Surveying New Workflows: Expanding The Power And Creativity Of Production & Post
Inside the MTI Film facility
Second in a series of Sponsored Entertainment & Advertising Technology Features; this installment explores 4 leading cos.--FotoKem, Prime Focus Technologies, EC3 and MTI Film

Nearly 100 years of movies being shot and finished in film created a workflow that has been the standard. With the addition of color and sound, the workflow adapted, but that workflow has endured for decades.

Even the advent of videotape in the late 1960s (remember Quad?) didn’t much change the steps in any given workflow: acquisition, transferred dailies, editorial, graphics, delivery.

Each step was discrete and followed an unerring order. Even as cameras and editing systems evolved, those steps from capture to delivery have essentially remained the same. Video cameras brought immediacy, but still involved a time-consuming online editing process, where even a small change triggered re-recording the entire project. Digital cameras were touted for their ability to change the way we work but one of their chief advantages – the ability to just let the camera roll – resulted in the unintended consequence of mountains of data that has to be stored, archived, manipulated and managed.

Nonlinear editing systems were another innovation that promised big changes. The general wisdom was that the systems would allow changes to be made so quickly that each production would save time in the post process. Well, we know how that worked out: postproduction times have shrunk and the “extra” time gained by digital efficiencies just allowed endless edits to be explored.

Perhaps the last thing to evolve has has been the actual workflow connecting all these changing technologies. As the sheer amount of data created has exploded, and as cameras become file-based rather than simply digital, productions, post houses and manufacturers have had to create ways to not only securely handle footage, but give it metadata attributes, organize it, archive it, keep track of versions and a dozen other tasks.

Meanwhile, more creatives – from directors to post house executives – are beginning to exploit the capabilities of digital in new ways. Whereas, not so long ago, many in the industry had to be cajoled to jump on board the digital bandwagon, now the industry itself has become a hive of collaboration, partnership and innovation to create ways to work smarter and faster.

The workflow, in other words, is shifting, often in profound ways that are truly bringing the advantages of digital tools and technologies to TV, film, commercials and many other areas of media and entertainment.

Here are four examples of very different media and entertainment companies that have found ways to build workflows that enable flexibility, speed and creativity.

FotoKem: Enabling customized workflows
FotoKem, an independent post house in Burbank, has been in the thick of every trend in the industry since it opened its doors in 1963. Chief Strategy Officer Mike Brodersen has tracked the trends for years, and notes that he saw the first indication of real workflow changes in 2008. “All these unique files began coming in as original negative, from cameras such as the Canon 5D Mark II, the Phantom and RED cameras,” he says. “The traditional workflow of film/tape was lost. Sometimes we wouldn’t even get camera reports. Everything was being reinvented. You had 10 different workflows for 10 different file types. We got a clear message that we had to normalize it into a single system for everyone involved: filmmakers, other participants in the workflow, and FotoKem.”

Having a demanding client base in feature films and TV, FotoKem couldn’t afford to wait for a third party vendor to come up with a solution. Instead, the company formed its own in-house software team in late 2008, to create solutions to new workflow challenges. One of their many innovations is nextLAB, a full service mobile production system that won a 2010 HPA Award for innovation and creativity. “With nextLAB, we enable complete media management, anywhere production is located,” he says. “The files are safely archived and ordered properly so the structure of the data is clean and clear. When it comes to conform down the line, you know where everything is. Production, editorial and visual effects have easy and secure access to the data. “But we didn’t lose the discipline that has always been important to a stable workflow,” he says. “In between the set and everything that comes after, we provide all the same processes we did with film and tape: color processing, dailies, logging, sound synch, editing.”

