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Facilities 50 2012 Back to Reports & survey Listing

People, price, location, reputation and technology are among the key considerations for producers when it comes to choosing a post production house.

Getting each factor just right is crucial to the success of a facility. But, arguably, keeping on top of technology is one of the hardest – and most expensive – things to get right.

And, say many post houses, it’s getting harder. “You’ve got to reinvest in technology as it has moved on so massively in the last two years,” says Envy’s facility director Natascha Cadle.

Post houses have been spending heavily over the past year to ensure that their facilities are up to date with a plethora of technology changes.

In particular, tapeless workflows have now become the norm in post production, supplanting tape. Consequently, there’s been huge expenditure on storage and network management.

A major focus for many post houses is how they best streamline the complicated process of logging, storing, working on and transferring huge numbers of large digital files.

And there’s also been a continued expansion of Cloud based services that improve workflows, and offer greater flexibility to producers.

If that wasn’t enough, post houses have also been busy investing in better editing, grading, vfx, rendering and audio systems. Others have been putting money into stereo 3D or investigating how best to work with 4K technology.

The sums involved in updating kit can be vast. Framestore, for example, has ploughed £2.5m into new kit over the past year, including infrastructure and data storage improvements, 3D and growing its pre-vis and vfx departments. The Mill has spent £4m to fast network all its global offices, upgrade its Flames, expand its Nuke capability and on a tapeless workflow network. Molinare ploughed £3m into its grading facilities in 2011/12, while Prime Focus has invested £1.5m on grading, encoding, storage and asset management. Other big spenders include The Farm (£1.2m), Technicolor (£2m), Onsight (£1m), MPC (£5m), Envy (£2m), Deluxe 142 (£1.2m), Evolutions (£1m), and Absolute (£1m).

Even the medium size and smaller post houses are spending a minimum of tens of thousands of pounds to keep up to date. Azimuth, for example, ploughed £75k into more storage, Avid upgrades, faster workstations and HD picture monitors. Unit spent £470k on an audio suite, Avid offlines, 17 CGI seats and a larger render farm.

But the good news is that many post houses say the days of the big purchases are now over, with a move away from dedicated hardware to flexible and cheaper Mac and PC based software.

Tapeless
The drive towards tapeless production has been ongoing for at least five years, but it has really taken hold of the market in the past 12 months.

There’s been a raft of developments in the digital camera market in the past year, with higher resolution tapeless models from Arri, Canon, Panasonic, Red and Sony finding real favour – and huge market penetration – amongst TV, film, commericals and corporate productions.

As a result, the post market has had to adapt and to invest so that it can keep up to date with changing production technologies.

“HD camera developments and tapeless workflow are now commonplace, so nearly everyone I know in post has had to make the shift and be able to provide full end-to-end HD workflow,” says Sequence Post’s managing director Ben Foakes.

Some, however, say that producers still remain wary of digital and the headaches and additional work that it can create. Preditors head of post production Nikki Goodwin comments: “Producers are using tapeless a little more but now that tape stock is healthier their faith in the new technology is sometimes tested and they revert to tried and tested methods.”

But the complex workflows and lack of common standards in digital delivery are creating headaches for post houses – a point underlined by the fact that the Digital Production Partnership (DPP) is working to agree common industry standards. Lola Post’s managing director Grahame Andrew comments: “Digital has arrived and is still being developed with no integrated de facto standardisation at the moment.” 

For now, though, many post houses are having to adapt to the requirements of individual productions as they go along– and are finding that they are being brought in to advise on workflows much earlier in the process.

“There’s been a shift in technology in terms of how many shooting formats are now available. We are therefore putting a lot into devising bespoke workflows for each production working with us, as well as being involved with productions earlier in the pre-production period,” notes Big Buoy managing director Jim Allen.

Several say that one of the big trends of 2013 will be huge advances in camera resolution, with much more 4K shooting (although several predict that 4K will fail to take off).

Along with this is a prediction that manufacturers will have to work together to ensure the industry can keep up with the changes. Films@59 business development director George Panayiotou says the next year will see, “More file-based and increased resolution acquisition, open codecs between manufacturers and collaboration in tech advancements.”
Certainly, many say that tapeless workflows will become increasingly streamlined and will also extend to delivery of files to broadcasters. As such, it will soon mean the arrival of an end-to-end tapeless workflow.

“The tapeless revolution that we have had in rushes acquisition will be mirrored in programme delivery,” says Azimuth managing director Neil Hatton. “File delivery of finished masters to UK broadcasters will be trialled and then be commonplace in 2014.”

Rowan Bray, managing director of broadcast and independent film at Prime Focus agrees: “The trend towards tapeless workflows will continue to grow and will be optimised with the introduction of kit designed specifically to improve the efficiency of these workflows and bring post houses in at an earlier stage in the production process. These workflows will expand further to allow for file-based delivery of programming to broadcasters.”

Bray adds that there is likely to be a move to carry out offline edits at native resolution.

