Tag Archives: DigitalFilm Tree

Behind the Title: DigitalFilm Tree colorist Rick Dalby

NAME: Rick Dalby

COMPANY: DigitalFilm Tree

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
I would describe DigitalFilm Tree (DFT) as a smaller, bleeding-edge, independently-owned post house that is capable of remote dailies, color and edit. I work with fellow colorists Dan Judy and Patrick Woodard.

AS A COLORIST, WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
What should fall under that title is that a Resolve colorist has become the creative gatekeeper for the producer’s, director’s and DP’s vision. You don’t just hand off a show and add some color. We have color tools that work akin to the way you work in Photoshop, using layer-mixers and alpha-mattes.

On-set, the DP and/or DIT that uses Resolve can send projects or custom LUTs or nodes that we can carry directly into the final color session. I would describe the colorist-driven post workflow as more holistic than ever before.

ARE YOU SOMETIMES ASKED TO DO MORE THAN JUST COLOR ON PROJECTS? 
Yes, we are asked to stabilize shots and add OFX plug-in looks and effects, which will evolve further with Resolve 15’s addition of Fusion. It’s really show-dependent. On a larger scale, with 4K and HDR, our colorists are redesigning workflows on a continual basis. Our online conform artists are doing most of the editing, though with Resolve, any of us might make the deliverables.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
Collaborating with everyone at DFT and working with the clients that depend on us is rewarding for me. I like the art of color correction. When I can just sit down and get to work on scene looks and matching, the day passes quickly, and I can feel the creativity flow. It’s fun. When the client comes in to view and I’m in sync with their vision, there’s a great sense of accomplishment.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
Post facilities have few windows. Sometimes, I just like to open the door and see something alive and green. Seriously though, the business end and paperwork are the things that don’t interest me.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
Park ranger, running an animal rescue, Buddhist monk or one of my previous jobs, like being a broadcast news technical director. That sounds like a silly answer, but it’s not meant to be.

HOW EARLY ON DID YOU KNOW THIS WOULD BE YOUR PATH?
That’s a long and difficult question to answer. When I was small, I used to get up very early with my dad and wait for the engineer to turn on the transmitter, so I could see the test pattern and watch some cartoons. I was a computer science major in college, but I didn’t like it. My brother worked at Compact Video and urged me to change career paths. I trained in journalism and broadcast news and worked in Sacramento television in graphics, studio and ENG camera, editing, technical directing and, finally, directing.

Next, was film transfer of 35mm prints for syndication, then on to master control and transmitter operations requiring an FCC license. That was all by the time I was 24, when I moved to Los Angeles to work with my brother in post. Within a year I was running a Rank and transferring features for most of the majors.

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
The re-boot of Roseanne. Also Wrecked for TBS. I’ve been doing collaborative color with Dan and Patrick on NCIS: Los Angeles, Angie Tribeca, Great News and The 100.

The 100

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
I’m very satisfied to have worked on iconic long-running shows like Friends and Everybody Loves Raymond and developing looks for shows like Friday Night Lights with David Boyd and Todd McMullen. Recently, having a chance to work with the creative team on the Roseanne reboot was a great experience. DP Johnny Simmons and Sara Gilbert were a great pleasure to work with.

WHERE DO YOU FIND INSPIRATION? ART? PHOTOGRAPHY?
Inspiration comes from the people I meet and the challenges I face. I also love the changing exhibits at the Broad Museum and LACMA. I’m always looking at films and television to dissect what other people think and do. I don’t like the work when it seems copy-cat.

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
DaVinci, which has been part of most of my career — with the exception of a few years on Lustre. The best quality hero monitor that can display the great color and resolution we need to do this job. Anything Apple. My iPad is in much need of replacement.

WHAT SOCIAL MEDIA CHANNELS DO YOU FOLLOW?
I like Theo Miesner’s YouTube posts and the rapid-fire way he delivers. Recently, there’s a slew of YouTube posts that are helping me with Fusion. I use Facebook to follow my fellow meditators.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
I don’t take it too seriously after this many decades. The stress is there sometimes. I acknowledge it, meditate and even go on long silent meditation retreats once or twice a year.

