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Distributing Creativity: The Growth of Cloud-based Workflows

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CreativeCOW presents Distributing Creativity: The Growth of Cloud-based Workflows -- Art of the Edit Editorial


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"Post-production is a collection of talent backed by engineers and architects. It's still going to be about talent, but the way we get from A to B is going to change," said Josh Rizzo, Director of Technology for Hula Post. What's the thing in between A and B right now? The ever-mysterious, all-knowing, omnipresent cloud.

"Cloud" is a buzzword that's been around a while, so I didn't exactly expect to hear it so much at NAB this year. But everywhere I looked, companies were introducing or refining their own "cloud" or otherwise collaborative solutions for their own services. I mean like, everybody. Computing has been cloudy for a while, but as far as film and television (and other forms of video content creation) go, it's still relatively young for the mainstream. There are a few reasons why its growth has been met with some caution and skepticism -- privacy, security, infrastructure -- and maybe most of all: what the *$&^ does CLOUD even mean?

Josh Rizzo, Director of Technology at Hula Post
Josh Rizzo
Cloud computing to some is a form of magic. To others, it's an access term having to do with a software tool or app that's built and shared across a public network. To really be a true cloud cloud technology, it has to be "infinitely scalable software-defined infrastructure that has security implemented at every level" -- according Rizzo, anyway.

Basically, the cloud is a thing where the physical infrastructure does not define its size. It is, at its most basic level: storage, computing power, and networking. But to confuse matters, "cloud" is often used as a marketing term to describe all sorts of software and services that are stored or deployed through a server. Rizzo says "it almost always meant 'the other, the thing we cannot control, don't put your stuff there because we don't know what's going on' ... Now it's flipped and we put everything there."

These sorts of technologies have grown to be more useful and ubiquitous over the last few years, in part because of the willingness to adopt them. Photos, videos, documents, financial information. While the growth of the cloud has been limited in the past by things like bandwidth and connections, the real pushback was trust -- you want me to put that into some invisible place in the sky? But the ubiquity combined with the dropping costs to make it work have helped new applications and services to descend from the stormy clouds above.

Cloud-based workflows are pretty awesome for post production, and one reason they've become what they are? Besides affordability and trust, the tsunami in Japan in 2011. After the devastating effects of the earthquake and subsequent tsunami, tape became hard to come by and file-based workflows got a major boost in adoption rates. More file-based workflows meant higher shooting ratios, generally speaking.

Matthew Schneider, Director of Technology at Technicolor PostWorks NY
Matthew Schneider
Like 4300 hours of footage for eight 44-minute shows according to Matthew Schneider, Director of Technology at Technicolor -- PostWorks in New York. Schneider said these insanely high shooting ratios aren't unusual, and centralizing yet distributing post-production tasks over the cloud -- stuff like making proxies for dailies, logging with rich metadata, between 150 edit rooms between multiple locations in the city -- makes everything more cost-efficient in the end.

Another benefit of the cloud from Schneider: protection from natural disasters. When Hurricane Sandy hit the east coast in 2012, Technicolor -- PostWorks' Manhattan location was not reachable. Schneider said a client wanted to know their footage was safe, and even asked him if he could go to the office and pull the drives with their stuff on it. Besides the fact it wasn't safe to go into the area, Schneider had to explain the nature of the SAN, that drives weren't necessarily entirely dedicated to their projects, and they can't just drive away with the system.

With a cloud workflow in place, these issues aren't a worry anymore. Footage (and everything that goes along with it) resides in a place where it can be directed as needed. And the rich metadata helps build a living archive around it for the future -- infinitely scalable, richly metadata'd footage forever.

Avid Media Composer Cloud was one of the most notable cloud collaboration services to hit the video world recently. Media Composer Cloud allows anyone with an internet connection to a workgroup where multiple remote editors can work simultaneously to combine footage and send it back to the home facility, even generating proxies in the process while the full resolution footage is pending upload. And uploads of media can start before the sequence is complete and checked back in.

