Tag Archives: Postal

Storage for Post Studios

By Karen Moltenbrey

The post industry relies heavily on storage solutions, without question. Facilities are jugging a variety of tasks and multiple projects all at once. And deadlines are always looming. Thus, these studios need a storage solution that is fast and reliable. Each studio has different needs and searches to find the right system to fit their particular workflow. Luckily, there are many storage choices for pros to choose from.

For this article, we spoke with two post houses about their storage solutions and why they are a good fit for each of their needs.

Sugar Studios LA
Sugar Studios LA is one-stop shop playground for filmmakers that offers a full range of post production services, including editorial, color, VFX, audio, production and finishing, with each department led by seasoned professionals. Its office suites in the Wiltern Theater Tower, in the center of LA, serve an impressive list of clients, from numerous independent film producers and distributors to Disney, Marvel, Sony, MGM, Universal, Showtime, Netflix, AMC, Mercedes-Benz, Ferrari and others.

Jijo Reed and Sting in one of their post suites.

With so much important data in play at one time, Sugar needs a robust, secure and reliable storage system. However, with diverse offerings come diverse requirements. For its online and color projects, Sugar uses a Symply SAN with 200TB of usable storage. The color workstations are connected via 10Gb Ethernet over Fibre with a 40Gb uplink to the network. For mass storage and offline work, the studio uses a MacOS server acting as a NAS, with 530TB of usable storage connected via a 40Gb network uplink. For Avid offline jobs, the facility has an Avid Nexis Pro with 40TB of storage, and for Avid Pro Tools collaboration, a Facilis TerraBlock with 40TB of usable storage.

“We can collaborate with any and all client stations working on the same or different media and sharing projects across multiple software platforms,” says Jijo Reed, owner/executive producer of Sugar. “No station is limited to what it can do, since every station has access to all media. Centralized storage is so important because not only does it allow collaboration, we always have access to all media and don’t have to fumble through drives. It is also RAID-protected, so we don’t have to be concerned with losing data.”

Prior to employing the centralized storage, Sugar had been using G-Technology’s G-RAID drives, changing over in late 2016. “Once our technical service advisor, Zach Moller, came on board, he began immediately to institute a storage network solution that was tailored to our workflow,” says Reed.

Reed, an award-winning director/producer, founded the company in 2012, using a laptop (running Final Cut Pro 7) and an external hard drive he had purchased on sale at Fry’s. His target base at the time was producers and writers needing sizzle trailers to pitch their projects — at a time when the term “sizzle trailer” was not part of the common vernacular. “I attended festivals to pitch my wares, producing over 15 sizzles the first year,” he says, “and it grew from there.”

Since Reed was creating sizzles for yet-to-be-made features, he was in “pole position” to handle the post for some of these independent films when they got funded. In 2015, he, along with his senior editor, Paul Buhl, turned their focus to feature post work, which was “more lucrative and less exhausting, but mostly, we wanted to tell stories – the whole story.” He rebranded and changed the name of the company from Sizzlepitch to Sugar Studios, and brought on a feature post producer, Chris Harrington. Reed invested heavily in the company, purchasing equipment and acquiring space. Soon, one bay became two, then three and so on. Currently, the company spans three full floors, including the penthouse of the Wiltern Theater Tower.

As Reed proudly points out, the studio space features 21 bays and workstations, two screening theaters, including a 25-seat color and mix DI stage with a Barco DP4K projector and Dolby Atmos configuration. “We are fully staffed, all under one roof, with editorial, full audio services, color correction/grading, VFX and a greenscreen cyclorama stage with on-site 4K cameras, grip and lighting,” he details. “But, it’s the people who make this work. Our passion is obvious to our clients.”

While Sugar was growing and expanding, so, too, was its mass storage solution. According to Zach Moller, it started with the NAS due to its low price and fast (10Gb) connection to every client machine. “The Symply SAN solution was needed because we required a high-bandwidth system for online and color playback that used Fibre Channel technology for the low latency and local drive configuration,” he says.

