Easing the flow [DigitalProductionME.com]
(DigitalProductionME.com Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) The Experts
Clye DeSouza, RealVision
Leo Joseph, managing director, Mile Studios
Aiham Ajib, Real Image
Lawrence Mallari, Product Specialist, Pro Video Solutions - Live AV
Digital Studio: Are you aware of workflow problems and challenges in the Middle East film production industry?Joseph: Sometimes the most difficult thing we face here is the way we receive the files. Sometimes it's all over the place.
For example, if you're using different cards you have to name the card properly, if you have a duplicate the system won't take it. If it is a 30 second TV commercial, it should take five hours of colour grading time, but we end up spending three to four hours just preparing it for colour grading. It helps if everybody follows rules. It has to be followed from the shoot.
Ajib: Yes, we are aware of them. One of the biggest problems is the file transfer format and because there is no unified format and equipments. Some companies have high-end machines, some companies have low-end machines.
Some directors rely on freelancers who lack enough technical knowledge because they are aware of only on one part of the process, for example they do composition or animation only.
And we have experienced situations where we received files that were not even qualified for broadcast, just because they did not know the right specifications. They just work on the default of the software.
Some of the directors have multiple sources like they use Alexa, 5D, RED, and GoPro in one job. Some of them are 8-bit, 12 bit or 16-bit. Each one of them has different format, different coding and different frame rates. And most of the time, they don't know how important it is to recognise the differences for the workflow.
Mallari: Firstly, there are a lot of challenges that surround the film and post production industry not just in our region but, also globally. Every day we are presented with new technologies, new video codecs, new compression techniques and a lot more new stuff. A natural tendency is to adjust to that change in order to keep up with the moving world.
Another negative impact of working on a file-based shoot is that the editors will be left with tons of both usable and unusable clips. That leaves him to browse through the scenes and if not properly labelled - for example good take, bad take - it will be a time-consuming process.
And of course, most companies fall into the trap of saving their footage on a USB drive, or on their local drive, or somewhere that only a specific person knows – and most of the time, will forget as well. And at the end of the year, they have tons of footage that are all saved everywhere and they have no means of tracking where they are.
DeSouza: Let's look at nonstandard formatting and cataloguing of media, and shooting way more than required. I speak from experience in the UAE and on a project I've worked on in Lebanon.
Now, none of the projects I've worked on in the UAE and Lebanon were tent-pole features or indeed any big budget productions, but, the interesting thing to note here is, that more often than not, the same prodcos and professional talent is hired for big budget (often indie big budget) films as well as for AD film shoots.
So, getting back to the two problems... Formatting of media, or, undisciplined media management. What I've come to realise is, it's catchy to use acronyms such as MAM (media asset management) and even own or have access to best of breed equipment in this area, yet what's missing is the discipline in the operators - the DITs and others in the media wrangling chain to make best use of the expensive gear they have access to.
Access to knowledgeable DITs is rare in this region, it's understandable though, as until just a couple of years ago, even corporate video productions wanted to shoot "film".
With cameras such as the Alexa, and Reds proving their mettle as a viable alternative, Digital Imaging Technicians - highly skilled ones, are now beginning to emerge, but they still have to work with Directors and DPs who might not be up to speed on the importance of management of media from production to post and then onto archival.
Some common practices I've come to notice include backing up the day's rushes on location - if at all- and then making the mistake of sending both, backups and the media cards with the same person. A cliche safety precaution to look out for, but it happens routinely here.
Then I've seen the penchant for wanting the most "Ks" to shoot with; you know, the ones: "I only shoot 4K or 5k", and the next thing that happens is the production runs out of media, so the setting is downgraded to capture 2k because media has run out and there was no time to back-up to drive, because the first AC or second AC also doubles as DIT.
Now anyone from the various film schools in the UAE reading this article will cry foul, but the truth is, what's taught in film school is rarely followed in practice in-the-field here.
One of the reasons that the expensive 4K camera is reduced to spitting out 2k files, is because unlike film where it's bought by the can, digital media seems to be in endless supply - or so the production thinks, and as a result way more footage is shot, sometimes leading to a shortage of media that gets noticed too late in the day; thus the fallback of then shooting some takes in 2k.
Often there is too much being shot and good takes not being meticulously circled, thus creating grueling sessions in post, and increasing studio time and budget. I've not really seen effective use of camera blocking charts on any of the shoots I've either been part of, or visited.
I've seen storyboards, yes, but never anything as detailed as scene/camera blocking. These save valuable time in set-ups and create for a more disciplined production day - especially needed I think, when we look at temperatures and climate for outdoor shoots here.
We're still talking 2D here. My area of work is stereoscopic supervision and advising, so when it comes to these kinds of issues, it's double for everything - Media, backups, camera res checks, discipline in cataloguing media etc. It's not a rewarding experience when sorting out mismatched left - right media and shots in the studio.
Joseph: If you're shooting on a 4K or 5K feature you should think ahead that 'OK I am shooting on this, I am going to edit on this software and the output will be like this' and this is how the workflow is smooth.
The best thing is get us or any other post production team involved before shooting. Someone should take an initiative on the workflow and make sure it is followed. It's a system everywhere in the world.
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DS: Do you think there is something of a disconnect between production teams and post production?Mallari: As far as I know, production and post production teams should have agreed on what codec, format and materials should be sent from filming to post works.