I walk to work, hike and sometimes just walk outside and breathe deeply. Ultimately, the stress is up to me, and how I choose to respond. Equanimity has become a guiding concept with the worldly winds.

Color for Television Series

By Karen Maierhofer

Several years ago I was lucky enough to see Van Gogh’s original The Starry Night oil on canvas at a museum and was awestruck by how rich and vibrant it really was. I had fallen in love with the painting years before after seeing reproductions/reprints, which paled in comparison to the original’s striking colors and beauty. No matter how well done, the reproductions could never duplicate the colors and richness of the original masterpiece.

Just as in the art world, stories told via television are transformed through the use of color. Color grading and color correction help establish a signature look for a series, though that can, and often does, change from one episode to another — or from one scene to another — based on the mood the DP and director want to portray.

Here we delve into this part of the post process and follow a trio of colorists as they set the tone for three very different television series.

Black-ish
Black-ish is an ABC series about a successful African-American couple raising their five children in an affluent, predominantly white neighborhood. Dre, an advertising executive, is proud of his heritage but fears that culture is lost when it comes to his kids.

There is no struggle, however, when it comes to color grading the show, a job that has fallen to colorist Phil Azenzer from The Foundation in Burbank starting with this past season (Season 4).

The show is shot using an Arri Alexa camera. The dailies are then produced by the show’s in-house editor. The files, including the assembly master, are sent to Azenzer, who uses the raw camera files for his color grading, which is done using Blackmagic’s Resolve.

Azenzer starts a scene by rolling into the establishing shot and sets the look there because “you can see all light sources and their color temperatures,” he says. “I get a feel for the composition of the shot and the gradation of shadow to light. I see what light each of the actors is standing in or walking through, and then know how to balance the surrounding coverage.”

In his opinion, networks, for the most part, like their half-hour comedies to be well lit, more chromatic, with less shadow and contrast than an average one-hour drama, in order to create a more inviting, light feel (less somber). “And Black-ish is no different, although because of the subject matter, I think of Black-ish as more of a ‘dramedy,’ and there are scenes where we go for a more dramatic feel,” Azenzer explains.

Black-ish’s main characters are African-American, and the actors’ skin tones vary. “Black-ish creator Kenya Barris is very particular about the black skin tones of the actors, which can be challenging because some tones are more absorbent and others more reflective,” says Azenzer. “You have to have a great balance so everyone’s skin tone feels natural and falls where it’s supposed to.”

Phil Azenzer

Azenzer notes that the makeup department does an excellent job, so he doesn’t have to struggle as much with pulling out the bounce coming off the actors’ skin as a result of their chromatic clothes. He also credits DP Rob Sweeney (with whom he has worked on Six Feet Under and Entourage) with “a beautiful job of lighting that makes my life easier in that regard.”

While color grading the series, Azenzer avoids any yellow in skin tones, per Barris’s direction. “He likes the skin tones to look more natural, more like what they actually are,” he says. “So, basically, the directive was to veer away from yellow and keep it neutral to cool.”

While the colorist follows that direction in most scenes, he also considers the time of day the scene takes place when coloring. “So, if the call is for the shot to be warm, I let it go warm, but more so for the environment than the skin tones,” explains Azenzer.

Most of the show is shot on set, with few outdoor sequences. However, the scenes move around the house (kitchen, living room, bedrooms) as well as at the ad agency where Dre works. “I have some preferred settings that I can usually use as a starting point because of the [general] consistency of the show’s lighting. So, I might ripple through a scene and then just tighten it up from there,” says Azenzer. But my preference as a colorist is not to take shortcuts. I don’t like to plug something in from another episode because I don’t know if, in fact, the lighting is exactly the same. Therefore, I always start from scratch to get a feel for what was shot.”

For instance, shots that take place in Dre’s office play out at various points in the day, so that lighting changes more often.

