Category Archives: Color Grading

First Impressions: Apple’s new iMac Pro

This London-based video editor gives it a ride

By Thomas Carter

Over the last few days I’ve had the chance to play with the new iMac Pro from Apple. I’m a professional editor at Trim Editing in London, where I cut high-end commercials, music videos and films. I was really excited to see how this new machine, and the upcoming version of Final Cut Pro X (10.4) NLE, could benefit us here and what sorts of things it might be able to achieve.

The Design
This thing looks like an iMac, no doubt about it. It’s the same all-in-one form factor we’ve become accustomed to, but in space grey. I love this design, and I’m a sucker for anything that nears a matte black finish. It’s pretty incredible to have a machine this powerful essentially living inside a display, and it looks great in the edit suite, especially as it comes paired with a space grey keyboard, mouse and trackpad.

Space grey aside, the only external tweaks are around the back — there are four USB 3 ports, four Thunderbolt 3 ports, a 10GB Ethernet port and large “Vader-like” vents to help cool the eager internals. While those Thunderbolt ports can support two additional 5K displays, what I’m most excited about here is the 10GB Ethernet port. We can now directly attach our LumaForge Jellyfish shared storage without the need for Thunderbolt conversion.

One last point, because I know I’d be asking this question. Can you buy the keyboard, mouse and trackpad separately? Sadly, apparently you cannot. But if you can somehow justify spending $4,999 on a space grey keyboard, mouse and trackpad, at least you’ll get a free iMac Pro!

The Performance
As I said, I’ve only had my hands on the machine for a couple of days, so I haven’t had the chance to run a full-blown editing job through it yet. But it’s abundantly clear to me that this thing is a beast. It’s by far the fastest Mac I’ve ever used, and according to Apple the most powerful they’ve ever built.

Thermal cooling

The machine I had access to featured a 10-core 3GHz processor, 128GB memory, 2TB SSD and Radeon Pro Vega 64 graphics with 16GB memory. The internal SSD is ridiculously fast. When I tested the speed I got 3021MB/s write and 2465MB/s read. And for anyone who knows what it means (not me) the GeekBench 4 score on the processors was 37003.

But let’s forget the paper specs for a moment. Here are a few real-world editing tests I ran:

A feature film has been cutting here at Trim over the past few months, so I took the opportunity to hijack the project to see what the export speeds were like. A ProRes HD file took 2 minutes 34 seconds, which is pretty great for a 90-minute timeline. But compressed H.264s are far more common for me as an editor when dealing with upload and review of my cuts. My biggest frustration with all previous Mac Pro machines was that their H.264 export speeds always seemed terrible. This is due to the fact that “workstation-class chips” don’t have the hardware-acceleration necessary for these tasks. So I was pleasantly surprised to find that Apple seem to be bypassing these limitations somehow, and the iMac Pro is also delivering fast H.264 exports. I have no idea what they are doing behind the scenes to achieve this, but it works and will save me hours in encoding time.

Next I decided to push the resolution right up and see how it might handle a ludicrous 8K timeline with footage shot on the Panavision Millennium DXL. With 8K ProRes 4:4:4:4 files, the iMac Pro played the sequence back perfectly. Even after adding a couple of color corrections and a blur to the clips it still didn’t drop a frame. I should add that this was playing back at better quality and without rendering. I’ll repeat that once more. 8K. Color correction. Blur. No Rendering. No “1/4 quality” BS. No frames dropped.

Yes, 8K is an impressive number, but I was also interested to see how it might handle a less friendly codec like R3D, a notoriously heavy codec for computers to decode/debayer and playback at full quality. The maximum I managed to test here was 5K Red RAW footage in a 5K timeline. Again, best quality and unrendered. Adding color correction, resizes and titles didn’t cause the machine to drop frames. The sequence played through smoothly, which is nuts.

Trim Editing

While this last test is really impressive, there aren’t many real-world jobs where I’ll be storing an entire film shoot of Red RAW rushes on my internal SSD. So I also checked how this played out on external storage. I’m happy to report that loading the same media onto our Jellyfish shared storage and accessing it over direct-attached 10Gb Ethernet gave me the same results.

These tests really blew me away. They aren’t necessarily going to be everyday scenarios for most people, or even me, but they make it possible to imagine editing workflows in which you’re working at close to the highest quality possible throughout the entire process… on a desktop computer. A space grey one. It’s going to be really interesting to see how the rest of the company reacts to this computer moving forward. While we mainly deal in offline workflows, we have begun to look at possibly taking on more conforming, online, grading work in-house. It’s not hard to conceive that the iMac Pro could be the tool to bring all these elements together for us in a streamlined way.

The Bottom Line
While I really haven’t had enough time to do a deep dive, it’s clearly the best Mac I’ve ever used — it’s stupidly powerful and great to work on.

Thomas Grove Carter

But who is it actually for? Clearly not everyone. It’s quite obviously a pro machine and it comes with a price tag to fit — $4,999. If you’re a pro user who needs a Pro Mac, it’s probably for you (and you can get your hands on one starting December 14). If you’re already an iMac user but you need more power, it’s probably for you too. If I had to make a wildly uninformed guess, I’d say this will be more than enough computer for 90% of pros.

There will still understandably be a number of places where this machine will not be enough, and I don’t mean it’s lacking in power — if you’re someone who needs rack-mountable, user-expandable hardware, this may not be for you.

For me, if an equally powerful Mac Pro existed, I’d still chose this iMac Pro over it, because I love the all-in-one compact design and the way it sits in my edit suite. I can’t wait to use the iMac Pro for genuine work and really put it through its paces. I’m excited and slightly dizzied by its power, and the potential that power has for delivering amazing work.

Also, did I mention that it’s space grey…


Thomas Grove Carter is an editor at Trim Editing in London, where they cut commercials, music videos and films. Follow him on Twitter @thomasgcarter.

Apache colorists: Cullen Kelly added, Quinn Alvarez promoted

Santa Monica color and post studio Apache has added colorist Cullen Kelly. In addition to Kelly’s hire, the studio also promoted colorist Quinn Alvarez from an assistant’s role.

Kelly joins from Labrador Post, a color grading studio he founded in Austin, Texas. He has relocated to Southern California. Alvarez has been with Apache since 2015, joining from the production company Prettybird, where he handled all post duties and worked closely with its directors and producers.

“We’re currently working on several scripted and documentary shows for Hulu, Netflix and Amazon, in addition to our commercial work for agencies,” says Apache managing partner LaRue Anderson. “We needed additional artists that come with a unique perspective to color grading to handle these assignments, not just helping hands.”

Kelly worked with Apache earlier this year as a freelancer, doing finishing for the debut season of Netflix’s American Vandal series. Kelly, who studied film at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena before launching his career, worked in several post jobs before focusing on color grading. In addition to his work on the Netflix series, his reel includes short films and promos for The History Channel, FX Networks and SXSW.

When asked what drew him to color grading, Kelly said, “I’m a very visual person, and I love the amount of detail and energy that goes into color work. And it’s so collaborative; you’re working with people and helping bring their vision to life.”

A graduate of UC Berkeley, Alvarez says that while working at Prettybird he learned the craft of color grading from a director’s point of view, stressing the importance of story and substance. “I like the pace of color work, too,” he adds. “There’s always a new challenge, and new clients to work with. It keeps me fresh. And color is typically one of the final stages in a project — you’re putting the polish on things, so to speak, so people always leave happy.”

His reel includes work for such brands as Nike, Absolut, Jack Daniels, Tumi, Toyota, Lexus and Mercedes-Benz, as well as music videos shot by such directors as Paul Hunter, Eric Wareheim and Andy Hines.

Both Kelly and Alvarez use Blackmagic Resolve.

Apache’s branching out from just color to handling finishing is also driving its need to add more creative talent, reports Anderson: “Keeping the color and finish under the same roof, particularly for long-form projects, allows us to swiftly complete a show. That adds valuable time to our clients’ often-constrained post schedules, without compromising the look and feel of the film. And we’re finding that cinematographers and directors are moving to original series work, because it can offer more creative freedom. With the addition of Cullen and the promotion of Quinn, we now have five colorists to help transform their digital visions into reality.”

Dell 6.15

Storage Roundtable

Production, post, visual effects, VR… you can’t do it without a strong infrastructure. This infrastructure must include storage and products that work hand in hand with it.

This year we spoke to a sampling of those providing storage solutions — of all kinds — for media and entertainment, as well as a storage-agnostic company that helps get your large files from point A to point B safely and quickly.

We gathered questions from real-world users — things that they would ask of these product makers if they were sitting across from them.

Quantum’s Keith Lissak
What kind of storage do you offer, and who is the main user of that storage?
We offer a complete storage ecosystem based around our StorNext shared storage and data management solution,including Xcellis high-performance primary storage, Lattus object storage and Scalar archive and cloud. Our customers include broadcasters, production companies, post facilities, animation/VFX studios, NCAA and professional sports teams, ad agencies and Fortune 500 companies.

How are you making sure your products are scalable so people can grow either their storage or bandwidth needs (or both)?
Xcellis features continuous scalability and can be sized to precisely fit current requirements and scaled to meet future demands simply by adding storage arrays. Capacity and performance can grow independently, and no additional accelerators or controllers are needed to reach petabyte scale.

How many of the people buying your solutions are using them with another cloud-based product (i.e. Microsoft Azure)?
We don’t have exact numbers, but a growing number of our customers are using cloud storage. Our FlexTier cloud-access solution can be used with both public (AWS, Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud) and private (StorageGrid, CleverSafe, Scality) storage.

How does your system handle UHD, 4K and other higher-than-HD resolutions?
We offer a range of StorNext 4K Reference Architecture configurations for handling the demanding workflows, including 4K, 8K and VR. Our customers can choose systems with small or large form-factor HDDs, up to an all-flash SSD system with the ability to handle 66 simultaneous 4K streams.

What platforms do your systems connect to (Mac OS X, Windows, Linux, etc.)? And what differences might users notice when connecting on these different platforms?
StorNext systems are OS-agnostic and can work with all Mac, Windows and Linux clients with no discernible difference.

Zerowait’s Rob Robinson
What kind of storage do you offer, and who is the main user of that storage?
Zerowait’s SimplStor storage product line provides storage administrators scalable, flexible and reliable on-site storage needed for their growing storage requirements and workloads. SimplStor’s platform can be configured to work in Linux or Windows environments and we have several customers with multiple petabytes in their data centers. SimplStor systems have been used in VFX production for many years and we also provide solutions for video creation and many other large data environments.

