Impressions of Las Vegas – NAB 2008

If you’ve casually been following the NAB news, you most likely think that the biggest press is the lack of participation by Avid and Apple. It’s true that neither had a booth, but both were there at customer and reseller events, including Avid’s roll-out the new DX product line. If this is your take away, then you might surmise that NAB was a rather lackluster event for post. Dig a bit deeper and you’ll find that NLEs have reached a certain level of maturity and it’s hard to keep rolling in new features. In fact, camera manufacturers have been driving the show with the latest and greatest file-based formats. The editing system manufacturers have had their hands full simply adding support for each new camera record option. Whether or not your favorite NLE supports P2, XDCAM-HD, REDcode and so on will impact far more users than whether Avid improves color correction or Apple improves media management.


If you’re looking for true edit system innovation, then that news came out of Quantel. Not only are they adding significant features, but they’ve wholly embraced the tools to edit and color grade the left and right eye views of stereoscopic imagery. We’ll see if that proves to be a good business model, but right now in the wake of quite a few 3D movies in the theaters, Quantel is betting that the market is there for more than a select few. Autodesk likewise had its own news with the continued unification of the user interfaces between Smoke and Flame. The products each still have a distinct and unique role to play, but Autodesk is integrating across both product groups such common modules as the timeline and batch (Flame’s process tree for effects).


As far as Avid’s DX line is concerned, so far the main news is new hardware connected via the PCIe bus and new pricing. This ties in with improved GPU and CPU power as well as Leopard and Vista support and even optimization. In total this will result in more streams of true real time horsepower. Unfortunately, this also means that Avid has to update the system, while staying with the familiar GUI that its user base likes. It might be different under the hood, but on the surface looks and feels the same. Many will applaud this, but it won’t sway the critics and certainly won’t bring back those who’ve left for other NLEs, like Final Cut Pro.





If you’re looking for trends, however, it’s become pretty obvious – if you didn’t know already – that the industry is moving away from videotape and towards a myriad of file-based solutions. When Panasonic jumped in originally with P2, Sony made no bones about detracting from their competitor. The funny thing about this is that Sony has now wholeheartedly embraced the concept with its EX1 and now EX3 cameras, sporting their own style of solid state storage, the SxS cards. Users are riding the learning curve, as many still don’t understand the differences when it comes to containers (P2 cards, XDCAM-HD discs, SxS cards), file wrappers (MXF, OMF, QuickTime, AVI, MPEG4) and codecs (DVCPROHD, AVC-Intra, MPEG2). Of course, eventually it will all get sorted out, but what’s worth noting, is that the only new videotape-based VTR introduced at NAB 2008 was an HDCAM-SR player by Sony. Meanwhile Sony and Panasonic both released quite a few VTR “replacement” products that use each manufacturer’s card scheme. Panasonic is growing a product ecosystem around P2 and likewise Sony growing one around the SxS cards.


Many experienced video pros look at this in horror, fearing that a few years down the road, it will be hard to mount the hard drives to which this media has been copied after the shoot. I appreciate this sentiment, as you can still readily find decks to play Betacam-SP and even Umatic tapes that are now over two decades old. That isn’t universally true however. In my market, you’d be hard pressed to find decks to play such once-popular formats as D1, D2, D3 or D5. The are only a handful of one-inch Type C VTRs in the market and their reliability is questionable. So the truth of the matter is that you probably aren’t any safer with content on tape as on hard drive, assuming you establish a viable approach to archiving the media. Generally this takes the form of redundant copies on multiple hard drives or at best, data tapes, such as the LTO3 format.


With this as a trend, quite a few NAB vendors were showing solutions for lower cost and simpler shared storage as well as asset management software. Some products to look into include Apple’s Final Cut Server, Laird Telemedia’s LairdShareHD, Focus Enhancements’ ProxSys, Gridiron Software’s Flow and Tiger Technologies’ MetaSAN and MetaLAN. In addition, the average cost of local storage is getting cheaper than ever; so, those editors working with P2 or similar technologies will have no problem just dumping all the media at full resolution to their local drives straight from the shoot and cutting happily away.