The office setting contains overhead lighting directly above the conference table, like one would find in a typical conference room. It’s a diffused lighting that is more intense directly over the table and diminishes in intensity as it feathers out over the actors, so the actors are often moving in and out of varying intensities of light on that set. “It’s a matter of finding the right balance so they don’t get washed out and they don’t get [too much shadow] when they are sitting back from the table,” explains Azenzer. “That’s probably the most challenging location for me.”

Alas, things changed somewhat during the last few episodes of the season. Dre and his wife, Rainbow, hit a rough patch in their marriage and separate. Dre moves into a sleek, ultra-modern house in the canyon, with two-story ceilings and 20-foot-tall floor-to-ceiling windows — resulting in a new location for Azenzer. “It was filled with natural light, so the image was a little flat in those scenes and awash with light and a cool aura,” he describes. Azenzer adjusted for this by “putting in extra contrast, double saturation nodes, and keying certain colors to create more color separation, which helps create overall separation and depth of field. It was a fun episode.”

In the prior episode, the show toggles back and forth from flashbacks of Bow and Dre from happier times in their marriage to present day. Azenzer describes the flashbacks as saturated with extremely high contrast, “pushing the boundaries of what would be acceptable.” When the scene switched to present day, instead of the typical look, it was shot with the movie Blue Valentine in mind, as the characters discussed separating and possibly divorcing.

“Those scenes were shot and color corrected with a very cool, desaturated look. I would latch onto maybe one thing in the shot and pop color back into that. So, it would be almost grayish blue, and if there was a Granny Smith apple on the counter, I grabbed that and popped it, made it chromatic,” explains Azenzer. “And Dre’s red sweatshirt, which was desaturated and cool along with the rest of the scene, I went back in there and keyed that and popped the red back in. It was one of the more creative episodes we did.”

When Azenzer first took over coloring the show, “everybody was involved,” he says. “I had a relationship with Rob Sweeney, but I was new to Kenya, the post team, and Tom Ragazzo, co-producer, so it was very collaborative at the beginning to nail the look they were going for, what Kenya wanted. Now we are at the point so when I finish an episode, I give Rob a heads-up and he’ll come over that day or whenever he can and bring lunch, and I play it back for him.”

It’s not as if the episodes are without change, though Azenzer estimates that 85 percent of the time Sweeney says, “‘Beautiful job,’ and is out the door.” When there are changes, they usually involve something nominal on just a shot or two. “We are never off-base to where we need to redo a scene. It’s usually something subjective, where he might ask me to add a Power Window to create a little shadow in a corner or create a light source that isn’t there.”

Azenzer enjoys working on Black-ish, particularly because of the close relationship he has with those working on the show. “They are all awesome, and we get along really well and collaborate well,” he says. Indeed, he has forged bonds with this new family of sorts on both a professional and personal level, and recently began working on Grown-ish, a spin-off of Black-ish that follows the family’s eldest daughter after she moves away to attend college.

The 100
Dan Judy, senior colorist at DigitalFilm Tree (DFT) in Hollywood, has been working on The CW’s The 100 starting with the pilot in 2014, and since then has helped evolve it into a gritty-looking show. “It started off with more of an Eden-type environment and has progressed into a much grittier, less friendly and dangerous place to live,” he says.

The 100 is a post-apocalyptic science-fiction drama that centers on a group of juvenile offenders from aboard a failing space station who are sent to Earth following a nuclear apocalypse there nearly a century earlier. Their mission: to determine whether the devastated planet is habitable. But, soon they encounter clans of humans who have survived the destruction.

“We have geographical locations that have a particular look to them, such as Polis (the capitol of the coalition),” says Judy of the environment set atop rolling hills lush with vegetation. “In this past season, we have the Eden environment — where after the planet incurs all this devastation, the group finds an oasis of thriving foliage and animated life. Then, gradually, we started backing off the prettiness of Eden and making it less colorful, a little more contrasty, a little harsher.”

