Tag Archives: Lance Holte

Post Supervisor: Planning an approach to storage solutions

By Lance Holte

Like virtually everything in post production, storage is an ever-changing technology. Camera resolutions and media bitrates are constantly growing, requiring higher storage bitrates and capacities. Productions are increasingly becoming more mobile, demanding storage solutions that can live in an equally mobile environment. Yesterday’s 4K cameras are being replaced by 8K cameras, and the trend does not look to be slowing down.

Yet, at the same time, productions still vary greatly in size, budget, workflow and schedule, which has necessitated more storage options for post production every year. As a post production supervisor, when deciding on a storage solution for a project or set of projects, I always try to have answers to a number of workflow questions.

Let’s start at the beginning with production questions.

What type of video compression is production planning on recording?
Obviously, more storage will be required if the project is recording to Arriraw rather than H.264.

What camera resolution and frame rate?
Once you know the bitrate from the video compression specs, you can calculate the data size on a per-hour basis. If you don’t feel like sitting down with a calculator or spreadsheet for a few minutes, there are numerous online data size calculators, but I particularly like AJA’s DataCalc application, which has tons of presets for cameras and video and audio formats.

How many cameras and how many hours per day is each camera likely to be recording?
Data size per hour, multiplied by hours per day, multiplied by shoot days, multiplied by number of cameras gives a total estimate of the storage required for the shoot. I usually add 10-20% to this estimate to be safe.

Let’s move on to post questions…

Is it an online/offline workflow?
The simplicity of editing online is awesome, and I’m holding out for the day when all projects can be edited with online media. In the meantime, most larger projects require online/offline editorial, so keep in mind the extra storage space for offline editorial proxies. The upside is that raw camera files can be stored on slower, more affordable (even archival) storage through editorial until the online process begins.

On numerous shows I’ve elected to keep the raw camera files on portable external RAID arrays (cloned and stored in different locations for safety) until picture lock. G-Tech, LaCie, OWC and Western Digital all make 48+ TB external arrays on which I’ve stored raw median urging editorial. When you start the online process, copy the necessary media over to your faster online or grading/finishing storage, and finish the project with only the raw files that are used in the locked cut.

How much editorial staff needs to be working on the project simultaneously?
On smaller projects that only require an editorial staff of two or three people who need to access the media at the same time, you may be able to get away with the editors and assistants network sharing a storage array, and working in different projects. I’ve done numerous smaller projects in which a couple editors connected to an external RAID (I’ve had great success with Proavio and QNAP arrays), which is plugged into one workstation and shares over the network. Of course, the network must have enough bandwidth for both machines to play back the media from the storage array, but that’s the case for any shared storage system.

For larger projects that employ five, 10 or more editors and staff, storage that is designed for team sharing is almost a certain requirement. Avid has opened up integrated shared storage to outside storage vendors the past few years, but Avid’s Nexis solution still remains an excellent option. Aside from providing a solid solution for Media Composer and Symphony, Nexis can also be used with basically any other NLE, ranging from Adobe Premiere Pro to Blackmagic DaVinci Resolve to Final Cut Pro and others. The project sharing abilities within the NLEs vary depending on the application, but the clear trend is moving toward multiple editors and post production personnel working simultaneously in the same project.

Does editorial need to be mobile?
Increasingly, editorial is tending to begin near the start of physical production and this can necessitate the need for editors to be on or near set. This is a pretty simple question to answer but it is worth keeping in mind so that a shoot doesn’t end up without enough storage in a place where additional storage isn’t easily available — or the power requirements can’t be met. It’s also a good moment to plan simple things like the number of shuttle or transfer drives that may be needed to ship media back to home base.

Does the project need to be compartmentalized?
For example, should proxy media be on a separate volume or workspace from the raw media/VFX/music/etc.? Compartmentalization is good. It’s safe. Accidents happen, and it’s a pain if someone accidentally deletes everything on the VFX volume or workspace on the editorial storage array. But it can be catastrophic if everything is stored in the same place and they delete all the VFX, graphics, audio, proxy media, raw media, projects and exports.

