SWOT: Managing file-based workflows
Jesse Korosi
Issue: December 1, 2015

SWOT: Managing file-based workflows

The world of file-based workflows is a constantly-evolving place where new ideas and systems are taking shape every day. Some of these systems that have been in place since the early days of film have proven to still be very valuable, whereas some other systems have changed, making the creative process pretty exciting for those willing and ready to embrace it. Some have referred to this file-based age we are living in, with so many formats, codecs, color spaces and workflows, as the Wild West. So where is 2016 taking us? Are we leading deeper into this Wild West era with a lack of standardization, or are we beginning to finally clear a systematic path.

STRENGTHS: "Healthy competition is great for any industry! Where some see the ‘Wild West,’ others see exciting progression. The bar continues to be raised on all fronts, whether that is in the form of higher demands on cameras’ dynamic range, resolution or color fidelity. On-set software companies now need to step up live grading abilities to be 4K and save high resolution stills alongside their typical grading files. The same goes for transcoding software. These are coming out by the dozen and putting pressure on companies to continue developing and innovating. For these examples, I personally do not see this Wild West nature changing for the foreseeable future, as each of these innovations continues to spark new ideas and creativity leading to endless innovation.”

WEAKNESSES: “It is certainly great that we keep getting inundated with more and more camera format options. However for anyone that does not focus on this type of thing full time, it has become exceedingly overwhelming. Until recently Blackmagic was not even a player in the camera game. Out of nowhere they came out with the Ursa, the Ursa Mini, the Micro Cinema and of course the Cinema camera. This is just one of many companies that have dived into the camera game and started to flood the market with new cameras. Each camera company seems to also be coming out with its own proprietary color space and format. This Wild West nature of having eight different formats and color flows in conform is probably not going to change any time soon. We may eventually be able to standardize a workaround for this, perhaps by monitoring in ACES and following an ACES pipeline for post. That would get us off of this ridiculous Wild West path cameras are taking us on!

“At Bling, we are very fortunate to have the ability to walk down to our camera prep bay and test new cameras by running them into a conform scenario.  I have no idea how other facilities are able to keep up without that access. Each new camera that hits the market has its own little quirks… The live signal out of it may be in extended range and can’t be switched, or there is a delay, or its filenames are massively long and cause issues for conform, or the clips do not have TC. Aside from the obvious question of: ‘Is this camera’s recorded image pleasing to the eye,’ there are a ton of technical questions about workflow that need to be sorted out every time a new format hits your door. To go full circle, I do not see this changing and the Wild West on this front is just going to continue getting thicker.”

OPPORTUNITIES: “With so many different software and hardware options for doing on-set through dailies tasks, we are now able to customize choices based on the job’s needs. This idea of customization for each job could be looked at as the Wild West.  I say, bring it on. Let the workflow specialists lead the path when confronting the unique challenges for any job.  

“Are you shooting a lot of day-for-night shots that need specialized grading, but you can’t have anyone grading on-set? It may make sense to set up an iPad that connects with your lab to share colored stills for approval.  

“Want to sit in on color sessions with your lab? No problem. Ensure that you deploy a system with a dailies colorist set up in a controlled environment.  

“Shooting in a ton of remote locations and need to keep things nimble without anyone tethered to the camera? No problem. Have your DIT color your files after they have been recorded and downloaded. Or just roll with a LUT box and have your lab pre-create looks that continue to update throughout the shoot. 

“Shooting on a Red, need to live grade, but can’t be tethered to the camera? No problem. Use FoolColor and wirelessly transmit the looks back into the camera for SDI monitoring!

“There are many ways to tackle a job and I do not see that changing in the foreseeable future. As long as you have someone tech savvy enough to navigate these waters, you should welcome these conversations to ensure you get things right — the first time!

“New ideas for utilizing the cloud are starting to finally take shape for those of us working with massive file sizes. Until recently, uploading the kind of sizes we deal with was a (insert geeky pun here) pipedream… especially when we have cameras like the Arri 65 now rolling 2.8TB an hour!! However with Internet lines now being much more affordable and data centers being in most major cities, there is a ton of opportunity here! When it comes to data storage, the Wild West is going to get crazier. Many companies are just now starting to see the real-world benefits of using such a workflow.”

THREATS: “With so many options for software and hardware to bring to the table, who is vetting which are acceptable? Which systems are deemed un-safe and therefore not worthy of high-end productions? Unfortunately the answer is: this is the Wild West and there is no sheriff in town.  

“As the lab, we typically take on this responsibility, flagging when someone’s meta data will not track through into different departments, or when certain practices are putting the negative in jeopardy. However the lab does not have the authority to tell someone not to use a certain application or piece of hardware. The lab can flag it to higher-ups and conversations can be had, but due to the depths of file-based workflows, it is very, very difficult for people in authoritative positions to know the ramifications of issues when they are flagged.”

CONCLUSION: “Redundant copies of media on-set, MD5 checksums on at least one master copy, two final LTO tapes for archival, delivery expectations from a lab, break-off procedures, maintaining folder structures for all camera masters. All these things have been, for the most part, standardized on scripted dramatic work. Amongst the chaos, certain things are pulling away from the Wild West era and becoming more common practice. I see the industry continuing to move in this direction slowly but surely. However new software/hardware, meta data communication methods and camera formats I do not see changing. I see these continuing to feed the Wild West. With the continuation of change and innovation on this front, I see a need to have a workflow producer assigned to each job. This person would oversee the entire workflow of a job. He or she would communicate with each department to ensure that all formats, codecs, color spaces, meta data and communication is streamlined. Having this person involved will ensure that poor workflow decisions will not be made that may affect the budget.”

Jesse Korosi is the Director of Workflow Services at Bling Digital in Los Angeles (www.blingdigital.com).