Using technology to bring us even closer to you

Thomas Urbye, CEO:

2018 marks an important change for us as a facility.

The Look’s focus is on making everyone’s lives easier by utilising technology, and to make sure that our clients can access and review the information they want whenever and from wherever they need.

We will use new technology to implement services for our clients that will allow them to  review wherever they are – so not only will our Welsh office have our Video Over Internet technology, we’d like to roll this service out to our client’s offices.  This is particularly useful for exec reviews when they are up against their own pressing schedules and delivery deadlines are fast approaching.

We’re also working with the team at SAM, who design our Rio 4K grading and online systems.  Together we will launch a new tool that will allow clients to log in to a video player within an internet browser (computer or phone), review a programme, and allow comments at specific points on anything within the sequence.  Again, this allows stronger remote working for those unable to get to the grade or online sessions, or for those that want to select clips or create their own timeline, from either the dailies or the graded project.

In 2018 we’ll be using ‘dark fibre’ to connect ourselves to other buildings within the M25, the connections are the same as if we had the equipment in our Margaret St facility.  Our first direct connection is to Dolby in Soho Square, as we’ll be handling projects that involve Dolby Vision grading for Netflix.  It also means we are able to open offices as required outside of W1.

Mark Maltby, CTO:

One of the problems with the post-production pipeline is that there are quite a number of aspects of it that aren’t particularly interesting, but which are as necessary as the grade or the mix.

Conforming, paperwork DVDs, file QC, Media Silo links, promotional clips and the like, all consume valuable resources that drip-drain the post budget. Nobody likes paying over the odds for the necessities, and when you add the ‘wow’ factor of working in London, with at least two Prets and a Leon within your WiFi range, the overheads start to stack up.  

So do these necessities actually need to be serviced in town? You wouldn’t travel into Oxford Circus just to buy loo-roll, so why pay a premium to subsidise floor space for making a DVD?

So how do you decentralise these necessities?

The mid 1990s gave us the internet, allowing companies and workers (whose biggest file attachment was an Excel spreadsheet!) to decentralise their operations – the 21st century “Cloud” promises new opportunities to the post production industry. With file based delivery being the new norm, the central London MCR, with its operator warming their hands in the tape slot of an HDcamSR deck, is on the wane. I read somewhere that there would be no new MCRs built in town after 2012. By 2017, we would all be working at a Microsoft Azure virtual PC, delivering directly to Netflix without a single hard drive ever entering the facility. DVDs would be a thing of amusement, like VHS tapes, consigned to being used as retro coasters by engineers whose role had evolved into IT support.

But as we started shooting 4K and delivering uncompressed 16bit, decentralising the storage or the processing suddenly looked less achievable. The cost of the storage and the speed of the pipes to and from it (I won’t go into my thoughts about the privatisation of the telecoms industry and its wholly predictable effect on the investment in the infrastructure!) made it a costly and impractical solution.

Of course, in the future, it is likely that all of our rushes will go straight to Amazon Web Services from set. Post production will live in the cloud, end to end, from capture to delivery. So whilst we wait for infrastructure to allow this to happen (reliably), how can we get started on this pathway to decentralisation?

Here at The Look, we began by investigating ways to move the non-client attended work offsite, but without the “job” ever leaving the Margaret Street building.

You don’t necessarily need to move the media when decentralising – or the processing power (the ‘kit’). Both of these can stay exactly where they are. What you can move is the space taken up by operators carrying out the necessities – conforming, checking the timeline against the offline, filling in the online spreadsheet, making and watching DVDs for paperwork – freeing up valuable floor space for the jobs that clients want to travel into town for.  

The first part of the solution was Keyboard, Video and Mouse (KVM) over IP, which is basically sending the keyboard, video(monitor) and mouse controls over the internet – imagine a very long USB cable!) it’s not a new technology; other facilities have been using this for many years. Locally it gives you the flexibility to have all of your machines in one place (the MCR) and move the seats from room to room at the click of a button.

Extending this concept securely over the internet allows you to put your operators wherever is convenient and economical, whilst still controlling the same machines back at base. And in recent years the infrastructure has gotten fast enough to support this reliably to a much wider area.
Add to this technology a secure encode of a video feed to a remote location, and you suddenly solve a lot of the problems that historically face post production schedules such as:

  • Remote working for more picture critical unattended tasks such as QC and online.
  • Remote viewing for clients who aren’t able to attend a review in person, but can connect to a secure stream from their locale.
  • 24 hour support for most tasks.
  • Resources can be scaled quickly to respond to unforeseen circumstances – no need to block book time in suites ‘just in case’, or chasing ever busy suites for simple updates.

The best laid plans of mice and men go out of the window when faced with the curveballs of the modern post schedule.

Digital cinematography has enabled content makers to capture much more than they could with film for the same budget, and this enables more creativity, and less need for rigorously planned shots.

But carrying this mindset into post can quickly cause delays if changes need to be made at the last minute. So rather than trying to modify the way people think, and ultimately stifle creativity, we have tried to innovate in ways that allow us to embrace creativity. Decentralising the necessities is allowing us to pool more resources towards embracing creativity in the major creative hubs of the UK film and Television industry.  

As the projects themselves move to different corners of the UK, the systems we have put in place today can be set up almost overnight anywhere in the country with a decent internet connection.

2018 marks an exciting time for us as a facility and we hope you’ll join us on the journey,

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

Thomas Urbye CEO & Mark Maltby CTO

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