Split up the project onto separate volumes, and only give write access to the necessary parties. The bigger the project and team, the bigger the risk for accidents, so err on the side of safety when planning storage organization.

Finally, we move to finishing, delivery and archive questions…

Will the project color and mix in-house? What are the delivery requirements? Resolution? Delivery format? Media and other files?
Color grading and finishing often require the fastest storage speeds of the whole pipeline. By this point, the project should be conformed back to the camera media, and the colorist is often working with high bitrate, high-resolution raw media or DPX sequences, EXRs or other heavy file types. (Of course, there are as many workflows as there are projects, many of which can be very light, but let’s consider the trend toward 4K-plus and the fact that raw media generally isn’t getting lighter.) On the bright side, while grading and finishing arrays need to be fast, they don’t need to be huge, since they won’t house all the raw media or editorial media — only what is used in the final cut.

I’m a fan of using an attached SAS or Thunderbolt array, which is capable of providing high bandwidth to one or two workstations. Anything over 20TB shouldn’t be necessary, since the media will be removed and archived as soon as the project is complete, ready for the next project. Arrays like Areca ARC-5028T2 or Proavio EB800MS give read speeds of 2000+ MB/s,which can play back 4K DPXs in real time.

How should the project be archived?
There are a few follow-up questions to this one, like: Will the project need to be accessed with short notice in the future? LTO is a great long-term archival solution, but pulling large amounts of media off LTO tape isn’t exactly quick. For projects that I suspect will be reopened in the near future, I try to keep an external hard drive or RAID with the necessary media onsite. Sometimes it isn’t possible to keep all of the raw media onsite and quickly accessible, so keeping the editorial media and projects onsite is a good compromise. Offsite, in a controlled, safe, secure location, LTO-6 tapes house a copy of every file used on the project.

Post production technology changes with the blink of an eye, and storage is no exception. Once these questions have been answered, if you are spending any serious amount of money, get an opinion from someone who is intimately familiar with the cutting edge of post production storage. Emphasis on the “post production” part of that sentence, because video I/O is not the same as, say, a bank with the same storage size requirements. The more money devoted to your storage solutions, the more opinions you should seek. Not all storage is created equal, so be 100% positive that the storage you select is optimal for the project’s particular workflow and technical requirements.

There is more than one good storage solution for any workflow, but the first step is always answering as many storage- and workflow-related questions as possible to start taking steps down the right path. Storage decisions are perhaps one of the most complex technical parts of the post process, but like the rest of filmmaking, an exhaustive, thoughtful, and collaborative approach will almost always point in the right direction.

Main Image: G-Tech, QNAP, Avid and Western Digital all make a variety of storage solutions for large and small-scale post production workflows.


Lance Holte is an LA-based post production supervisor and producer. He has spoken and taught at such events as NAB, SMPTE, SIGGRAPH and Createasphere. You can email him at lance@lanceholte.com.

Choosing the right workstation set-up for the job

By Lance Holte

Like virtually everything in the world of filmmaking, the number of available options for a perfect editorial workstation are almost infinite. The vast majority of systems can be greatly customized and expanded, whether by custom order, upgraded internal hardware or with expansion chassis and I/O boxes. In a time when many workstations are purchased, leased or upgraded for a specific project, the workstation buying process is largely determined by the project’s workflow and budget.

One of Harbor Picture Company’s online rooms.

In my experience, no two projects have identical workflows. Even if two projects are very similar, there are usually some slight differences — a different editor, a new camera, a shorter schedule, bigger storage requirements… the list goes on and on. The first step for choosing the optimal workstation(s) for a project is to ask a handful of broad questions that are good starters for workflow design. I generally start by requesting the delivery requirements, since they are a good indicator of the size and scope of the project.

Then I move on to questions like:

What are the camera/footage formats?
How long is the post production schedule?
Who is the editorial staff?

Often there aren’t concrete answers to these questions at the beginning of a project, but even rough answers point the way to follow-up questions. For instance, Q: What are the video delivery requirements? A: It’s a commercial campaign — HD and SD ProRes 4444 QTs.

Simple enough. Next question.

Christopher Lam from SF’s Double Fine Productions/ Courtesy of Wacom.