It’s a point echoed by Fifty Fifty Post managing director Cara Kotschy. She says the market will see a definite move away from traditional offline and onlining. “The modern post house should be able to work with a mix of different tape and tapeless formats in one project and be able to devise bespoke workflows to accommodate this. It could theoretically mean goodbye to the offline era since we’re finding that the best way of accommodating this is to work at HD resolution to avoid any potential problems during the conform. Edit suites are therefore required to perform faster at native HD resolution to be able to handle this.”

The tapeless revolution has placed pressure on post houses to provide effective storage and data management solutions to producers.

Countless facilities say they will spend heavily in 2013 on server infrastructure, data storage, render farms and asset management technology. They include Absolute Post, Deluxe 142, Framestore, Jelllyfish, Gorilla, Golden Square, MPC, Reliance, Splice, The Mill and Wam London.

“There has been a significant shift to tapeless this year. To meet these demands we have had to make significant investment in storage and continue to invest in network capabilities,” says Deluxe 142 facility manager Johnny Whitehead.

“Infrastructure flexibility will become even more important with all workstations being routable and all being capable of running multiple software applications,” adds Absolute Post’s managing director Andy Barmer.

Crow TV managing director Max McGonigal says one of the major technology trends for 2013 will be “streamlined file delivery, asset management and archiving,” while Evolutions managing director Simon Kanjee says it will be “storage and network management.”

But now that tape rushes have almost disappeared, post houses say they are finding it difficult to pass on the cost of investing in all the technology required to store and manipulate assets. Indeed, many have been campaigning via UK Screen and the DPP to make budgeting fit for purpose in a tapeless world. “Productions are still using budget templates based around legacy tape cost centres rather than the new real costs of terabytes of storage and associated data wrangling,” says Azimuth’s Hatton.

But, perhaps the most exciting development flagged up by post houses for the coming year is the continuing development of Cloud technologies.

Cloud-based remote editing will allow for the extension of a facility’s services to virtually any location and will become a realistic proposition for many in 2013. Golden Square’s Phil Gillies says there will be “increasing use of the Cloud and virtual working” in 2013, while Rushes managing director Joce Capper points to a “continued progression of cloud based services” which will assist remote working.

“As clients have the ability to make more decisions remotely, it leads to a change in workflow and is now manifesting itself in a physical change in facilities’ appearance,” says Smoke and Mirrors managing director, Gary Szabo. “Less suites, more project rooms with teams collaborating on more software based systems.”

This will, of course, have potentially huge benefits for producer clients. “The continued expansion of cloud-based services to the post production world will improve workflows and be of great assistance to producers and facilities in the industry,” adds Factory director Ingrid Janssen-Armstrong.

Meanwhile, Hogarth’s chief technology officer Mark Keller foresees a move towards “centralised storage of media and editing and vfx platforms that integrate with cloud-based asset management systems.”

Many of the bigger post houses with international offices are investing in their own systems to link up their global network. Prime Focus is one of these companies. “We will continue to invest further in our Global Digital Pipeline which links our facilities in North America, London and India through a secure high-speed network enabling us to complete work in various locations, but supervise it locally, bringing about time and cost advantages,” says Rowan Bray. “We have had some big commercials and film projects that have been completed through the Global Digital Pipeline recently and can only see this growing as clients experience the efficiency of the process and realise the high levels of creative control it affords them over their work.”

Software
Many post houses point to key changes in the market for editing, vfx and grading software market over the past year, and predict further developments in the year ahead.

After the difficult launch of FCP X, there’s a consensus that the industry is moving away from Apple’s editing kit.

“FCP as an edit system will be less and less used as FCP X looks to be failing to take off. Instead we may well see the rise of alternative edit packages such as Adobe Premiere,” notes Fifty Fifty Post managing director Cara Kotschy.

Sequence managing director Ben Foakes thinks Apple’s FCP 7 software has really run its course. “We’re seeing a big gravitation towards Avid Media Composer and Adope Premiere as alternative NLE platforms. Although FCP X has many admirable qualities and back-end sophistication, so far they have lost the race to convince the pro users and established editors – who should have always been their target audience. We’ll see what happens and we will keep an open mind with what we offer to clients but I believe the fight will now be between Avid and Adobe in 2013.”

Hogarth’s Keller predicts a continued shift away from production systems that are reliant on bespoke hardware. “2013 could be an interesting time for editing platforms, and we may see the traditional dominance of Apple and Avid challenged by Adobe and Autodesk with Smoke 2013.”

Indeed, for many, the future is about cheap software running on fast workstations. The Look managing director Thomas Urbye says “the days of big purchases are over.” He notes that grading software from Blackmagic can now be downloaded for free. “This has impacted on some of our smaller production companies who, due to their own falling budgets, have done some grading themselves. This is not good for our business and will impact on rates across the industry next year.”

This continuing emphasis on new, and cheaper, alternative technology is having widespread implications – and there are likely to be even more desktop solutions for vfx. Unit managing director Adam Luckwell thinks there will be a “further move away from traditional online suites, such as Flame, towards more studio based software such as After Effects and Nuke.”

Others say the use of After Effects in each suite is becoming something of a norm. Editors are training themselves to create 2d motion graphics as a cost effective way of bringing data alive in an edit suite – and clients are expecting this as standard, particularly in the corporate world.