It’s hard to talk about NAB and not mention RED Digital Camera. Yes, they announced two new cameras (Scarlet and Epic), but more importantly is the fact that the post support structure is growing around them. Even if RED is ultimately not super-successful (unlikely), they will have changed the way many work with images. I believe the camera raw workflow is bound to be adopted by others in the future. Today, Apple and Assimilate are the only official RED partners. They are the only companies with access to the .R3D files. Avid is also able to provide some editorial support through XML list conversions. In the RED booth, a beta version of FCP’s Log and Transfer module was shown that imports and transcodes .R3D files. FCP editors can natively import raw files, transcoding them to another codec, like Apple ProRes 422 on the way in. There was also a technology preview of .R3D files being graded directly in Apple Color, through the addition of a RED-oriented RED Room tab within Color’s interface. 


Assimilate introduced its RED-specific SCRATCH CINE, the only full-featured finishing product geared strictly for a RED workflow. But the story doesn’t stop there. Quite a few companies are chomping at the bit to release their own products for RED. At the moment, they are held back by RED Digital Camera’s agreements with its original partners. These are expected to expire soon, with RED releasing an SDK for its REDcode codec. Once that’s done, expect to see companies like Cineform and IRIDAS quickly jump into the game. In fact, these companies already have raw workflow products that are ready for RED, which were developed using existing (but not final) versions of the codec. So just as in the digital still photo world, camera raw will be a concept to which videographers will need to become accustomed.


Look for more of my NAB 2008 post production analysis in the June print edition of Videography magazine and also online at DV magazine.

© 2008 Oliver Peters

Staying Green In Post


A lot of emphasis is being placed on saving the environment and operating in a “greener” workplace. That may be easy to see in a production on location, where waste is easy to identify, but how is that applied to post facilities and editing boutiques? Let me outline some simple steps to help you do your part.




I’m not exactly sure when it became the norm for everyone to have their own personal bottle of water, but palettes of bottled water have taken over the frig at most post houses. If you’ve listened to the news for the most fleeting moment, you should be aware that our landfills are being filled with these plastic bottles in spite of recycling efforts. You can make your contribution by going back to other sources of water for yourself and your clients. After all, the source for what’s in those bottles is generally the same as what’s coming from your tap anyway. You can handle this by something as simple as using a large water supply service to stock a water cooler of the same stuff, but in much larger, recycled containers. Or how about enhancing your customer service and actually bringing your clients a tray of glasses and a pitcher of ice water into the session? While we’re at it, the same logic can be applied to cans of soda.




Through my decades in the business, common wisdom said that equipment should stay on 24/7 and that more gear dies from being powered up than from staying on constantly. I’m here to tell you that at least with today’s technology, this is total bunk. When you’re done for the day or the week – shut the power off! I’ll admit that I have had some gear break when it was first turned on, but these cases have been rare and nothing in the last ten years. In fact, most of the shops in which I freelance, routinely power down decks, computers and drives at the end of the day. None have had any issues. Hard drives are the only item I tend to see left on, but I would recommend turning these off as well. 


Remember that many items use standby power even when the units are off. This standby power feature enables faster startups, but in some cases draws almost as much power as if the unit were still on. I would recommend that you put such gear on a power strip. You can hit one breaker switch and turn off the current feeding that unit, after using the computer’s software shut down. This has the added benefit that you are truly turning off the unit, so the next time the computer is booted, it starts clean and “flushes” out any problems that might have been held by standby power. Macs are especially susceptible to this, as “gremlins” are often held in memory in spite of shutdowns or restarts. These miraculously go away when you actually kill the power to the unit and do a reboot from a true powered down condition.


Let me point out that power surges and poorly conditioned power do more harm to gear than whether or not it stays on 24/7. So as a normal installation item, I would recommend that all drives and computers be connected to a large uninterrupted power supply (UPS) from a reliable manufacturer, such as APC. If you get the more expensive models (not the cheapos from an office supply store), they will apply some power conditioning to the signal. Believe it or not, I have seen where the absence of a UPS has caused file loss and/or corruption on a SAN array! All purely a result of the lack of this sort of power conditioning.


