Production and broadcast professionals met to discuss all things post at the Digital Studio and Avid roundtable on November 2.
The event, which took place at Media One in Dubai Media City, brought together an eclectic mix of professionals from Twofour54, Abu Dhabi Media Group, CMS, Blink Studios, Filmworks, Mile Studios, AKA Media and RealVision.
The event raised some interesting points, with the participants agreeing that there is a general lack of awareness about the importance of postproduction among many clients.
Deepraj Sandhar, solution design specialist, Avid said that in the world of postproduction technology “something shifts” about every three or four years and changes the way the industry looks at the workflows. He added that in the last year or two there has been a considerable change in technology, particularly in terms of delivery methods and online video platforms which have changed the way people are creating content. Similarly, in a period of about five-years the industry went from SD to HD and then to UHD.
More directly related to the actual job of postproduction, editors and postproduction professionals now have remote collaboration workflows, using a myriad of tools from Google Drive to far more bespoke and sophistocated media software including Avid MediaCentral.
“In comparison with two years ago the conversations we’re having with customers were completely different to how they are today. Demands and expectations are changing,” Sandhar said.
Samer Asfour, producer and head of postproduction at Filmworks, spoke about his team’s typical production and pointed out the large size of the files that shoots entail. “Usually we will shoot on an Arri Alexa or RED and footage tends to be between 6K and 5K for RED and 3K for Alexa. We always tend to shoot the highest resolution and frame rate we can, especially with an Alexa. If you want to go with the RAW format you need to go with the higher frame. Regardless of how we shoot we convert the files to DNX-HD, do the offline and the reconfirm the full sequence.
Asfour added that Filmworks mostly works on commercials and viral videos, which is the type of material he likes to edit and finish in Avid.
Hani Kichi, director and producer at Blink Studios, said that for Blink, the whole workflow pipeline depends on the project itself. He cited Iftah Ya SimSim (Sesame Street), which Blink produced for twofour54, as one example. “We were producing 28 HD episodes, each of which was 20 minutes, so we’re talking about a long form production. The studio shooting was based on three cameras running at the same time, all hooked up to the gallery where we had instant editing happening, which is a rough indicator for the guys in post to follow.
“Before we went into the production we had to plan the whole project because you’re talking about a huge amount of data. The end-result was 28 episodes by 20 minutes but you have to double that three or four times as footage,” Kichi said.
On the other hand, Kichi said that working on a standalone music videos for the same production, which were aired separately, involved a very different workflow. “They were two-minute music clips and two of them were shot against green screen and involved 4K or 5K shooting. This was important to give flexibility in post. Look at the cameras too - most have a 10-bit depth. When you go to the 2K, 4K or 8K most of them push the depth into 12 bit or 16 bit so you have more colour information and data which the post guys prefer to have to grade properly.
“Deciding on the camera, workflow or pipeline in the office all goes back to the nature of the project itself. You need to be smart in planning it, because you can’t shoot 4K when producing a huge amount of minutes because your server will not be able to handle it and it will slow your whole pipeline.”
While most content produced for TV in the region only needs to be delivered in a maximum resolution of HD, one of the filmmakers present at the roundtable has far heavier requirements. Clyde DeSouza, a Dubai-based VR filmmaker, explained the intense requirements of VR. “You need 8K per eye if you are doing stereoscopic VR. A VR serial called Invisible, shooting with 16 Jaunt cameras. If you go 4K on each of those, it will be a nightmare, but that’s where it’s at.”
DeSouza said that he uses Adobe Premier Pro, which is capable of VR postproduction and has various plugins for the medium.
During the roundtable, the participants also learned more about the benefits and limitations of various products. Filmworks’ Asfour asked about the limitations in workflow between Avid and Adobe Premier and found that the two are more compatible than many people expected.
Avid’s Sandhar said: “We’re enabling those workflows so now you can ingest content – long content through an agnostic web browser.” He said the user can log on and access their rushes in a folder, watch the clips, make a rough cut, create markers and at the same time send it to Media Composer and/or Adobe Premier, which is able to read it at the same time. “As you progress there are other advantages we offer because of the way Media Composer allows project sharing. There are certain things we enable and certain things they [Adobe] enable.”
The participants also had plenty to say about client relationships and managing client expectations, and not all of it positive. “Clients want everything for absolutely nothing. That hasn’t changed and will never change,” said Tony Ruthnam, an editor and online finishing artist. “Educating the client over here is crucial. The client always wants something that they’ve heard or been told - something which probably doesn’t cater to their needs. They just want anything and everything that comes their way because it is the latest trend or buzz!”
He added that postproduction teams are increasingly getting caught up in problems that should not be reaching the postproduction stage. “In post we have to deal with absolutely everything whether it’s the resolution or a problem with holes in the story. Unless we get involved at the start and guide the client and build that relationship, these problems will slip through.”
Ruthnam added that the situation is exacerbated by the fact that postproduction is near the end of the process and so budgets have usually shrunk by that stage, which means there is less leeway to solve serious problems with a production. In addition, when production and post production teams try to advise some clients on the best way to proceed with a project, they often become suspicious that they are being “upsold” or encouraged to buy something they don’t require, Ruthnam said.
