Avid, Adobe, Blackmagic: Talking With Titans at NAB 2018
COW Library : NAB Show : Hillary Lewis : Avid, Adobe, Blackmagic: Talking With Titans at NAB 2018
As much as each year's NAB Show is about what's completely new, it's about hearing what's new from the industry's most enduring companies. Creative COW Contributing Editor Hillary Lewis sat down with representatives from three of the biggest titan companies in production and post -- Avid's David Colantuoni, Adobe's Laura Williams Argilla, and Blackmagic Design's Dan May -- to discuss the thought process behind their releases, what people might overlook, and their outlooks on the future of the industry.
David Colantuoni, Sr. Director of Product Management at Avid
Creative COW: What were the most exciting releases at Avid Connect this year?
David Colantuoni: Avid Connect announced a wonderful reveal of new products and services, everything from VR to how we covered the Olympics were discussed. It’s unbelievable. Plus we introduced Jeff Rosica as Avid’s new CEO and he kicked off the Avid Connect event. A couple of advanced things: last year we announced our partnership for Microsoft, who assisted us in taking the platform and building it in the Cloud. We’ve been working diligently over the last year to release products that work with Microsoft Azure.
We announced Avid | On Demand, which is, at its simplest, editorial on demand. So that’s running Media Composer and cloud storage in Microsoft Azure. So if you’re an editor you can easily with the click of a button edit in the cloud, without having Media Composer on your laptop or desktop. That’s the future. With that, there’s a whole host of other things involving archiving content in the cloud.
We also announced Avid | AI, which is using cloud services to enhance the production process as well as cognitive services such as facial recognition and speech recognition. This is a huge part of our cloud initiative, so as we bring our components and move them to the Cloud, Microsoft will offer more features to enhance the production process even further. Those were the biggest components of the announcements.
(You can see the full list of Avid’s new products mentioned above here: https://news.creativecow.net/story/892917)
Why is making your software subscription-based such a priority for Avid now?
We’re not just at the top of the industry. We’re in the corporate environments, we’re in the big studios, we’re in television production and when we get Media Composer to students and aspiring professionals for free, they can start learning and creating with the same tools the professionals use. It’s about accessibility.
And no, we didn’t necessarily wait for the Cloud to be released for the subscriptions to become available, they’re not mutually exclusive. This is really about us providing students with Pro Tools, Media Composer and Sibelius, but if they’re going to work in the cloud someday then that’s great and available to them as well.
What’s the most overlooked feature Avid is releasing this year?
People might be afraid of the cloud, but it’s not necessarily a feature. The common response is “I don’t know what that is, I don’t need a platform.” And they don’t want to pay attention to it. The way I like to explain it is, don’t be afraid of the platform. Don’t overlook that the platform is only helping you evolve your workflows to get your work done more efficiently.
Avid Media Central
Avid MediaCentral media management is a great example of why a platform benefits you and your workflow. What’s really cool is you can start to add on to those cloud services, for example if you link the Avid | AI tool to Microsoft Azure now you’re adding in all that AI and metadata to do more searching for you. And that’s why it’s so important. It doesn’t change what an editor does everyday, it just makes the creative process easier.
(More info on Avid MediaCentral here: https://www.avid.com/products/mediacentral)
How are standards changes incorporated into your pipelines? Do you get ahead of standards changing before they are ratified?
No, we don’t normally adapt to standards changing before they’re ratified because we’ve done that in the past and we want to make sure we’re in line for the industry. Although 25 years ago that’s not how Avid worked, but now we participate in SMPTE standards and IMF creation, etc.
So our philosophy is we participate and adopt as soon as they’re ratified. For example, now we’re looking to adopt IMF into Media Composer where we weren’t before. Same thing with codecs. As they evolve, we adopt them. We’re involved in the standard settings in the committees so it makes it easier for us to accept it after it’s ratified.
What’s the biggest change you see for editors in the future?
Without a doubt it’s the cloud. I’ve talked to a lot of editors and done a lot of presentations, and shown them the cloud, and they are usually convinced they don’t need it. And I tell them, “Well your boss and your boss’s boss are already looking at this and asking about it. Not only that, they have it running and you don’t know it.”