Air Conditioning


Another holdover from the old days is air conditioning. Tape rooms used to be set to about 60 or 65 degrees – and suites close to it – so it was a common sight to see editors and clients in sweaters and even heavy jackets during a session on a hot summer day. The logic was that heat kills gear and so if the ambient temperature was about 65 degrees, then it was hotter inside the equipment racks and probably close to 100 degrees on the circuit boards themselves. Again, technology has advanced since the 1950s. In a recent Google study, their engineers analyzed the failure rates of hard drives at Google data centers. In this study they found that there was no strong correlation between heat and drive failure. The researchers are careful to point out this doesn’t mean that there isn’t one, but that heat is only one of the factors in drive failure rates.


Ultimately all drives fail, so you have to balance the energy costs against the hardware replacement costs and decide whether 10 degrees difference in temperature is worth the possibility of gaining an extra year or so of life from your hard drives. Most of the smaller boutiques in which I work haven’t had the luxury of designing large, cold machine rooms that mimic a Google data center. Instead, racks are installed in standard office or remodeled home environments. Since equipment and people share the same spaces, I find that the thermostats are typically set in the low to mid 70 degree range. Low and behold the gear is just fine and anecdotally, I don’t see any higher failure rates than when I worked in the frozen tape rooms of the past.




Heat is one factor, but an even bigger factor is how clean your gear stays. Most computers and drives that employ fans, use a front-fed, flow-though ventilation. Air is sucked in the front and pushed out the back. Most of the rooms where you find this gear could hardly be considered a “clean room” environment. Even the cleanliest environment has dirt and dust, especially if there’s carpet. Take a look at the fans or open up your computer occasionally and you’ll be appalled at the amount of dust that’s trapped inside. This dust prevents proper cooling, so if heat is a factor, then this dust is greatly reducing the efficiency of your air conditioning. The best solution is to establish a monthly maintenance routine in which computers are opened and vacuumed out. Drives are removed and either vacuumed or blown out with compressed air. Obviously the latter should be done outside so that you aren’t simply blowing this dust back into the same environment from where it came.


File Based Media


Many people are discussing the concept that video technology is cleaner than film technology and that ultimately file based digital productions (P2, XDCAM, RED, S.two, etc.) are environmentally better. I haven’t done any sort of analysis on this and quite frankly, many environmental arguments often don’t actually hold up once you look at the total net effect of the alternative. For example, yes, manufacturing film stock and processing negative is a very dirty technology, however, there’s not much 35mm film production being done worldwide anymore outside of the motion picture industry. On the other hand, digital storage for still photographers and videographers is mushrooming – so I don’t think you can definitively say yet whether manufacturing all the solid state storage, hard drives and data back-up tapes to enable this digital revolution is actually cleaner than what it has replaced. After all, manufacturing digital media is not without its own environmental impact.


That is, of course, primarily a production question, which means the decision has been made before it gets to the editing suite. On the other hand, there are a lot of things editors and post facilities have historically done to protect assets in post and these practices should be revisited in light of cost and the environment. For instance, if you produce a set of shows, it’s common to output various formats (master, textless, 4×3, 16×9, letterboxed, etc.) to individual tapes. This is an item that is consumed for each piece of programming and even if you get the right length of videotape to match that program, the cost of cassette shells, cases and mechanisms is the same whether it’s a 5 minute or 60 minute program. Hard drives are cheap these days. It makes more sense to archive this content in a data format. You can get many more programs on a single hard drive or even data back-up tape than if videotapes are used. In the future, as massive online storage becomes the norm, courtesy of folks like Google, it might be feasible and in fact preferable, to archive your assets in the Internet cloud and not on-site as a physical piece of media.


Review And Approval


Edit sessions used to involve working with a client who sat in on the session and then walked with review dubs (3/4”, Beta-SP, VHS, etc.) for their bosses or clients. As our business changed, more of this work has become long distance and I find it to be the exception when a client spends the entire time in the session. At first, this meant making dubs to review (VHS or DVD) and shipping these across the country via Federal Express or another carrier or locally across town using a courier service. Hence, cost for materials – that eventually get tossed into the trash – as well as transportation. Again, the Internet is your answer. Many editors routinely turn to services like YouSendIt, SyncVue or Xprove to send review files to their clients. Internet services have become fast enough and compression quality good enough that it takes next to no time to upload or transfer 320×240-sized review videos at a sufficient quality level to get client feedback and approval. On most of my projects, voice-over recording sessions, music library searches and client review and approval cycles are entirely handled via the Internet. No material or transportation costs involved, so all-in-all, a much more environmentally-friendly process.