Additionally, Zerowait specializes in NetApp service, support and upgrades, and we have provided many companies in the media and VFX businesses with off-lease transferrable licensed NetApp storage solutions. Zerowait provides storage hardware, engineering and support for customers that need reliable and big storage. Our engineers support customers with private cloud storage and customers that offer public cloud storage on our storage platforms. We do not provide any public cloud services to our customers.

How are you making sure your products are scalable so people can grow either their storage or bandwidth needs (or both)?
Our customers typically need on-site storage for processing speed and security. We have developed many techniques and monitoring solutions that we have incorporated into our service and hardware platforms. Our SimplStor and NetApp customers need storage infrastructures that scale into the multiple petabytes, and often require GigE, 10GigE or a NetApp FC connectivity solution. For customers that can’t handle the bandwidth constraints of the public Internet to process their workloads, Zerowait has the engineering experience to help our customers get the most of their on-premises storage.

How many of the people buying your solutions are using them with another cloud-based products (i.e. Microsoft Azure)?
Many of our customers use public cloud solutions for their non-proprietary data storage while using our SimplStor and NetApp hardware and support services for their proprietary, business-critical, high-speed and regulatory storage solutions where data security is required.

How does your system handle UHD, 4K and other higher-than-HD resolutions?
SimplStor’s density and scalability make it perfect for use in HD and higher resolution environments. Our SimplStor platform is flexible and we can accommodate customers with special requests based on their unique workloads.

What platforms do your systems connect to (Mac OS X, Windows, Linux, etc.)? And what differences might users notice when connecting on these different platforms?
Zerowait’s NetApp and SimplStor platforms are compatible with both Linux (NFS) and Windows (CIFS) environments. OS X is supported in some applications. Every customer has a unique infrastructure and set of applications they are running. Customers will see differences in performance, but our flexibility allows us to customize a solution to maximize the throughput to meet workflow requirements.

Signiant’s Mike Nash
What kind of storage works with your solution, and who is the main user or users of that storage?
Signiant’s Media Shuttle file transfer solution is storage agnostic, and for nearly 200,000 media pros worldwide it is the primary vehicle for sending and sharing large files. Even though Media Shuttle doesn’t provide storage, and many users think of their data as “in Media Shuttle.” In reality, their files are located in whatever storage their IT department has designated. This might be the company’s own on-premises storage, or it could be their AWS or Microsoft Azure cloud storage tenancy. Our users employ a Media Shuttle portal to send and share files; they don’t have to think about where the files are stored.

How are you making sure your products are scalable so people can grow either their use or the bandwidth of their networks (or both)?
Media Shuttle is delivered as a cloud-native SaaS solution, so it can be up and running immediately for new customers, and it can scale up and down as demand changes. The servers that power the software are managed by our DevOps team and monitored 24×7 — and the infrastructure is auto-scaling and instantly available. Signiant does not charge for bandwidth, so customers can use our solutions with any size pipe at no additional cost. And while Media Shuttle can scale up to support the needs of the largest media companies, the SaaS delivery model also makes it accessible to even the smallest production and post facilities.

How many of the people buying your solutions are using them with cloud storage (i.e. AWS or Microsoft Azure)?
Cloud adoption within the M&E industry remains uneven, so it’s no surprise that we see a mixed picture when we look at the storage choices our customers make. Since we first introduced the cloud storage option, there has been a constant month-over-month growth in the number of customers deploying portals with cloud storage. It’s not yet in parity with on-prem storage, but the growth trends are clear.

On-premises content storage is very far from going away. We see many Media Shuttle customers taking a hybrid approach, with some portals using cloud storage and others using on-prem storage. It’s also interesting to note that when customers do choose cloud storage, we increasingly see them use both AWS and Azure.

How does your system handle UHD, 4K and other higher-than-HD resolutions?
We can move any size of file. As media files continue to get bigger, the value of our solutions continues to rise. Legacy solutions such as FTP, which lack any file acceleration, will grind things to a halt if 4K, 8K, VR and other huge files need to be moved between locations. And consumer-oriented sharing services like Dropbox and Google Drive become non-starters with these types of files.

What platforms do your system connect to (e.g. Mac OS X, Windows, Linux), and what differences might end-users notice when connecting on these different platforms?
Media Shuttle is designed to work with a wide range of platforms. Users simply log in to portals using any web browser. In the background, a native application installed on the user’s personal computer provides the acceleration functionality. This App works with Windows or Mac OSX systems.

On the IT side of things, no installed software is required for portals deployed with cloud storage. To connect Media Shuttle to on-premises storage, the IT team will run Signiant software on a computer in the customer’s network. This server-side software is available for Linux and Windows.

NetApp’s Jason Danielson
What kind of storage do you offer, and who is the main user of that storage?
NetApp has a wide portfolio of storage and data management products and services. We have four fundamentally different storage platforms — block, file, object and converged infrastructure. We use these platforms and our data fabric software to create a myriad of storage solutions that incorporate flash, disk and cloud storage.

1. NetApp E-Series block storage platform is used by leading shared file systems to create robust and high-bandwidth shared production storage systems. Boutique post houses, broadcast news operations and corporate video departments use these solutions for their production tier.
2. NetApp FAS network-attached file storage runs NetApp OnTap. This platform supports many thousands of applications for tens of thousands of customers in virtualized, private cloud and hybrid cloud environments. In media, this platform is designed for extreme random-access performance. It is used for rendering, transcoding, analytics, software development and the Internet-of-things pipelines.
3. NetApp StorageGrid Webscale object store manages content and data for back-up and active archive (or content repository) use cases. It scales to dozens of petabytes, billions of objects and currently 16 sites. Studios and national broadcast networks use this system and are currently moving content from tape robots and archive silos to a more accessible object tier.
4. NetApp SolidFire converged and hyper-converged platforms are used by cloud providers and enterprises running large private clouds for quality-of-service across hundreds to thousands of applications. Global media enterprises appreciate the ease of scaling, simplicity of QOS quota setting and overall maintenance for largest scale deployments.

How are you making sure your products are scalable so people can grow either their storage or bandwidth needs (or both)?
The four platforms mentioned above scale up and scale out to support well beyond the largest media operations in the world. So our challenge is not scalability for large environments but appropriate sizing for individual environments. We are careful to design storage and data management solutions that are appropriate to media operations’ individual needs.

How many of the people buying your solutions are using them with another cloud-based product (i.e. Microsoft Azure)?
Seven years ago, NetApp set out on a major initiative to build the data fabric. We are well on the path now with products designed specifically for hybrid cloud (a combination of private cloud and public cloud) workloads. While the uptake in media and entertainment is slower than in other industries, we now have hundreds of customers that use our storage in hybrid cloud workloads, from backup to burst compute.

We help customers wanting to stay cloud-agnostic by using AWS, Microsoft Azure, IBM Cloud, and Google Cloud Platform flexibly and as the project and pricing demands. AWS, Microsoft Azure, IBM, Telsra and ASE along with another hundred or so cloud storage providers include NetApp storage and data management products in their service offerings.

How does your system handle UHD, 4K and other higher-than-HD resolutions?
For higher bandwidth, or bitrate, video production we’ll generally architect a solution with our E-Series storage under either Quantum StorNext or PixitMedia PixStor. Since 2012, when the NetApp E5400 enabled the mainstream adoption of 4K workflows, the E-Series platform has seen three generations of upgrades and the controllers are now more than 4x faster. The chassis has remained the same through these upgrades so some customers have chosen to put the latest controllers into these chassis to improve bandwidth or to utilize faster network interconnect like 16 gigabit fibrechannel. Many post houses continue to use fibrechannel to the workstation for these higher bandwidth video formats while others have chosen to move to Ethernet (40 and 100 Gigabit). As flash (SSDs) continue to drop in price it is starting to be used for video production in all flash arrays or in hybrid configurations. We recently showed our new E570 all flash array supporting NVM Express over Fabrics (NVMe-oF) technology providing 21GB/s of bandwidth and 1 million IOPs with less than 100µs of latency. This technology is initially targeted at super-computing use cases and we will see if it is adopted over the next couple of years for UHD production workloads.

What platforms do your system connect to (Mac OSx, Windows, Linux, etc.), and what differences might end-users notice when connecting on these different platforms?
NetApp maintains a compatibility matrix table that delineates our support of hundreds of client operating systems and networking devices. Specifically, we support Mac OS X, Windows and various Linux distributions. Bandwidth expectations differ between these three operating systems and Ethernet and Fibre Channel connectivity options, but rather than make a blanket statement about these, we prefer to talk with customers about their specific needs and legacy equipment considerations.

G-Technology’s Greg Crosby
What kind of storage do you offer, and who is the main user of that storage?
Western Digital’s G-Technology products provide high-performing and reliable storage solutions for end-to-end creative workflows, from capture and ingest to transfer and shuttle, all the way to editing and final production.

The G-Technology brand supports a wide range of users for both field and in-studio work, with solutions that span a number of portable handheld drives — which are often times used to backup content on-the-go — all the way to in-studio drives that offer capacities up to 144TB. We recognize that each creative has their own unique workflow and some embrace the use of cloud-based products. We are proud to be companions to those cloud services as a central location to store raw content or a conduit to feed cloud features and capabilities.

How are you making sure your products are scalable so people can grow either their storage or bandwidth needs (or both)?
Our line ranges from small portable and rugged drives to large, multi-bay RAID and NAS solutions, for all aspects of the media and entertainment industry. Integrating the latest interface technology such as USB-C or Thunderbolt 3, our storage solutions will take advantage of the ability to quickly transfer files.

We make it easy to take a ton of storage into the field. The G-Speed Shuttle XL drive is available in capacities up to 96TB, and an optional Pelican case, with handle, is available, making it easy to transport in the field and mitigating any concerns about running out of storage. We recently launched the G-Drive mobile SSD R-Series. This drive is built to withstand a three meter (nine foot) drop, and is able to endure accidental bumps or drops, given that it is a solid-state drive.

How many of the people buying your solutions are using them with another cloud-based product (i.e. Microsoft Azure)?
Many of our customers are using cloud-based solutions to complement their creative workflows. We find that most of our customers use our solutions as the primary storage or to easily transfer and shuttle their content since the cloud is not an efficient way to move large amounts of data. We see the cloud capabilities as a great way to share project files and low-resolution content, or collaborate with others on projects as well as distribute share a variety of deliverables.