Adobe Anywhere, introduced last summer, was recently adopted by CNN for world-wide cloud collaboration. It was designed to augment existing infrastructures to provide a centralized location for sharing media and projects that can be shared between anyone with access. A heavy emphasis for Anywhere is just that, anywhere -- with a collaboration hub based on the existing servers, and Adobe's Mercury Streaming Engine to enable real-time viewing of source material instead of proxy creation. And of course, this all works through the Adobe Creative Cloud toolset (which itself is not the kind of cloud we're talking about here, which is an example of how confusing some of this gets.)

Quantel's Qtube is another global collaboration platform, but with a head start on Avid and Adobe. It was released in 2011 and got some updates at NAB this year, but the concepts are the same: scalable, project and media access and sharing from all over the world via Mac, PC, or smart phone, all built upon Quantel's sQ system. A nifty feature of Qtube is sub clipping, even of live recordings, in a web browser. The best sub clips are compiled and instantly available to everyone with access.

I mean, it's pretty cool you can do frame accurate editing remotely. Producing full pieces, collaborating with people on the other side of the world with the same media, organizing and tagging media for future use. Anywhere and everywhere with an internet connection, and that includes 4G/LTE, thanks in particular to broadband bonding. Productions and post are mobile and location agnostic, for real.

Beyond the actual collaboration platforms meant specifically for us, it's interesting to see how other services have become so heavily adopted for different parts of the production and post process. Like communications. Skype is used all the time for meetings or auditions. Apple's FaceTime or iChat screen sharing is used for reviews and feedback.

Or document sharing. Services like Dropbox and Hightail are an essential part of the approval process or asset-sharing process for many. Google Docs has become vital to a lot of the scriptwriting and project management tasks producers deal with. Everything integrates, notifies, and syncs. It's interesting to consider how these services may become integrated further with the specific video creation tools we use.

And while Adobe, Avid, Quantel, and the rest continue to do their thing, Hollywood will be a big part of the continued evolution and adoption of the cloud for collaboration. DigitalFilm Tree has been designing clouds for clients for the last five years, with Rackspace servers powered by OpenStack, an open-source cloud building technology. These cloud are private and specific to each customer, and pre-date any of the other services available.

Ramy Katrib, CEO of DigitalFilm Tree
Ramy Katrib
Ramy Katrib, CEO of DFT said "the biggest challenge [of introducing the cloud to people] was explaining it." But I suppose when you follow up with "you can do color correction and visual effects at the same time, you don't have to physically move from one room to another room," you get executives interested. And they have, continuing to push cloud technology further for major clients shooting 50TB or more a day.

And HP recently announced that it will invest $1 billion over the next two years in its own OpenStack-based public cloud service, HP Helion. An alternative to the cloud services Google and Amazon provide, HP's main offering is providing a way for processes to be split between running internally and externally. Whatever that means for the IT geeks among us, it seems likely that it'll affect the cloud scene for video too -- HP is one of the major contributors to developing OpenStack.

Probably the biggest issue facing cloudy technologies for the future: security. And privacy. Assuring clients that their stuff isn't just secure, but not accessible to any ol' computer nerd kid with a little time on his hands. Over the last year in particular, giant vendor after giant vendor have reported compromised internal systems, with new passwords and new debit cards being issued in the wake of each leak.

As Rizzo said, "anything that can be built can be hacked." But the cloud? It's a "combination that keeps changing." People want it to succeed as a technology, so it has strong teams behind it, helping to sort out the privacy side of things. It seems that for many, the possibility of minor data leaks is worth the major cost savings in labor and ease of use for collaboration.

The future of the cloud is bright, but not without its challenges. Like Rizzo put it, "a hundred years of filmmaking is being asked to trust 60 years of IT in a ten year timespan." There's a lot of potential for expanding global collaboration for filmmakers and content creators as the pipelines become more solid and the software gets cheaper and faster. There's an opportunity beyond just placing the existing tools we have into a cloud system for usage by everyone. We have the opportunity to make new tools and figure out new creation paradigms that really take advantage of the cloud and redefine what it means to create -- and where.