Q: What is the camera format? A: Red Weapon 6K, because the director wants to be able to do optical effects and stabilize most of the shots. This answer makes it very clear that we’re going to be editing offline, since the commercial budget doesn’t allow for the purchase of a blazing system with a huge, fast storage array.

Q: What is the post schedule? A: Eight weeks. Great. This should allow enough time to transcode ProRes proxies for all the media, followed by offline and online editorial.

At this point, it’s looking like there’s no need for an insanely powerful workstation, and the schedule looks like we’ll only need one editor and an assistant. Q: Who is the editorial staff? A: The editor is an Adobe Premiere guy, and the ad agency wants to spend a ton of time in the bay with him. Now, we know that agency folks really hate technical slowdowns that can sometimes occur with equipment that is pushing the envelope, so this workstation just needs to be something that’s simple and reliable. Macs make agency guys comfortable, so let’s go with a Mac Pro for the editor. If possible, I prefer to connect the client monitor directly via HDMI, since there are no delay issues that can sometimes be caused by HDMI to SDI converters. Of course, since that will use up the Mac Pro’s single HDMI port, the desktop monitors and the audio I/O box will use up two or three Thunderbolt ports. If the assistant editor doesn’t need such a powerful system, a high-end iMac could suffice.

(And for those who don’t mind waiting until the new iMac Pro ships in December, Apple’s latest release of the all-in-one workstation seems to signal a committed return for the company to the professional creative world – and is an encouraging sign for the Mac Pro overhaul in 2018. The iMac Pro addresses its non-upgradability by futureproofing itself as the most powerful all-in-one machine ever released. The base model starts at a hefty $4,999, but boasts options for up to a 5K display, 18-core Xeon processor, 128GB of RAM, and AMD Radeon Vega GPU. As more and more applications add OpenCL acceleration (AMD GPUs), the iMac Pro should stay relevant for a number of years.)

Now, our workflow would be very different if the answer to the first question had instead been A: It’s a feature film. Technicolor will handle the final delivery, but we still want to be able to make in-house 4K DCPs for screenings, EXR and DPX sequences for the VFX vendors, Blu-ray screeners, as well as review files and create all the high-res deliverables for mastering.

Since this project is a feature film, likely with a much larger editorial staff, the workflow might be better suited to editorial in Avid (to use project sharing/bin locking/collaborative editing). And since it turns out that Technicolor is grading the film in Blackmagic Resolve, it makes sense to online the film in Resolve and then pass the project over to Technicolor. Resolve will also cover any in-house temp grading and DCP creation and can handle virtually any video file.

PCs
For the sake of comparison, let’s build out some workstations on the PC side that will cover our editors, assistants, online editors, VFX editors and artists, and temp colorist. PC vs. Mac will likely be a hotly debated topic in this industry for some time, but there is no denying that a PC will return more cost-effective power at the expense of increased complexity (and potential for increased technical issues) than a Mac with similar specs. I also appreciate the longer lifespan of machines with easy upgradability and expandability without requiring expansion chassis or external GPU enclosures.

I’ve had excellent success with the HP Z line — using z840s for serious finishing machines and z440s and z640s for offline editorial workstations. There are almost unlimited options for desktop PCs, but only certain workstations and components are certified for various post applications, so it pays to do certification research when building a workstation from the ground up.

The Molecule‘s artist row in NYC.

It’s also important to keep the workstation components balanced. A system is only as strong as its weakest link, so a workstation with an insanely powerful GPU, but only a handful of CPU cores will be outperformed by a workstation with 16-20 cores and a moderately high-end GPU. Make sure the CPU, GPU, and RAM are similarly matched to get the best bang for your buck and a more stable workstation.

Relationships!
Finally, in terms of getting the best bang for your buck, there’s one trick that reigns supreme: build great relationships with hardware companies and vendors. Hardware companies are always looking for quality input, advice and real-world testing. They are often willing to lend (or give) new equipment in exchange for case studies, reviews, workflow demonstrations and press. Creating relationships is not only a great way to stay up to date with cutting edge equipment, it expands support options, your technical network and is the best opportunity to be directly involved with development. So go to trade shows, be active on forums, teach, write and generally be as involved as possible and your equipment will thank you.