Moreover, the facility wanted flexibility with its SAN solution; it was very expensive to have every machine connected via Fibre Channel, “and frankly, we didn’t need that bandwidth,” Reed says. “Symply allowed us to have client machines choose whether they connected via Fibre Channel or 10Gb. If this wasn’t the case, we would have been in a pickle, having to purchase expansion chassis for every machine to open up additional PCI slots.” (The bulk of the machines at Sugar connect using the pre-existing 10Gb Ethernet over Fibre network, thus negating the need to use another PCI slot on a Fibre Channel card.)

American Dreamer

At Sugar, the camera masters and production audio are loaded directly to the NAS for mass storage. Then, the group archives the camera masters to LTO for deep archival, for an additional backup. During LTO archival, the studio creates the dailies for the offline edit on either Avid Media Composer (where the MXFs are migrated to the Avid Nexis server) or Adobe Premiere (where the ProRes dailies continue to live on the NAS).

When adding visual effects, the artists render to the Symply SAN when preparing for the online, color and finishing.

The studio works with a wide range of codecs, some of which are extremely taxing on the systems. And, the SAN is ideal, especially for the raster image files (EXRs), since each frame has such a high density — and there can be 100,000 frames per folder. “This can only be accomplished with a premium storage solution: our SAN,” Reed says.

When the studio moved to the EXR codec for the VFX on the American Dreamer feature film, for example, its original NAS solution over 10Gb didn’t have enough bandwidth for playback on its systems (1.2GB/sec). Once it upgraded the SAN solution with dual 16Gb Fibre Channel, they were able to play back uncompressed 4K EXR footage without the headache or frustration of stuttering.

“We have created an environment that caters to the creative process with a technical infrastructure that is superfast and solid. Filmmakers love us, and I couldn’t be prouder of my team for making this happen,” says Reed.

Mike Seabrooke

Postal
Established in 2015, Postal is a boutique creative studio that produces motion graphics, visual effects, animation, live action and editorial, with the vision of transcending all mediums — whether it’s short animations for social media or big-budget visual effects for broadcast. “As a studio, we love to experiment with different techniques. We feel strongly that the idea should always come first,” says Mike Seabrooke, producer at New York’s Postal.

To ensure that these ideas make it to the final stage of a project, the company uses a mixture of hard drives, LTO tapes and servers that house the content while the artists are working on projects, as well as for archival purposes. Specifically, the studio employs the EditShare Storage v.7 shared storage platform and EditShare Ark Tape for managing the LTO tape libraries that serve as nearline and offline backup. This is the system setup that Postal deployed initially when it started up a few years ago, and since then Postal has been continuously updating and expanding it based on its growth as a studio.

Let’s face it, hard drives always have the possibility of failing. But, failure is not something that Postal — or any other post house — can afford. That is why the studio keeps two instances per job on archive drives: a master and a backup. “Organized hard drives give us quick access to previous jobs if need be, which sometimes can be quite the lifesaver,” says Seabrooke.

 

Postal’s Nordstrom project.

LTO tapes, meanwhile, are used to back up the facility’s servers running EditShare v7 – which house Postal’s editorial jobs — on the off chance that something happens to that precious piece of hardware. “The recovery process isn’t the fastest, but the system is compact, self-contained and gives us peace of mind in case anything does go wrong,” Seabrooke explains.

In addition, the studio uses Retrospect backup and restore software for its working projects server. Seabrooke says, “We chose it because it offers a backup service that does not require much oversight.”

When Postal began shopping for a solution for its studio three years ago, reliability was at the top of its list. The facility needed a system it could rely on to back up its data, which would comprise the facility’s entire scope of work. Ease of use was also a concern, as was access. This decision prompted questions such as: Would we have to monitor it constantly? In what timeframe would we be able to access the data? Moreover, cost was yet another factor: Would the solution be effective without breaking our budget?

Postal’s solution indeed enabled them to check off every one of those boxes. “Our projects demand a system that we can count on, with the added benefit of quick retrieval,” Seabrooke says.