Built to be entirely mobile, nextLAB is a complete solution for movies, TV, concert films or any kind of creative content that needs media management. “It works similarly in-house as when we set it up at a remote production location,” says Brodersen. “We set up mobile post wherever it’s needed, however, the unique attributes of each project dictate how we design the solution. The goal is to “offer a personal approach that allows filmmakers to work the way they want to, without technology getting in the way,” he says. “Building on our decades of experience and relationships, we understand the intricacies that filmmakers face in today’s production landscape. What we’ve been able to do is control even the subtlest detail of the workflow.” The ability to work closely with the creative and technical teams on projects is a critical component of FotoKem’s approach. “It’s a partnership to understand the tiny details that a production needs that ultimately saves them time and unnecessary work.”

FotoKem’s in-house software team enables the facility to create customized workflows. “We call our workflow metadata-based, not file-based,” says Brodersen. “There are so many options and each production has different needs and requests.” There are an increasing number of cameras as well as the wide variety of file formats and recording devices. And those cameras are acquiring unprecedented amounts of data – up to 20 terabytes a day for a concert show, for instance.

A recent example of how FotoKem is able to customize a workflow is Gone Girl. The David Fincher production used the new RED DRAGON camera, shooting in 6K. “We worked really closely with RED every day in production to make sure the tools, including RED Rocket X, a new GPU to transcode the 6K files, was rock solid,” he says. The production also used Adobe Creative Cloud, not just to edit with Premiere Pro but for the entire suite of tools. “We came to the project early and worked with Adobe engineers to maximize all the benefits their tools offered for metadata, media and color management with the dailies and the downstream workflow,” he says. “We have worked on a few projects with Fincher’s team and knew our job was to enable them to work the way they wanted to work.”

FotoKem was able to automatically create the same metadata thumbnails into Fincher’s own custom database system. “We put this piece on the front end and customized it especially for their needs,” he says. “They could work the way they wanted to, and it saved hours and made it more efficient. We couldn’t have done it unless we were totally in control of the system.”

For director Steven Soderbergh’s Cinemax series The Knick, FotoKem enabled the show to use RED DRAGON and ROCKET-X in 4K. “We’ve worked extensively with Soderbergh on a number of shows over the years and have developed a few tools for his projects, including sub frame syncing,” says Brodersen. “For The Knick, we created a process that supported 4K the way the production wanted to employ it.”
For Laika’s The Boxtrolls, FotoKem was able to create a color pipeline that improved that production’s workflow. “We really wanted to develop a DI workflow for them that was an extension of the meticulous work they did in shooting and editing,” he says. Using FotoKem’s globalDATA to transfer high-res files, FotoKem and Laika came up with a process of creating linear EXR files, with custom conversion tools in Mistika. With color decisions moving through the workflow, the DI became “a process of fine-tuning and not re-creating.” “A lot of color science and customization went into that,” says Brodersen. “It’s a real partnership with the production team to design a workflow that makes sense for everyone.”

Prime Focus Technologies (PFT): Virtualizing the creative process
Prime Focus Technologies’ focus is to offer technology solutions that “virtualize the content supply chain.” With CLEAR, a Hybrid Cloud technology-enabled Media Enterprise Resource Management (ERP) Suite, the company has a well-honed business that serves the media and entertainment industry across the content value chain. “It offers one software that not only helps create all the deliverables but manages marketing/publicity, distribution, engineering operations among other tasks,” says Patrick Macdonald-King, PFT President responsible for North America. “It allows you to do everything you need through a browser, in a cloud environment.”

Last year, PFT also acquired DAX, an EMMY award-winning cloud-based production/post workflow application that enables digital dailies and digital asset management among other tasks. “We wanted to take the company to the next level,” says Macdonald-King, founder/CEO of DAX. “The businesses were aligned: it allowed us to go further downstream and put PFT in production. Joining with PFT enabled us to manage end-to-end workflows across different verticals.”

“At PFT, we connect producers, studios, broadcasters,” says Macdonald-King. “We provide them one software to collaborate, collect, approve and distribute metadata back and forth. That’s where the DAX solution comes in.” PFT’s “core competency” is television; AMC, A&E, CBS, Fox, WB, Lionsgate, Showtime all rely on DAX for their workflow. A healthy handful of networks and specific TV shows also use DAX for script and document management, or what Macdonald-King calls “a complete virtual office.” Among those are Homeland, The Affair, NCIS, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and Big Bang Theory.

