I’m in Albuquerque, New Mexico, setting up a film from London that needs to shoot 10 days of Western scenes – some in the desert and others at a local rodeo. The heat reminds me of home, in Townsville.
The desert air has no moisture in it at all. We get a low humidity/high-heat warnings from the unit production manager. We set up our mobile dailies rig in a room off to the side of the sound stage and can hear the lion that’s also being filmed as part of the VFX unit somewhere in the building, which gives it a weird, otherworldly feeling.
A large, high-speed fibre-optic network and the right tax incentives have done wonders for the production sector in New Mexico.
They’ve wised up to the ‘Music-Man’ style productions, that come into town making promises of photo opportunities and a flourishing film sector, but leave very little behind. To get the tax breaks now in New Mexico, inbound productions need to use local teams and bricks-and-mortar businesses. But it’s the data connections that have really made the place hum.
The studio where we are shooting only has a five m/bit DSL internet connection – not much better than your typical home internet, which wasn’t going to cut it.
We need to publish the dailies to a creative team that includes people in three cities on two continents. Increasing the speed of the line into the studio isn’t an option because we are only there for two weeks and it would take about that amount of time for the local telco to send someone down.
But Intel Corp has an office and factory in town, which suggest the availability of bandwidth, and after a few calls around town, we find that the tech boom quite a few years ago had brought fiber optic connections to New Mexico.
We are able to get access to a 500m/bit connection out to Los Angeles through a local data centre. The volume of data that needs to be uploaded each day (two hours of h264 and DNX Avid media) was seen as so small, the data centre offered to do it just to help us out, free of charge.
They could ramp up if we want to send the ALEXA camera master data over to the UK, to a two gigabit connection, and still would only need to charge us a nominal fee to cover the line increase.
It’s nothing now for a production like The Avengers to be shooting in New Mexico and to have the camera data sent immediately to facilities in LA. Or, like the show we’re doing out here, have a small local team processing the camera data near set and then uploading the resulting Avid and executive review material into an asset management system that can be picked up globally.
Because of the available fibre networks, we were able to seamlessly continue to deliver the dailies data through to Los Angeles and London without a hitch and without anyone waiting days to see and approve dailies.
And it’s not only production shooting in New Mexico that has benefited from the expansion of fiber networks.
Large underground data silos are also being built to harness the bandwidth, and providing infrastructure for other services that the film sector could be using – storage, server-side processing of images, and fast, secure delivery onto distribution systems.
Here and in other parts of the world, it’s not only possible to now shoot in a remote location, upload the raw camera data onto a cloud-based server, process your dailies and then create editorial files, but it’ll be that same system that a cinema taps into for the premiere.
Ben Baker previously ran Framestore London's innovative Digital Lab between 2005-2009 at a time when digital intermediate was just moving into the mainstream. He also acted as post supervisor on The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader for Walden Media/Fox Studios. His blog can be found at blog.bluefishbaker.com.