Our Main Image Courtesy of editor/compositor Fred Ruckel.

 


Lance Holte is an LA-based post production supervisor and producer. He has spoken and taught at such events as NAB, SMPTE, SIGGRAPH and Createasphere. You can email him at lance@lanceholte.com.

A glimpse at what was new at NAB

By Lance Holte

I made the trek out to Las Vegas last week for the annual NAB show to take in the latest in post production technology, discuss new trends and products and get lost in a sea of exhibits. With over 1,700 exhibitors, it’s impossible to see everything (especially in the two days I was there), but here are a handful of notable things that caught my eye.

Blackmagic DaVinci Resolve Studio 14: While the “non-studio” version is still free, it’s hard to beat the $299 license for the full version of Resolve. As 4K and 3D media becomes increasingly prevalent, and with the release of their micro and mini panels, Resolve can be a very affordable solution for editors, mobile colorists and DITs.

The new editorial and audio tools are particularly appealing to someone like me, who is often more hands-on on the editorial side than the grading side of post. To that regard, the new tracking features look to provide extra ease of use for quick and simple grades. I also love that Blackmagic has gotten rid of the dongles, which removes the hassle of tracking numerous dongles in a post environment where systems and rooms are swapped regularly. Oh, and there’s bin, clip and timeline locking for collaborative workflows, which easily pushes Resolve into the competition for an end-to-end post solution.

Adobe Premiere CC 2017 with After Effects and Audition Adobe Premiere is typically my editorial application of choice, and the increased integration of AE and Audition promise to make an end-to-end Creative Cloud workflow even smoother. I’ve been hoping for a revamp of Premiere’s title tool for a while, and the Essential Graphics panel/new Title Tool appears to greatly increase and streamline Premiere’s motion graphics capabilities — especially as someone who does almost all my graphics work in After Effects and Photoshop. The more integrated the various applications can be, the better; and Adobe has been pushing that aspect for some time now.

On the audio side, Premiere’s Essential Sound Panel tools for volume matching, organization, cleanup and other effects without going directly into Audition (or exporting for ProTools, etc.) will be really helpful, especially for smaller projects and offline mixes. And as a last note, the new Camera Shake Deblur effect in After Effects is fantastic.

Dell UltraSharp 4K HDR Monitor — There were a lot of great looking HDR monitors at the show, but I liked that this one fell in the middle of the pack in terms of price point ($2K), with solid specs (1000 nits, 97.7% of P3, and 76.9% of Rec. 2020) and a reasonable size (27 inches). Seems like a good editorial or VFX display solution, though the price might be pushing budgetary constraints for smaller post houses. I wish it was DCI 4K instead of UHD and a little more affordable, but that will hopefully come with time.

On that note, I really like HP’s DreamColor Z31x Studio Display. It’s not HDR, but it’s 99% of the P3 colorspace, and it’s DCI 4K — as well as 2K, by multiplying every pixel at 2K resolution into exactly 4 pixels — so there’s no odd-numbered scaling and sharpening required. Also, I like working with large monitors, especially at high resolutions. It offers automated (and schedulable) color calibration, though I’d love to see a non-automated display in the future if it could bring the price down. I could see the HP monitor as a great alternative to using more expensive HDR displays for the majority of workstations at many post houses.

As another side note, Flanders Scientific’s OLED 55-inch HDR display was among the most beautiful I’ve ever seen, but with numerous built-in interfaces and scaling capabilities, it’s likely to come at a higher price.

Canon 4K600STZ 4K HDR laser projector — This looks to be a great projection solution for small screening rooms or large editorial bays. It offers huge 4096×2400 resolution, is fairly small and compact, and apparently has very few restraints when it comes to projection angle, which would be nice for a theatrical edit bay (or a really nice home theater). The laser light source is also attractive because it will be low maintenance. At $63K, it’s at the more affordable end of 4K projector pricing.