How does your system handle UHD, 4K and other higher-than-HD resolutions?
Today’s camera technology enables not only capture at higher resolutions but also higher frame rates with more dynamic imagery. We have solutions that can easily support multi-stream 4K, 8K and VR workflows or multi-layer photo and visual effects projects. G-Technology is well positioned to support these creative workflows as we integrate the latest technologies into our storage solutions. From small portable and rugged SSD drives to high-capacity and fast multi-drive RAID solutions with the latest Thunderbolt 3 and USB-C interface technology we are ready tackle a variety of creative endeavors.

What platforms do your systems connect to (Mac OS X, Windows, Linux, etc.), and what differences might users notice when connecting on these different platforms?
Our complete portfolio of external storage solutions work for Mac and PC users alike. With native support for Apple Time Machine, these solutions are formatted for Mac OS out of the box, but can be easily reformatted for Windows users. G-Technology also has a number of strategic partners with technology vendors, including Apple, Atomos, Red Camera, Adobe and Intel.

Panasas’ David Sallak
What kind of storage do you offer, and who is the main user of that storage?
Panasas ActiveStor is an enterprise-class easy-to-deploy parallel scale-out NAS (network-attached storage) that combines Flash and SATA storage with a clustered file system accessed via a high-availability client protocol driver with support for standard protocols.

The ActiveStor storage cluster consists of the ActiveStor Director (ASD-100) control engine, the ActiveStor Hybrid (ASH-100) storage enclosure, the PanFS parallel file system, and the DirectFlow parallel data access protocol for Linux and Mac OS.

How are you making sure your products are scalable so people can grow either their storage or bandwidth needs (or both)?
ActiveStor is engineered to scale easily. There are no specific architectural limits for how widely the ActiveStor system can scale out, and adding more workloads and more users is accomplished without system downtime. The latest release of ActiveStor can grow either storage or bandwidth needs in an environment that lets metadata responsiveness, data performance and data capacity scale independently.

For example, we quote capacity and performance numbers for a Panasas storage environment containing 200 ActiveStor Hybrid 100 storage node enclosures with 5 ActiveStor Director 100 units for filesystem metadata management. This configuration would result in a single 57PB namespace delivering 360GB/s of aggregate bandwidth with an excess of 2.6M IOPs.

How many of the people buying your solutions are using them with another cloud-based product (i.e. Microsoft Azure)?
Panasas customers deploy workflows and workloads in ways that are well-suited to consistent on-site performance or availability requirements, while experimenting with remote infrastructure components such as storage and compute provided by cloud vendors. The majority of Panasas customers continue to explore the right ways to leverage cloud-based products in a cost-managed way that avoids surprises.

This means that workflow requirements for file-based storage continue to take precedence when processing real-time video assets, while customers also expect that storage vendors will support the ability to use Panasas in cloud environments where the benefits of a parallel clustered data architecture can exploit the agility of underlying cloud infrastructure without impacting expectations for availability and consistency of performance.

How does your system handle UHD, 4K and other higher-than-HD resolutions?
Panasas ActiveStor is engineered to deliver superior application responsiveness via our DirectFlow parallel protocol for applications working in compressed UHD, 4K and higher-resolution media formats. Compared to traditional file-based protocols such as NFS and SMB, DirectFlow provides better granular I/O feedback to applications, resulting in client application performance that aligns well with the compressed UHD, 4K and other extreme-resolution formats.

For uncompressed data, Panasas ActiveStor is designed to support large-scale rendering of these data formats via distributed compute grids such as render farms. The parallel DirectFlow protocol results in better utilization of CPU resources in render nodes when processing frame-based UHD, 4K and higher-resolution formats, resulting in less wall clock time to produce these formats.

What platforms do your systems connect to (Mac OS X, Windows, Linux, etc.)? And what differences might users notice when connecting on these different platforms?
Panasas ActiveStor supports macOS and Linux with our higher-performance DirectFlow parallel client software. We support all client platforms via NFS or SMB as well.

Users would notice that when connecting to Panasas ActiveStor via DirectFlow, the I/O experience is as if users were working with local media files on internal drives, compared to working with shared storage where normal protocol access may result in the slight delay associated with open network protocols.

Facilis’ Jim McKenna
What kind of storage do you offer, and who is the main user of that storage?
We have always focused on shared storage for the facility. It’s high-speed attached storage and good for anyone who’s cutting HD or 4K. Our workflow and management features really make us different than basic network storage. We have attachment to the cloud through software that uses all the latest APIs.

How are you making sure your products are scalable so people can grow either their storage or bandwidth needs (or both)?
Most of our large customers have been with us for several years, and many started pretty small. Our method of scalability is flexible in that you can decide to simply add expansion drives, add another server, or add a head unit that aggregates multiple servers. Each method increases bandwidth as well as capacity.

How many of the people buying your solutions are using them with another cloud-based product (i.e. Microsoft Azure)?
Many customers use cloud, either through a corporate gateway or directly uploaded from the server. Many cloud service providers have ways of accessing the file locations from the facility desktops, so they can treat it like another hard drive. Alternatively, we can schedule, index and manage the uploads and downloads through our software.

How does your system handle UHD, 4K and other higher-than-HD resolutions?
Facilis is known for our speed. We still support Fibre Channel when everyone else, it seems, has moved completely to Ethernet, because it provides better speeds for intense 4K and beyond workflows. We can handle UHD playback on 10Gb Ethernet, and up to 4K full frame DPX 60p through Fibre Channel on a single server enclosure.

What platforms do your systems connect to (e.g. Mac OS X, Windows, Linux, etc.)? And what differences might users notice when connecting on these different platforms?
We have a custom multi-platform shared file system, not NAS (network attached storage). Even though NAS may be compatible with multiple platforms by using multiple sharing methods, permissions and optimization across platforms is not easily manageable. With Facilis, the same volume, shared one way with one set of permissions, looks and acts native to every OS and even shows up as a local hard disk on the desktop. You can’t get any more cross-platform compatible than that.

SwiftStack’s Mario Blandini
What kind of storage do you offer, and who is the main user of that storage?
We offer hybrid cloud storage for media. SwiftStack is 100% software and runs on-premises atop the server hardware you already buy using local capacity and/or capacity in public cloud buckets. Data is stored in cloud-native format, so no need for gateways, which do not scale. Our technology is used by broadcasters for active archive and OTT distribution, digital animators for distributed transcoding and mobile gaming/eSports for massive concurrency among others.

How are you making sure your products are scalable so people can grow either their storage or bandwidth needs (or both)?
The SwiftStack software architecture separates access, storage and management, where each function can be run together or on separate hardware. Unlike storage hardware with the mix of bandwidth and capacity being fixed to the ports and drives within, SwiftStack makes it easy to scale the access tier for bandwidth independently from capacity in the storage tier by simply adding server nodes on the fly. On the storage side, capacity in public cloud buckets scales and is managed in the same single namespace.

How many of the people buying your solutions are using them with another cloud-based product (i.e. Microsoft Azure)?
Objectively, use of capacity in public cloud providers like Amazon Web Services and Google Cloud Platform is still “early days” for many users. Customers in media however are on the leading edge of adoption, not only for hybrid cloud extending their on-premises environment to a public cloud, but also using a second source strategy across two public clouds. Two years ago it was less than 10%, today it is approaching 40%, and by 2020 it looks like the 80/20 rule will likely apply. Users actually do not care much how their data is stored, as long as their user experience is as good or better than it was before, and public clouds are great at delivering content to users.

How does your system handle UHD, 4K and other higher-than-HD resolutions?
Arguably, larger assets produced by a growing number of cameras and computers have driven the need to store those assets differently than in the past. A petabyte is the new terabyte in media storage. Banks have many IT admins, where media shops have few. SwiftStack has the same consumption experience as public cloud, which is very different than on-premises solutions of the past. Licensing is based on the amount of data managed, not the total capacity deployed, so you pay-as-you-grow. If you save four replicas or use erasure coding for 1.5X overhead, the price is the same.

What platforms do your systems connect to (Mac OS X, Windows, Linux, etc.)? And what differences might end-users notice when connecting on these different platforms?
The great thing about cloud storage, whether it is on-premises or residing with your favorite IaaS providers like AWS and Google, the interface is HTTP. In other words, every smartphone, tablet, Chromebook and computer has an identical user experience. For classic applications on systems that do not support AWS S3 as an interface, users see the storage as a mount point or folder in their application — either NFS or SMB. The best part, it is a single namespace where data can come in file, get transformed via object, and get read either way, so the user experience does not need to change even though the data is stored in the most modern way.

Dell EMC’s Tom Burns
What kind of storage do you offer, and who is the main user of that storage?
At Dell EMC, we created two storage platforms for the media and entertainment industry: the Isilon scale-out NAS All-Flash, hybrid and archive platform to consolidate and simplify file-based workflows and the Dell EMC Elastic Cloud Storage (ECS), a scalable enterprise-grade private cloud solution that provides extremely high levels of storage efficiency, resiliency and simplicity designed for both traditional and next-generation workloads.

How are you making sure your products are scalable so people can grow either their storage or bandwidth needs (or both)?
In the media industry, change is inevitable. That’s why every Isilon system is built to rapidly and simply adapt by allowing the storage system to scale performance and capacity together, or independently, as more space or processing power is required. This allows you to scale your storage easily as your business needs dictate.

How many of the people buying your solutions are using them with another cloud-based product (i.e. Microsoft Azure)?
Over the past five years, Dell EMC media and entertainment customers have added more than 1.5 exabytes of Isilon and ECS data storage to simplify and accelerate their workflows.

Isilon’s cloud tiering software, CloudPools, provides policy-based automated tiering that lets you seamlessly integrate with cloud solutions as an additional storage tier for the Isilon cluster at your data center. This allows you to address rapid data growth and optimize data center storage resources by using the cloud as a highly economical storage tier with massive storage capacity.

How does your system handle UHD, 4K and other higher-than-HD resolutions?
As technologies that enhance the viewing experience continue to emerge, including higher frame rates and resolutions, uncompressed 4K, UHD, high dynamic range (HDR) and wide color gamut (WCG), underlying storage infrastructures must effectively scale to keep up with expanding performance requirements.

