In issue #153 of IF Magazine (June-July 2013), IF launched an exclusive workflow series written by one of Australia's leading post-production and digital media practitioners, John Fleming. To be released in four instalments, the series will explore the different approaches to workflow associated with digital content production.
Advertisers now have many options to reach consumers. Whilst traditional free to air television continues to be the mainstay, digital projection has moved cinema to a new level of accessibility, high resolution digital screens for ‘out of home’ advertising are everywhere and there is significant growth in digital ‘channels’ targeting niche audiences.
Along with this comes an increased focus on making content that people want to share. More than ever before, it seems the idea behind the campaign is all important, with advertisers often accepting only the minimum production values required to ensure the idea can engage an audience.
From a workflow perspective, the shorter durations of advertising content often mean that eye matching a 30 second offline cut can be a lot easier than implementing and maintaining an elegant end-to-end workflow. However the complexities created by a fragmenting media market place greater value on predictable outcomes and shorter time to market.
This article looks at workflow developments occurring behind the often chaotic creative process. We also explore the significant shift occurring in the advertising landscape and how this will impact on content production in coming years.
The challenge for creative people is how to continue producing ‘stand out’ content when production budgets are being re-defined to align with market shifts.
While cameras like the ARRI ALEXA and RED Epic are the ‘norm’ for more specialised commercial producers, there is now an array of relatively ‘affordable’ 4K cameras all capable of taking high resolution stills. These include the Sony F5, Canon C500, RED Scarlet and the Blackmagic 4K Production Camera. To be clear, this is not so much about consumers watching 4K television; it’s more about what it brings to the process of creating impactful images.
The RAW files from these cameras offer dynamic range that increases both the level of freedom for the DOP during the shoot and the latitude for colourists in post-production. The 4K files not only provide greater detail to grade with, they also allow for significant repositioning within the frame e.g. zoom and crop, without loss of resolution for HDTV.
Whilst the files sizes are much larger, commercials don’t shoot anywhere near the amount of footage of a TV show or feature. Additionally each of the camera manufacturers have developed their own unique way of making it easier to work with 4K files.
Conceptually the 4K files are captured on to a server whilst the camera outputs real time HD proxies to use in a nonlinear edit system. When the edit is complete, an EDL can be imported into a colour grading system which then accesses the original 4K files for grading.
Affordable 4K TVs (also known as Ultra High Definition Television or UHDTV) are now entering the market and devices like the Blackmagic Ultra Studio 4K Thunderbolt to HDMI converter will allow them to be used for grading. However keep in mind that while these monitors may display higher resolution images, correct colour calibration is important. As an example, UHDTV has a different colour space (Rec 2020) and is capable of reproducing many more colours than HDTV colourspace (Rec 709).
The evolution of video enabled DSLR Cameras has continued since the launch of the Canon 5D. With a price tag of around $12,000 (body only) the recently launched Canon 1DC is capable of shooting 18 megapixel stills as well as 4K video. While this allows for shoots to be designed around both, many photographers and cinematographers believe shooting stills and video at the same time will compromise the end result of both disciplines. However shooting supplementary stills at a video shoot or some video at a stills shoot is becoming both a budget driven necessity as well as meeting the increased needs of cross platform media.
In recent years many stills photographers have combined their talent for capturing beautiful raw images with the artistic use of digital imaging tools. This provides a uniquely ‘finished’ image ready for publication.
Stills photographer and now commercial Director, Brett Danton, sees the potential for a similar approach in the video world. His frustration with acquiring 4K RAW images but seeing them converted to HD for colour grading led him to explore his own workflow options. “The relative low cost of a powerful laptop computer and sophisticated grading software allows the DOP to have more direct involvement in the ‘look’ of the final images; and when required, packaging a grade with the shoot.
Whichever approach you decide on, the key considerations will always include:
• protecting the original camera files from loss or corruption
• ensuring what you see on the grading monitor accurately represents the audience viewing environment
• adopting an efficient workflow that ensures creative outcomes are achieved, the approval process is inclusive and efficient and campaign deadlines can be met.
As post production software migrates onto ‘open systems’ technology, the physical environments are becoming more ‘studio like’. Editors, compositors and designers working with desktop computers attached to central servers; with the option to work in rooms or open plan spaces moving to break out areas only for client presentations and collaborative sessions.
Whilst in a practical sense this puts all the data files associated with a project in one place, making it easier to back up and share across creative teams, it also opens up extraordinary opportunities for streamlining workflow, enhanced collaboration and mobilising services.
The Virtual Session
The pressure on agency creatives to account for every hour of their time is leading a market trend of post production sessions without clients. The resultant multiple review and approval cycles has created inefficiencies for service providers who hold suites pending client approval. This is opening up opportunities for easy to use online review and approval systems or what could be considered ‘virtual sessions’. One example is Cloud based collaboration tool Frankie, from the makers of the popular cineSync system. Whilst Frankie is a companion to a phone or Skype session, it makes it possible to involve others in a real-time video based discussion, no matter where in the world. Simply upload the video, bring guests into the review by sending them a link and then play, pause, make notes and sketch ideas right onto the video – all in sync with everyone in the review. If nothing else it creates confidence in knowing that everyone is seeing exactly the same thing.
