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October 2017
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surveys

Facilities 50 2011 Back to Reports & survey Listing

Michael Burns reveals the kit that post houses invested in last year and what they are planning to buy in 2012, and explores the current technology trends in post

The Televisual Facilities 50 survey has become the ideal way to measure the health of the facility market and to take stock of the trends and issues that influence the post production industry. What seems clear is that file-based post production has largely supplanted tape for both SD and HD workflows.

This, however, has also prompted an increase in the need for fast, reliable networking and storage, as well as crucial traffic management. New routes for post are being pushed by the likes of cloud-based editing and the proliferation of HD video on multiple digital platforms, while – given the investment in kit that’s going on – 2012 may finally be the year that stereoscopic 3d makes a major impact on the post scene.

Economic trends
There have been gloomy results in the past, but judging by our survey results, 2011 has been a bit of a mixed bag where the post economy is concerned. Although there were big success stories, it continued to be a troubling year for a large section of the post industry, with many observers noticing a polarisation of the market and the offerings available. “The consolidation in the Blu-Ray / DVD world of 2009/10 was mirrored in post this past year with the Deluxe / Ascent consolidation and the demise of Pepper,” says Goldcrest Post’s chief exec Keith Williams.

 “There is a concentration at the big end of facilities and an emergence of more tiny and truly boutique outfits at the smaller end – the middle is really being squeezed,” agrees Gary Szabo, md of Smoke & Mirrors. “We plan to grow by moving into more territories [S&M’s Sao Paulo office is now live] and investment in talent.”

Julie Redmond, md of Dubbs | Eyeframe, acknowledges that things have continued to be tough, but feels the situation has improved from 2010. “On the DVD/Blu-ray side, budgets have been squeezed so much, pushing a number of authoring companies out of business,” she explains. “This has resulted in content owners now struggling to get the prices they want as remaining authoring companies are very busy.”

The downturn has reduced advertising revenue at Framestore, but film revenue has stayed steady, while digital has grown.  “We have tightened overheads wherever possible and increased our sales efforts, especially overseas,” says Helen Stanley, md for commercials. “The weak pound has helped.”

It’s not just Soho of course. Edit123’s marketing and business development manager Bill Fairweather says the Glasgow facility has been very busy as the switch of network production to the regions kicks in. 422.tv md David Jackson is similarly upbeat. “We’ve had a successful expansive year with significant investment in our Glasgow business,” he says, with an optimistic eye on the opportunities for his Manchester facility as the BBC moves north.

New avenues of technology

Glassworks md Misha Stanford-Harris says that 2011 has seen the post industry become increasingly aware of how to offer their services to a wider set of demands from the customer. “The post production sector is ideally positioned to help unify above the line and digital campaign strategies and is beginning to understand how to sell this to the customer.”

“A lot of post houses are talking about diversification, IP and new revenue streams,” says Ben Foakes of Sequence Post. “It becomes more and more obvious that the traditional model of offline dry hire is increasingly difficult to sustain and make profitable.”

Szabo also feels that facilities now really need to adapt to survive: “Base your business around just one offering and you will struggle,” he says.

That may be one of the reasons for Framestore making a £1.5m investment in kit last year. The facility appears to be bringing a lot of skills inhouse, investing in a motion capture studio and a concept art department as well as setting up a ‘Previsualisation Partnership’. This was in addition to a new 9,000 processor off-site render farm and infrastructure and data storage improvements, including BluArc and a DVS storage area network. Some spare cash was also spent on improving Framestore’s 3d stereoscopic capability.

Framestore isn’t alone in this move to greater flexibility. Mark Benson of MPC has observed that companies delivering post production to the advertising industry are offering a much wider range of creative services this year. “2011 has been a year of continued creative diversification,” he says. “Vfx and production companies are all pushing to offer integrated creative solutions.”