Dell EMC recently launched the sixth generation of the Isilon platform, including our all-flash (F800), which brings the simplicity and scalability of NAS to uncompressed 4K workflows — something that up until now required expensive silos of storage or complex and inefficient push-pull workflows.

What platforms do your systems connect to (Mac OS X, Windows, Linux, etc)? And what differences might end-users notice when connecting on these different platforms?
With Dell EMC Isilon, you can streamline your storage infrastructure by consolidating file-based workflows and media assets, eliminating silos of storage. Isilon scale-out NAS includes integrated support for a wide range of industry-standard protocols allowing the major operating systems to connect using the most suitable protocol, for optimum performance and feature support, including Internet Protocols IPv4, and IPv6, NFS, SMB, HTTP, FTP, OpenStack Swift-based Object access for your cloud initiatives and native Hadoop Distributed File System (HDFS).

The ECS software-defined cloud storage platform provides the ability to store, access, and manipulate unstructured data and is compatible with existing Amazon S3, OpenStack Swift APIs, EMC CAS and EMC Atmos APIs.

EditShare’s Lee Griffin
What kind of storage do you offer, and who is the main user of that storage?
Our storage platforms are tailored for collaborative media workflows and post production. It combines the advanced EFS (that’s EditShare File System, in short) distributed file system with intelligent load balancing. It’s a scalable, fault-tolerant architecture that offers cost-effective connectivity. Within our shared storage platforms, we have a unique take on current cloud workflows, with current security and reliability of cloud-based technology prohibiting full migration to cloud storage for production, EditShare AirFlow uses EFS on-premise storage to provide secure access to media from anywhere in the world with a basic Internet connection. Our main users are creative post houses, broadcasters and large corporate companies.

How are you making sure your products are scalable so people can grow either their storage or bandwidth needs (or both)?
Recently, we upgraded all our platforms to EFS and introduced two new single-node platforms, the EFS 200 and 300. These single-node platforms allow users to grow their storage whilst keeping a single namespace which eliminates management of multiple storage volumes. It enables them to better plan for the future, when their facility requires more storage and bandwidth, they can simply add another node.

How many of the people buying your solutions are using them with another cloud-based product (i.e. Microsoft Azure)?
No production is in one location, so the ability to move media securely and back up is still a high priority to our clients. From our Flow media asset management and via our automation module, we offer clients the option to backup their valuable content to places like Amazon S3 servers.

How does your system handle UHD, 4K and other higher-than HD resolutions?
We have many clients working with UHD content who are supplying programming content to broadcasters, film distributors and online subscription media providers. Our solutions are designed to work effortlessly with high data rate content, enabling the bandwidth to expand with the addition of more EFS nodes to the intelligent storage pool. So, our system is ready and working now for 4K content and is future proof for even higher data rates in the future.

What platforms do your systems connect to (Mac OS X, Windows, Linux, etc.)? And what differences might end-users notice when connecting on these different platforms?
EditShare supplies native client EFS drivers to all three platforms, allowing clients to pick and choose which platform they want to work on. If it is an Autodesk Flame for VFX, a Resolve for grading or our own Lightworks for editing on Linux, we don’t mind. In fact, EFS offers a considerable bandwidth improvement when using our EFS drivers over existing AFP and SMB protocol. Improved bandwidth and speed to all three platforms makes for happy clients!

And there are no differences when clients connect. We work with all three platforms the same way, offering a unified workflow to all creative machines, whether on Mac, Windows or PC.

Scale Logic’s Bob Herzan
What kind of storage do you offer, and who is the main user of that storage?
Scale Logic has developed an ecosystem (Genesis Platform) that includes servers, networking, metadata controllers, single and dual-controller RAID products and purpose-built appliances.

We have three different file systems that allow us to use the storage mentioned above to build SAN, NAS, scale-out NAS, object storage and gateways for private and public cloud. We use a combination of disk, tape and Flash technology to build our tiers of storage that allows us to manage media content efficiently with the ability to scale seamlessly as our customers’ requirements change over time.

We work with customers that range from small to enterprise and everything in between. We have a global customer base that includes broadcasters, post production, VFX, corporate, sports and house of worship.

In addition to the Genesis Platform we have also certified three other tier 1 storage vendors to work under our HyperMDC SAN and scale-out NAS metadata controller (HPE, HDS and NetApp). These partnerships complete our ability to consult with any type of customer looking to deploy a media-centric workflow.

How are you making sure your products are scalable so people can grow either their storage or bandwidth needs (or both)?
Great questions and it’s actually built into the name and culture of our company. When we bring a solution to market it has to scale seamlessly and it needs to be logical when taking the customer’s environment into consideration. We focus on being able to start small but scale any system into a high-availability solution with limited to no downtime. Our solutions can scale independently if clients are looking to add capacity, performance or redundancy.

For example, a customer looking to move to 4K uncompressed workflows could add a Genesis Unlimited as a new workspace focused on the 4K workflow, keeping all existing infrastructure in place alongside it, avoiding major adjustments to their facility’s workflow. As more and more projects move to 4K, the Unlimited can scale capacity, performance and the needed HA requirements with zero downtime.

Customers can then start to migrate their content from their legacy storage over to Unlimited and then repurpose their legacy storage onto the HyperFS file system as second tier storage.Finally, once we have moved the legacy storage onto the new file system we also are more than happy to bring the legacy storage and networking hardware under our global support agreements.

How many of the people buying your solutions are using them with another cloud-based product (i.e. Microsoft Azure)?
Cloud continues to be ramping up for our industry, and we have many customers using cloud solutions for various aspects of their workflow. As it pertains to content creation, manipulation and long-term archive, we have not seen much adoption with our customer base. The economics just do not support the level of performance or capacity our clients demand.

However, private cloud or cloud-like configurations are becoming more mainstream for our larger customers. Working with on-premise storage while having DR (disaster recovery) replication offsite continues to be the best solution at this point for most of our clients.

How does your system handle UHD, 4K and other higher-than-HD resolutions?
Our solutions are built not only for the current resolutions but completely scalable to go beyond them. Many of our HD customers are now putting in UHD and 4K workspaces on the same equipment we installed three years ago. In addition to 4K we have been working with several companies in Asia that have been using our HyperFS file system and Genesis HyperMDC to build 8K workflows for the Olympics.

We have a number of solutions designed to meet our customer’s requirements. Some are done with spinning disk, others with all flash, and then even more that want a hybrid approach to seamlessly combine the technologies.

What platforms do your systems connect to (Mac OS X, Windows, Linux, etc.)? And what differences might end-users notice when connecting on these different platforms?
All of our solutions are designed to support Windows, Linux, and Mac OS. However, how they support the various operating systems is based on the protocol (block or file) we are designing for the facility. If we are building a SAN that is strictly going to be block level access (8/16/32 Gbps Fibre Channel or 1/10/25/40/100 Gbps iSCSI, we would use our HyperFS file system and universal client drivers across all operating systems. If our clients also are looking for network protocols in addition to the block level clients we can support jSMB and NFS but allow access to block and file folders and files at the same time.

For customers that are not looking for block level access, we would then focus our design work around our Genesis NX or ZX product line. Both of these solutions are based on a NAS operating system and simply present themselves with the appropriate protocol over 1/10/25/40 or 100Gb. Genesis ZX solution is actually a software-defined clustered NAS with enterprise feature sets such as unlimited snapshots, metro clustering, thin provisioning and will scale up over 5 Petabytes.

Sonnet Technologies‘ Greg LaPorte
What kind of storage do you offer, and who is the main user of that storage?
We offer a portable, bus-powered Thunderbolt 3 SSD storage device that fits in your hand. Primary users of this product include video editors and DITs who need a “scratch drive” fast enough to support editing 4K video at 60fps while on location or traveling.

How are you making sure your products are scalable so people can grow either their storage or bandwidth needs (or both)?
The Fusion Thunderbolt 3 PCIe Flash Drive is currently available with 1TB capacity. With data transfer of up to 2,600 MB/s supported, most users will not run out of bandwidth when using this device.

What platforms do your systems connect to (Mac OS X, Windows, Linux, etc.)? And what differences might end-users notice when connecting on these different platforms?
Computers with Thunderbolt 3 ports running either macOS Sierra or High Sierra, or Windows 10 are supported. The drive may be formatted to suit the user’s needs, with either an OS-specific format such as HFS+, or cross-platform format such as exFAT.


Storage in the Studio: Post Houses

By Karen Maierhofer

There are many pieces that go into post production, from conform, color, dubbing and editing to dailies and more. Depending on the project, a post house can be charged with one or two pieces of this complex puzzle, or even the entire workload. No matter the job, the tasks must be done on time and on budget. Unforeseen downtime is unacceptable.

That is why when it comes to choosing a storage solution, post houses are very particular. They need a setup that is secure, reliable and can scale. For them, one size simply does not fit all. They all want a solution that fits their particular needs and the needs of their clients.

Here, we look at three post facilities of various sizes and range of services, and the storage solutions that are a good fit for their business.

Liam Ford

Sim International
The New York City location of Sim has been in existence for over 20 years, operating under the former name of Post Factory NY up until about a month ago when Sim rebranded it and its seven other founding post companies as Sim International. Whether called by its new moniker or its previous one, the facility has grown to become a premier space in the city for offline editorial teams as well as one of the top high-end finishing studios in town, as the list of feature films and episodic shows that have been cut and finished at Sim is quite lengthy. And starting this past year, Sim has launched a boutique commercial finishing division.

According to senior VP of post engineering Liam Ford, the vast majority of the projects at the NYC facility are 4K, much of which is episodic work. “So, the need is for very high-capacity, very high-bandwidth storage,” Ford says. And because the studio is located in New York, where space is limited, that same storage must be as dense as possible.

For its finishing work, Sim New York is using a Quantum Xcellis SAN, a StorNext-based appliance system that can be specifically tuned for 4K media workflow. The system, which was installed approximately two years ago, runs on a 16Gb Fibre Channel network. Almost half a petabyte of storage fits into just a dozen rack units. Meanwhile, an Avid Nexis handles the facility’s offline work.

The Sim SAN serves as the primary playback system for all the editing rooms. While there are SSDs in some of the workstations for caching purposes, the scheduling demands of clients do not leave much time for staging material back and forth between volumes, according to Ford. So, everything gets loaded back to the SAN, and everything is played back from the SAN.