Macdonald-King has watched how remote-access workflows have evolved, from the rare show shoot in Toronto that didn’t want to wait for DVD dailies to a standard across the industry. The turning point? “The thing that changed everything was the iPad,” he says. “It became an indispensable tool for viewing dailies and cuts. A lot of producers and directors want that intimate experience where they can take their content around.”

Digital dailies – on the iPad or any other platform – speeds up delivery, enabling decisions to be made more quickly. “Content becomes so accessible and mobile,” says Macdonald-King. “With our software, they shoot it and get it that evening. In today’s world, content needs to be turned around quickly.” After DAX enables the digital dailies process in production, CLEAR steps in and accomplishes every step required to get deliverables into the right hands as soon as possible.”

In an era in which digital breaches have become legion, security has always been taken very seriously at PFT. “We have very buttoned down security policies,” says Macdonald-King. “For example, we have the ability for people to do offline edits on an iPad, but it’s encrypted – with the same encryption technology as iTunes – and the content is removed from the device in seven days.”

PFT is always looking to meet client needs, and the most recent product, DAX Box, is evidence of that. It allows the viewer to use the application on a TV with remote control; it offers up to 15 megabits per second and 1080P resolution.

At NAB 2015, the next generation of DAX will be shown integrated with CLEAR. “Our customers can enjoy a wealth of additional features, including transcoding, forensic watermarking and DRM,” says Macdonald-King. “With it, our offering expands to a more enterprise level and will be able to manage larger assets.”

The future will be even more automated, says Macdonald-King. “It’s already starting,” he says. “Especially for productions in 4K. With a file-based workflow, you can easily go completely digital end-to-end. No driving across town for meetings, no drives or tapes; even distributing paperwork becomes virtualized.”

In the meantime, the biggest challenges to overcome are multiple applications, especially in huge enterprises such as studios and networks, and limits in bandwidth, which limits collaboration and encourages silos and higher costs. “Workflow will catch on in the next couple of years,” promises Macdonald-King. “Studios, broadcasters, advertising agencies are either already involved in a digital workflow or looking to get there.”

“With all that, we’ll really connect production and the studio and broadcaster pipeline together, with almost instantaneous time for delivery,” he concludes. “The value of this end-to-end pipeline can’t be overstated. If you want to go global and always have the latest and greatest solutions, you have to have cloud. And that’s what we are.”

EC3: Digital Dailies for a Digital Future
Partnerships are key in this digital era, and EC3 is the fruit of one between Deluxe sister companies EFILM and Company 3, two of Hollywood’s top DI facilities. EC3 combines the creative and technical expertise of EFILM and Company 3, and brings those skills on location in the form of a mobile studio that provides color correction, on location dailies (deliverables include iPad dailies and editorial media on the same day), data management and security, 3D stereoscopic capabilities including convergence, instant quality control of footage, and 24/7 engineering and tech support.

“Both EFILM and Company 3 had been doing on-location dailies independently for several years,” says EC3 production manager Marc Ross. He notes that the first on-location digital dailies took place with some of the first RED camera productions, for an all-digital workflow; EFILM provided digital dailies for an ARRI Alexa workflow back in 2011 for The Avengers.

The synergies of putting these two powerhouse DI companies together has been a winning combination. “Both companies have strong experiences with approaches to color,” he says. “Both also keep the director and cinematographer’s interests paramount in bringing their color choices through the workflow.” Color correction on location can be as simple as a one-light to a full-blown DI with windows and keys. “A lot of clients have that expectation for their dailies,” says Ross. “The great advantage is that the cinematographer gets to dive into the images to whatever degree he wants during dailies, so he’s very familiar with it by the DI. Then, it’s a creative choice. The DI can just be a refinement, or the cinematographer and director can go another direction.”