“Compositing is a growing trend for post production,” says Clear Cut Pictures md Paul Austin. “Production companies are starting to use green screen back lots to shoot fairly normal shots to reduce the budget costs of shooting on location.”
 “Post is getting tougher and the client is always looking for more,” says general manager at 66London, Nicolas Wortman. “That is why we have combined our set-up with the addition of a [40-foot green screen and motion control] studio, giving the client more realistic options and choices.”

 “Lower post production budgets have meant that a greater effort has been placed on full-time R&D staff,” reveals Molinare chief operating officer, Scott Holmgren. “This is to ensure workflows are optimised to deliver the highest quality products. We have quoted on more drama productions as broadcasters seem to be re-commissioning more.”

“There has been a shift in technology in terms of what people want to shoot on,” says Prime Focus managing director (UK) Simon Briggs. “So there is a lot of work going into designing and implementing new workflows to meet the growing demand as the industry evolves towards a tapeless environment. Aside from this, post houses are striving to diversify their offering in a variety of ways.”

It’s a view shared by Darren O’Kelly, md of The Mill. “The ‘post’ industry has evolved in 2011 with more and more ‘traditional post houses’ beginning to look for ways to expand their offering,” says O’Kelly.  “The term post production is no longer a relevant descriptor for our business and at The Mill we have been forward focused working on projects from the creative concept through to execution.  We have evolved and grown through our creative talent and have continued to produce great creative work.  As the industry changes, which it has, we’ve been expanding and providing end to end creative solutions for all our clients on any project.”

“The traditional supply chain of ‘client-agency-production company-post house’ continues to be challenged,” agrees Absolute md Andy Barmer. “Agencies are doing post; production companies are working direct to client; post houses are directing work. This shake-up is challenging but is bringing very interesting opportunities for those companies that are flexible enough to engage effectively.”

Camera concerns
2010-11 saw major developments in new cameras, and new camera technology, from the likes of Sony, Panasonic, Red and Arri. This of course had a big impact on the facilities sector.

“The multitude of new cameras with advanced sensors and high image quality at low data rates will mean continual adjustment and workflow challenges for post houses,” says Ben Foakes of Sequence Post. “Most of which will be fairly quick and easy to overcome and will ultimately improve the look and quality of the productions.”

“Hopefully a professional alternative to DSLRs will become available at the right price point,” says Azimuth’s md Neil Hatton. We can then cut out all the time consuming data wrangling needed to post produce Canon 5d.”

The Arri Alexa is also a popular model with productions, a fact reflected in comments from Deluxe142  “The post industry has evolved through the rapid update of digital acquisition and a migration to the Alexa camera,” says marketing director Sally Reid.

It’s not only productions that have been bitten by the Arri bug. George Panayiotou, business development manager at Films at 59, reveals in the survey that the facility has invested in Alexa cameras to service its BBC drama contract in Cardiff.
Vince Narduzzo of Narduzzo Too is also convinced of Arri’s influence. “The Alexa camera, it would appear, is finally taking over from film,” he says.

Storm HD has seen a huge uptake of full frame cameras. “This in turn means tipping the balance more in favour of tapeless workflows,” says the facility’s Tim Wheeler. “Greater confidence in tapeless has led to a shift away from Z1 HDV shooting to EX3/F3 and so on.”

Tapeless workflow
A couple of years ago, although the benefits of tapeless workflows were being touted throughout the post industry, there was still some wariness from productions towards shooting straight to file. Tapeless was seen as more volatile, harder to back up and easier to lose. So many productions continued to back up to tape despite having rushes stored as files.

This has now changed. “The move to full HD and full tapeless production across all sectors is complete,” claims Marc Collins, md at TVC Soho. “We handle almost no SD or tape rushes anymore.”

Prime Focus’ Simon Briggs feels tapeless workflows will continue to be the hot topic within the industry. “They are still new,” he says. “Relatively unknown kit will emerge that is specifically designed to improve the efficiency of these workflows which everyone will be looking to bring in early and get a head start on the competition.”