Throughout the studio’s production process, the artists are accessing project data on the servers. Then, once they complete the project, the data is transferred to the archival drives for backup. This frees up space on the company servers for new jobs, while providing access to the stored data if needed.

“Storage is so important in our work because it is our work. Starting over on a project is an outcome we cannot allow, so responsible storage is a necessity,” concludes Seabrooke.


Karen Moltenbrey is a long-time VFX and post production writer.

Behind the Title: Postal director of operations Jason Mayo

NAME: Jason Mayo

COMPANY: Postal

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
Postal is a VFX and animation studio made up of artists and producers that like to make cool shit. We experiment and push the envelope, but we’re also adults, so we get it done on time and on budget. Oh and we’re not assholes. That would be a cool t-shirt. “Postal: We’re not assholes.”

Postal is a creative studio that believes everything starts with great design. That’s our DNA. We believe that it’s always about the talent and not the tools. Whether it’s motion graphics, animation, visual effects, or even editorial, our desire to create transcends all mediums.

Postal’s live-action parent company, Humble is a NY- and LA-based home for makers —directors, writers, creatives, artists and designers — to create culture-defining content.

Coke Freestyle

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
Director of Operations

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
I spend a lot of my time on biz dev, recruiting interesting talent and developing strategic partnerships that lead to new pipelines of business.

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
Probably picking up garbage. Creatives are pretty messy. They leave their stuff all over the place. The truth of the matter is, it’s a small company so no matter what your title is, you’re always on the front lines. That’s what makes my days interesting.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
Definitely competing for projects we’re passionate about. I love the thrill of the chase. Also I love trying to keep our artists and producers inspired. Not every project needs to win awards but it’s important to me that my team finds the work interesting and challenging to tackle.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
Probably the picking up the garbage part. I’ve ruined a lot of shirts. I also hate seeing content on TV or on the web that could have been produced by us. Especially if it turned out killer.

WHAT IS YOUR MOST PRODUCTIVE TIME OF THE DAY?
I have two daughters and a puppy so by 8am I’m basically a broken man. But as soon as I hit the office with my iced coffee in hand, I’m on fire. I love the start of the workday. Endless possibilities abound.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
Probably a cool middle school English teacher. The kids would call me Jay and talk to me about their problems. Honestly though, when I’m done working I’ll probably just disappear into the woods or something and chase possums with a BB gun.

HOW EARLY ON DID YOU KNOW THIS WOULD BE YOUR PATH?
It was an accident. I wanted to be an actor. My mom’s best friend’s, ex-husband owned a small post house and he hired me as a receptionist. I was probably the greatest receptionist of all time. I thought being in “entertainment” would get me to Hollywood through the back door. I still have about 500 headshots that I never got to use.

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
We’ve had such a crazy year. We’ve done projects for Pepsi, Coke, Panera, Morgan Stanley, TED, Canon, Billboard and Nike.

TED Zipline

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
I really love the TED stuff we do. They are a dream client. They come to us with a challenge and they allow us to go away, come up with some really imaginative stuff and then present them with a solution. As long as it’s on brief, it can be any style or any execution we think is right. We love that type of open collaboration with our clients.

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
If we’re talking about apps, as well as hardware, then that’s easy. Sonos because it’s all about the music, Netflix because… zombies, and ride sharing apps because cabs are dirty and they make me nauseous.

WHAT SOCIAL MEDIA CHANNELS DO YOU FOLLOW?
In general, I’m pretty active on social media and we actually just launched Facebook and Instagram pages for Postal. In a parallel universe I’m a dad blogger so I’ve always been big on community via social media. Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are the standards for me, but I’ve been Snapchatting with my daughter for years. I do have a Pinterest page somewhere, but it’s devoted solely to Ryan Gosling.

DO YOU LISTEN TO MUSIC WHILE YOU WORK?
I’m a heavy metal guy so pretty much anything heavy. I do also love me some Jackson Browne and some Dawes. Oh, and the Pretty in Pink soundtrack, of course.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
I try not to let it get to me. It’s way tougher raising two daughters and two dogs. The rest is a cakewalk. I do binge eat from time to time and love to watch horror movies on the train. Always a good way for me to decompress.