Stereoscopic 3D dailies are another specialty of the blended EC3. Company 3 did stereo dailies, using Assimilate Scratch, for Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, a 2011 release. “Those were also done on location in Hawaii,” notes Ross, who notes that Stereo 3D dailies are again very popular. Now, however, EC3 offers Stereo 3D dailies with higher resolution and higher frame rates. “You’re dealing with more data and more involved transcoding down the line for editorial and studio deliveries,” he says. “We’re a central repository, to manage not just color but the assets.”

EFILM was involved with the development of the previs tool Colorstream, which was first used on Apocalypto, allowing cinematographer Dean Semler to review the output of the camera on set.

Colorstream is now a shared EC3 resource and available to all its clients. EC3 also carries eVue™, a calibrated dailies viewing player that can be plugged into a 50-inch plasma display, a digital projector or even an iPad.

EC3 offers a wide spectrum of choices for on-location dailies, scaled up or down, depending on the needs of the production. “People really like on-location dailies,” says Ross. “They like the advantages, and they’re getting used to doing them. They know the questions to ask, and how to plan a space for the gear.”

Location services for feature films not only includes iPad dailies and editorial media on the same day  — and the rest of EC3’s on location offerings – but also 2K, HD and 3D projection. When Lone Survivor was on location in the remote wilds of New Mexico in 2012, EC3 partnered with Star Waggons, which moved the trailer out to a ski base camp. “That’s the most out-of-the-way location where we’ve set up digital dailies,” he says. “It was full-on digital dailies, which allowed the DP and director the ability to see footage projected while they’re on location in the middle of nowhere.”

EC3 provided dailies in a Star Waggon for X-Men: Days of Future Past, shot in Montreal. Colorist Adrian DeLude was able to work with S3D ARRIRAW footage as seamlessly as if he were in a brick-and-mortar facility. “The DITs and data managers would hand off mags to the trailer,” says Ross. “The operators would ingest them, we’d build projects and get it set up for the colorist to view stereo dailies and make adjustments. The cinematographer came in at the end of the day, and sometimes at lunch, to review footage. And, at the end of the day, in time-honored tradition, everyone would gather and watch footage in a projected environment, with the desired LUT applied. They were able to get a sense of how things looked, for VFX as well as hair, make-up and wardrobe.”

EC3 also offers its ‘Street Side,’ a tricked-out Mercedes Sprinter that is particularly suitable for commercials – or any project that needs a mobile solution that can unplug and roll-out quickly. EC3 Street Side can handle any camera type and provide dailies from basic LUTs to Best Light color. With editorial on-set, Street Side can also provide dailies directly to the desktop throughout the day.

New to EC3 is The Portal, which facilitates VFX pulls. “We’ve heard a lot of interest from VFX producers to be able to handle their own VFX pulls,” says Ross. “The Portal is a window into our system that allows for VFX editors to submit requests. The digital data can then be accessed by them, 24/7.”

EC3 is also getting ready for a future of 4K+, High Dynamic Range, variable frame rates and whatever else might evolve in technology. “We already have a robust system that can handle even stereo 3D footage on location,” says Ross. “As the requirements of processing images increases – high resolutions, higher frame rates, whatever – we’ve already done ample amounts of testing. We’re confident we’ll be ready to scale up, and offer the same solutions we offer today.”

MTI Film: Building a Swiss Army knife for production/post
MTI Film has over a decade of experience in digital dailies. “As a software developer, we’ve been heavily involved in the dailies process for the last 12 years,” says company CEO Larry Chernoff. “We feel that CORTEX Dailies is quite mature, and is utilized by our clients every day, day-in and day-out.” Over those years, he adds, they’ve encountered additional issues needing to be addressed–so that’s what they’re doing. “We’re making Cortex the Swiss army knife of utility post production,” Chernoff adds.

One issue is dead pixels. “Virtually every camera has an issue with dead pixels, which appear as bright red, green or blue dots,” says Chernoff. “QC people can often see them on the screen but have no way to fix it. They’re very difficult to detect because dead pixels can be fairly subtle in one portion of the shot and more obvious in others.”