The series is shot in Vancouver by DP Michael Blundell. The dailies are handled by Bling Digital’s Vancouver facility, which applies color with the dailies cut. As an episode is cut, Bling then ships drives containing the camera master media and the edit decision list to DFT, which assembles the show with a clip-based approach, using the full-resolution camera masters as its base source.

“We aren’t doing a transcode of the media. We actually work directly, 100 percent of the time, from the client camera master,” says Judy, noting this approach eliminates the possibility of errors, such as dropouts or digital hits that can result from transcoding. “It also gives me handles on either end of a shot if it was trimmed.”

Dan Judy

Vancouver-based Blundell sets the palette, but he conveys his ideas and concepts to Tim Scanlan, director and supervising producer on the show, with whom Judy has a longstanding relationship — they worked together years before on Smallville. “Then Tim and I will sit down and spot the show, setting looks for the scenes, and after the spotting session, I will fill in the gaps to give it a consistent look,” says Judy. Although Scanlan is in nearby Santa Monica, due to LA’s traffic, he and Hollywood-based Judy collaborate remotely, to save valuable time.

“I can remote into [Scanlan’s] system and color correct with him in full resolution and in realtime,” explains Judy. “I can play back the reference file with the dailies color on it, and I can split-screen that with him in realtime if he wants to reference the dailies color for that particular scene.”

For coloring the show, Judy uses Blackmagic’s DaVinci Resolve, which is also used to conform the series. Using Resolve’s Project Management tools, the editors and colorists “can all work on the project and contribute to it live, in realtime, simultaneously,” Judy points out. “So, I can be color correcting at the same time the editor is building the show, and getting all of his updates in mere seconds.”

Scanlan uses a remote Resolve system with a monitor that is calibrated to Judy’s, “so what he is seeing on his end is an exact replica of what I’m seeing in my room,” Judy says.

One scene in The 100 that stands out for Judy occurs early in the episode during the premiere of Season 5, which finds Clarke Griffin, one of the prisoners, trapped in a wasteland. He explains: “We had several different evolutions of what that look was going to be. I gave them a few designs, and they gave me some notes. Before the show was cut, they gave me little snippets of scenes to look at, and I did test looks. They came back and decided to go with one of those test looks at first, and then as the show progressed, we decided, collaboratively, to redesign the look of the scene and go with more of a sepia tone.”

Much of The 100 is filmed outdoors, and as everyone knows, nature does not always cooperate during shoots. “They deal with a lot of different weather conditions in Vancouver, unlike LA. They’ll get rain in the middle of a scene. Suddenly, clouds appear, and you have shadows that didn’t exist before. So, when that’s the only footage you have, you need to make it all blend together,” explains Judy. “Another challenge is making these amazing-looking sets look more natural by shadowing off the edges of the frame with power windows and darkening parts of the frame so it looks like the natural environment.”

Judy points to the character Becca’s abandoned lab — an elaborate set from last year’s season — as a scene that stands out for him. “It was an amazing set, and in wide shots, we would shape that picture with power windows and use color levels and desaturation to darken it, and then color levels and saturation to brighten up other areas,” he says. “This would make the room look more cavernous than it was, even though it was large to begin with, to give it more scope and vastness. It also made the room look dramatic yet inviting at the same time.”

All in all, Judy describes The 100 as a very edgy, dramatic show. “There’s a lot going on. It’s not your standard television fare. It’s very creative,” he says. “Tim and I did a lot of color design on Smallville, and we’re carrying on that tradition in The 100. It’s more feature-esque, more theatrical, than most television shows. We add grain on the picture to give it texture; it’s almost imperceptible, but it gives a slightly different feel than other shows. It’s nice to be part of something where I’m not just copying color for a standardized, formulaic show. This series gives me the opportunity to be creative, which is awesome.”

Dear White People
Sometimes color grading decisions are fairly standard on television shows. Black and white, so to speak. Not so for the Netflix series Dear White People, a comedy-drama spin-off from the 2014 film of the same name, which follows students of color at a predominantly white Ivy League college as they navigate various forms of discrimination — racial and otherwise.