Comments

Re: Distributing Creativity: The Growth of Cloud-based Workflows
by Victor Carbonneau
Thank you for starting this discussion. We are big fans of distributing our creativity. Hey Guy Media started as a small company in Los Angeles. We now have a second office in Dallas and after 16 years of editing in Los Angeles, I am now heading up our third office in New England. We also utilize freelancers from all over adopting the concept of choosing our talent based on skills over location.

We are currently using Cubby (from the same people who bring you LogMeIn). The cloud feature has been great for accessing files in the field, sharing with clients, and receiving assets from clients and cameramen. What we really like about Cubby versus many of the other services is it also provides us with direct sync. It allows us to sync computers in each of the office together. Assets are shared, everything can be accessed locally in each office and we have off site backup built in to the workflow. There are plenty of other solutions out there and as both technology and needs evolve, so do we. For now, Cubby is working very well for us.

As for our talent, they have enjoyed the freedom to work from anywhere. We still do look for quality editors and graphic artists. Yes, there are people out there who can do it cheeper. But getting the job done well, on time and within the budget are very key. Finding people you can rely on to do this is essential. While our creativity is getting distributed and more work is getting performed in the cloud, the personal touch that can be gained with a bit of face time is being lost. I have always felt that this is a key element to any client-vendor relationship. Perhaps to others it won't be as important and they may outsource over seas. For me, that personal connection will always be important and can be a valuable asset to clients as we move forward into the cloud.

Victor Carbonneau
Re: Distributing Creativity: The Growth of Cloud-based Workflows
by Stephen Streater
I like this article and discussion, which understands some important points.

It might be worth mentioning a pioneer of professional cloud video post-production. Forscene was maybe a little of its time, launched in 2004, long before the word "cloud" was used, let alone misused. It is a proper cloud platform, so you can edit and publish from any web browser on any computer without needing to install Forscene client software, through the use of Java.

Forscene is a high-feature frame accurate cloud editing platform, which also supports logging, review, publishing and hosting, as well as features made possible by the internet such as real time support Chat rooms.

Since its 2004 launch, Forscene has handled over 4,000,000 hours of professionally shot content - a record which appears to make it the number one professional cloud video platform, though there are still few to choose from so this may not be as impressive as it should be.

Over 100 TV series are being made on the platform right now, but it perhaps first gained a significant international profile when Google licensed it for NBC's use in the Summer Olympics in 2012. From tens of thousands of hours of source video, over 3,500 hours of content was edited in Forscene and then published at HD (also in Forscene) for various clients.

Experience built over the ten years does indeed answer some of the questions raised in this discussion.

Just calling something "cloud" doesn't give it the advantages of a cloud platform. Some have already been mentioned, and include scaleable shared infrastructure, IT experts managing IT leaving media companies to make media, browser access from PCs or Macs, access from any location - and these days from mobile devices like tablets. Forscene has been billed for many years as "Any time, Any device, Anywhere".

"Maybe someday we'll access editing software through a cloud. It's not really all that feasible right now, but that would be pretty cool, actually. Especially if we could leverage the power of a souped up computer sitting somewhere else to edit remotely on low powered laptop. Lots of opportunities for awesome stuff there." - Yes - this is what Forscene does. Frame accurate editing through the cloud. And, to achieve its highly responsive interface, it uses its own efficient technology so that the low powered laptops (or even tablets) are enough for frame accurate work, including with multicams. So no need for the expensive souped up computer after all. So cool and awesome!

With the cloud you can have multiple sites for the offsite backups. So a Hurricane in the East Coast is not the end of your data, even if you never see those particular servers again. Lost data can be backed up again automatically from the other backups.

