Distributing Creativity: The Growth of Cloud-based Workflows
COW Library : Art of the Edit : Kylee Peña : Distributing Creativity: The Growth of Cloud-based Workflows
"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?
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.
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.
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.