Helping achieve the desired look for the series fell to senior colorist Scott Gregory from NBCUniversal StudioPost. Starting with Season 1, day one, “the show’s creator, Justin Simien, DP Jeffrey Waldron, executive producer Yvette Lee Bowser and I huddled in my bay and experimented with different ‘overall’ looks for the show,” notes Gregory.

Simien then settled on the “feel” that is present throughout most of the series. Once he had locked a base look, the group then discussed how to use color to facilitate the storytelling. “We created looks for title cards, flashbacks, historical footage, locations and even specific characters,” Gregory says.

Using stills he had saved during those creative meetings as a guide, he then color corrects each show. Once the show is ready for review, the executive producers and DP provide notes — during the same session if schedules permit, or separately, as is often the case. If any of the creatives cannot be present, stills and color review files are uploaded for review via the Internet.

According to Gregory, his workflow starts after he receives a pre-conformed 4:4:4 MXF video assembled master (VAM) and an EDL supplied by online editor Ian Lamb. Gregory then performs a process pass on the VAM using Resolve, whereby he re-renders the VAM, applying grain and two Digital Film Tools (DFT) optical filters. This gives the Red camera footage a more weathered, filmic look. This processing, however, is not applied to the full-frame television show inserts to better separate them from the visual palette created for the show by Simien, Bowser and DPs Waldron and Topher Osborn.

Scott Gregory

Once the VAM is processed, Gregory creates a timeline using the EDL, the processed VAM, and the temp audio, applies a one-light correction to all of the shots, and gets to work. As the color progresses, he drops in the visual effects, cleaned shots, composited elements, and some titles as they are delivered. Once the show is locked for color and VFX approval, he renders out a 3840×2160 UHD final 4:4:4 MXF color-timed master, which then goes back to the online editor for titling and delivery.

“Blue contaminated and lifted blacks, strong vignettes, film-grain emulation and warm, compressed filmic highlights are characteristics present in most of the show,” says Gregory. “We also created looks for Technicolor two-strip, sepia, black-and-white silent-era damaged print, and even an oversaturated, diffused, psychedelic drug trip scene.”

The looks for the flashback or “historical” sequences, usually somewhere in Act I, were created for the most part in Resolve. Many of these sequences or montages jump through different time periods. “I created a black-and-white damaged film look for the 1800s, Technicolor two-strip for the early 1900s, a faded-emulsion [Kodak] Ektachrome [film] look for the ’70s, and a more straightforward but chromatic look for the ’80s,” says Gregory.

Simien also wanted to use color “themes” for specific characters. This was reflected in not only the scenes that included the featured character for that particular show, but also in the title card at the head of the show. (The title card for each show has a unique color corresponding to the featured character of that episode.)

When coloring the series, Gregory inevitably encounters processing issues. “Using all the filters and VFX plug-ins that I do on this show and being in UHD resolution both eat up a lot of processing power. This slows down the software significantly, no matter what platform or GPUs are being used,” he says. In order to keep things up to speed, he decided to pre-render, or bake in, the grain and some of the filters that were to be used throughout each show.

“I then create a new timeline using the pre-rendered VAM and the EDL, and set a base correction,” Gregory explains. “This workflow frees up the hardware, so I can still get realtime playback, even with multiple color layers, composites and new effects plug-ins.”

Gregory is hardly new to color grading, having a long list of credits, including television series, full-length movies and short films. And while working on Seasons 1 and the recently released Season 2 of Dear White People, he appreciated the collaborative environment. “Justin is obviously very creative and has a discerning eye. I have really enjoyed the collaborative space in which he, Yvette, Jeffrey and Topher like to work,” he says. “Justin likes to experiment and go big. He wants the artists he works with to be a part of the creative process, and I think he believes that in the end, his final product will benefit from it. It makes for good times in the color bay and a show we are all very proud of.”


