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NAB: Exploring collaborative workflows on the exhibit floor

By Adrian Winter

It was back to the showroom floor for me today as I checked in on a number of exhibitors with an eye toward collaborative workflows.

My first stop was the Adobe booth to take in a demonstration of Adobe Anywhere — Adobe’s collaborative platform for Premiere, Prelude and After Effects.

The workflow is built around a number of users, working either in house or remotely, that can access and work with the same footage all stored in one place called a Collaboration Hub. This Hub works alongside a company’s existing media storage structure and asset management system, and essentially streams media to the user wherever they might be using Adobe’s Mercury Streaming Engine. It’s a very interesting approach to working remotely, and I’ve been interested in learning more about this product for some time. However, the demo today was more focused on the relationship between Prelude and Premiere utilizing a smaller two-person team, and not the larger After Effects / Premiere implementation I would be interested in exploring. I am going to try to set up a demo at the Adobe booth for a better look at the system.

FoundryAfter that I stopped in at the Foundry booth and took in a demonstration given by Urs Furrer of Glassworks on using Nuke Studio in a Flame environment. This is an issue that we are always up against at Nice Shoes. The more platforms you have in your shop, the more flexibility you have in structuring your pipeline on any given job, but determining what shots should be done in Nuke, what shots should be done in Flame, and in which order always seems to be a sticking point. Urs broke out a couple of different examples of how Glassworks tackles this same issue, one of which concerned a spot with mixed live action and CG characters. Their approach was to do an initial conform in the Flame and immediately address some of the more labor intensive tasks with the client in the room, such as cleanup and background plate generation. When those were signed off on and the client departed, the flattened background plates were spit out of the Flame and the spot was reassembled in Nuke Studio, where it would stay while the CG was comped and iterated. When the CG was signed off on and approved, the spot was then round tripped back into Flame for the final finish and grade – a very smart solution which utilizes the best strengths of both platforms. I was able to speak with Urs further after his demo was finished about Glassworks’ setup. It was reassuring to hear that other shops are up against similar challenges and refreshing to see some of the manners in which they were overcoming them.

That StudioAfter lunch I attended the session that I was probably looking forward to the most this week: “Online Collaboration, Review and Approval Strategies,” hosted by Kanen Flowers of That Studio. Kanen heads a company of 46 people, all of whom work remotely and are scattered around the globe, and he has devised a number of unique ways to keep all of his employees in contact and in sync with one another.

He runs the bulk company and all of his active projects through Trello, a free online card-based task management service. Each shot in project has a card with a to-do list associated with it, and files and assets are referenced on the card in the form of a Dropbox link. Kanen keeps nearly all of the files associated with a job in shared Dropbox folders, and if someone working on the shot needs an asset, the person can use the link in the Trello card to sync the asset to their own Dropbox account.

Kanen tries to keep Trello cards clean and organized with only necessary and pertinent information on them; for general discussion and real-time communication That Studio uses Slack, a closed, team-driven chat program that is both searchable and archivable and integrates with both Dropbox and Google Docs. I have used Slack before and really like it, though I had some questions about the best way to implement it in a post production environment. Slack offers a few different ways to structure project management, and I was happy to find Kanen’s simple, single-team, multiple chatroom approach mirrored my own.

For distributing larger files that would take too long to transfer using Dropbox — such as the terabytes of raw footage coming out of a shoot — Kanen employs BitTorrent Sync by GetSync. The way it works is that everyone on a project, wherever they are working, has a dedicated hard drive that they plug in to their machines. The team members then give the hard drives the same name and point BitTorrent sync at it. The software then uses the shared bandwidth of all the team members’ internet connections to sync files from one drive to all the other connected drives, thereby eliminating the need to ship via FedEx numerous cloned hard drives to his entire team.

WipsterFor client feedback they use Wipster, an online review and approval tool with a very clean user interface. Clients can log in and leave comments attached to specific times on the videos published there. It comes with some very interesting tools including the ability to download client comments as a .xml file and lay them into your edit timeline in the form of markers. Its simple approach to reviewing work has given it a lot of momentum from people looking for an easy way to manage client feedback, but where Wipster’s feature set stops, a newer online collaboration tool called Frame.io is just getting started.

The interfaces of the two products are very similar to one another, with a lot of overlap in base functionality. Both products offer user identified timecode-based comments, but Frame.io offers the additional features of side-by-side comparison of different version shots and edits, toggling playback between two audio tracks, and overlaying 16:9 and 4:3 centercut guides. Beyond that, Frame.io’s greater ambition is one of asset management, allowing simultaneous upload not just with multiple video files, but audio, graphic, text or PDFs as well. This week they have debuted a panel in Final Cut X, which allows editors to publish individual shots or entire cuts straight to Frame.io from their timeline, and I’m told that same functionality is coming to Premiere Pro very soon.

Frame ioNice Shoes has been demoing Frame.io for the last six months and we have been very happy with our experience. It is still a young product and there are areas where things could be smoothed out — a clearer delineation between internal collaborative comments and outward facing screening and review is one example — but its potential to grow into a powerhouse product can’t be denied. As an asset management solution, I would love to see Frame.io be able to interface with the Adobe Anywhere workflow at some point down the line. Additionally, if they were to develop an API allowing it to plug into Slack, it would, in my mind, close the last loop on team collaboration, making it a very, very powerful creative tool.

For someone like myself, who is obsessed with trying to keep workflows neat and tidy — and doesn’t always manage to do it — today was very informative. Tomorrow is my last day in Vegas and I still have a few more vendors I want to touch base with as well one or two sessions to try to get to. As always, I will report back anything interesting I may find.

Adrian Winter is the VFX supervisor at New York City-based Nice Shoes Creative Studio.

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