Post production in the age of synthetic video

Posted By Tom Coughlin on February 22, 2016 08:50 am | Permalink
At the 2016 HPA Retreat, now run by SMPTE, the hallmark informal interaction between industry media professionals continues. In fact, there will be a UK version of the HPA retreat in July 2016. Some other news is that Leon Silverman stepped down as head of the HPA, replaced by Seth Hallen.

There was lots of talk related to the development of post production.  In particular, several folks at the event talked about traditional post production being a thing of the past, with various post functions distributed between many collaborators and all done with computer hardware. As Carolyn Giardina's session title said we are seeing the rise of synthetic films, where motion pictures are increasingly made in computers. A comment made during the retreat was that studios use several programs to generate special effects and then ultimately select the one that best suits their purpose.  

In a session on Workflows for Extended Formats for TV, OTT and Direct to Viewer applications, Annie Chang from Disney, Bill Baggelaar form Sony Pictures, Larry Chernoff from MTI Post Production and Phil Squyres from Sony Pictures Television discussed trends in video post production. Although RAW video is popular for captured camera content, using RAW content in workflows is uncommon. In particular, it is uncommon for archiving completed projects and masters. In addition to being a proprietary format, RAW content is also rather large, requiring lots of storage capacity.   

Larry Chernoff said that although the 16-bit ESR format may be best visually, it requires a lot of storage capacity and bandwidth. The budget issue is important in broadcast content. He said that 10-bit DPX assembly masters work for them, providing useable content in archiving for future use. Annie Chang also indicated that Disney 10-bit DPX is a useful format for the company. Bill Baggelaar said that they preferred 16-bit, but they also use 10-bit depth. They want to make sure than assembly masters are in log format since with log format, even with some compression, it allows getting back most of what is in the picture. He also indicated that to do HDR right you need 4K video.  

Some other important points were that color depth is important but the correction of color damage is a very important issue. There was also some discussion of adding grain to images. While some folks still feel that this added to the artistic impact of a movie, as more viewers get used to digital images, this is less of an issue.

There was discussion of variable frame rates in several sessions, including a detailed video tutorial on the artistic impact of various frame rates and dwell times by Jonathan Erland. He recommended that one should capture content with as high a frame rate as possible.  Post production processing could then create variable frame rates and dwell times to make various interesting visual effects that could be combined to create an artistic impact within a finished piece.

Visiting the Teradek exhibit in the demo area of the HPA retreat, I found out a bit about how they got into the online post production video streaming business. They have a very brisk business in small encoders. These encoders allow output of camera content to Avid and other editors. The company has sold 45,000 encoders over the last few years and has a single customer that ordered 3,800 encoders last year. 

Their customers wanted them to provide cloud services for ingesting the encoded content and they created their Core service. Core is a Web-based fleet management system for Teradek encoders, decoders and cellular bonded systems. The Core can see all your encoders and control them.  

Teradek use AWS for their Core service and they allow recording the encoder output directly to the cloud. This service can stream data through a CDN using a Livestream account.  They provide a short cut to VLC, an open source video-editing tool that allows users to cut videos. Using the Core service makes transfer of data from cameras to an editing studio much faster than common physical transfer alternatives. This is particularly useful for formats such as H.264 at 10 Mbps or 720p at 7 Mbps. Full resolution files are way to big to make this approach practical.

The Teradek Core differs from services such as Aspera since is streams live video versus a file-transfer. A very interesting approach for doing this streaming is to use their ShareLink application, available for iPhones that can bond the data connections of up to six phones together to serve one feed with load balancing between the phones depending upon their available data rate.

Video editing has entered a new era with the proliferation of software tools for working with modern high resolution, high dynamic range and higher frame rate content. While the costs of the storage and bandwidth often constrain the ultimate content that studios and post houses use for their productive work, as the costs go down UHD, HDR and HFR content will become more common.  

With higher quality content the post artist can create amazing and immersive content with variable frame rates, dwell times and other effects.  If we extend this to virtual reality (VR) and stereoscopic content these effects can be even more amazing.

About the Author:

Thomas M. Coughlin, President, Coughlin Associates is a widely respected storage analyst and consultant.  He has over 30 years in the data storage industry.  Dr. Coughlin has many publications and six patents to his credit.  Tom is also the author of Digital Storage in Consumer Electronics:  The Essential Guide, published by Newnes Press.  Tom publishes the Digital Storage Technology Newsletter, the Digital Storage in Media and Entertainment Report, and other reports.  He is also a frequent blogger for, and other sites.

Tom is active with SNIA, SMPTE, IEEE, and other professional organizations.  He is Education Chair for the SNIA Solid State Storage Initiative.  He is Chair of Future Directions for the IEEE Consumer Electronics Society as well as Director for IEEE Region 6.  He is serving his third term as a member of the CE Society BoG and was Vice President of Operations for three years.  Tom is the founder and organizer of the Annual Storage Visions Conference, a partner to the International Consumer Electronics Show, as well as the Creative Storage Conference. He is the general chairman of the annual Flash Memory Summit.