Karen Maierhofer is a longtime technical writer with more than two decades of experience in segments of the CG and post industries.

DigitalFilm Tree’s Ramy Katrib talks trends and keynoting BMD conference

By Randi Altman

Blackmagic, which makes tools for all parts of the production and post workflow, is holding its very first Blackmagic Design Conference and Expo, produced with FMC and NAB Show. This three-day event takes place on February 11-13 in Los Angeles. The event includes a paid conference featuring over 35 sessions, as well as a free expo on February 12, which includes special guests, speakers and production and post companies.

Ramy Katrib, founder and CEO of Hollywood-based post house and software development company DigitalFilm Tree, is the keynote speaker for the conference. FotoKem DI colorist Walter Volpatto and color scientist Joseph Slomka will be keynoting the free expo on the 12th.

We reached out to Katrib to find out what he’ll be focusing on in his keynote, as well as pick his brains about technology and trends.

Can you talk about the theme of your keynote?
Resolve has grown mightily over the past few years, and is the foundation of DigitalFilm Tree’s post finishing efforts. I’ll discuss the how Resolve is becoming an essential post tool. And with Resolve 14, folks who are coloring, editing, conforming and doing VFX and audio work are now collaborating on the same timeline, and that is huge development for TV, film and every media industry creative and technician.

Why was it important for you to keynote this event?
DaVinci was part of my life when I was a colorist 25 years ago, and today BMD is relevant to me while I run my own post company, DigitalFilm Tree. On a personal note, I’ve known Grant Petty since 1999 and work with many folks at BMD who develop Resolve and the hardware products we use, like I/O cards and Teranex converters. This relationship involves us sharing our post production pain points and workflow suggestions, while BMD has provided very relevant software and hardware solutions.

Can you give us a sample of something you might talk about?
I’m looking forward to providing an overview of how Resolve is now part of our color, VFX, editorial, conform and deliverables effort, while having artists provide micro demos on stage.

You alluded to the addition of collaboration in Resolve. How important is this for users?
Resolve 14’s new collaboration tools are a huge development for the post industry, specifically in this golden age of TV where binge delivery of multiple episodes at the same time is common place. As the complexity of production and post increases, greater collaboration across multiple disciplines is a refreshing turn — it allows multiple artists and technicians to work in one timeline instead of 10 timelines and round tripping across multiple applications.

Blackmagic has ramped up their NLE offerings with Resolve 14. Do you see more and more editors embracing this tool for editing?
Absolutely. It always takes a little time to ramp up in professional communities. It reminds me of when the editors on Scrubs used Final Cut Pro for the first time and that ushered FCP into the TV arena. We’re already working with scripted TV editors who are in the process of transitioning to Resolve. Also, DigitalFilm Tree’s editors are now using Resolve for creative editing.

What about the Fairlight audio offerings within? Will you guys take advantage of that in any way? Do you see others embracing it?
For simple audio work like mapping audio tracks, creating multi mixes for 5.1 and 7.1 delivery and mapping various audio tracks, we are talking advantage of Fairlight and audio functionality within Resolve. We’re not an audio house, yet it’s great to have a tool like this for convenience and workflow efficiency.

What trends did you see in 2017 and where do you think things will land in 2018?
Last year was about the acceptance of cloud-based production and post process. This year is about the wider use of cloud-based production and post process. In short, what used to be file-based workflows will give way to cloud-based solutions and products.

postPerspective readers can get $50 off of Registration for the Blackmagic Design Conference & Expo by using Code: POST18. Click here to register

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.

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.

NAB: Critique upped to version 4, using AWS for cloud

From the minds at LA-based post house DigitalFilm Tree comes a new version of Critique, its cloud-collaboration software. Critique, which is now in v.4, is already used on shows such as Modern Family, The Simpsons and NCIS: Los Angeles. In addition to many new features and security controls in Critique 4, this is the first time the app has been deployed on AWS.