As Ford explains, content comes into the studio from a variety of sources, whether drives, tapes or Internet transfers, and all of that is loaded directly onto the SAN. An online editor then soft-imports all that material into his or her conform application and creates an edited, high-resolution sequence that is rendered back to the SAN. Once at the SAN, that edited sequence is available for a supervised playback session with the in-house colorists, finishing VFX artists and so forth.

“The point is, our SAN is the central hub through which all content at all stages of the finishing process flows,” Ford adds.

Before installing the Xcellis system, the facility had been using local workstation storage only, but the huge growth in the finishing division prompted the transition to the shared SAN file system. “There’s no way we could do the amount of work we now have, and with the flexibility our clients demand, using a local storage workflow,” says Ford.

When it became necessary for the change, there were not a lot of options that met Sim’s demands for high bandwidth and reliable streaming, Ford points out, as Quantum’s StorNext and SGI’s CXFS were the main shared file systems for the M&E space. Sim decided to go with Quantum because of the work the vendor has done in recent years toward improving the M&E experience as well as the ease of installing the new system.

Nevertheless, with the advent of 25Gb and 100Gb Ethernet, Sim has been closely monitoring the high-performance NAS space. “There are a couple of really good options out there right now, and I can see us seriously looking at those products in the near future as, at the very least, an augmentation to our existing Fibre Channel-based storage,” Ford says.

At Sim, editors deal with a significant amount of Camera Raw, DPX and OpenEXR data. “Depending on the project, we could find ourselves needing 1.5GB/sec or more of bandwidth for a single playback session, and that’s just for one show,” says Ford. “We typically have three or four [shows] playing off the SAN at any one time, so the bandwidth needs are huge!”

Master of None

And the editors’ needs continue to evolve, as does their need for storage. “We keep needing more storage, and we need it to be faster and faster. Just when storage technology finally got to the point that doing 10-bit 2K shows was pretty painless, everyone started asking for 16-bit 4K,” Ford points out.

Recently, Sim completed work on the feature American Made and the Netflix show Master of None, in addition to a number of other episodic projects. For these and others shows, the SAN acts as the central hub around which the color correction, online editing, visual effects and deliverables are created.

“The finishing portion of the post pipeline deals exclusively with the highest-quality content available. It used to be that we’d do our work directly from a film reel on a telecine, but those days are long past,” says Ford. “You simply can’t run an efficient finishing pipeline anymore without a lot of storage.”

DigitalFilm Tree
DigitalFilm Tree (DFT) opened its doors in 1999 and now occupies a 10,000-square-foot space in Universal City, California, offering full round-trip post services, including traditional color grading, conform, dailies and VFX, as well as post system rentals and consulting services.

While Universal City may be DFT’s primary location, it has dozens of remote satellite systems — mini post houses for production companies and studios – around the world. Those remote post systems, along with the increase in camera resolution (Alexa, Raw, 4K), have multiplied DFT’s storage needs. Both have resulted in a sea change in the facility’s storage solution.

According to CEO Ramy Katrib, most companies in the media and entertainment industry historically have used block storage, and DFT was no different. But four years ago, the company began looking at object storage, which is used by Silicon Valley companies, like Dropbox and AWS, to store large assets. After significant research, Katrib felt it was a good fit for DFT as well, believing it to be a more economical way to build petabytes of storage, compared to using proprietary block storage.

Ramy Katrib

“We were unique from most of the post houses in that respect,” says Katrib. “We were different from many of the other companies using object storage — they were tech, financial institutions, government agencies, health care; we were the rare one from M&E – but our need for extremely large, scalable and resilient storage was the same as theirs.”

DFT’s primary work centers around scripted television — an industry segment that continues to grow. “We do 15-plus television shows at any given time, and we encourage them to shoot whatever they like, at whatever resolution they desire,” says Katrib. “Most of the industry relies on LTO to back up camera raw materials. We do that too, but we also encourage productions to take advantage of our object storage, and we will store everything they shoot and not punish them for it. It is a rather Utopian workflow. We now give producers access to all their camera raw material. It is extremely effective for our clients.”

Over four years ago, DFT began using a cloud-based platform called OpenStack, which is open-source software that controls large pools of data, to build and design its own object storage system. “We have our own software developers and people who built our hardware, and we are able to adjust to the needs of our clients and the needs of our own workflow,” says Katrib.

DFT designs its custom PC- and Linux-based post systems, including chassis from Super Micro, CPUs from Intel and graphic cards from Nvidia. Storage is provided from a number of companies, including spinning-disc and SSD solutions from Seagate Technology and Western Digital.

DFT then deploys remote dailies systems worldwide, in proximity to where productions are shooting. Each day clients plug their production hard drives (containing all camera raw files) into DFT’s remote dailies system. From DFT’s facility, dailies technicians remotely produce editorial, viewing and promo dailies files, and transfer them to their destinations worldwide. All the while, the camera raw files are transported from the production location to DFT’s ProStack “massively scalable object storage.” In this case, “private cloud storage” consists of servers DFT designed that house all the camera raw materials, with management from DFT post professionals who support clients with access to and management of their files.

DFT provides color grading for Great News.

Recently, storage vendors such as Quantum and Avid have begun building and branding their own object storage solutions not unlike what DFT has constructed at its Universal City locale. And the reason is simple: Object storage provides a clear advantage because of reliability and the low cost. “We looked at it because the storage we were paying for, proprietary block storage, was too expensive to house all the data our clients were generating. And resolutions are only going up. So, every year we needed more storage,” Katrib explains. “We needed a solution that could scale with the practical reality we were living.”

Then, about four years ago when DFT started becoming a software company, one of the developers brought OpenStack to Katrib’s attention. “The open-source platform provided several storage solutions, networking capabilities and cloud compute capabilities for free,” he points out. Of course, the solution is not a panacea, as it requires a company to customize the offering for its own needs and even contribute back to the OpenStack community. But then again, that requirement enables DFT to evolve to the changing needs of its clients without waiting for a manufacturer to do it.

“It does not work out of the box like a solution from IBM, for instance. You have to develop around it,” Katrib says. “You have to have a lab mentality, designing your own hardware and software based on pain points in your own environment. And, sometimes it fails. But when you do it correctly, you realize it is an elegant solution.” However, there are vibrant communities, user groups and tech summits of those leveraging the technology who are willing to assist and collaborate.

DFT has evolved its object storage solution, extending its capabilities from an initial hundreds of terabytes – which is nothing to sneeze at — to hundreds of petabytes of storage. DFT also designs remote post systems and storage solutions for customers in remote locations around the world. And those remote locations can be as simple as a workstation running applications such as Blackmagic’s Resolve or Adobe After Effects and connected to object storage housing all the client’s camera raw material.

The key, Katrib notes, is to have great post and IT pros managing the projects and the system. “I can now place a remote post system with a calibrated 4K monitor and object storage housing the camera raw material, and I can bring the post process to you wherever you are, securely,” he adds. “From wherever you are, you can view the conform, color and effects, and sign off on the final timeline, as if you were at DFT.”

DFT posts American Housewife

In addition to the object storage, DFT is also using Facilis TerraBlock and Avid Nexis systems locally and on remote installs. The company uses those commercial solutions because they provide benefits, including storage performance and feature sets that optimize certain software applications. As Katrib points out, storage is not one flavor fits all, and different solutions work better for certain use cases. In DFT’s case, the commercial storage products provide performance for the playback of multiple 4K streams across the company’s color, VFX and conform departments, while its ProStack high-capacity object storage comes into play for storing the entirety of all files produced by our clients.

“Rather than retrieve files from an LTO tape, as most do when working on a TV series, with object storage, the files are readily available, saving hours in retrieval time,” says Katrib.

Currently, DFT is working on a number of television series, including Great News (color correction only) and Good Behavior (dailies only). For other shows, such as the Roseanne revival, NCIS: Los Angeles, American Housewife and more, it is performing full services such as visual effects, conform, color, dailies and dubbing. And in some instances, even equipment rental.

As the work expands, DFT is looking to extend upon its storage and remote post systems. “We want to have more remote systems where you can do color, conform, VFX, editorial, wherever you are, so the DP or producer can have a monitor in their office and partake in the post process that’s particular to them,” says Katrib. “That is what we are scaling as we speak.”

Broadway Video
Broadway Video is a global media and entertainment company that is primarily engaged in post-production services for television, film, music, digital and commercial projects for the past four decades. Located in New York and Los Angeles, the facility offers one-stop tools and talent for editorial, audio, design, color grading, finishing and screening, as well as digital file storage, preparation, aggregation and delivery of digital content across multiple platforms.

Since its founding in 1979, Broadway Video has grown into an independent studio. During this timeframe, content has evolved greatly, especially in terms of resolution, to where 4K and HD content — including HDR and Atmos sound — is becoming the norm. “Staying current and dealing with those data speeds are necessary in order to work fluidly on a 4K project at 60p,” says Stacey Foster, president and managing director, Broadway Video Digital and Production. “The data requirements are pretty staggering for throughput and in terms of storage.”

Stacey Foster

This led Broadway Video to begin searching a year ago for a storage system that would meet its needs now as well as in the foreseeable future — in short, it also needed a system that is scalable. Their solution: an all-Flash Hitachi Vantara Virtual Storage Platform (VSP) G series. Although quite expensive, a flash-based system is “ridiculously powerful,” says Foster. “Technology is always marching forward, and Flash-based systems are going to become the norm; they are already the norm at the high end.”

Foster has had a long-standing relationship with Hitachi for more than a decade and has witnessed the company’s growth into M&E from the medical and financial worlds where it has been firmly ensconced. According to Foster, Hitachi’s VSP series will enhance Broadway Video’s 4K offerings and transform internal operations by allowing quick turnaround, efficient and cost-effective production, post production and delivery of television shows and commercials. And, the system offers workload scalability, allowing the company to expand and meet the changing needs of the digital media production industry.

“The systems we had were really not that capable of handling DPX files that were up to 50TB, and Hitachi’s VSP product has been handling them effortlessly,” says Foster. “I don’t think other [storage] manufacturers can say that.”

Foster explains that as Broadway Video continued to expand its support of the latest 4K content and technologies, it became clear that a more robust, optimized storage solution was needed as the company moved in this new direction. “It allows us to look at the future and create a foundation to build our post production and digital distribution services on,” Foster says.