It’s incumbent on Avid to make sure that the experience they have today is the same experience they have in the cloud, so that an editor doesn’t care. They don’t even need their own laptop with Media Composer installed which frees them to edit anywhere, anytime. That’s going to be the biggest change.
Laura Williams Argilla, Director of Product Management for Creative Cloud
Creative COW: What is most exciting about the Adobe releases this year?
Laura Williams Argilla: The theme of our releases is really about efficiencies and workflow. How do we help people get the best out of the technology that they’re using to make the most beautiful, most compelling content in the least amount of time? One of the things with the boom in content right now is everyone is looking for video, even in non-videocentric industries. Companies are using video more and more to drive customer behavior and it puts a time crunch on creators.
The timescales for that work hasn’t shifted at all, so are focused on, and will continue to be focused on, helping creatives alleviate the tedious, repetitive tasks. With that, one of the announcements this year is the single-button shot-matching with facial recognition and preservation of skin tones. It is completely new in Premiere Pro and has been built from the ground up with Adobe Sensei.
For me, the thing that opens it up so much, it’s not giving you a black box setting. It gives you the adjustments in the Lumetri panel so it’s fully editable after the fact. Very frequently that starting point might be exactly what you want, but you’re not spending an hour to get something acceptable, you’re spending a click and a couple of adjustments to get something perfect. That’s one of the things I’m most excited about. We have also been continually investing in our color workflows since that has been asked of repeatedly.
In After Effects I’m most excited about Master Properties, to have more control over your comps and the relation to those comps will dramatically improve the user experience and workflows. I think it will revolutionize how people do high-volume work in After Effects.
Most people aren’t aware of the full capabilities of Sensei. Could you summarize it in a nutshell?
It’s advanced technology that helps accelerate creativity. You wouldn’t directly access Sensei but it’s powering most of our tools in Adobe. For example, our new auto-ducking feature uses Sensei. Also things like color-matching and shot-matching, those algorithms responsible are Sensei algorithms. It’s a platform that includes machine-learning and advanced algorithms. You will never touch Sensei it’s just there.
If people understand our approach to using AI and machine-learning I think it becomes significantly less scary. I know people express concerns like “It’s going to take my job,” but I don’t believe creativity is something a machine can do. I think there’s something uniquely human about how we create.
Adobe Sensei can help you with the tedious or repetitive tasks of your everyday job but can’t help you actually create. When things are too perfect they start to feel unreal, so that spark of imperfection is what makes something creative, and machines just aren’t ready to do that. Sensei will help you find or discover what you already have.
(Learn more about Adobe Sensei here: https://www.adobe.com/sensei.html)
How do you think the industry will look in 10 years?
It’s so hard to predict because every year we’re seeing new trends emerge. I think we’ll see more micro communication and broader range of voices creating content because the cost of access is so much broader now, which I think is exciting. I think we’ll have more powerful tools for even greater creativity even though we’ll continuously be running against the clock.
We’ll continue to see the development of multi-pronged approach to storytelling. So instead of a fixed primary platform for a story like broadcast or cable or streaming, there will be multiple touch points associated with that story, like universe building, where I can interact through social or direct contact with the characters of that story through immersive content. We’re in a really interesting time for storytelling.
Why do you think that having separate Adobe tools that talk to each other is a better approach than, let’s say, Blackmagic’s approach of including all tools in one application?
It’s fairly simple: when you have a massive tool it becomes harder to learn, more difficult to navigate, and the user experience becomes overly complex. So if I am primarily approaching a problem as an editor, and I have to go into a complex application to do motion graphics (when I don’t need that level of complexity) means that my learning curve for that application just skyrocketed. The paradigms across applications don’t always support the same workflows for audio or editing or coloring anyway, so as an editor I’m happy to switch my frame of thought to move between them.
We believe that Premiere and the NLE is the hub of post-production creativity and that more and more people are starting in an NLE. From there, the circle of what they do is gradually easing outwards. I can do what I want in my primary tool and jump to an advanced tool like After Effects if I need to. It’s easier to get started, easier to get to success, and easier to do the 90% required and then jump to a different tool to do the remaining 10%.
If you think about your living room, I don’t need everything in my house directly in my living room. Right? I might have a pass through from the kitchen where I can get water and food, I may have a small bathroom right off the living room. We do this because it’s less stuff to manage.
What’s the biggest theme of NAB from year to year?
