Performance Post: embracing new tech, working efficiently

This 30-year-old facility recently installed the Tachyon Wormhole for retiming work.

By Randi Altman

How do you get to celebrate 30 years as an independently owned post house in this industry? In addition to the obvious, such as quality work and servicing clients, you need to evolve your business with the needs of the industry.

Performance Post, a boutique-sized studio opened in 1984 by Fausto Sanchez, has re-invented itself a few times over the years. When they began, they were working with short-form content, such as promos. They then evolved into long-form work and everything in between, such as music videos and commercials.

The evolution continued, and today the main part of Performance Post’s business is delivering long-form content to studios and broadcasters — first-time delivery for television or repurposing for rebroadcasts. While Performance Post provides an “incredible amount of services, at our core we are an editorial shop,” explains Sanchez. “We focus on the craft of editorial.”

One of their Avid rooms

One of their Avid rooms

To understand where Performance Post is today, you have to look at its past and how it embraced new technology over the years. For instance, they were involved in rolling out some of the first HD programs that aired on ABC and CBS, something that Sanchez says took a bit of R&D. “We are a smaller shop, and we dabble a bit in high technology,” he explains. “During that time we got involved with Microsoft, Apple and Avid to create some of the first HD resources they could leverage and use for their own business purposes. We were like this secret hide-away facility and people would send us this kind of work and we would tinker with the processes.”

The ability to do its own R&D is what helps Performance Post prepare for and embrace future technology. It’s Sanchez’s past that helped set the table for the kind of business Performance Post was to become. Early on in his career, he worked at ABC in Hollywood when the networks were transitioning from film to videotape editorial. “We had a lot of fun putting live television on the air and moving from splicing videotape to timecode editing on CMX light-pin systems, and then NLEs,” says Sanchez. He remained there for 15 years then, after a stint at Merv Griffin Productions, set up his own shop. And that is the genesis of Performance Post, which Sanchez says has remained successful because he surrounds himself “with a staff of very creative and knowledgeable people.”

Mixing Tools and Creativity
Performance Post is an Avid house and has been since the system was introduced. Today the studio is running about 15 Avid Symphony systems. They also have a Smoke Advanced system that is kept busy with rotoscoping and clean-up work, such as removing and inserting products into projects. “The level of the technology has pushed us to be able to deliver much better visuals than just blurring or blocky matrix, so now it’s about being creative,” Sanchez explains. “We paint clothes on people, we extend dresses, all kinds of crazy stuff. It’s a very creative and collaborative process working with directors.”

He emphasizes that Performance Post is “always trying to find tools to put in our toolkit that we can then bring to our clients to help make magic happen; we have discovered so many devices and processes along the way.”

And one of those devices is a new technology framework from Cinnafilm and Wohler called Tachyon Wormhole, a media retiming solution for file-based workflows. Performance Post saw very quickly how this technology could help its clients and they became early adopters.

Tachyon Wormhole Technology
Cinnafilm landed on Sanchez’s radar about four years ago when the company, founded by Lance Maurer, first launched its Tachyon product. “What impressed me was that they were looking at picture differently — not like we usually do as fields and frames. They were saying, ‘What if we look at this video and take it down to pixels, take it down to the smallest level and then ask what can be done?’”

While impressed at the time, the cost of entry was too high and the product wasn’t quite where Performance Post needed it to be. Fast forward four years and Sanchez has a Tachyon Wormhole installed in his Toluca Lake facility. What got Performance Post’s attention recently was when Cinnafilm brought on tech partner Wohler and its RadiantGrid technology back in April, creating Wormhole. Sanchez refers to this as a marriage made in heaven.

“While creating Tachyon Wormhole, Wohler has been able to leverage this wonderful video processing technology that Cinnafilm has created and combine it into their RadiantGrid encoding process — it is truly a framework of tools, and we haven’t even scratched the surface to what the possibilities are.”