This trend in advertising post production also begs the question of how much infrastructure do you need for a post business. Chris Reynolds, who successfully operated Melbourne post design house Activemotion, made the decision to cast aside the overheads of a facility and establish a mobile creative finishing service. The elegantly crafted road cases house a broadcast quality post finishing suite that can be set up in a client’s office in just a few minutes.
In this fast moving and increasingly mobilised environment, the emerging cloud based systems focus on the primary benefits of centralised and highly efficient data management, in some cases transactional cost models (only paying for what you use) and the ability to connect all stakeholders into the creative, approval and delivery process, no matter where they are.
Whilst directors and editors working out of hotel rooms on laptop editing systems is nothing new, the increasing level of ‘connectedness’ is opening up a more dynamic collaboration with VFX artists and colourists. This eventually will enable shorter productions schedules and potentially change the way content is finished.
Post production systems like Avid Interplay Sphere and Adobe Anywhere are leading the way. As an example of how this can work, Adobe Anywhere streams media from a centralized server, across virtually any network, treating your low cost laptop as a ‘thin client’. This means that the graphic and CPU work is done on the remote server not on your computer, an approach that allows for working across relatively low bandwidth connections including 4G.
However a key consideration is that the original media files have to be uploaded to the cloud server before they are available for editing. While the broader industry waits for access to affordable high speed bandwidth, early adopters will most likely be larger companies rolling out a ‘private cloud’ solution to enhance shared workflows.
The desktop publishing revolution created a massive upheaval in the print industry. However the workflow management systems that evolved, realised significant improvements in turnaround time and production efficiency when dealing with the complexities of managing thousands of product shots, geographic versioning of print campaigns, the many different publishing formats and the ongoing big business of catalogues.
Compared to the diverse requirements of the publishing industry, the formatting of television commercials has been relatively straight forward given largely unified standards. However, with the growing array of audience delivery platforms (and the associated file formats and specifications) and the demand for a shorter time to market, there is an increasing the level of complexity in how Media Agencies manage their schedules.
In response to this market shift, DubSat Global CEO, Grant Schuetrumpf, is quickly re-establishing Dubsat as a proven ‘aggregator’ that brings together the various elements of an advertising campaign. Founded on the delivery of TVC assets to national broadcasters, their current focus is to fully automate the ad booking and delivery functions by seamlessly linking the media schedule across the media agency booking system, the publisher / broadcaster’s booking system and the creative agency’s production environment where the ad is created. This means changes to the media schedule transparently flow through in real time to all the stakeholders, driving the accuracy of data across the whole supply chain and providing improved analysis for the marketing teams.
Intimacy and Immediacy
However, the nature of the emerging ‘digital channels’ used by advertising requires an even tighter integration with audiences. In previous articles we explored reducing the gap between the idea and the audience, in marketing terms it could be seen as directly linking the Brand with Consumers.
In a recent interview with Harvard Business Review, Gerd Leonhard, CEO of TheFuturesAgency, predicted, “By 2020, most interruptive marketing will be gone. Instead, marketing will be personalized, customized, and adapted to what I have expressed as my wishes or opt-ins – which essentially means that advertising becomes content. Data will be essential, and as users, we'll be paying with our data – bartering a bit of our personal information in return for the use of platforms and services.”
In a workflow sense, this could be summarised as create, shoot, post, review and approve, make it available to the audience, measure then optimise the experience – revise and re-deliver – all as quickly as you can!
Whilst many companies are working in this space, it is interesting to note Adobe’s Primetime technology. It provides online media companies with a modular platform for video publishing, advertising insertion, and analytics. It seeks to maintain a unique understanding of the individual viewer profile and tailor ad insertion, and therefore advertising content, to suit. Given this presents as yet another example of using the same content across multiple applications, Adobe’s interest in this space could point to a belief in the importance in linking delivery systems back into production systems.
Traditional television commercials will continue to be produced; however it is safe to say that over the coming years the nature of producing and delivering advertising content will change. We are already seeing content edited in multi-discipline creative studios, reviewed and approved online by the client with a coordinated e-blast taking the audience to the content that has been uploaded onto a streaming servcers like Vimeo Pro. Whilst this can be considered very different to a producing a 30 second commercial for free to air television, there is no doubt this will become an increasing component of advertising related content production.
While futurists often call changes a little early, we are clearly moving towards a brave new world!
This article first appeared in IF Magazine issue #154.
The third instalment of the workflow series is now available in IF #155, on sale now.
Articles relating to the first instalment can be found at the below links:
Article 1a: The New Bridge
Article 1b: Building a workflow
Article 1c: Focus on feature films