"I think soon we'll see efficient redundancy across multiple data centers, not just for multiple copies, but for less latency when accessing from different locations."

Forscene uses the client CPU, so not only is it scaleable (each client bringing their own CPU to the platform), but the client is right there doing all the processing, so there is no latency (at least in practice).

Forscene also uses a proxy, so that you don't need to upload all your hi res source into the cloud if you don't want to. People often work with the proxy and only upload the hi res for conform and hosting - or, in broadcast TV, integrate via AAF with a more traditional editing system such as Avid for finishing, never needing to upload the hi res into the cloud.

So, in a nutshell, if you are interested in cloud, Forscene is worth a look.

Stephen Streater
Forbidden Technologies
Re: Distributing Creativity: The Growth of Cloud-based Workflows
by Michael Belanger
Of course Pete hit the nail on the head regarding outsourcing to cheaper labour markets.
But my take is that the main edit software companies are wising up to a number of things. One... the cloud helps to eliminate or at least mitigates the proliferation of stolen software and people essentially setting up shop with zero cost. Two ... there is a big advantage to having money "streaming" in every month from subscription members. That's big bucks every month for these "cloud" services. Three... the ability to update the software so that everyone who is subscribing now has the latest greatest so-called debugged version. Nice that everyone working on the same project is using the same version. I've seen the problem where a client has edited a show on their version of a piece of edit software only to have it cause untold grief at the post facility where they have the updated version of the same software. So for those reasons I think the cloud or remote based software provided is here to stay. I am of course against having to pay month in and month out for something that I would prefer just to buy outright.
Now as far as "democratization" of editing. I thought I was the only one using that phraseology... If you watch the documentary "sound city" by Dave Grohl, they touch on this concept of the recording industry being thrust into the hands of utter newbies... I think the same can be said for the post industry. I can really teach anyone how to use a piece of software but it is way way harder to teach someone to actually be good at editing either full online or even just offline content cutting. It is an acquired skill that is not learned overnight. Having said that, there is a very low bar today for editorial with the still dominant presence of reality tv crap. So talent is pretty much irrelevant... it is all about cost... well at least for some shows.
As for the notion that the "cloud" is some magical place where the footage is protected from local disasters... I just gotta roll my eyes and snicker. The "cloud" is really just a pile of servers/drives somewhere else ... if there is a natural disaster where the servers exist your footage is just as insecure as if it were local. So the argument of security is pretty much laughable to me anyways. Now if you are a frequent traveller and like to edit from every room in every hotel that you travel to then the cloud is pretty decent. But in all honesty, I do believe the 3 concepts I put forward earlier are the primary reasons for the cloud to be in existence today.
well my two cents anyways. Sometimes you have no choice to go with the flow.
@Michael Belanger
by Kylee Peña
I'm not really sure how much relevancy subscriptions like Adobe Creative Cloud or Avid Media Composer or Autodesk Smoke have to do with actual cloud computing. Some, but not in the way a lot of people have led themselves to believe. This is certainly one area where "cloud" as a marketing term isn't helping the computing world or confusion about the product.

I mean, "Adobe Creative Cloud" doesn't really fit into any of the cloud computing categories. Cloud-based software that you pay for monthly (or not) is software-as-a-service (SaaS) and it's accessed from the cloud itself through a browser or whatever, like Google Docs. There are aspects of Creative Cloud that are based on a cloud perhaps, but the end user interactions are all local. Yes, it has to be pinged now and again from a server and there are aspects of the whole system that may reside on a cloud, but it's really not truly a cloud-based thing. In fact, a lot of it is no different than what we've been doing with software for several years -- downloads instead of discs, update managers instead of downloads, etc.

Maybe someday we'll access editing software through a cloud. It's not really all that feasible right now, but that would be pretty cool, actually. Especially if we could leverage the power of a souped up computer sitting somewhere else to edit remotely on low powered laptop. Lots of opportunities for awesome stuff there. (See HP's remote workstation capabilities from a Windows 8 tablet for some inspiration on how this could begin to work.)

