Business of Film: Cloud-Based Dailies Take Off
Dailies for both film and video production are moving rapidly into the cloud for many good reasons.
By Mark Overington President, Aframe North America Burlington, Mass.
Collaborators in different locations need ready access to files that may reside elsewhere. To meet that need, a secure cloud resource becomes a central project space that enables a degree of workflow efficiency that is not possible when content resides only on premise.
Isn’t dailies a silly term that for years was a misnomer? “Dailies” rarely if ever arrived in a day—certainly not when distribution relied on DVDs and hard drives being couriered around to the different reviewers. The norm was at least 30 hours after processing, and often as much as two or three days later. Often, dailies arrive too late for feedback to be meaningful in checking color, determining if the feel of a shot is just right, or any other myriad elements of creative control that set a stellar production apart from one that’s just OK.
However, with a cloud-based dailies workflow, teams have:
- Easy point of access—for team members with varying degrees of technology savvy. Particularly with location shoots, production companies need to make it easy to get review and approve content so the rest of the work can get done efficiently. Secure cloud approaches are a perfect complement to the dailies review and approval workflow
- Faster turnaround—enabling faster decision-making so projects get to edit faster, in a more organized way, saving time and money.
- Greater security—while cloud-based solutions usually inspire an immediate question about content security schemes, continual headlines about screeners and bootleg DVD copies being ripped off suggests that sending multiple physical copies around represents a perhaps worse security consideration than controlled digital access.
- Better production—with a clearer view of the whole production and the ability to make sure the content presents a consistent style, look, and quality. It provides added time to spend on perfecting your creative instead of waiting for hard drives to arrive.
As a result, major production companies and broadcasters are using the cloud as an adjunct to existing on-premise resources, enabling the best of all worlds—the physical asset being located on site, but the accessibility and workflow efficiency powered by the cloud.
Both TV and feature films are rapidly adopting cloud-based dailies. MarVista Entertainment is a global producer and distributor of film and television programming that provides programming to U.S. cable networks, including Disney Channel, Lifetime, Hallmark Channel, NBC Universal, and MTV Networks, as well as key international broadcasters.
Rich Carroll, post-production supervisor, began using a cloud-based approach to dailies review and approval from Aframe in summer 2012. Previously, MarVista performed transcoding after receipt of raw daily footage, adding a few hours to processing time. Then it either used couriers to drive raw footage across town, or used a costly, dedicated digital dailies solution. Dailies took up to two days to deliver.
With a cloud approach, MarVista is getting dailies up and ready to watch an average of 24 hours earlier than before. The speed and ease of use also allows fast identification and fixes of issues the next day, and makes it easier to keep an entire team of professionals in many locations on the same page creatively.
Aframe is the only digital dailies solution MarVista has used ever since implementing it on such programs as Gone Missing in 2013. Recent cloud-assisted dailies efforts include Starving in Suburbia (pictured), which aired on Lifetime TV, and more than 20 additional movies, including holiday 2014 specials Naughty and Nice and Christmas in Fashion; the teen-oriented drama The Assault; and Mothers of the Bride.
MarVista’s new workflow involves sending footage direct from multiple camera types into Aframe’s cloud-based video production solution. Once there, the original rushes are stored and web-friendly proxy files are generated automatically, saving an extra step (and several hours) in the production workflow every day. The new, cloud-enabled workflow avoids the need for transcoding, burning, and distributing 10 sets of DVDs each day. They simply can upload raw footage and send one email with a link to an h.264 proxy, to be viewed anywhere and anytime from any device by busy producers and network executives on the go.
“Aframe rivals major digital dailies solutions, feature for feature, and its use costs us a fraction of dedicated solutions,” Carroll says. “The user interface is so intuitive that a non-computer user can navigate it without asking for assistance.”
Sixteen19, a boutique production and post-services company that provides a digital dailies service to filmmakers, used Aframe’s cloud video production platform to expedite digital dailies delivery on two feature films from Scott Rudin Productions: Rosewater, comedian Jon Stewart’s directorial debut which opened in November 2014, (pictured) and While We’re Young, scheduled for theatrical release in March 2015 by distribution company A24.
By using a cloud-based approach, Sixteen19 clients can get dailies at 5:00 or 6:00 in the morning instead of noon and enjoy a fast, easy review on their choice of mobile device while getting full resolution content to both London and LA and from there, right into post-production. A team of about 20 executives reviewing the content could make frame-accurate comments on the h.264 proxy that Aframe generates, and the metadata would stay intact all the way through to the edit suite.
Because the full resolution content resides in the secure private cloud, specialty post services in Seattle and LA also could access files simultaneously. The cloud also enables quick and easy review for all different kinds of personalities—some who like drilling into the technology and others who just want to hit a button and comment.
“Having a clear and simple interface can do wonders for making your client happy,” said Ben Baker, workflow supervisor on the two projects for Sixteen19.
Other firms are using cloud-based dailies workflows to expedite review and approval, and also to enable advanced proxy-first workflows that save significant time and hassle, particularly with international shoots.
National Geographic’s Ultimate Airport Dubai, shown in the United States and whose Season 2 just debuted, was produced by Arrow Media of London. The series (pictured) spotlights one of the world’s fastest growing airports and follows some of the 60,000 staff responsible for moving 57 million passengers and 344,000 flights a year.
Using cloud-based dailies review and approval saved 20 weeks on the edit—about two weeks per episode—and allowed the project to be completed under budget. The added timesavings enabled the team to spend more time working on the content—ultimately resulting in a better show.
Arrow Media also used an innovative Proxy First workflow to expedite the process. During Season 1, Arrow Media’s team shot 600 hours of footage in Dubai, and wanted to decrease that amount for the next season. In addition, the team wanted to address a classic issue with factual TV programming: while shooting, the location crew follows a story thread, but once the dailies are reviewed, sometimes the story may be missing an important element that requires a reshoot or a change. To Arrow’s team, it was important to get dailies back to London faster for those important assessments of whether shots were just right or even if the stories that form an episode hold together.
The Proxy First workflow involved sending the camera-generated proxy file straight to the cloud. The main cameras recorded to XDCam disc at XDCam HD422 50mbps, but these cameras also generate low-resolution proxies as part of their folder structure. Arrow Media’s team uploaded the proxies to Aframe for the loggers to view and log. In London, team members downloaded the proxy files (as originals) and ingested them into Avid for the assembly edit.
This speed and agility enabled the production team to pull the proxy files into the edit and assemble stories while the original could be relinked for the main edit after arriving by hard drive. Nick Metcalfe, executive producer, said that with the cloud behind its dailies review and approval, Arrow Media cut the amount of footage shot in Dubai from 600 hours to 360 hours—a 40-percent savings. More importantly, this workflow enabled a better quality program, because the team went into the edit fully knowing that the stories they were working on were of the caliber they needed.
Embracing a Cloud-ier Future
Cloud-based dailies review and approval workflows represent a significant improvement to the best practices in our industry. Naysayers may dismiss cloud approaches as still too new for major productions, or more hype than reality. But by using Aframe, they have the ability to take their content, put it up onto our Cloud service and manage it directly over their Internet browser from anywhere or anyplace that they choose to go. So, it really takes the complexity and the challenges out of what we call “data wrangling.” As the time, cost, and hassle savings attest, we’ll all be reading more about major productions that are adopting the cloud for dailies workflows in 2015.