Mettle 360 Degree/VR Depth plug-ins: I haven’t worked with a ton of 360-degree media, but I have dealt with the challenges of doing depth-related effects in a traditional single-camera space, so the fact that Mettle is doing depth-of-field effects, dolly effects and depth volumetric effects with 360-degree/VR content is pretty incredible. Plus, their plug-ins are designed to integrate with Premiere and After Effects, which is good news for an Adobe power user. I believe they’re still going to be in beta for a while, but I’m very curious to see how their plug-ins play out.

Finally, in terms of purely interesting tech, Sony’s Bravia 4K acoustic surface TVs are pretty wild. Their displays are OLED, so they look great, and the fact that the screen vibrates to create sound instead of having separate speakers or an attached speaker bar is awfully cool. Even at very close viewing, the screen doesn’t appear to move, though it can clearly be felt vibrating when touched. A vibrating acoustic surface raises some questions about mounting, so it may not be perfect for every environment, but interesting nonetheless.


Lance Holte is an LA-based post production supervisor and producer. He has spoken and taught at such events as NAB, SMPTE, SIGGRAPH and Createasphere. You can email him at lance@lanceholte.com.

Bandito Brothers: picking tools that fit their workflow

Los Angeles-based post, production and distribution company Bandito Brothers is known for its work on feature films such as Need for Speed, Act of Valor and Dust to Glory. They provide a variety of services — from shooting to post to visual effects — for spots, TV, films and other types of projects.

Lance Holte in the company’s broadcast color by working on DaVinci Resolve 12.

They are also known in our world for their Adobe-based workflows, using Premiere and After Effects in particular. But that’s not all they are. Recently, Bandito invested in Avid’s new Avid ISIS|1000 shared storage system to help them work more collaboratively with very large and difficult-to-play files across all editing applications. The system — part of the Avid MediaCentral Platform— allows Bandito’s creative teams to collaborate efficiently regardless of which editing application they use.

“We’ve been using Media Composer since 2009, although our workflows and infrastructure have always been built around Premiere,” explains Lance Holte, senior director of post production, Bandito Brothers. “We tend to use Media Composer for offline editorial on projects that require more than a few editors/assistants to be working in the same project since Avid bin-locking in one project is a lot simpler than breaking a feature into 200 different scene-based Premiere projects.

“That said, almost every project we cut in Avid is conformed and finished in Premiere, and many projects — that only require two or three editors/assistants, or require a really quick turnaround time, or have a lot of After Effects-specific VFX work — are cut in Premiere. The major reason that we’ve partnered with Avid on their new shared storage is because it works really well with the Adobe suite and can handle a number of different editorial workflows.”

MixStage             
Bandito’s Mix Stage                                                         Bandito’s Edit 4.

He says the ISIS | 1000 gives them the collaborative power to share projects across a wide range of tools and staff, and to complete projects in less time. “The fact that it’s software-agnostic means everyone can use the right tools for the job, and we don’t need to have several different servers with different projects and workflows,” says Holte.

Bandito Brothers’ ISIS|1000 system is accessible from three separate buildings at its Los Angeles campus — for music, post production and finishing. Editors can access plates being worked on by its on-site visual effects company, or copy over an AAF or OMF file for the sound team to open in Avid Pro Tools in their shared workspace.

“Bandito uses Pro Tools for mixing, which also makes the ISIS|1000 handy, since we can quickly movie media between mix and editorial anywhere across the campus,” concludes Holte.

Currently, Bandito Brothers is working on a documentary called EDM, as well as commercial campaigns for Audi, Budweiser and Red Bull.

Dell and AMD host events to talk trends and user needs

By Randi Altman

Our industry is one of deadlines and ever-tightening budgets. That all equals less time to get the job done. What helps? Organizational skills, talent and tools that don’t get in your way. That includes workstations with powerful graphics optimized for the software that artists use everyday.

Dell and AMD have been working together to provide powerful and speedy graphics workstations for post pros, but they realize they can’t operate in a vacuum. They need to be out there talking to users and potential users, asking about their workflows and needs.

And recently they did just that, with two cocktail events — one in New York City and the other in Santa Monica, and both produced by my own postproNetwork division — targeting Continue reading