This is an essential step but I have seen some companies skip this. The result: more post processing, more transcoding and more time spent "cleaning up" the mess from shoot. It is more of workflow problems in a collaborative environment and not to mention the lack of proper communication.
DeSouza: In terms of a lack of awareness of how raw edits should be sent to post production, certainly I see a disconnect. In addition to the two challenges I already mentioned, what seems to happen is, besides the customary recce that is dictated as part of the production, I've noticed dry runs are not actively encouraged.
All the "connections" between gear and work-flow seem to be executed 'in the minds-eye' of the director and cinematographer without the need for rehearsal. Post is always regarded as a separate entity. Today, it's a no-brainer to have a full edit suite on a laptop or a single tower PC that can be ported on location, allowing for at least a rough cut to be put into place before a day's wrap.
Yet, it takes discipline to execute such a workflow. Again, due to the climate, electronics sometimes will fail here on outdoor shoots; There are problems such as camera lenses fogging up, eating into valuable production time and making talent impatient. This is all the more reason why planning and dry runs are crucial. This would put production and post prod in sync, so to speak.
Ajib: First, we do not have that structure like that in Europe for production and post production here in Dubai. Most of the production houses do have their own post production as technology becomes more and more affordable.
The only outsourced process is colour-grading. And in that, each one has his own idea on how to do it. Some people prefer to do grading for the whole process because their clients might change too much. Some prefer to do on offline and some people prefer colour-grading only at the final edit upon approval of the client.
It really depends on the client or the director. And for that regarding the file format and what it should be as I mentioned, there's a lot of people who cannot tell the difference between a log file and linear file and when they should use each one of them for example.
DS: Is this problem more related to independent film makers, or are we also seeing it at a higher level?Ajib: It is on both especially when the production companies don't have any knowledge on the post production process. But definitely it is more with the independent film makers especially when they are newcomers as they do not have the right advice on the technical side.
Mallari: This problem can occur in any organisation where no proper workflow is set in place.
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DS: Are there some good workflow tools available? What products spring to mind?Ajib: There are some software that takes care of the workflow but unfortunately it is only for the big studios when you have about 200 - 300 operators or artists and a big production like animation movie or special effects movie. Unfortunately, the nature of the job in Dubai is mostly small and they don't require more than four to five people.
DeSouza: I would say Abobe's Creative Suite. It's cost effective, has real-time work-flows and a wide talent pool available. This is important, as it also helps producers overcome a lot of stress, in finding last minute replacements in case an editor, or colourist, for example, is unwell.
Ipad "Digital Slate" apps also come to mind, camera assistants and DITs to help them keep accurate and synced logs of each take, along with meta-data on lenses etc, which is invaluable in post.
Then there's Previz software, and I highly recommend FrameForge. I use the 3D edition as it's a great tool for scene blocking.
Previz is very rare to see on productions here, other than some animatics. However using camera/scene blocking diagrams can shave off a lot of frustration under a 45 degree Celsius sun. It's can also communicate a scene's setup to all depts, keeping everyone on the same page.
Mallari: The best way to work in an environment where you have multiple people working on a certain project is to have a proper Media Asset Management and a shared storage where it acts as a central repository for files. I will share an example - we have done a project for one news agency here in the UAE.
They have around eight cameramen who bring in their footage for the editors to edit. They are all saving their shots on a specific folder in a shared storage that is pre-assigned to them. Now, using the CATDV Software (a Media Asset Management Software), they are also logging or tagging their shots with metadata.
Now, the producers can access these files and can tag which of these shots are usable and he will create a catalogue for the editors to access and edit. Producers can also do a pre-edit and save a sequence inside CATDV so it gives the editors a clearer idea of the project. Now that is a smooth collaborative workflow!
Each person (cameraman, producer, editor) has his own responsibilities and will make sure that he needs to accomplish the task that is assigned to him. And we also designed that system so that editors will not have access to files unless a producer approves it. And the producers will not have access to files unless the cameramen saves and logs all the metadata fields.
While many executives in the production industry are keen to talk up the merits of digital, Leo Joseph, MD of Mile Studios is just one of many people lamenting the demise of good old-fashioned film, the film making discipline that appears to be dying with it.
Joseph says that some film makers using digital have a tendency to take too many shoots. This is sometimes due to cast and crew being unprepared, and sometimes simply because there is a mindset that it doesn't cost anything to make extra shoots.
"With film you had to follow a discipline, you didn't have a choice. That is not there anymore. You can shoot one more day, you can always make one more shot, but you end up with more and more data and you pay more and more money for the post," he says.
"When you're shooting on film, you are more prepared, you do more rehearsals, you come and finish the 10 scenes. With digital, it's 'let's do one more'. What is the cost nothing.' Then you will spend more time editing."
Another issue that Clyde DeSouza believes is affecting the region's film production industry is a lack of work experience opportunities for young people entering the sector.
"There is a dire need for investment in education of local talent. Beyond the 'shadowing' and intern opps that a select few local film students and professionals get when a Hollywood production company visits on a shoot, I believe there should be a true initiative undertaken to provide knowledge infrastructure to business partners in the many broadcast and media clusters here and the region," he says.
"Providing workspace, communications infrastructure and real estate for studio setups is nice, but there should be equal investment in driving knowledge based programs and initiatives to bring local talent up to the mark, such that any visiting foreign Production company need not fly their technicians in.
"In fact, I hope to see the day when an offset program is put into place (if there isn't already one) so that that a certain percentage of local talent must be hired as a condition for foreign productions to avail of bigger rebates."
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