Even if you don’t believe in many of the environmental or energy arguments offered, it still makes perfect sense to come up with a plan to incorporate these suggestions. If nothing else, they will go a long way towards reducing your business’ operating costs and might just be beneficial for the rest of us, too.


©2008 Oliver Peters

The BBC’s Digital Media Initiative


The British Broadcasting Corporation – better known as the BBC – may well be laying the groundwork for how broadcast networks operate in the coming decade. Over the past five years, the BBC has played the role of digital pioneer, employing cost-effective desktop solutions and embracing many new media concepts. The cornerstone of these new concepts is the Digital Media Initiative, which not only encompasses an interest in the use of low-cost, open architecture technology, but also the directive that any program should take all forms of media into account, not just television broadcast.


The BBC has recently organized itself into four major divisions. These include Journalism (news and sport), Audio and Music (the radio stations and music programming on both radio and TV), Vision (TV networks, drama and documentary program production and facilities) and Future Media and Technology (websites, mobile, video on demand, IT and infrastructure). As a broadcaster, the BBC operates eight national TV networks with fourteen regional feeds, as well as fourteen national and 45 local radio stations. The news operation is the second largest worldwide after CNN and media rich offers the largest web presence in Europe with two billion page impressions per month. As in the US, the UK is in a transition to digital transmission and 2012 is slated as the year to pull the plug on the analog broadcast services. Currently, more than 50% of the homes receive digital TV, albeit as a standard definition 625-line signal. The BBC and other UK broadcasters have been transmitting in the 16×9 aspect ratio for several years now, although the BBC currently only has one preview channel operating in high definition. Since the BBC is a public corporation that is funded through an annual license fee paid by all TV owners, they are under constant pressure to operate in a fiscally prudent manner and have been investigating ways to cut costs and streamline operations. One form of this is to outsource certain operations, such as their playout infrastructure to Red Bee Media, a company that was spun off to handle all transmission, broadcast playout, subtitling and promotion production for the BBC.


The BBC is embracing new media platforms and one example is an IP on-demand service to be launched soon. This will start as 400 hours/week and grow to as much as 700 hours/week. It comes with an interesting business model. The first seven days are free, then from the eighth day up to five years you will have to purchase the program, after which time it will be available for free again out of an archive. As an embrace of mobile viewing habits, I noticed that the BBC’s morning news program Breakfast was available for download as a video podcast. There is also a deal in the works with Virgin Mobile to deliver BBC 1 and 2 and the News 24 service as streaming media to cell phones and other mobile platforms.


Horses for Courses


I spent some time discussing the BBC’s future with several senior production and technical staff this fall at the BBC’s Broadcast Centre in the White City section of London. Although their pilot testing of Apple’s technology has been discussed by many online pundits and in various Internet forums, I found that the truth is really a matter of the appropriate tool for the task – or as the English say, horses for courses. For example, the London news operation is built around a Quantel sQ Server news solution with about 2,000 journalists and news editors connected to Quantel sQ Cut and sQ Edit client software. A new regional Scotland production and broadcast complex currently under construction, code-named Pacific Quay, will use an end-to-end Avid newsroom solution including a fair amount of Avid’s new Isis shared storage.


According to Paul Cheesbrough, Technology Controller for Production at the BBC, “We are really looking for the most cost-effective, open solutions that don’t compromise on service and quality. We have strong tier one partners in Apple and Avid, but as we move forward to replace legacy facilities, the goal is to use technology that best fits our mandate of 360 degree commissioning. That’s a term we use to indicate that any programming should work across all media platforms, whether that’s radio, the web, an iPod or television. Production and post technology have to serve that goal, so we are looking at digital, IT-friendly, tapeless products and solutions. Right now Apple appears to fit into our corporate network the best and Final Cut Pro is a good fit for long form programming; but in the case of hard news, Avid has a proven product line from ingest to playout, which made the most sense in Pacific Quay. I’d have to characterize us as an Avid house here at the Broadcast Centre, but as we refresh older technology, in many cases Apple will get the nod.”