Critique’s new relationship with AWS is key to version 4, says Guillaume Aubuchon, CIO of Critique. “AWS is not only the largest cloud provider, but they are the cloud provider of choice in the M&E space. Our infrastructure shift to AWS afforded us the ability to architect the software to leverage the range of services in the AWS cloud platform. It allowed us to build Critique 4 from scratch in a matter of mere months.”

Critique 4 is a secure digital media asset management (MAM) platform with extensive features to support creative processes and production workflow for both the media and entertainment space as well as enterprise. Built to be extremely easy to use, Critique facilitates collaboration through realtime chat, live annotations, and secure sharing over the Internet to deliver productions on time and on budget. Realtime chat and drawing annotations are viewable across the Web and iOS — they also work with the new Apple Pencil for iPad Pro.

Designed to improve workflow, the software facilitates every step from protected dailies screening to VFX workflows to post to distribution while capitalizing on enterprise-level security to protect valuable assets.

Critique 4 was born of the minds of its executive team of Aubuchon, a veteran in the production space having worked on such projects such as Her, NCIS:LA and Angie Tribeca, and Chris Chen, an expert in the production streaming space and the former CTO of DAX. With its ability to use its own DigitalFilm Tree as a beta test site, Critique is built to ensure it works in real-world media environments.

One of the new exciting features of Critique 4 is its ability to index Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3) to allow companies to manage their own content inside of Critique’s award-winning interface. It also offers high-performance cloud MAM for simultaneous video and document management: Users can collaborate with Critique’s review, approval and annotation workflows not only for video but also for production documents including scripts, graphics and still images.

“Digital Rights Management (DRM) protection is rarely used, if at all, for unreleased content, which is arguably where it is needed the most,” notes Chen. “Critique was designed to leverage DRM invisibly throughout its video distribution system on desktop, web, and mobile environments. This allows Critique to break through the legacy walled-garden approach, allowing a new level of flexibility in collaboration while maintaining security. But we do it in such a way that the users don’t even know it’s there.”

The ability to share assets in this way expands its mobility and Critique is available via web, phones, tablets and Apple TV. The video service is backed by a true CDN running multi-bit-rate video to prevent glitches on any platform. “Users can take advantage of Critique anywhere — in their office, living room, the subway or even on a plane,” explains Chen. “And it will be true to the original media.

Other highlights of Critique 4 include: storage, archiving and management of Raw material; automatic transcoding of Raw material into a proxy format for viewing; granular permissions on files, folders, and projects; easy-to-manage sharing functions for users outside the system with the ability to time-limit and revoke/extend individual permissions; customizable watermarking on videos.

While Critique was born in the creative and operations side of the media and entertainment market, it is extending to enterprise, small to medium-size businesses, publishing, education and government/military sectors.

This latest version of Critique is available now for a free 30-day trial (AWS usage fees apply). Pricing is extremely competitive with 10, 20, 50 and 100 user levels starting as low as $39 per user. Enterprise level contracts are available for larger projects and companies with multiple projects. The fee includes unlimited streaming of current content and 24/7 white-glove tech support. AppleTV, Apple iPad and iPhone apps are also included. For a nominal fee, users can add DRM, high-resolution cloud transcode and storage for camera raw and mezzanine files.

HPA offers up winners of Engineering Excellence, Judges awards

With the HPA Awards ceremony a month away, the Hollywood Post Alliance has released the names of companies and organizations that will be receiving honors this year for their technology and innovations.

The 2014 Engineering Excellence Award and the HPA Judges Award for Creativity and Innovation in Post Production awards recognize the technical excellence and creative innovation that continually drive the post production industry in the advancement and support of content creation.

The awards will be handed out on November 6 during the 9th Annual HPA Awards event at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles.

According to the HPA, the Engineering Excellence Award spotlights companies and individuals who draw upon technical and creative ingenuity and apply it to real-world post demands while raising the profile of breakthrough technologies.

