one unified Production to Post process… Believe it.  It is happening now.

How?  DAM! Begs layup jokes… “I went to a DAM conference last month and listened to a bunch of DAM people talk about their DAM workflows.”

DAM stands for Digital Asset Management and it is the next wave, the central idea, of the future of filmmaking.

Seriously… DAM platforms will emerge in the next 18 months that battle for supremacy and make the filmmaking process more powerful, flexible, cheaper and better.

DAM is tearing down the walls between departments and unifying the Production to Post process into a single, networked environment.

How exactly?

Well, let’s just state an obvious truth:

Despite Kodak’s ad campaign to appeal to nostalgia to keep filmmakers on film, it’s all going digital, baby.  1s and 0s are your new celluloid. Metadata is your new silver halide crystal.

Sorry Kodak!  I love film, I really do, but the writing is on the wall.

In a couple years, decks will go away, film will go away and we’ll all be dealing in files. On the latest Narnia, we are all file based! The movie looks wonderful! It also served as a model for the future of feature film Post and collaboration, thanks to the fantastic executive and technical team at Walden Media and Fox.

So how can Digital Asset Management (DAM) help with collaboration between departments? That will be a large part of this blog, but for now I’m going to start with a few central ideas.

1) A company like Sony has invested hundreds of millions in technology related to video and decks.  As decks go away, is it going to merely throw all that R&D out? Of course not! Sony just announced its “Media Backbone” DAM, which will integrate core technologies into a platform that helps organize, transcode and share files across networks and storage.

2) Avid Technology, maker of the leading Digital Editing Systems recently bought Blue Order. They are spending boatloads shifting their core model away from Digital Editing Systems to DAM…

Increasingly, DAM platforms will consolidate all data (as files) and metadata (data about your files) into one place.  Tools will develop around these platforms to allow professionals to build their movie around these files, while collaborating and project managing the process.

DAM is the trunk of the tree. Digital Editing Systems, networks, storage, transcoding solutions, 3D workflows, HD techologies, displays, LUTs, Digital Intermediate boxes — all just branches.

Let me give a real world example of what DAM can do for your film today and I’ll continue to elaborate here over the days, weeks and years…

Let’s take a hypothetical movie we’re going to make for $200 million dollars called GUMBO: KILLER CRAWDADS!

(Contrast this example to the 100-year-old process of walled gardens.)

Two years prior to principle photography, a Previz department works with the Director to build a complex animated version of the entire movie in Maya. Crawdads eat New Orleans with temp VO and rough effects.

A living storyboard, the animation shows the angles and camera setups that will guide production.

Here’s where a DAM comes into play:  You ingest the animated shots (lets say as .mov files) into a DAM and associate them with the lines in the script they accompany…

Easy enough.

Now it’s Day 1 of Production. On set, the Director pulls up a .mov file from the DAM, via a computer on the same intranet.

If the production is really slick, they can show that .mov through the viewfinder of the camera and help position actors in the Previz world. Avatar did this and was able to actually scale the whole Previz world AND the actors on set with software, all viewable through the viewfinder. Neat.

The Director sets up his shot to replace that Previz angle. The live action shot is shot, then ingested into the DAM and associated with the Previz shot, line of the script and perhaps the Art Department and Costume conceptual drawings that share metadata tags.

The Editor could search the DAM for each angle associated with each Previz angle and a rough cut could be accomplished by merely choosing angles from a Group Clip and replacing the original Previz shots with live action takes.  I have far too much respect for Editors to say it’s that simple, but the point is that using a centralized repository for all data opens the door to fluid collaborations such as this.

You can ingest virtually any media into the DAM, associate it with other media and view representative frames or images.

This live action shot will have tons of metadata entered about it, from timecode and time of day to descriptions of which actors are in the scene and any script notes, descriptions, or a slew of other data.

Even lens data from the camera can be entered into metadata fields, which can be used later by VFX for tracking… (Zoom, pan, tilt, focus, etc.)  By partially automating the tracking process, hours can be shaved off of the tracking of each shot.

Files and metadata can be made available instantly across departments with various professionals adding and appending metadata as needed.  Unlike the model of walled gardens, this opens the door to real-time collaboration and sharing of images, sounds, effects, metadata and ideas.

Now that all that information is logged in a centralized DAM, anyone on the same network can search, retrieve, transcode, share and append files.

(I believe that tools will develop around DAM platforms to allow professionals to work with files in specific ways relative to their job in the same way iPhone/iPad applications have emerged.)

A dailies professional a hundred yards from set can pull up an uncompressed shot that was just shot, apply color correction and pass that color correction as an XML file back to set where the Director can view it.

Upon approval, the dailies guy can then burn that look into dailies and transcode them as .mxf or ProRes media ready to be cut by editorial. The same dailies professional can then transcode h.264 files that he can pass through a secure Internet connection to executives half a world away.

Later, VFX can be passed files and metadata from the same DAM.

VFX professionals can use their own tools to build shots, track the data about those shots and pass them back into the DAM, along with any .dpx or .mov versions of the shot that can be placed into the current cut.

Meanwhile, half a world away, a Digital Intermediate artist can pull cuts, files and metadata directly from the DAM and have his DI box (Baselight, Nucoda, Luster, DaVinci, Clipster, Scratch, etc.) apply the current color settings and effects for each shot.

By sharing and modifying media and metadata from a centralized DAM, creative decisions and technical details (such as LUTs) can translate throughout the filmmaking process all the way from set to release — and even beyond as metadata transitions into a studio distribution system that can serve content on demand in various formats.

Traditionally, important creative decisions (such as the look decided upon by the Director of Photography) are lost along the way as media passes from one walled garden to the next.  By using a DAM effectively as your backbone, you can shave weeks off of a schedule while maintaining inspiration and quality control.

Depending on the job, it is increasingly possible for a DI artist to have 80% or more of the final color work completed by the time he or she starts working.

So DAM is changing Post!

This blog will now focus on the hard part… How do you take five million technologies and a DAM and integrate them into a Post workflow that saves you time and money while making you more collaborative and creative?

Stay tuned! That’s what we do at SIXTEEN19.

To leave you with one last concept: If you know what you’re doing, then today you can have Post services on location anywhere in the world that rival the best labs and facilities in New York or Los Angeles. Choosing the right tools and people to manage this process is key, but it is possible today and it’s only going to get better, faster and cheaper!


~ by postfilm on April 7, 2010.

2 Responses to “Post Production Film Revolution”

  1. Brilliant article! Thank you for keeping it logical and concise without all the usual geek talk and double speak associated with other tech sites. Any kind of simplified work flow that allows the artist to concentrate more on ideas, and less on the numbers, that is the wave of the future. Or should I say, the wave of today.

  2. Your thinking about the evolution of post, metadata and such, is right up our alley. It’s definitely the wave of the future.
    Steve Crouch, IRIDAS,

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