When it comes to the production/post divide, what was black and white in the film era is now various shades of grey. That’s the way Chris Parker and Chris Jacobson of Bling Digital see it. The two were on hand at the HPA’s Post Pit at NAB 2013 to discuss portable post, or what they call “post-on-demand” (POD), a collection of services that runs through the digital image chain from camera, to DIT, color grading, finishing and archiving.
There is no doubt that the paradigm shift from tape-based to file-based post offers opportunities for efficiency and can increase creative opportunities. Parker, CTO and co-founder of Bling, spoke of the staffing and workflow efficiencies, portability, the ability to meet tighter deadlines and the enhanced creative and collaborative opportunities between links in the digital post chain. He stressed that the portability of POD allows production to take place at remote locations since dailies do not have to be developed and shipped to a post house.
“Bling is the antithesis of the brick and mortar post house,” added Jacobson, VP creative services. “We bring the post house to where you are. Your editorial offices, production offices, your hotel room – wherever you want to work. We can deploy color correction bays, edit bays, archive bays in your office.”
In fact, it’s so portable that they call it post in a suitcase. POD was utilized on Covert Affairs, a TV show shot in a dozen different countries over the past two seasons. Because post can happen on the set, almost immediately after production, tighter deadlines can be met. This means that a TV show like Covert Affairs, with scenes shot in another country, can be finished and on air in two weeks.
“Another cool thing is that the dailies tech was able to travel with the show to Amsterdam,” said Parker. “He was on hand to continue with the look and processing so there wasn’t a breakdown.”
The efficiencies in the POD digital image chain mean that post takes fewer people. Without the need for things like film processing labs, post can do more of what the studios are asking far more quickly, with fewer staff.
“The post producers and the post PAs in the TV shows are not running around town collecting elements,” Jacobson said. “They’re in the office so they have more time to help out with other things.”
“One thing to be mindful of for producers is that people will ask a dangerous amount for one technician to do,” Parker emphasized. “We are not saying that one person can do everything a show needs to manage all the processes in the workflow. It varies from show to show.”
Making Choices – One Size Does Not Fit All
When it comes to figuring out what goes in that POD suitcase, Parker stressed that every show – and every suitcase – is different. Geography is one factor to consider. What city or country are you shooting in? Where will it be posted? The choice of camera will dictate what goes in for dailies and for data management. What are the deliverables and deadlines? Is it a movie with a one-year post schedule or a TV show with an air date 10 days from now? Are you mainly studio-based or on-location?
Parker gave the example of shooting for the Guillermo del Toro movie, Pacific Rim, which took over Pinewood Studios in Toronto. One of Bling Digital’s biggest dailies processing labs was a 10-minute drive up the street. They wanted the files from the set brought into their office so Bling set up a full data management and dailies lab as well as offline editorial PODs right at the processing lab. The same system would not work on another show that had tighter deadlines.
Another consideration is having an accurate means to ensure that color decisions made by DPs on set are tracked accurately. What this means is that there are separate PODs for dailies, DIT, offline editorial, final color correction and finishing.
“We take everything in the digital image chain and create one service out of all of those facets,” said Parker. “We offer everything from camera through data dailies, offline and online finishing, to archival. The studios we work with like that all of those links in the chain are now being managed by our teams of engineers. By virtue of integrating them, having them all talk to each other, it creates a stronger end-to-end digital image chain.”
“There aren’t a lot of post house that offer the camera services that we do,” added Jacobson.
Although all of the post services that Bling offers can come a la carte, Parker states that the efficiencies really show up when they bundle the whole package.
POD comes with challenges. Until recently, when you shot a TV show or feature film, you created your archival negative as you shot. Digital means this is no longer the case. Footage is now file-based and this is a huge difference, bringing archiving of the digital negative, security, transfer and viewing of files and color correction issues to the fore.
Parker warned of not throwing out all the processes that came from film-based workflows and suggested holding on to those that work while transforming systems to be more efficient. One place this is true is in the handling and storage of the digital negatives. Studios require two LTO tape copies – one master and one duplicate – which are long-term vaulted archives. TV shows by-and-large don’t use these, preferring near-line files on hard drives to act as a working copy.
He says camera crews need to have processes in place similar to those used for film so cards aren’t deleted or discarded by mistake. Also, careful management of the color negative and of color flow at each step is essential, something that can be overlooked because of the file-based nature of the material.
Looking Ahead Five Years
Parker was asked where he saw the post industry heading and what it would look like in five years.
“You have to learn from the past,” he said. “Five or six years ago, when digital started to take the place of film, a whole camp of diehards said film was never going to die. We were in the minority then. At that time, when people asked where we saw the camera industry going over the next five years, we looked back to the stills industry 10 years before that, when we had one megapixel cameras and the pros were saying, ‘You’ll never see a billboard shot digitally.’ History continues to repeat itself. The post industry is in the infancy of its paradigm shift. You’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg of software-only tools hitting the market. Everything is going software-only for the most part, with third-party hardware to support it and connect with it. You can see at NAB that the manufacturers are going that way. The ones who are putting that in the forefront, they’re the ones with the growing booths here.”
“3D came, 3D somewhat went. 4K is the new buzzword here and is going to gain traction. There will be distributors driving the 4K boat, consumer electronics companies driving that boat.”
There are challenges implementing a full 4K pipeline, especially in TV productions. Meeting deadlines becomes that much more difficult with more data. NAB 2013 showed that 4K feature film production is gaining traction fast, making 4K post far less challenging for movies than for TV. Movie productions tend to stick to one camera and deadlines are less of an issue. For TV, Parker thinks effects will be the biggest bottleneck and suggests facilities deliver effects in 2K and then up-res to 4K.
“There’s also the little 1080 or 720 cameras used in TV productions,” Parker went on. “When you up-res images from them it doesn’t achieve the desired effect as it would with a 1080 finish. But DPs are hooked on these cameras, they’ve learned to shoot differently with them. That’s where portable 4K cameras like Black Magic’s will come in handy.”
“There’s going to be a need for a full 4K pipeline before five years. If you’re a post facility without that, or without plans to do that, then you might as well go home.”