The winners of the 2014 HPA Engineering Excellence Awards are:

Macom: 12G-SDI Chipset
12G-SDI is the next data rate in the evolution of SDI, and Macom has introduced the industry’s first complete chipset to enable next-generation 4K video production applications.  Our newest family of SDI equalizers, reclockers and cable drivers supports 4K video resolutions at 60 frames per second over a single link and complements our industry-leading crosspoint switch portfolio.

Nvidia’s VCA

Nvidia: Nvidia VCA
Accelerate design and VFX workflows with Nvidia Visual Computing Appliance (VCA), the “fastest way” to interactive photorealistic digital 3D models and scenes. This network-attached appliance easily integrates into the design workflow and scales to multiple VCAs, each decreasing the time to noiseless, physically based global illumination.

Wohler and Cinnafilm Joint Venture: Tachyon Wormhole 

Tachyon Wormhole is a file-based Retiming and Standards Transcoding solution which leverages commodity enterprise hardware to deliver content based on time or standards requirements. Fully automated with audio pitch correction and caption retiming, Tachyon Wormhole processes two files faster than real time, simultaneously, on a single small footprint server.

“The HPA Engineering Excellence Award is a tremendous honor and true recognition of the technology innovations achieved with Tachyon Wormhole.  I am excited that this technology also offers our post production customers a truly file-based solution to other more expensive and less versatile alternatives,” said Craig Newbury, VP of  sales, Wohler.

The HPA Judges Award for Creativity and Innovation in Post Production was conceived to recognize companies and individuals who have demonstrated excellence, whether in the development of workflow and process to support creative storytelling and/or technical innovation. A jury of peers and industry experts determines the HPA Judges Award winners.

The 2014 winners of the HPA Judges Award for Creativity and Innovation in Post Production are:

American Society of Cinematographers: Color Decision List (ASC CDL)
The ASC CDL helps maintain and communicate creative intent, from production, dailies, post, VFX and editorial, in a multi-facility, multi-vendor environment. The ASC CDL enables creatives to set the look of a shot via system-independent primary color corrections communicated as metadata from on-set through dailies and post. Developed by the ASC Technology Committee — a broad group of industry members working to benefit the industry — the ASC CDL is freely available, saving time and money, improving the artistic result and audience experience in the vast majority of motion pictures, TV shows and VFX.

“The ASC CDL was developed to help all participants in the production and post pipeline most effectively produce the best result and deliver the creative vision of filmmakers to audiences,” said David Reisner, D-Cinema Consulting. “The ASC CDL could only have been created by filmmakers, the post community, and vendors’ active collaboration.”

DigitalFilm Tree Cloud Post Workflow Initiative (ProStack)
ProStack enables instantly accessible, widely deployable post production. ProStack packs the capacity and bandwidth needed to manage the entire post process- high-end color correction, VFX and DI workflows- into a scalable solution. Flexible design and implementation incorporates the best tools for every job, connecting all users via cloud storage. ProStack, in conjunction with Critique, integrates the entire spectrum of file-based workflows into one hub, while simultaneously embracing the evolving role of production and the post facility.

Digitalfilm Tree’s Guillaume Aubuchon

“We have been focused on developing a system that is truly cloud based and easily useable for our clients, an OpenStack environment with secure and instantaneous access,” said Guillaume Aubuchon, DigitalFilm Tree CTO. “It is an honor to be recognized by the HPA for our work on ProStack, and we are honored to receive our second C&I Award.”

Tickets for the HPA Awards are on sale now.

DigitalFilm Tree embraces OpenStack and cloud-based post workflows

The studio is running OpenStack private clouds for TNT’s Perception and ABC’s Mistresses.

By Randi Altman
Los Angeles — Ramy Katrib and the team over at DigitalFilm Tree (www.digitalfilmtree.com) have always set their own path. I first met Ramy at NAB in 2001. He was there looking at tools that would allow him to embrace a data-based workflow, something he thought was the future of post. He thought right.

He has spent over 14 years successfully creating data-based workflows for TV series like Scrubs, Cougar Town, NCIS: Los Angeles and feature films like Her.

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