Storytelling with social media

Design and VFX shop Postal — the sister shop of production studio Humble — embraced social media storytelling about two years ago. Since then they have been finding different ways to engage audiences using apps that allow for a more targeted user experience.

Postal’s executive creative director, Sam Stephens, was kind enough to answer some questions for us about this new way of working and the specific challenges this genre brings.

SamStephens-colorcroppedWhat do you like about creating content for social media, compared to more traditional 30-second spots?
When we first really started getting involved with social media projects a couple years ago, there was actually some initial skepticism around whether this type of work was just “throwaway” content — but we were pleasantly surprised to find that that couldn’t be further from the truth.

This realm of “micro-storytelling” is a whole new avenue with its own rules, and it’s been really fun and interesting to experiment and innovate. Even though the content is only an average of 10 seconds, you still have to figure out how to effectively tell a story with a clear arc of beginning, middle and end. You still need an escalation and a payoff. And it still needs to look professional, even if you’re shooting on your phone. So I like all these creative challenges.

Another thing is that social media really is how people are consuming their news and their ad content more and more — pulling up their apps on the bus or waiting in line for coffee. So it’s fun to be working on these projects that feel a little more personal and a little more tailored.

What are some of the technical and practical challenges that come with social media content creation?
Well, the most obvious challenge is the time limit — Vine is well known for its six-second limit, but regardless of platform we think it’s best to keep content under 20 seconds. Brands don’t want to be too invasive or demanding of their followers. But an equal challenge that’s not as apparent is sound — or lack thereof. A lot of people check their apps in public places or at work, so they have the sound turned off — so we have to make sure that anything we creatLowes-Snapchat-Still007e works just as effectively with no sound.

Another consideration is that each platform has its own unique user interface and backend. For instance, on Snapchat, you can tap the screen to advance through a Snapchat Story. We recently helped launch a Snapchat channel for Lowe’s, and we leveraged that unique tapping feature to create a series of stories called “In A Snap,” where each tap cleverly causes a reaction that moves viewers through the different steps of a DIY project.

However, there were a few challenges: we had to shoot entirely on our phones, and since Snapchat doesn’t allow for any editing or overlaying of graphics, everything had to be rigged practically… any visible wires had to look charming rather than sloppy, and if there were any mistakes we had to start the whole shoot over. But it paid off and ended up being a really fun and well received project (it even picked up a few Cannes Lions) because it uses the inherent quirks and features of that specific platform. The level of interactivity makes it really special.

Success in social media storytelling is about more than just making a shorter version of a broadcast spot and plastering it across all your social media platforms – you have to think about what types of stories will work on each platform.

How did Postal first get started with social media storytelling, and what are some other lessons you’ve learned?
Postal first partnered with BBDO in 2014 on the “Fix in Six” Vine campaign for Lowe’s, which we’ve been a part of ever since. We deliver a new round of Vines every few months. That campaign is always fun because we get to do stop-motion animation, and deliver practical tips to consumers. Stop motion is great for these because we can include the actual physical tool or product being referenced, and shoppers can then easily recognize it on the shelf.

The challenge on these is always, how do we take an extremely brief, utilitarian tip and turn it into a compelling story? Over time we’ve learned that the further we push into absurdity, the more successful and sharable these are. Everyone loves the Yeti!

PaneraCan you talk about a recent job?
Our most recent project was a series of cel-animated videos for Panera, promoting its Rapid Pick Up service on Facebook and Twitter. There are four videos total. Each one is based on real Tweets or Facebook posts from customers about why they use Rapid Pick Up. We expanded those tidbits to create a 20-second story for each.

Facebook and Twitter don’t have as many visual quirks or restrictions as other platforms, so we had a lot of creative freedom. We opted to use a unique visual style for each video, ranging from mixed media to heavily stylized using a Panera to-go bag as the background for all four to serve as the common thread. The stories have really resonated, already racking up over 3.2 million Facebook views.