While Wohler was brought on for its encoding expertise, the company Minnetonka was called on for its audio tools. “They have provided an incredible way of processing sound,” describes Sanchez. “It is sped up but the way they repitch the sound and keep everything together is very pleasing. So the framework allows you to clean-up, retime, calm the audio and create the final deliverable as one workflow.”

The product uses very high-end computing and GPUs — the Performance Post box uses dual 10-core processors leveraging Nvidia GPUs. “It’s this high-performance computing that enables these beautiful algorithms and allows us to look at video in a different way.” As an example, he says the Tachyon Wormhole has the ability to not only remove grain, but to put grain on different film stocks. “So if you have a Kodak film stock that you like, they could plug that in.”

But what Performance Post uses it for most is its ability to reprocess and repurpose picture… a big part of the studio’s business. Clients bring in content that needs to fit a specific broadcast window based on the amount of commercial content (including syndicated shows), or the amount of time allotted for broadcast, especially internationally.

“Syndicated shows that need more commercial breaks added in are a perfect target for Tachyon Wormhole,” says Sanchez. “You don’t want to go back in and edit because of the costs, so if we can keep the percentage of retiming fairly low, the result is really good. Then we give them that extra space, and they can get more revenue without compromising the creative.”

When he refers to keeping the percentage low, he’s talking about retiming it just enough, but not too much that it’s noticeable. The Tachyon Wormhole can retime as much as you want it to, but the makers of the product and Sanchez both advise using the technology within reason. “That would mean getting three or four minutes out of out of a long form project, which ends up being around four or five percent,” says Sanchez. “Our brains have a sense to rhythm and a sense of general timing, so you have to be careful how you use any tool like this. It should be put in hands that know how to use it.”

Performance Post does a lot of tests to make sure they still stay within the window of what’s acceptable for whatever the job is. Sanchez explains “some older content needs some cleaning up in editorial, so sometimes the studios will get involved. And sometimes we recut or resync the soundtrack or languages for airlines, for example. You have many languages to deal with, and it can become a huge challenge to resync those. The Tachyon Wormhole can handle up to 64 audio tracks, so we can deliver the single file to end studio that has all these different tracks configured. Allows us to keep everything cohesive and in one nice package.”

Saving Time and the Creative
In theory, the idea of retiming isn’t difficult, but the issue has always been that creative concessions would have to be made. According to Sanchez, “When you are removing content from a feature, or asset, you can edit it to a set time, and most editors can achieve that, but there is a cost to that. You lose the initial creativity, and the more you start cutting away, the story starts disappearing.”

Sanchez acknowledges there are other solutions that help retiming, but he insists nothing comes close to the ease of use and quality of the Tachyon Wormhole when it comes to long-form projects. “There are nonlinear editing systems that have offered ways of retiming picture and sound, but those devices are meant for small shots. When we are looking at the prospect of retiming a two-hour feature, the results can be challenging — it’s sort of back to the days of videotape; the results aren’t very good and it takes a long time to render.”

Recently, Performance Post has been able to deliver several titles (which they couldn’t name) to NBC and CBS in 1080p that have been retimed and converted to other formats for delivery. “We did it for two reasons: the client needed something universal they could move around, and they also wanted to keep the integrity of the content. So retiming meant not having to edit out content.”

The networks came in to see the results, and it passed their scrutiny. “1080p assets,” marvels Sanchez, “and one had 12 tracks of audio and one had 16 tracks. We were able to process that all within the Wormhole RadiantGrid framework — it came in file and went out file.”

Thanks to Wohler’s RadiantGrid encoding, the Tachyon Wormhole takes in many different kinds of file formats —ProRes and DNxHD to MXF formats, H.264, MPEG-2, JPEG 2000s, and others.

“They’ve essentially given us a roadmap to the future with emerging file formats and continuing to develop what we can ingest and what we can put out.” Sanchez says the same applies to the output. “It allows us to bring in a client’s asset the way it is — with all the different components, metadata, closed captions — and then it does whatever you want it to do in terms of repurposing or time compressing or expanding, and you have the ability to reconfigure the outputs so that it’s ready to deliver the asset for air.”

 

 


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