Consistently what we’re seeing is one-stop video has changed. People have started to accept that social media and social video are a key part of their communication strategy. You have to understand where people are consuming content and how data is driving production and how you can speed up production. The timeline for content creation has been compressed and compressed again. Everyone is pinched for time and everyone is looking for efficiencies.
(For more info on Adobe’s releases: https://news.creativecow.net/story/892783)
Dan May, Blackmagic Design, US President
Creative COW: What is most exciting about the Blackmagic releases this year?
Dan May: We have a good affirmation with the direction that we’re going from our customers. We feel really good about where we sit in the market and how well-received our products have been. We feel like we diversified the product releases and have a good subset of announcements for the show. We knew that the announcement of the Pocket Cinema Camera 4K would suck up most of the attention. [It’s been in the works] basically forever. Basically the year after we released the Pocket camera, we started thinking about it. Even before people realized it was in development, they would make the suggestion of the Pocket 4K.
Blackmagic Design Pocket Cinema Camera 4K
When we came out with the Pocket camera and then the Production 4K camera afterwards, at the time we thought that was about as small as we could get in a 4K camera because you’re dealing with a sensor that’s generating heat and the recording format. So when that original idea came up we said “We don’t know if we can do it.”
But we got more thermal experience with heat dissipation so as time went on we started to realize we could. Obviously this pocket isn’t as small as it was before, but that’s all we could do with the restrictions of the technology. Had we just rushed and jammed something out it would never have been what it turned out to be today.
(More info on the Pocket Cinema Camera 4K: https://www.blackmagicdesign.com/products/blackmagicpocketcinemacamera)
Bringing in Fusion to DaVinci Resolve -- how long has that process been and how can you ensure that the software is stable?
The biggest fear there was everything shutting down and all our customers wanting the tool for editing, but they can’t do anything because we added so many things that the program conks out. We’ve always asked ourselves, can we make this single software so someone could use and it nearly does everything.
It’s taken a lot of optimization to add all these new pages, and last year adding Fairlight we started at 60%-70% of the total features. And as we optimized and things were functioning we added more and more of each program into Resolve. Now we’ll spend the next year optimizing Fusion, with the goal of having all the programs fully integrated. The entire architecture of Resolve has been worked on for years and the goal was while we worked on Fusion 9 we knew the next step was integrating a large subset of that directly into Resolve.
(More info on the addition of Fusion in Resolve: https://www.blackmagicdesign.com/products/davinciresolve/fusion)
If you look at Adobe, they have distinct applications that overlap, so why does Blackmagic choose to go about it in the opposite way?
I don’t think there’s a wrong or right answer. I think you choose a path and go that way. The benefit we are trying to bring to the table is the fact that we don’t have to worry about conforming or round tripping. We have the ability to say “Look, if you learn this and only use this bit, but if you need to get to that other tool, then it’s right there”. I am an editor and I don’t do VFX but, man, I really need to rotoscope out that one thing. Well, to do that in Adobe I have to go to another application, use the tool, and then bring it back in and hope it all works. And every application looks completely different compared to the other.
Now that is all totally fine, but wouldn’t be great to be able to click one clip and adjust it however I want whether it be color grading, audio, or VFX? We understand that most people will see that as a benefit. There’s risks of course, if you’re a mega production company and you have a zillion people working on it how do you have protections and privacy, and so on? But for us overall it’s an easier way to monetize. Instead of monetizing each application, we only worry about monetizing one.
The second part of that strategy is that our customers will use our software, and then start using our cameras and equipment. The infrastructure we have allows us to offer this software for either $295, free with a camera or a free download that will do 90% of what you’d probably need it to do. We don’t need pinch monthly pennies from our customers because of that same infrastructure. But of course there’s pro and cons to every business model, and again no right way of doing things, but that’s how we’ve been able to tackle it how we have.
Can you talk about how the company decides new products and services?
This company is interesting. It’s a lot of people that maybe haven’t run a company like this before but they come from the same industry. So we understand the trials and the tribulations of working in this industry, wanting to get projects done, being up at 3am with a cup of coffee, deadlines and everything in between. Ultimately we know what we would like to see out of our company because of that.