As we’ve become more fluent in micro-storytelling, we decided to push ourselves even further through a company passion project called Postal Stamps. This is a series of our own seven-to-ten-second narratives, leveraging different CG and animation styles. It’s actually more challenging in some ways to come up with a pure narrative that isn’t tied back to a product or brand. It’s exciting. It’s almost like being back in film school and just tapping into those basic creative instincts. The first Postal Stamp video recently launched and we hope to continue this project for a long time.

What’s your favorite social media platform right now?
Snapchat is probably the most intriguing one. It’s much more private, your content is fleeting (even sponsored content isn’t up there for much more than 24 hours), and it only just launched an API for advertisers in June. So it feels a little like the Wild West, which is really exciting to me. Snapchat presents a lot of creative challenges that are fun to dive into.

Postal grows staff with Uvphactory’s Damijan Saccio, Gene Nazarov

By Randi Altman

Industry vet and Uvphactory co-founder Damijan Saccio has joined New York City’s Postal as executive producer. Postal, Humble’s sister shop for design and VFX, also brought on creative director Gene Nazarov. He too arrives from motion design and visual effects studio UVPhactory, which Saccio co-founded in 2000.

I first met Saccio about 14 years ago. I remember talking to him about animation and how his role as a teacher at a variety of colleges in the New York area helped him find young talent trained on Softimage his studio’s software of choice at the time — while Saccio continues using Softimage, he did add Maya and Cinema 4D to his toolbox.

Saccio and I have kept in touch through the years — he has helped make me smarter about animation, motion graphics and stereo — so when I heard the news about his move, I decided to reach out.

This is a big move. Any hesitation at all about going from owning your own shop to working for someone else?
Yes, indeed, it was a big change. I’ve been my own boss for about 16 years now and it’s definitely going to be a bit of a change from having my own company. But I would always joke that I had the strictest boss, so I guess this new gig can only be an improvement. But, seriously, I’ve been very fortunate in finding the fine team at Humble. It turns out that the owners and head of new business all have a lot in common with me. We immediately got along and have the same goals. The best thing was that they had strengths I had been looking for and I have strength they had been looking for. It sounds like a soundbite, but if really seems like it’s a perfect match.

Does this allow you to focus more on the creative and less on the day to day?
Yeah, there’s definitely less of the “I need to make sure we order more toilet paper for the studio,” or “I need to re-wire that janky Ethernet connection,” and more about coordinating the delivering of nine versions of a set of soft drink spots on time and make sure all the crazy amount of awesome effects we’re adding are completely seamless.

What do you think you can accomplish at Postal that you might not have been able to do at Uvphactory?
Well, I think it’s mostly a question of scale. We will continue to be able to do a lot of cool artistic and experiential projects we were known for, but now we’ll be able to do more larger scale and higher-end projects that I think will really make people’s heads turn!

Humble has some amazing directors in their roster, and I look forward to helping them realize the height of their visions, in addition to doing some amazing new things that will really help define Postal as the design and creativity cauldron that it now is.

You brought some of your guys with you to Postal? Why was that important?
Well, my team is my family, and really it’s all about the individuals that make a team so good, so of course I wanted to make sure that our core crew was going to have an opportunity to really shine at this new location.

The guys at Postal are extraordinarily talented and we’re excited to work together to make cool new things. I’m all about taking people from myriad backgrounds and putting them together in one room.  I think this new mix is going to create some really cool stuff.

What tools do you use?
We’ll use whatever it takes to realize the visions of our creatives, but the usual tools that consistently get used are Maya/Softimage with Vray/Redshift, Nuke/After Effects, Flame and Final Cut Pro.  There are a lot of other bells and whistles we employ, but these are the ones that are consistently used.

What are you working on now?
Well, you know how it is, I can’t really talk about any of the things we’re in progress on, but suffice it to say there’s some super funky soft drink spots about to come out, and we’ve just started on some pretty hilarious bits for a St Patrick’s Day promo. There are a number of other commercials we’re starting on as well but I have to wait a bit longer before I can talk about those!

Main Image: Damijan Saccio and Gene Nazarov.