MTI Film’s software development team created an algorithm that not only sees all the dead pixels but also gives the user an opportunity to make adjustments on set or in post. This software module measures two parameters: minimum confidence (does the pixel persist throughout the clip or is it intermittently hidden?) and minimum severity (is the dead pixel dim, blending in with the background, or is it very visible?). The operator can control both parameters within the tools to refine the results.

The module can be used in several different ways: on set, the DIT can quickly assess the integrity of the camreas, a studio or network QC operator can utilize the module to detect objectionable dead pixels, and send back a CORTEX Manifest with the corresponding metadata. The post house then imports that report and automatically fixes the pixels in question. Or, the post house can do its own QC, setting its own threshold of acceptability and level of correction and making those corrections. “We’ve utilized our knowledge derived from our DRS™ Nova film restoration product for the correction technology,” he says. “But the detection is new – and unique to us.”

Dead pixel detection also could play an important role in production, says Chernoff, who notes the DIT would welcome a way to alert filmmakers about a problematic camera before committing to production.

All of the new CORTEX editions will offer detection, but not all of them will enable correction; a QC person would have the ability to detect dead pixels and correct them as long as they have the CORTEX Enterprise Edition.

MTI Film’s software development team is also addressing the need for basic editing tools in CORTEX. “As part of the dailies process, you create and transcode files and, later in post, you assemble from OCN camera masters and then manufacture new files – and often those files in some ways have to be altered for specific delivery requirements,” says Chernoff. “Blacks might have to be inserted or removed, slates might have to be inserted or removed, and you also have different deliveries from that same file.”

Instead of working in an expensive editing environment, the new edit module for CORTEX allows the user to do simple edits on any of the files in an offline environment. “You don’t have to go into an edit bay, but can do it in the machine room, with lower labor costs. Or, in the cutting room, the assistant and apprentice editors are able to modify files without disturbing the editor working on an Avid. That way CORTEX serves multiple purposes beyond dailies,” he says.

MTI Film has also implemented Version 1 of ACES, and Netflix’s version of IMF, which is essentially to package the picture and audio in a way that is compatible with their IMF requirements. “Netflix has a fairly simple implementation,” says Chernoff. “But the supplementary IMF, such as localization of media for various countries is a bit more complex and it’s our intention to implement that into CORTEX as well.”

CORTEX is also being used as a tool for up-conversion, particularly from HD to UHD. According to Chernoff, over the past year, CORTEX has been used at 20th Century Fox to up-convert Life of Pi, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Night at the Museum, and Wolverine. Starz and WB also intend to use CORTEX for up-conversions, and Universal Digital Services has purchased eight CORTEX systems to be used “in all phases of post production” including dailies and up-conversion.

MTI Film has numerous other projects in development. Although not all are ready to be described, Chernoff mentions MTI Film’s partnership with Dolby to assist in creating metadata for Dolby Vision, for use in HDR playback on HDR-compatible TV displays.

“We’re in development with Dolby to encode this metadata into a deliverable file that can utilized downstream at the network,” says Chernoff. “Our job is to take metadata from the color corrector and encode it into a deliverable that ultimately finds its way to the broadcasters.”

All this software development, says Chernoff, is “to satisfy this utilitarian requirement that post production has.” “As a post production facility we encounter these every day. he says. “Being a software development company and a post service company allows us to understand the real needs inside of a post environment.”

In the end...Workflow is the last and most important shift in the industry. As the creation of media and entertainment has shifted from film to video to digital to file-based, the tools have changed but less so the workflow. That important piece is changing as fast as software developers can write the code, manufacturers can implement solutions and post houses can put the pieces of the puzzle together.

These are still early days for the workflows of the future, but the pioneers described here have already started building solid and innovative workflows to a new age of creativity.

Read SHOOT’s 10/17/14 Sponsored Digital Workflow Feature at

The next Sponsored Feature, 4K And Beyond, will be published 3/20/15.

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