Jellyfish managing director Phil Dobree says he predicts, “Faster rendering, more integration of cg and compositing (3D and 2D) to the point that a lot of vfx solutions will be entirely in 2D (Nuke etc) rather than having to resort to cg to solve vfx problems, which is more time consuming and expensive. Cg will be kept for specialist and bespoke work where there is no 2D solution.” Blue Bolt’s managing director Lucy Ainsworth-Taylor adds: “Slicker, better software is coming out in all areas.”
The grading market is also going through profound change with the move from film to digital.  “Film has been almost completely superseded by digital and the expensive telecine machines of the past are being replaced with digital based grading systems,” notes Nice Biscuits’ Jenna Le Noury.

Indeed, many post houses have invested in their grading offer, or plan to in the year ahead. Many say they have experienced greater demand for ‘finishing’ services like grading. Big Buoy, for example, has updated its Baselight Grading Suite, which it says has led to new business. Clear Cut has formed a partnership with MyTherapy to offer advanced film grading and digital dailies processing. Finish, Molinare, Gorilla, Goldcrest and Splice are among other companies that have expanded their grading offer.

“We’ve invested a large amount in the grading suites already this year which will expand the business,” says Finish managing director Justine White.

Rapid Pictures managing director Elouise Carden Bell adds: “We are going to buy a high end grading suite to complement our new 5.1 surround sound Pro-Tools theatre.”

Meanwhile, the creative possibilities of vfx are likely to become even greater thanks to the “increasing computational complexity of cgi,” says Framestore, while Glassworks managing director Hector Macleod points to the “increased speeds in render nodes and render software.”

3d
Last year, many post houses were closely monitoring the 3D market, weighing up whether to invest in stereoscopic services.
This year, enthusiasm for the format is notably muted. Lola Post managing director Grahame Andrew, for example, thinks that stereo 3D will “drop away” in 2013.

Others think that 3D television productions will be few and far between. Halo Post chief executive John Rogerson comments: “I suspect 3d will find a niche in TV and continue to be strong in theatrical releases.”

In a similar vein, Glowfrog thinks the industry will see “a continuation of 2D to 3D post conversions rather than true stereoscopic workflows.”

But several hold out hope for the future of 3D – albeit believing that it will grow far more slowly than the market  first predicted. And the key to its future, they say, lies in manufacturers cracking the technology that will allow viewers to watch 3D without glasses. “Glasses-free stereo 3D will become closer to reality, saving the current dip in stereo 3D production,” says Preditors Nikki Goodwin.

Multiplatform workflows
Another key theme to emerge from the Facilities 50 survey is the number of post houses which say their work will be increasingly be affected by the fact that viewers can now access content via multiple different screens, whether on the TV, iPad, smart phone or computer.

MPC, for example, says that, “Increased digital integration and new digital advertising formats will continue to fuel the demand for digital content, assets and bespoke solutions.” Framestore says there’s likely to be changes to the work it does “driven by digital requirements, working in social media, labs and digital content.”

The Mill, meanwhile, signals that one of the key areas of investment for the year ahead is its digital team, along with vfx and design.

Fifty Fifty thinks we’ll see a rise in web based programming that is broadcast online in the first instance and then on television as catch up TV. It cites Live in Chelsea, co-produced by Monkey Kingdom and Social Media Factory in May. It was a series broadcast entirely online, fully posted at Fifty Fifty to meet the requirements of UK TV standards before delivery to E4.

Others say there will be a continuing polarisation of work, with Preditors’ Goodwin commenting that there will be a “division between the high-end going 4K and broadcast work being prepared for internet delivery.”

Audio
The coming year is also likely to see key developments in the audio market, according to post houses. Shoreditch-based Splice, for example, notes that “all channels will ask for 5.1 delivery.”

Azimuth’s Neil Hatton adds that there will be, “major changes in mixing audio for UK broadcasters as we move from peak level spec to R128 loudness.” This will allow broadcasters to measure and normalise audio using loudness meters instead of Peak Meters (PPMs) only, as is common practice nowadays.

Factory’s Janssen-Armstrong, meanwhile, says the introduction of the Dolby Atmos format “will significantly improve the quality of delivery to the film industry and enhance the full audio experience.” First used for the premiere of Pixar’s Brave in June 2012, it’s billed by Dolby as a “dynamic shift in audio, reinventing the traditional surround sound methodology.” In addition to playing back a standard 5.1 or 7.1 mix using arrays, the system will give each loudspeaker its own unique feed, adding many new front, surround, and even ceiling-mounted height channels for the precise panning of select sounds such as a helicopter or rain.

Cheaper

The technology changes are, as usual, likely to come thick and fast in 2013. But while change is likely to be constant, many post houses think the overall trend will be for the price of kit to become cheaper.

Finish’s facility manager Justine White, for example, expects “a continuing emphasis on new, cheaper technology and outsourcing of services to emerging markets.” Not all think this downward pressure can continue though. Glassworks Hector Macleod adds: “Technology is continuing to come down in price although this trend is slowing.”


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