“We think tapeless will come to full maturity,” said Tim Wheeler, one of the managing directors at Storm HD, which is engaged in a complete refresh of its infrastructure and adding new suites.  ”We anticipate tapeless acquisition from studio shoots and tapeless delivery to broadcasters to be key services to be able to offer.  We are already gearing up for this with extended storage capabilities and investment in the fastest internet connection, enabling swift delivery to broadcasters.”

Unsurprisingly Storm HD is not the only facility with this in mind. “The rise of pure file-based workflows supporting large dispersed workgroups in multiple locations has opened the door to a fundamentally more efficient way of providing TV post production services,” says Barry Jones, one of the managing directors at Hogarth. “It also avoids the need for investment in expensive, static equipment, allowing the modern post production business to be much more flexible.”

The shift to file-based working has also had an economic effect. “The move towards tapeless has had a huge impact on streams of revenue that we used to rely on, like digitising,” says Doghouse md Julian Barton Hill. “You still need people who know what they are doing, but I think production companies just think you can get a runner to ingest so it will cost less. It’s not the case.”

Reticence in the industry towards file-based working has also traditionally been attributed to a fear of getting tied up in different file formats, which would break the seamless nature of tapeless workflows. This has still not been truly resolved. However, according to Clear Cut Pictures md Paul Austin, standardisation of file based workflows will be the big trend in 2012. “We believe that we will start to see less experimentation with formats for low budget productions due to the costs of transcoding in the past,” he says. “We are starting to see this standardisation with the introduction of the XDCAM HD 50 codec fast becoming the norm for television HD productions.  XDCAM HD discs may well become the new DigiBeta tape. 2012 should be the year that we finally see the channels beginning to finalise and standardise their requirements for file-based delivery.”

“Data is definitely the most common format that commercials have been shot on in the last year,” says Finish facility manager Justine White. “The majority of production companies are now using the same data cameras and formats.”

Media management

To face the technical challenges in going tapeless, Clear Cut Pictures was pushed to deliver storage and workflow efficiencies. “We have brought in ISIS and a new technical team to help achieve this goal,” explains md Paul Austin. “The ability to transfer large volumes of data at speed via the Internet is one of the key benefits to file-based tapeless workflows.”

“We believe that providing a reliable high speed, data transfer service will be core to the post production industry in 2012,” continues Austin. “So we will be primarily investing in our Internet capabilities and file based services. WAN accelerator software, file-based compliance software and a first class Media Asset Management service are several of the areas that we will be investing in.”

However, according to Azimuth’s md Neil Hatton, it is the asset management of tapeless rushes that may soon be recognised as a major problem for independent production companies. “Many producers are simply substituting drives for tapes,” says Hatton. “In three years time they are really going to struggle to find and reuse their rushes without a sophisticated catalogue of what is on their drives. There’s a real training need for producers to get to grips with best practices in disk labelling and backup procedures. We are treating it as an opportunity. LTO backups have become a really important part of our business.”

So while tapeless workflows are acknowledged for offering a faster and more efficient route for handling content, it’s plain to see that any savings on the ingest process are being more than offset by the need for investment in reliable storage, efficient networking and traffic management.

“No production deliveries are the same so each production requires tailor-made post routes,” says Halo Post’s Matthew Locke. “Data managers / experts have become as important as creative talent. Development on cameras means so many variable tapeless formats, each requiring different workflows.”

2010-11 saw the Pinewood Studios Group invest in a state of the art media transfer and data centre. “This will ensure clients’ digital and physical assets are not only secure but can be distributed in any format to suit rates and deadlines,” explains facility manager Giles Farley. “[The future holds] a more disciplined approach to data management.”

New platforms

Farley also forsees a greater volume of delivery formats. “For example video games, iPods/iPads, mobile phones and so on,” he explains. “If you’re producing film, TV, games or new media content we can manage your assets from their inception all the way through to distribution, in any format and in more than 40 different languages.”

