Charlex's Harry Skopas.
What do you get the visual effects house that does it all? Something that helps them do it faster and more efficiently, of course. New York City-based Charlex (www.charlex.com) is a high-end commercials house that offers - in addition to visual effects - 3D, graphics and branding services. Workflow weighs heavily on their collective minds, which is why Charlex's VP and director of engineering, Harry Skopas, was at NAB in Las Vegas last month looking for tools to help speed up the process of doing their day-to-day work.
Skopas notes that at NAB, "there are many products developed for asset and data management within the broadcast field or within certain product lines. We are looking for different solutions to manage and track our assets, which include all of our 2D and 3D data and all related project data, ie. audio, documentation, source material, etc. - anything that goes along with a project. We work in a collaborative environment where we have many different types of hardware and software systems, e.g Autodesk, Alias, Adobe, etc. Most of the data lives in one central area. We are looking for tools to efficiently manage and track all of our data and trying to find different vendors that may have a complete solution or to give us bits and pieces of tools to see if we can develop a system for our specific environment - not a newsroom, not a broadcast environment.
Here's what he had to say about his studio's needs and some of the tools he saw at the show.
We are very Autodesk oriented so we are always looking for new enhancements that will help us with the work that we do. We hope that Autodesk will incorporate Clip History into a future release of Smoke - it's a great way to manage workflow, a real time saver. It provides all of the clip operations on your Batch Tree for easy clip modifications. This is very useful for us since we have an extremely collaborative environment - History helps to quickly set up the clip when it's handed off between artists. Another tool we will be checking out is Burn, the background processor for Flame and Smoke. Any additional power is extremely helpful, especially when you can send clips out for processing while continuing to work on your project. Lustre will also be a consideration if we decide to get more involved with color correction and grading; it would fit in nicely with our current line-up of Autodesk products. Many of the technology demos that we sat through had interesting visions of Autodesks' existing product line as well as a peek into a few future products. We hope that future releases of the software we currently use will include some of the great features that we experienced at the demos.
We saw some nice tools from The Foundry called Furnace. The plug-ins are not bells and whistles type of sparks but more workflow sparks used for common day-to-day problems - rig and wire removal, stitching pieces of video together, flicker removal, speed changes etc..tools that help us with our everyday work. They are problem-solvers, helping us get our work done more efficiently, which in turn gives us greater creative possibilities.
Motion 2 looks pretty good. We don't do too much work with Final Cut Studio, but can definitely see using Motion as a design-oriented tool. I think all of those products, the whole Final Cut studio, has come a long way since we first saw it. In the type of market we're in - the design and finishing of high-end commercials - where you have clients right behind you, breathing down your neck, Final Cut Studio is more of a back-office type tool.
We just integrated a new Sirius router from ProBel (HD, SD, AES, machine control, etc.). They developed a new Web interface for their Procion control system. It is controlled by hardware panels and a java client that runs primarily on Windows. This Web-based interface will allow us to route from an SGI, Apple, PC even a PDA... anything that can run a browser. It's exciting because it gives us a whole new level of switching control for our entire facility.
Maximum Throughput's Sledgehammer 2 is a NAS device that's got a front end built specifically for our industry. They provide a host of tools that help you with the day-to-day workflow of getting images around the facility, ie. from your renderfarm, external source material, Flames etc.. You can ingest and output video directly from the Max-T as well as store all the frames from various departments. It's a great tool for a 3D department - you can render directly to it and view your rendered frames immediately - it makes it easy.
We saw their new Linux-based technology, Prism, which looks promising. Autodesk has their Linux-based Smoke system, so as time goes on it will be interesting to see the migration from Irix, the SGI operating system, over to a more powerful Linux box. So we will be keeping our sights on Prism and its evolution.
It doesn't really pertain to what we currently do, but the technology is very interesting. As things progress and the industry shifts to disc-based camera systems, I believe we will be using more Filmlight-type products like the Baselight digital grading system and the Truelight color management system. It's an interesting group of tools that allows you to accurately color grade, and properly view your material. Truelight and the Truelight Player allow you to view the different film and data formats accurately on your monitor. It helps take the mystery out of what your footage is going to look like on the screen or on a video monitor. You push a pre-programmed button on your Truelight and your material is accurately displayed on your color calibrated monitor.