We don’t do a lot of user studies because we think we already know who are users are, we talk to them everyday -- and we also used to be them. So it ends up being a roundtable approach with everyone asking “What would you want? What would you like to see?” We throw the dart kind of knowing that it’s already going towards the dart board, but because we’re so nimble and flexible we can always go back and develop it more perfectly. I’m sure you’ve seen over the last 5 or 6 years we’re constantly reinventing, tweaking, and improving and that’s the kind of benefit we have.
Why did your approach to cameras have staying power compared to other companies who also surprised us by creating a camera that have fizzled out over the years?
We have a lot of infrastructure with Resolve. And with our other partners out there. But we also had a lot of that IP developed already. We had cameras that were already recording the RAW and ProRes codecs, we had cameras the were micro and were small and fit in tight places, etc. So we had a lot of pieces already there, and, while there were obstacles, I think we started in a different place from others. That’s a big reason why we’ve had the success in cameras that we have.
Since these cameras are so affordable, how do you see people using them and how does Blackmagic support the users?
The high end of the market is where you want to show your product’s capabilities to make a hollywood motion picture but the reality is, what we’re really building it for, is for everybody else. The student filmmaker. The independent person trying to make a living. The person with passion projects. And that volume is what keeps Blackmagic going.
We’re selling cameras for $1295 but offering Resolve for free with that purchase because that volume is already there. At the end of the day we’re always asking ourselves “How do we help someone who’s new in the industry empower themselves, be creative, and be successful?” And those high-end production places may be a little frightened by the low cost we offer, but they actually want those benefits too. They want to find talented people in the market who are already using these tools because they’re accessible. Which means there’s wider pool to choose from and brings in new blood of qualified people where training isn’t really necessary.
We know high-end post is important but there’s so many vloggers and e-gamers and all these places where maybe the budget’s not established, but they can look at Blackmagic with a modest investment to get going.
What are your thoughts on ProRes RAW?
I have thoughts. I have Blackmagic thoughts and I have Dan May thoughts and I don’t know what to give you. But the reality of the situation is that we’re a big partner of Apple and we have 24 ProRes compatible products and we’ve worked closely with them on Thunderbolt. But we move at our speed and they move at their speed. We’re engaged in that conversation and we’ll see where things go from there.
We always want to be compatible but on the camera side of things we already do RAW and we already do all those other ProRes. So I’m not sure what ProRes Raw gives us yet, but I’m sure as we move down the process with Apple we’ll figure out what makes the most sense. It’s hard to see us not working together with them through all those levels.
Blackmagic Design Multiview 4 HD
Is there any of your releases this year that could be overlooked?
A lot of other announcements, like the Mini Converter updates for example, we sell a lot of and they’re not as glamorous and it’s hard to get excited about MultiView 4 HD. I think the new Syntel Scanner for HDR passing is really cool, but all of that just applies to a smaller piece of the market than DaVinci Resolve 15 & the Pocket Cinema Camera 4K and that’s why they dominate so much news.
But that’s one of the reasons why we have to be very smart about how we release announcements, putting those broadcast announcements earlier in the year so that they can have their own space and won’t need a lot of air time because they’ll exist and do really well. And then we can focus on the big products later.
HILLARY LEWIS: MY TAKEAWAY
Accessibility, accessibility, accessibility. After talking to all three of these industry mammoths, the huge theme is providing access to everyone.
Whether it be releasing monthly subscriptions or developing high-quality affordable cameras, it’s hard not to notice how the top-tier companies are racing to offer these advanced tools at lower cost or even free. As someone who never had access to Avid in school due to budgeting, having the ability to learn industry-leading software before graduation would have been invaluable. This will open up new doors to young creatives and small post-production operations wanting to master those life-changing applications or cameras before they enter into the industry.
Speaking of accessibility, here's Creative COW's Hillary Lewis (second from right) with recipients of Blue Collar Post Collective Accessibility Program grants for all-expenses paid trips to NAB for low-income working editors (from left to right) Brittany Joyner, Natalie Setoute, and Hannah Byars-Walker.
Some say that this newfound access has broadened the available talent pool at the expense of increasing competition, but how exciting is that?! Let’s be honest, if we’re only filling jobs with people who can pay an arm and a leg for software and cameras, are we really recruiting the best talent possible? Growing as an industry means creating more jobs with a more diverse workforce, a new spectrum of ideas, and better access to the tools we all use to create. That fosters inspiration for us all.
The titans might be onto something.