The Broadcast Centre


The White City studio complex is home to about 60 Apple Final Cut Pro suites connected to local as well as Apple Xsan shared storage. Of these about three or four are finishing/online-editing suites, while the remainder are simple cutting rooms. More advanced color grading or post production sound mixing in special cases is outsourced to one of the many Soho post houses in London. Phil Checkland, Head of Production and Planning for BBC Factual and Learning joined our discussion. Factual and Learning is a programming group within the BBC responsible for long form documentary and entertainment programming. “We’ve been involved in a test called the Creative Desktop for a while now. In the past, we would go out-of-house at high hourly post rates for all of this editing. Our target is to save £ 1 Million a year by bringing the editing in-house. The time is scheduled through BBC Resources, so we are in effect their client. At the moment, the cutting rooms are running at 90% utilization, which will be a significant savings. As we started exposing more producers to desktop editing, we decided it was important to keep craft editors involved, since their skills are so important. We added training programs to help the transition to Final Cut Pro. Our creative teams are really a combination of producers and editors working together.”


In the States, even the most pro-Avid editor or facility owner will grudgingly admit that Final Cut Pro is up to the task of delivering shows to air, but for its champions inside the BBC, it seems that work is still needed. Phil continued, “Ironically, many folks still think of Final Cut Pro as a producer’s toy or something you do your kids’ movies with. Not all of the producers took to the new ways at first. In the past they’d get to go to a nice, plush Soho post house at a high rate, but that’s changed. Admittedly our rooms are more functional, but most really enjoy that they aren’t tied to the clock and can really spend the time to get the best product. We are now at the conclusion of the Creative Desktop trial and know it works, so the plan going forward is to implement what we’ve learned.”


According to Paul and Phil, most of the editing done these days is at full resolution. There is no need to bring in dailies at low resolution and then batch capture at a higher resolution for final output, since the media doesn’t stay on the drives that long. There is adequate Xsan shared storage, so producers can always work at the final resolution for air. In an interesting twist, the BBC doesn’t actually own these systems. Electronics giant Siemens holds the contract for IT support at the BBC. Since desktop computers are technically an IT purchase, the Macs and software for these Final Cut Pro suites are actually supplied and maintained as part of the IT contract – another part of the BBC’s business that has recently been outsourced. BBC Resources is also able to book BBC facilities for outside clients. If the BBC’s internal production staff doesn’t use the studio or suites, other producers can book them, as well. In fact, both staff and outside producers pitch shows to the various programming arms of the BBC, and 25% (up to as high as 50%) are given the green light to be produced by other production vendors. This also includes co-production deals, such as those between the BBC and Discovery. 


Sports Production


As in most broadcast operations the sports department has its own set of requirements. Jim Irving, Senior Producer, BBC Sport explained, “Our editing revolves around getting to air quickly. Our shows master to Digibeta, the producers do a paper cut and then there is a direct online edit, which typically happens in an Avid Media Composer Adrenaline bay here at the BBC. We are actually the largest client for BBC Resources – providing about 40% of their post business. Our biggest special concern is the library. Sport production has different needs for archiving than a general tape library, because we rely so much on quickly finding highlights of past events and performances. We are currently designing the specs for our new library. Archival material will be MPEG2 now and later move to 50Mbps MPEG4, as well as proxies.” Currently most of sports production is recorded on tape. According to Paul and Jim, they are looking at both Panasonic’s P2 and Thomson’s Infinity products, but there’s a policy against using Sony XDCAM-HD.  Paul pointed out, “We like P2 because the concept of solid state simply seems better. XDCAM-HD is an interim technology and we’d rather avoid that. As commodity pricing drives the cost of solid state storage down, that will be the best option in the long run.”


The BBC’s strategy is to have all production moved to high definition video by 2010, but there is apparently no edict regarding 720p versus 1080i or 1080p. Any HD standard the producer feels is appropriate for the production is acceptable to the BBC. One consideration is co-production, so even if the BBC doesn’t need an HD version today, the co-production partner might and that will determine the production format of choice. The BBC’s Creative Desktop and Digital Media Initiative are just another example of how an industry leader is tackling the challenges faced by broadcasters worldwide. If successful, plenty will copy the approach of this digital pioneer.