Locomotion md Dan Coster also sees an increasing demand for content creation and delivery for digital media like iPads, tablets and smart phones. “2012 will see multiplatform deliveries for all commercial media, with more emphasis on iPad/ tablet enabled media,” he says. “We plan to invest more time, energy and resources in creative and production services, to give our clients a full 360 solution/ one-stop shop, either through acquisitions or joint ventures.”

Post platforms are also set to change, with a lot of interest being created by Avid’s web-based service, Interplay Central. “Cloud editing is already available but will become more sophisticated,” says Azimuth’s md Neil Hatton, while Silverglade md Charles Frater foresees a trend in ‘clever’ management of media and intelligent backup in support of cloud style storage systems.

3D or not 3D?
Sales of stereo tellies and glasses notwithstanding, stereoscopic 3d seems to be one of those technologies that really need a bit of a kick-start. Avatar and the 2010 World Cup promised much, but didn’t seem to deliver the big push – at least for TV post.

“The interest from our clients in 3d post production [for television] has been virtually zero,” says Storm HD’s md Paul Ingvarsson. “We’re glad not to have not invested heavily in stereoscopic.”

However looking at the buzz created around Pace-Cameron and 3ality Technica at IBC, you’d think that a big jump to 3d is just around the corner.

As we have seen, Framestore is gearing up for stereo, while others, for example BTV, have seen a big increase in 3d work. “We’re on track to post 100 hours of 3d content in 2011,” says head of facilities, Susan Tunstall.

Air Post has also worked on its first 3d project for Sky, which was broadcast in June. “Air Post along with musician Peter van Hooke produced and post produced the programme, working closely with its project partners Panasonic and Sky,” says Darren Haynes, senior marketing manager.

Molinare is another facility with designs in stereo, investing in stereoscopic scopes and a Dolby 3d cinema/screening room last year and with plans to invest in more stereoscopic kit in the coming year, including 2d to 3d technology for restoration and conversion work. Others are already working in that space – The Farm Group, for example, offers full stereoscopic grading and editing on Nucoda Film Master and Mistika, while M8media’s Jim Allison has also seen business in stereoscopic grading, a return on his investment in Film Master and Barco DP 100 kit. Editz, Envy, Doghouse, Absolute and Deluxe 142 are among the facilities planning to invest in stereoscopic 3d in the coming year.

2011 has already been a big 3d year for Prime Focus.  “Much of the hard work we put in during the economic downturn of the previous years in looking for new ways to grow our offering to clients has come to fruition and we are involved in many exciting new areas because of this,” says Prime Focus managing director (UK) Simon Briggs. “Our 3d conversion process View-D received the ultimate seal of approval when George Lucas selected it to convert Episode 1 of his cherished Star Wars saga, while we were also the lead vendor on the conversion of the final instalment of Harry Potter. Our film division has also moved into a state-of-the-art vfx and stereoscopy facility.”

Briggs believes that the 3d post conversion market will continue to grow, while Keith Williams of Goldcrest/The Pavement thinks there will be an advancement of 3d systems not requiring special glasses.

Kit choices
Looking at the shopping lists of the top 50 facilities, one is struck by the product names that pop up again and again. If the survey is indicative of the industry as a whole, it’s been a good year for Blackmagic Design (the DaVinci Resolve is found on many purchase lists), the Foundry (Nuke has been very popular), SGO (Mistika), Quantel (Pablo), Avid (editing systems, Pro Tools and storage (ISIS and Unity)), Autodesk (Flame and Smoke on the Mac), while also there’s been a lot of investment in grading systems from Filmlight and Image Systems. Storage, including Sony’s HDCAM SR decks also seem to be high on the must-buy lists of many facilities last year while media asset management and networking infrastructure also seem to be causing a big drain on facility balance sheets.