Broadway Video’s with Netflix projects sparked the need for a more robust system. Recently, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, an Embassy Row production, transitioned to Netflix, and one of the requirements by its new home was the move from 2K to 4K. “It was the perfect reason for us to put together a 4K end-to-end workflow that satisfies this client’s requirements for technical delivery,” Foster points out. “The bottleneck in color and DPX file delivery is completely lifted, and the post staff is able to work quickly and sometimes even faster than in real time when necessary to deliver the final product, with its very large files. And that is a real convenience for them.”

Broadway Video’s Hitachi Vantara Virtual Storage Platform G series.

As a full-service post company, Broadway Video in New York operates 10 production suites of Avids running Adobe Premiere and Blackmagic Resolve, as well as three full mixing suites. “We can have all our workstations simultaneously hit the [storage] system hard and not have the system slow down. That is where Hitachi’s VSP product has set itself apart,” Foster says.

For Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, like many projects Broadway Video encounters, the cut is in a lower-resolution Avid file. The 4K media is then imported into the Resolve platform, so it is colored in its original material and format. In terms of storage, once the material is past the cutting stage, it is all stored on the Hitachi system. Once the project is completed, it is handed off on spinning disc for archival, though Foster foresees a limited future for spinning discs due to their inherent nature for a limited life span — “anything that spins breaks down,” he adds.

All the suites are fully HD-capable and are tied with shared SAN and ISIS storage; because work on most projects is shared between editing suites, there is little need to use local storage. Currently Broadway Video is still using its previous Avid ISIS products but is slowly transitioning to the Hitachi system only. Foster estimates that at this time next year, the transition will be complete, and the staff will no longer have to support the multiple systems. “The way the systems are set up right now, it’s just easier to cut on ISIS using the Avid workstations. But that will soon change,” he says.

Currently, Broadway Video is still using its Avid ISIS products but is slowly transitioning to the Hitachi system. Foster estimates that at this time next year, the transition will be complete, and the staff will no longer have to support the multiple systems. “The way the systems are set up right now, it’s just easier to cut on ISIS using the Avid workstations. But that will soon change,” he says.

Other advantages the Hitachi system provides is stability and uptime, which Foster maintains is “pretty much 100 percent guaranteed.” As he points out, there is no such thing as downtime in banking and medical, where Hitachi earned its mettle, and bringing that stability to the M&E industry “has been terrific.”

Of course, that is in addition to bandwidth and storage capacity, which is expandable. “There is no limit to the number of petabytes you can have attached,” notes Foster.

Considering that the majority of calls received by Broadway Video center on post work for 4K-based workflows, the new storage solution is a necessary technical addition to the facility’s other state-of-the-art equipment. “In the environment we work in, we spend more and more time on the creative side in terms of the picture cutting and sound mixing, and then it is a rush to get it out the door. If it takes you days to import, color correct, export and deliver — especially with the file sizes we are talking about – then having a fast system with the kind of throughput and bandwidth that is necessary really lifts the burden for the finishing team,” Foster says.

He continues: “The other day the engineers were telling me we were delivering 20 times faster using the Hitachi technology in the final cutting and coloring of a Jerry Seinfeld stand-up special we had done in 4K” resulting in a DPX file that was about 50TB. “And that is pretty significant,” Foster adds.

Main Image: DigitalFilm Tree’s senior colorist Patrick Woodard.


FilmLight adds colorist Andy Minuth as workflow specialist

FilmLight has hired colorist Andy Minuth as color workflow specialist. Minuth, originally from Germany, was most recently lead colorist at 1000Volt Post Production in Istanbul. There he was responsible for the grade of commercials as well as feature films, and worked on FilmLight Baselight. He brings a deep technical knowledge of image processing and color management to the job, which will have him speaking to fellow colorists worldwide.

“I am looking forward to talking to other creatives around the world, sharing my experience,” he says. “I’m also excited to hear their stories about the productivity of the Baselight Linked Grade (BLG) workflow now that it’s reaching more artists — DITs, editors and compositors — throughout the production process.”

While Minuth will be based in FilmLight’s new office in Munich, he will have a global presence for the company, helping users develop unified color pipelines and enhance skills regardless of location.

“We need to have those conversations in their language, in the language of creative post production,” explains Mark Burton, head of EMEA sales for FilmLight. “That is why it is so valuable for us to add another highly experienced, highly regarded colorist to our team.”


Mercy Christmas director offers advice for indie filmmakers

By Ryan Nelson

After graduating from film school at The University of North Carolina School of the Arts, I was punched in the gut. I had driven into Los Angeles mere hours after the last day of school ready to set Hollywood on fire with my thesis film. But Hollywood didn’t seem to know I’d arrived. A few months later, Hollywood still wasn’t knocking on my door. Desperate to work on film sets and learn the tools of the trade, I took a job as a grip. In hindsight, it was a lucky accident. I spent the next few years watching some of the industry’s most successful filmmakers from just a few feet away.

Like a sponge, I soaked in every aspect of filmmaking that I could from my time on the sets of Avengers, Real Steel, Spider Man 3, Bad Boys 2, Seven Psychopaths, Smokin’ Aces and a slew of Adam Sandler comedies. I spent hours working, watching, learning and judging. How are they blocking the actors in this scene? What sort of cameras are they using? Why did they use that light? When do you move the camera? When is it static? When I saw the finished films in theaters, I ultimately asked myself, did it all work?

During that same time, I wrote and directed a slew of my own short films. I tried many of the same techniques I’d seen on set. Some of those attempts succeeded and some failed.

Recently, the stars finally aligned and I directed my first feature-length film, Mercy Christmas, from a script I co-wrote with my wife Beth Levy Nelson. After five years of writing, fundraising, production and post production, the movie is finished. We made the movie outside the Hollywood system, using crowd funding, generous friends and loving family members to compile enough cash to make the ultra-low-budget version of the Mercy Christmas screenplay.

I say low budget because it was financially, but thanks to my time on set, years of practice and much trial and error, the finished film looks and feels like much more than it cost.

Mercy Christmas, by the way, features Michael Briskett, who meets the perfect woman and his ideal Christmas dream comes true when she invites him to her family’s holiday celebration. Michael’s dream shatters, however, when he realizes that he will be the Christmas dinner. The film is currently on iTunes.

My experience working professionally in the film business while I struggled to get my shot at directing taught me many things. I learned over those years that a mastery of the techniques and equipment used to tell stories for film was imperative.

The stories I gravitate towards tend to have higher concept set pieces. I really enjoy combining action and character. At this point in my career, the budgets are more limited. However, I can’t allow financial restrictions to hold me back from the stories I want to tell. I must always find a way to use the tools available in their best way.

Ryan Nelson with camera on set.

Two Cameras
I remember an early meeting with a possible producer for Mercy Christmas. I told him I was planning to shoot two cameras. The producer chided me, saying it would be a waste of money. Right then, I knew I didn’t want to work with that producer, and I didn’t.

Every project I do now and in the future will be two cameras. And the reason is simple: It would be a waste of money not to use two cameras. On a limited budget, two cameras offer twice the coverage. Yes, understanding how to shoot two cameras is key, but it’s also simple to master. Cross coverage is not conducive to lower budget lighting so stacking the cameras on a single piece of coverage gives you a medium shot and close shot at the same time. Or for instance, when shooting the wide master shot, you can also get a medium master shot to give the editor another option to breakaway to while building a scene.

In Mercy Christmas, we have a fight scene that consists of seven minutes of screen time. It’s a raucous fight that covers three individual fights happening simultaneously. We scheduled three days to shoot the fight. Without two cameras it would have taken more days to shoot, and we definitely didn’t have more days in the budget.

Of course, two camera rentals and camera crews are budget concerns, so the key is to find a lower budget but high-quality camera. For Mercy Christmas, we chose the Canon C-300 Mark II. We found the image to be fantastic. I was very happy with the final result. You can also save money by only renting one lens package to use for both cameras.

Editing
Good camera coverage doesn’t mean much without an excellent editor. Our editor for Mercy Christmas, Matt Evans, is a very good friend and also very experienced in post. Like me, Matt started at the bottom and worked his way up. Along the way, he worked on many studio films as apprentice editor, first assistant editor and finally editor. Matt’s preferred tool is Avid Media Composer. He’s incredibly fast and understands every aspect of the system.

Matt’s technical grasp is superb, but his story sense is the real key. Matt’s technique is a fun thing to witness. He approaches a scene by letting the footage tell him what to do on a first pass. Soaking in the performances with each take, Matt finds the story that the images want to tell. It’s almost as if he’s reading a new script based on the images. I am delighted each time I can watch Matt’s first pass on a scene. I always expect to see something I hadn’t anticipated. And it’s a thrill.

Color Grading
Another aspect that should be budgeted into an independent film is professional color grading. No, your editor doing color does not count. A professional post house with a professional color grader is what you need. I know this seems exorbitant for a small-budget indie film, but I’d highly recommend planning for it from the beginning. We budgeted color grading for Mercy Christmas because we knew it would take the look to professional levels.

Color grading is not only a tool for the cinematographer it’s a godsend for the director as well. First and foremost, it can save a shot, making a preferred take that has an inferior look actually become a usable take. Second, I believe strongly that color is another tool for storytelling. An audience can be as moved by color as by music. Every detail coming to the audience is information they’ll process to understand the story. I learned very early in my career how shots I saw created on set were accentuated in post by color grading. We used Framework post house in Los Angeles on Mercy Christmas. The colorist was David Sims who did the color and conform in DaVinci Resolve 12.

In the end, my struggle over the years did gain my one of my best tools: experience. I’ve taken the time to absorb all the filmmaking I’ve been surrounded by. Watching movies. Working on sets. Making my own.

After all that time chasing my dream, I kept learning, refining my skills and honing my technique. For me, filmmaking is a passion, a dream and a job. All of those elements made me the storyteller I am today and I wouldn’t change a thing.


Blackmagic embraces 8K workflows with DeckLink 8K Pro

At InterBee in Japan, Blackmagic showed it believes in 8K workflows with the introduction of the DeckLink 8K Pro, a new high-performance capture and playback card featuring quad link 12G‑SDI to allow realtime high resolution 8K workflows.

This new DeckLink 8K Pro supports all film and video formats from SD all the way up to 8K DCI, 12‑bit RGB 4:4:4, plus it also handles advanced color spaces such as Rec. 2020 for deeper color and higher dynamic range. DeckLink 8K also handles 64 channels of audio, stereoscopic 3D, high frame rates and more.