Perhaps the most worrying aspect of this lack of awareness is the perception, among some people, that postproduction is not even an art or craft. “Years ago we had big consoles. Now we have a laptop that the client also uses, so the assumption is that they can also ‘click stuff’ and do your job,” Ruthnam said.
Asfour stressed that in postproduction, whatever technology is being used, the most important aspect is the creativity and skill of the artist. “We are using different technology but in my opinion this is not what postproduction is about. It is always about artists, about editors.”
Nathalie Habib, executive producer, Blink Studios added that from her experience, clients tend to understand pre-end production better than postproduction. “When it comes to postproduction they have no idea about the terminology, the lingo, the process and steps that need to be taken,” she said.
Habib added that clients are mainly concerned with getting hold of the files when a project is completed. Yet even at this stage, some clients lack the skills and knowledge to read the files properly. “Whether we are managing big budget or low budget projects, we face the same problem in terms of clients not understanding the value of what they’re getting from spending budgets on postproduction,” she said.
On the subject of improving the relationship with clients on specific projects, Asfour said that the producer should spell out the details of the project and what the client should expect in a clear agreement. This is particularly important with respect to storage and technical specs. “It is very important to make the client understand every spec and the cost. If they don’t understand it, it is very easy to explain it,” he added.
While this lack of understanding is undeniably frustrating for postproduction professionals, Asfour admits that part of the blame lies with the production and postproduction community. Indeed, in their zeal to accept jobs, some production companies fail to pay sufficient attention to the project reference and send the client a project briefing that is extremely difficult to deliver at the agreed cost, especially in terms of workflow.
“Projects are approved and then they realise the costs don’t reflect what the client wanted because they didn’t take the time to understand their client’s need. Because post is the last process, problems tend to get pushed to the end.”
Kichi added that the solution is better planning. “The main issue goes back to the producer of the project itself and how he is planning the whole production pipeline from A to Z.” He added that if planning is done properly, which includes deciding on the correct number of cameras to have on set, it will have a positive effect on the postproduction stage.
While client relationships may be unpredictable due to human nature, technology should theoretically be more straightforward to deal with. But this is not always the case. Peter L. M. Van Dam, director of technology at Live Media Production Services, part of Abu Dhabi Media Group, said that the numerous different software packages used for a single project can also pose workflow challenges. He said that Live uses different software including Avid, Final Cut and Adobe Premier for different tasks. “We need to facilitate more and more standards. It’s not easy to accommodate all these standards at the same time with all of the speed and facilities,” he said. “I get editors in my office frustrated. A lot of the time editors are going to edit on six or seven layers.”
Van Dam added that educating editors about the need to work in a tidier way may be the key to solving this problem. “Clients often come with their own culture of workflow,” he said.
He also pointed to the challenge of storage, which is becoming more costly as file sizes continue to increase. “Storage is expensive. Technology gets cheaper but ultimately we need much more. I need more throughput, but many clients need more speed, so I need to create more storage to allow that.”
Dan Mitre, managing director at postproduction house Mile Studios, said that the rapid pace of technology also presents challenges. “Before, in analogue we used to have very clear workflows. Now the technology moves so fast that you don’t even have time to understand one format before it moves on to the next, so it’s very difficult to maintain. When you discuss formats with clients you confuse them even more. We need to educate them more.”
Sandhar agreed that the media assets and how the producer handles them is one of the core things that must be addressed with the client and with the technical team. “They [clients and producers] need to understand postproduction because there are always things that can be done at the content creation stage,” he said.
In terms of postproduction technology Mitre added that there are too many new formats being produced by the makers of postproduction technology and software without adequate provision for workflow. He would like to see manufacturers slow the pace of new specifications and also make some provision for workflow. “When a product comes on the market I should know exactly how to manage it as media,” he said.
PATH TO IP
Bashar Alasad, chief creative officer at CMS, pointed out that for at least the past two years in Cabsat, IBC and NAB, everybody was talking about the inevitable demise of SDI. “Whether we like it or not SDI will die and we will go for IP and cloud – if they sit together and come up with a standard, at least one format and give added value.”
Van Dam added that in this scenario, especially in the Middle East, the telecom operators also need to get involved to ensure the networks can cater to an IP-based environment. “We need to work with the operators and tell them what we need,” he said.
Alasad added that he sees Avid is also moving to software, in line with these trends. “Avid has the greatest hardware on Earth and they are slowly giving up the hardware to compete in software.”
The participants appeared to agree that a move to software is a move in the right direction.
twofour54 and Avid
UAE postproduction house twofour54 streamlined and centralised its production processes by deploying Avid Media Suite and implementing an Avid Service Level Agreement earlier this year.
The upgrades allow twofour54 to offer its clients a reliable, flexible and cost-effective end-to-end 4K workflow based on the Avid MediaCentral Platform.
Working with a strict budget, twofour54 needed to replace its infrastructure with a more streamlined and future-proof solution with additional storage capacity, in order to remain competitive and attract more filmmakers and high-end broadcast content producers. Speaking at the roundtable, Yusuf Mohamed Al Buti, head of technology and engineering at twofour54, said that he has been using Avid MediaCentral for cloud-based collaborative work and that it has had a positive effect. The system allows twofour54 to give its clients access to their files and helps provide a user-friendly workflow. “With MediaCentral our workflow is very simple and because of the storage we don’t have to invest a lot.”