2011 was also big year for Apple, though perhaps not for the same reasons as outlined above. As well as the ubiquity of iPad apps from post houses, the 64-bit operating system Mac OS X Lion roared onto a new range of Thunderbolt-equipped Macbook Pro laptops. But the complementary revamp of Final Cut Pro managed to both revolutionise the post production process and make Apple a host of enemies among facilities and resellers alike. As well as representing a paradigm shift in the way that video is edited, Final Cut Pro X was repackaged as a download only product and sold at a dramatically reduced price on the Apple App Store. Apple Color disappeared, XML support for external workflows was removed and Final Cut Pro X no longer supported projects created in earlier versions. All this led to howls of frustration from users with established FCP workflows. A major update in late September smoothed some ruffled feathers with the reintroduction of support for XML import/export among other features, but the damage has been done – instances of Adobe and Avid kit are significantly more noticeable on the ‘to buy’ lists in our survey than Apple gear.

However, some facilities welcome the new direction from Apple. Fifty Fifty lists an additional FCP HD suite among its purchases for the coming year, for example.

“From our perspective FCP X has the potential to shake things up,” says Ben Foakes of Sequence Post, but qualifies this by adding, “if some of the core problems are addressed quickly by Apple.”

“FCP X has had people up in arms,” admits Foakes. “But we would argue it is far too early to make a firm choice in one direction and the next year will most likely see some interesting trend changing with regard to NLE systems integration.”

Top 10 investments In 2010/2011
Molinare
£5,100,000
5.1 audio upgrades, routing switcher, scanner, Baselight upgrades, vfx expansion, SR decks, stereoscopic, Dolby 3d cinema/screening room

The Mill
£4,300,000
Expansions of offices, digital, video gaming, design

The Farm Group
£4,000,000
New infrastructure and audio studios in Los Angeles, upgrade, data and connectivity worldwide

MPC
£3,000,000
Baselight, workstations, storage, backup systems, HVAC, Render, Flame, Flare

Unit
£2,400,000
A new facility and equipment such as Flame, Smoke and Baselight

Envy
£2,000,000
Offline, Flame Premium, audio studio and a fourth building

Framestore
£1,500,000
Infrastructure and data storage improvements, including BluArc and a DVS San storage area network. 3d stereoscopic capability also improved. Motion capture studio.  Previsualisation partnership. Concept art department. New 9,000 processor off site render farm

Films at 59
£1,300,000
DI grading facility, upgrades to Avid hardware and software, 3d camera kit including rigs

Prime Focus
£1,000,000
More than doubling vfx seats, new render farms, digital storage

Technicolor Creative Services
£1,000,000
Expansion of broadcast department, additional grading theatres, Digital Front End, upgrades to existing kit

Pinewood Studios Group
£1,000,000
State of the art media transfer and data centre to ensure clients’ digital and physical assets are not only secure but also can be distributed in any format to suit rates and deadlines

General areas of investment
Stereoscopic 3D
A big draw, though still more intended for film work than TV. More interest in 2d-to-3d conversion. Mistika and Quantel Pablo are weapons of choice for editing, while Nucoda Film Master is popular for stereoscopic grading

Grading
There has been a continued investment in DI/grading equipment – Baselight, DaVinci Resolve and Nucoda Film Master are popular choices

Cameras and studios
Post houses are cutting costs and extending their service offering by shooting their own supplementary footage with cameras like the Arri Alexa and providing studio and green-screen facilities for compositing

Editing
Apple appears to have stymied its previous healthy incursion into the editing market for the moment, with Avid looking set to benefit most from the FCP X fallout

VFX
Nuke and Flame continue to be strong contenders, as well as Maya and the other usual suspects. Smoke on the Mac is also very popular as is Adobe After Effects

Storage, networking infrastructure and asset management
All the more important now that the post world has shifted en masse to tapeless workflows. Sony HDCAM SR decks and Storage Area Network (SAN) systems are key storage purchases. Data management and traffic-management systems will continue to be big sellers. Avid Unity and ISIS systems remain popular among facilities.

Cloud-based systems
Avid’s Cloud-based Interplay Central is piquing a lot of interest in this new paradigm for remote post production workflows


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