DeckLink 8K Pro will be available in early January for US $645 from Blackmagic resellers worldwide. In addition, Blackmagic has also lowered the price of its DeckLink 4K Extreme 12G — to US $895.

The DeckLink 8K Pro digital cinema capture and playback card features four quad-link multi-rate 12G‑SDI connections and can work in all SD, HD, Ultra HD, 4K, 8K and 8K DCI formats. It’s also compatible with all existing pro SDI equipment. The 12G‑SDI connections are also bi-directional so they can be used to either capture or playback quad-link 8K, or for the simultaneous capture and playback of single- or dual-link SDI sources.

According to Blackmagic, DeckLink 8K Pro’s 8K images have 16 times more pixels than a regular 1080 HD image, which lets you reframe or scale shots with high fidelity and precision.

DeckLink 8K Pro supports capture and playback of 8- or 10-bit YUV 4:2:2 video and 10- or 12‑bit RGB 4:4:4. Video can be captured as uncompressed or to industry standard broadcast quality ProRes and DNx files. DeckLink 8K Pro users can work at up to 60 frames per second in 8K and it supports stereoscopic 3D for all modes up to 4K DCI at 60 frames per second in 12‑bit RGB.

The advanced broadcast technology in DeckLink 8K Pro is built into an easy-to-install eight-lane third generation PCI Express for Mac, Windows and Linux workstations. Users get support for all legacy SD and HD formats, along with Ultra HD, DCI 4K, 8K and DCI 8K, as well as Rec. 601, 709 and 2020 color.

DeckLink 8K Pro is designed to work seamlessly with the upcoming DaVinci Resolve 14.2 Studio for seamless editing, color and audio post production workflow. In addition, DeckLink 8K Pro also works with other pro tools, such as Apple Final Cut Pro X, Avid Media Composer, Adobe’s Premiere Pro and After Effects, Avid Pro Tools, Foundry’s Nuke and more. There’s also a free software development kit so customers and OEMs can build their own custom solutions.

 


HPA celebrates creatives at annual awards ceremony

The Hollywood Professional Association‘s 2017 HPA Awards, held on November 16, recognize individuals and companies for outstanding post production contributions made in the creation of feature films, television, commercials and entertainment content.

Awards were given out in 12 creative categories honoring color grading, sound, editing and visual effects for commercials, television and feature film. Larry Chernoff of MTI received the Lifetime Achievement Award, and special awards were presented for Engineering Excellence and Creativity and Innovation.

The winners of the 2017 HPA Awards are:

Outstanding Color Grading
Outstanding Color Grading – Feature Film

WINNER:
“Ghost in the Shell”
Michael Hatzer // Technicolor – Hollywood

“The Birth of a Nation”
Steven J. Scott // Technicolor – Hollywood

“Hidden Figures”
Natasha Leonnet // Efilm

“Doctor Strange”
Steven J. Scott // Technicolor – Hollywood

“Beauty and the Beast”
Stefan Sonnenfeld // Company 3

“Fences”
Michael Hatzer // Technicolor – Hollywood

Outstanding Color Grading – Television

WINNER:
“The Crown – Smoke and Mirrors”
Asa Shoul // Molinare

“The Last Tycoon – Burying the Boy Genius”
Timothy Vincent // Technicolor – Hollywood

“Game of Thrones – Dragonstone”
Joe Finley // Chainsaw

“Genius – Einstein: Chapter 1”
Pankaj Bajpai // Encore Hollywood

“The Man in the High Castle – Detonation”
Roy Vasich // Technicolor

Outstanding Color Grading – Commercial

WINNER:
Jose Cuervo – “Last Days”
Tom Poole // Company 3

Land O’ Lakes – “The Farmer”
Billy Gabor // Company 3

Pennzoil – “Joyride Tundra”
Dave Hussey // Company 3

Nedbank – “A Tale of a Note”
Sofie Borup // Company 3

Squarespace – “John’s Journey”
Tom Poole // Company 3

Outstanding Editing
Outstanding Editing – Feature Film   

WINNER:
“Dunkirk”
Lee Smith, ACE

“Hidden Figures”
Peter Teschner

“The Ivory Game”
Verena Schönauer

“Get Out”
Gregory Plotkin, ACE

“Lion”
Alexandre de Franceschi

Outstanding Editing – Television

WINNER:
“Stranger Things – Chapter 1: The Vanishing of Will Byers”
Dean Zimmerman

Outstanding Editing – Commercial

WINNER:
Nespresso – “Comin’ Home”
Chris Franklin // Big Sky Edit 

Bonafont – “Choices”
Doobie White // Therapy Studios

Optum – “Heroes”
Chris Franklin // Big Sky Edit

SEAT – “Moments”
Doobie White // Therapy Studios

Outstanding Sound
Outstanding Sound – Feature Film

WINNER:
“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2”
Addison Teague, Dave Acord, Chris Boyes, Lora Hirschberg // Skywalker Sound

“The Fate of the Furious”
Peter Brown, Mark Stoeckinger, Paul Aulicino, Steve Robinson, Bobbi Banks // Formosa Group

“Sully”
Alan Murray, Bub Asman, John Reitz, Tom Ozanich // Warner Bros. Post Production Creative Services

“John Wick: Chapter 2”
Mark Stoeckinger, Alan Rankin, Andy Koyama, Martyn Zub, Gabe Serrano // Formosa Group

“Doctor Strange”
Shannon Mills, Tom Johnson, Juan Peralta, Dan Laurie // Skywalker Sound

Stranger Things

Stranger Things

Outstanding Sound – Television

WINNERS (TIE):
“Stranger Things – Chapter 8: The Upside Down”
Craig Henighan // FOX
Bradley North, Joe Barnett, Adam Jenkins, Jordan Wilby, Tiffany S. Griffith // Technicolor – Hollywood

“American Gods – The Bone Orchard”
Bradley North, Joseph DeAngelis, Kenneth Kobett, David Werntz, Tiffany S. Griffith // Technicolor – Hollywood

“Underground – Soldier”
Larry Goeb, Mark Linden, Tara Paul // Sony Pictures Post

“Game of Thrones – The Spoils of War”
Tim Kimmel, MPSE, Paula Fairfield, Mathew Waters, CAS, Onnalee Blank, CAS, Bradley C. Katona, Paul Bercovitch // Formosa Group

“The Music of Strangers: Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble”
Pete Horner // Skywalker Sound
Dimitri Tisseyre // Envelope Music + Sound
Dennis Hamlin // Hamlin Sound

Outstanding Sound – Commercial 

WINNER:
Rio 2016 Paralympic Games – “We’re The Superhumans”
Anthony Moore // Factory

Honda – “Up”
Anthony Moore, Neil Johnson, Jack Hallett // Factory
Sian Rogers // Siren

Virgin Media – “This Is Virgin Fibre”
Anthony Moore // Factory

Kia – “Hero’s Journey”
Nathan Dubin // Margarita Mix Santa Monica

SEAT – “Moments”
Doobie White // Therapy Studios

War for the Planet of the Apes

Outstanding Visual Effects
Outstanding Visual Effects – Feature Film

WINNER:
“War for the Planet of the Apes”
Dan Lemmon, Anders Langlands, Luke Millar, Erik Winquist, Daniel Barrett // Weta Digital

“Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales”
Gary Brozenich, Sheldon Stopsack, Patrick Ledda, Richard Clegg, Richard Little // MPC

“Beauty and the Beast”
Kyle McCulloch, Glen Pratt, Richard Hoover, Dale Newton, Neil Weatherley // Framestore

“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2”
Guy Williams, Kevin Andrew Smith, Charles  Tait, Daniel Macarin, David Clayton // Weta Digital

“Ghost in the Shell”
Guillaume Rocheron, Axel Bonami, Arundi Asregadoo, Pier Lefebvre, Ruslan Borysov // MPC

Outstanding Visual Effects – Television

WINNER:
“Black Sails – XXIX”
Erik Henry
Yafei Wu, Nicklas Andersson, David Wahlberg // Important Looking Pirates
Martin Lippman // Rodeo

“The Crown – Windsor”
Ben Turner, Tom Debenham, Oliver Cubbage, Lionel Heath, Charlie Bennett // One of Us

“Taboo – Episode One”
Henry Badgett, Nic Birmingham, Simon Rowe, Alexander Kirichenko, Finlay Duncan // BlueBolt VFX

“Ripper Street – Occurrence Reports”
Ed Bruce, Nicholas Murphy, Denny Cahill, Piotr Swigut, Mark Pinheiro // Screen Scene

“Westworld – The Bicameral Mind”
Jay Worth // Deep Water FX
Bobo Skipper, Gustav Ahren, Jens Tenland // Important Looking Pirates
Paul Ghezzo // COSA VFX

Outstanding Visual Effects – Commercial

WINNER:
Kia – “Hero’s Journey”
Robert Sethi, Chris Knight, Tom Graham, Jason Bergman // The Mill

Walmart – “Lost & Found”
Morgan MacCuish, Michael Ralla, Aron Hjartarson, Todd Herman // Framestore

Honda – “Keep the Peace”
Laurent Ledru, Georgia Tribuiani, Justin Booth-Clibborn, Ellen Turner // Psyop

Nespresso – “Comin’ Home”
Matt Pascuzzi, Martin Lazaro, Murray Butler, Nick Fraser, Callum McKeveny // Framestore

Walmart – “The Gift”
Mike Warner, Kurt Lawson, Charles Trippe, Robby  Geis // ZERO VFX

The following special awards, which were previously announced, were also presented this evening:

HPA ENGINEERING EXCELLENCE AWARD
2017 Winners:
-Colorfront // Colorfront Engine
-Dolby // Dolby Vision Post-Production Tools
-Red Digital Cinema // Weapon 8K Vista Vision
-SGO // Mistika VR

Honorable Mentions were awarded to Canon USA for Critical Viewing Reference Displays and to Eizo for ColorEdge CG318-4K.

HPA JUDGES AWARD FOR CREATIVITY AND INNOVATION

2017 Winner
NASA, Amazon Web Services, and AWS Elemental, an Amazon Web Services Company // The First Live 4K Stream from the International Space Station

HPA LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD
2017 Honoree: Larry Chernoff


Review: Blackmagic Resolve 14

By David Cox

Blackmagic has released Version 14 of its popular DaVinci Resolve “color grading” suite, following a period of open public beta development. I put color grading in quotes, because one of the most interesting aspects about the V14 release is how far-reaching Resolve’s ambitions have become, beyond simply color grading.