As far as redundancy, I think it's pretty silly to scoff at it considering your local backups are even less reliable. A lot of people use the cloud as a decently reliable form of redundancy. Maybe I have all my footage sitting on a server in Virginia while my originals are in Georgia. Even without the originals, the cloud computing system has a lot of built in redundancies within the server so there can be no single point of failure. That's a little better than the two hard drives I have sitting under my bed.

There are issues with reliance on one data center (as we saw when Amazon Web Services took out a chunk of the internet for a half hour last fall when one data center was briefly compromised) but with each stumble comes improvements. The internet is still being built and is based on so much archaic stuff under the hood, and the cloud as a concept is even newer. I think soon we'll see efficient redundancy across multiple data centers, not just for multiple copies, but for less latency when accessing from different locations. Maybe that's even a thing now, I'm not sure. The point is it's growing.

Really though, I think if your very first reaction to cloud-based global collaboration is "but outsourcing, but subscription, but cheap quality.." instead of thinking about what brand new ways it could enhance your work and value for your customers, you're setting yourself up to have sort of a bad time.

blog: kyleesportfolio.com/blog
twitter: @kyl33t
demo: kyleewall.com
@Kylee Wall
by Michael Belanger
Well lah dee dah... As an editor of over 25 years I have seen alot and heard alot and run into alot of "editors" who have been pontificating for the grand sum of 3 or 4 years of experience trying to convince the old codgers that the new way is certainly the best way.
Many of us have been using the very services pointed out in the above article for years. My clients don't sit beside me .. I send them files to review if needed. This is not ground breaking. Been working collaboratively with clients thousands of miles away for quite some time.
Redundancy!!!.... Backing up 500 gigs to a cloud service is pretty much ridiculous. Maybe for the ultra big guys with big pipes that might be fast/big enough to accommodate that kind of material. Most of us have proper raid systems with built in redundancy anyways. Storing masters today is usually achieved by TAPE.. LTO or even the dreaded video tape machine like the SR decks etc.. obviously much less today since the Tsunami in Japan kinda killed the tape market...DO they even make tape decks anymore.??? Drives are just not reliable ... not a matter IF they will fail but WHEN they will fail.

As for being open minded. Works for me...been that way for decades .. really the only way to survive... But I simply don't jump on something because someone tells me to...Been doing it long enough to know not to back myself into a corner or leave myself exposed to problems. I don't scoff at ideas just people pushing old ideas as if they were new ideas.
Re: Distributing Creativity: The Growth of Cloud-based Workflows
by Debbie King
I'm happy this topic came up, I have been having discussions with the composer for my film, on which is the best and safest way for me to send him the film. I thought of Dropbox and then I also entertained Google Drive.

Debbie
Re: Distributing Creativity: The Growth of Cloud-based Workflows
by Peter Wiley
This article does not consider the potential economic impact on the postproduction business in the U.S.

One potential impact of the cloud is to hasten the offshoring of lots of postproduction work which will force domestic providers to compete with workers in far less expensive labor markets. This is, of course, a well-established pattern in other industries.

The probable result will be a thinning out of the market in the US and decline of middle class jobs in post.

Executive Producer
Arbour Media LLC
@Peter Wiley
by Kylee Peña
That's a topic that seems like it could be its own article. Yes, cheap and easy global collaboration can be bad for workers.

I would argue that it's also a good thing to democratize post. If it's cheap and easy to collaborate with people despite their location, then location is no longer a factor when considering talent. This requires there to be more of an effort put forth to "stay local" for post, but it's still possible. The business model of post-production is changing, and not just because of this.

We can't resist cloud-based workflows because it's going to happen, so how can we ensure our industry remains stable? How do you attract business to you instead of overseas?

blog: kyleesportfolio.com/blog
twitter: @kyl33t
demo: kyleewall.com


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