Fairlight audio within Resolve.

Prior to being purchased by Blackmagic, DaVinci Resolve was one of a small group of high-end color grading systems being offered in the industry. Blackmagic then extended the product to include editing, and Version 14 offers several updates in this area, particularly around speed and fluidity of use. A surprise addition is the incorporation of Fairlight Audio — a full-featured audio mixing platform capable of producing feature film quality 3D soundscapes. It is not just an external plugin, but an integrated part of the software.

This review concentrates on the color finishing aspects of Resolve 14, and on first view the core color tools remain largely unchanged save for a handful of ergonomic improvements. This is not surprising given that Resolve is already a mature grading product. However, Blackmagic has added some very interesting tools and features clearly aimed at enabling colorists to broaden their creative control. I have been a long-time advocate of the idea that a colorist doesn’t change the color of a sequence, but changes the mood of it. Manipulating the color is just one path to that result, so I am happy to see more creatively expansive facilities being added.

Face Refinement
One new feature that epitomizes Blackmagic’s development direction is the Face Refinement tool. It provides features to “beautify” a face and underlines two interesting development points. Firstly, it shows an intention by the developers to create a platform that allows users to extend their creative control across the traditional borders of “color” and “VFX.”

Secondly, such a feature incorporates more advanced programming techniques that seek to recognize objects in the scene. Traditional color and keying tools simply replace one color for another, without “understanding” what objects those colors are attached to. This next step toward a more intelligent diagnosis of scene content will lead to some exciting tools and Blackmagic has started off with face-feature tracking.

Face Refinement

The Face Refinement function works extremely well where it recognizes a face. There is no manual intervention — the tool simply finds a face in the shot and tracks all the constituent parts (eyes, lips, etc). Where there is more than one face detected, the system offers a simple box selector for the user to specify which face to track. Once the analysis is complete, the user has a variety of simple sliders to control the smoothness, color and detail of the face overall, but also specific controls for the forehead, cheeks, chin, lips, eyes and the areas around and below the eyes.

I found the face de-shine function particularly successful. A light touch with the controls yields pleasing results very quickly. A heavy touch is what you need if you want to make someone look like an android. I liked the fact that you can go negative with some controls and make a face look more haggard!

In my tests, the facial tracking was very effective for properly framed faces, even those with exaggerated expressions, headshakes and so on. But it would fail where the face became partially obscured, such as when the camera panned off the face. This led to all the added improvements popping off mid shot. While the fully automatic operation makes it quick and simple to use, it affords no opportunity for the user to intervene and assist the facial tracking if it fails. All things considered though, this will be a big help and time saver for the majority of beauty work shots.

Resolve FX
New for Resolve 14 are a myriad of built-in effects called Resolve FX, all GPU-accelerated and available to be added in the edit “page” directly to clips, or in the color page attached to nodes. They are categorized into Blurs, Light, Color, Refine, Repair, Stylize, Texture and Warp. A few particularly caught my eye, for example in “color,” the color compressor brings together nearby colors to a central hue. This is handy for unifying colors of an unevenly lit client logo into their precise brand reference, or dealing with blotchy skin. There is also a color space transform tool that enables LUT-less conversion between all the major color “spaces.”

Color

The dehaze function derives a depth map by some mysterious magic to help improve contrast over distance. The “light” collection includes a decent lens flare that allows plenty of customizing. “Styles” creates watercolor and outline looks while Texture includes a film grain effect with several film-gauge presets. I liked the implementation of the new Warp function. Rather than using grids or splines, the user simply places “pins” in the image to drag certain areas around. Shift-adding a pin defines a locked position immune from dragging. All simple, intuitive and realtime, or close to it.

Multi-Skilled and Collaborative Workflows
A dilemma for the Resolve developers is likely to be where to draw the line between editing, color and VFX. Blackmagic also develops Fusion, so they have the advanced side of VFX covered. But in the middle, there are editors who want to make funky transitions and title sequences, and colorists who use more effects, mattes and tracking. Resolve runs out of ability in these areas quite quickly and this forces the more adventurous editor or colorist into the alien environment of Fusion. The new features of Resolve help in this area, but a few additions to Resolve, such as better keyframing of effects and easier ability to reference other timeline layers in the node panel could help to extend Resolve’s ability to handle many common VFX-ish demands.

Some have criticized Blackmagic for turning Resolve into a multi-discipline platform, suggesting that this will create an industry of “jack of all trades and masters of none.” I disagree with this view for several reasons. Firstly, if an artist wants to major in a specific discipline, having a platform that can do more does not impede them. Secondly, I think the majority of content (if you include YouTube, etc.) is created by a single person or small teams, so the growth of multi-skilled post production people is simply an inevitable and logical progression which Blackmagic is sensibly addressing.

Edit

But for professional users within larger organisations, the cross-discipline features of Resolve take on a different meaning when viewed in the context of “collaboration.” Resolve 14 permits editors to edit, colorists to color and sound mixers to mix, all using different installations of the same platform, sharing the same media and contributing to the same project, even the same timeline. On the face of it, this promises to remove “conforms” and eradicate wasteful import/export processes and frustrating compatibility issues, while enabling parallel workflows across editing, color grading and audio.

For fast-turnaround projects, or projects where client approval cannot be sought until the project progresses beyond a “rough” stage, the potential advantages are compelling. Of course, the minor hurdle to get over will be to persuade editors and audio mixers to adopt Resolve as their chosen weapon. If they do, Blackmagic might well be on the way to providing collaborative utopia.

Summing Up
Resolve 14 is a massive upgrade from Resolve 12 (there wasn’t a Resolve 13 — who would have thought that a company called Blackagic might be superstitious?). It provides a substantial broadening of ability that will suit both the multi-skilled smaller outfits or fit as a grading/finishing platform and collaborative backbone in larger installations.


David Cox is a VFX compositor and colorist with 20-plus years of experience. He started his career with MPC and The Mill before forming his own London-based post facility. Cox recently created interactive projects with full body motion sensors and 4D/AR experiences.

Color plays big role in director Sean Baker’s The Florida Project

Director Sean Baker is drawing wide praise for his realistic portrait of life on the fringe in America in his new film The Florida Project. Baker applies a light touch to the story of a precocious six-year-old girl living in the shadow of Disney World, giving it the feel of a slice-of-life documentary. That quality is carried through in the film’s natural look. Where Baker shot his previous film, Tangerine, entirely with an iPhone, The Florida Project was recorded almost wholly on anamorphic 35mm film by cinematographer Alexis Zabe.

Sam Daley

Post finishing for the film was completed at Technicolor PostWorks New York, which called on a traditional digital intermediate workflow to accommodate Baker’s vision. The work began with scanning the 35mm negative to 2K digital files for dailies and editorial. It ended months later with rescanning at 4K and 6K resolution, editorial conforming and color grading in the facility’s 4K DI theater. Senior colorist Sam Daley applied the final grade via Blackmagic Resolve v.12.5.

Shooting on film was a perfect choice, according to Daley, as it allowed Baker and Zabe to capture the stark contrasts of life in Central Florida. “I lived in Florida for six years, so I’m familiar with the intensity of light and how it affects color,” says Daley. “Pastels are prominent in the Florida color palette because of the way the sun bleaches paint.”

He adds that Zabe used Kodak Vision3 50D and 250D stock for daylight scenes shot in the hot Florida sun, noting, “The slower stock provided a rich color canvas, so much so, that at times we de-emphasized the greenery so it didn’t feel hyper real.”

The film’s principal location is a rundown motel, ironically named the Magic Castle. It does not share the sun-bleached look of other businesses and housing complexes in the area as it has been freshly painted a garish shade of purple.

Baker asked Daley to highlight such contrasts in the grade, but to do so subtly. “There are many colorful locations in the movie,” Daley says. “The tourist traps you see along the highway in Kissimmee are brightly colored. Blue skies and beautiful sunsets appear throughout the film. But it was imperative not to allow the bright colors in the background to distract from the characters in the foreground. The very first instruction that I got from Sean was to make it look real, then dial it up a notch.”

Mixing Film and Digital for Night Shots
To make use of available light, nighttime scenes were not shot on film, but rather were captured digitally on an Arri Alexa. Working in concert with color scientists from Technicolor PostWorks New York and Technicolor Hollywood, Daley helmed a novel workflow to make the digital material blend with scenes that were film-original. He first “pre-graded” the digital shots and then sent them to Technicolor Hollywood where they were recorded out to film. After processing at FotoKem, the film outs were returned to Technicolor Hollywood and scanned to 4K digital files. Those files were rushed back to New York via Technicolor’s Production Network where Daley then dropped them into his timeline for final color grading. The result of the complex process was to give the digitally acquired material a natural film color and grain structure.

“It would have been simpler to fly the digitally captured scenes into my timeline and put on a film LUT and grain FX,” explains Daley, “but Sean wanted everything to have a film element. So, we had to rethink the workflow and come up with a different way to make digital material integrate with beautifully shot film. The process involved several steps, but it allowed us to meet Sean’s desire for a complete film DI.”

Calling on iPhone for One Scene
A scene near the end of the film was, for narrative reasons, captured with an iPhone. Daley explains that, although intended to stand out from the rest of the film, the sequence couldn’t appear so different that it shocked the audience. “The switch from 4K scanned film material to iPhone footage happens via a hard cut,” he explains. “But it needed to feel like it was part of the same movie. That was a challenge because the characteristics of Kodak motion picture stock are quite different from an iPhone.”

The iPhone material was put through the same process as the Alexa footage; it was pre-graded, recorded out to film and scanned back to digital. “The grain helps tie it to the rest of the movie,” reports Daley. “And the grain that you see is real; it’s from the negative that the scene was recorded out to. There are no artificial looks and nothing gimmicky about any of the looks in this film.”

The apparent lack of artifice is, in fact, one of the film’s great strengths. Daley notes that even a rainbow that appears in a key moment was captured naturally. “It’s a beautiful movie,” says Daley. “It’s wonderfully directed, photographed and edited. I was very fortunate to be able to add my touch to the imagery that Sean and Alexis captured so beautifully.”