Written by Oliver Peters for Videography magazine (NewBay Media, LLC)

Central and West Florida Film & Video Production Spotlight, Part II

Area Producers Stay on the Edge with Innovative Technology


The big technology story for the production community is high definition video. By Federal Communications Commission regulations, all US television stations have to convert to digital transmission, but this doesn’t mean high definition TV. Many affiliates will choose to pass through the HD network signal, but continue standard definition NTSC broadcasts for local news, syndicated programs, and of course, commercials. This is all perfectly legal but means that it will be a long time before local advertisers will see their creative gems in splendid HD glory. Yet, many area production companies are shooting with HD cameras and edit houses are adding HD post suites. Why?


The answer is threefold. First of all, some HD camcorders can capture images at the film-like rate of 24 frames per second (referred to as 24P) versus video’s 30fps.  Although there are standard definition cameras that also offer this option, shooting in HD today adds shelf life to the future of the footage. Secondly, many producers work in other genres than 30-second commercials. These alternatives include broadcast and special venue videos that are adopting HD more quickly that the commercial world as well as directors who want to try their hand at digital independent filmmaking. But the third and most important reason is cost.


Thanks in part to Apple and Panasonic, this is the year for low cost HD post. It is now possible to shoot HD with a Panasonic VariCam, transfer that footage over FireWire into an Apple PowerBook or G5 computer and edit true high definition footage on a personal computer. In fact, Apple offered this new feature as a free upgrade to Final Cut Pro 4 owners, back in April. By the end of the year, Avid Xpress Pro, Sony Vegas, Adobe Premiere Pro, Pinnacle Liquid and other nonlinear editing software will offer similar capabilities.


There has been a huge explosion of new editing systems installed in the central Florida market, mainly due to the release of inexpensive Apple Final Cut Pro software, along with inexpensive HD hardware from companies like AJA and Pinnacle Systems. Bob Zelin (Rescue 1, Inc.) has built HD editing systems for CDB Productions, Adrenaline Films and Transcontinental Records, with several more companies about to enter the HD arena. Zelin comments, “ The acceptance of the AJA Io box, a $2000 piece of hardware that allows any Mac G5 to create broadcast quality video, has been incorporated by many of my established clients. Almost 100% of my clients have expressed interest in getting involved in this new way of doing post production.”


Tim Bartlett, Adrenaline Film’s general manager, adds, “Adrenaline Films has continued to make significant investments in HD technology. These investments include an HD nonlinear edit system built around Final Cut Pro and the AJA Kona HD card. One of the more diverse investments that we have made is the purchase of an Amphibico Amphibicam underwater housing designed for our Sony HD cameras.”


Emerge Media also brings clients a firm commitment to HD. Ray Combs, one of the partners at Emerge tells me, “Local commercials are not immune to the power of HD. We shot and posted a series of commercials for Orlando Infiniti at Chapman-Leonard Studios using the Panasonic VariCam, as well as a series of HD spots for Mercedes Benz of South Orlando, all of which are airing locally.” HD has been strong in the indie film market, giving a boost to Emerge’s post in HD.  Combs elaborated, “In April, Emerge Media performed the high definition edit for the feature film, Redemption, using Pinnacle’s CineWave HD hardware and Apple’s Final Cut Pro editing software. Redemption premiered in South Florida at the Palm Beach International Film Festival. Selected showings were projected in high definition proving that HD is a viable format for theatrical films.”


The same trend can be found in Tampa. Naked Eye Editorial is expanding into a new location and with this move is adding a second suite based on Final Cut Pro. I asked owner/editor Rick Bennett whether he was simply adding Final Cut Pro or making it an HD suite. Rick told me that, “Yes, it’s the real deal – Final Cut Pro HD software with the Kona 2 card as well as the Panasonic AJ-HD1200A VTR. We’ll start with the basic FCP set-up, then add the VTR by end of year. A very good client of mine just purchased the Panasonic HD camera. I have cut some stuff shot on the Sony HD camera and, for my money, the Panasonic looks just as good, if not better.”


Look is everything, of course, and many producers are now shooting with HD cameras because they offer a film-like look at a far lower cost – even if the end result is, for now, still standard definition. ImageROCKS executive producer Jim DeRusha has shot several spots during recent months with the Sony 24P camera. “What I’ve found is that true tape-to-tape color-correction is necessary to enhance 24P to more of a film look. It’s less expensive than film, so 24P is a great tool if the budget is limited and there is short turnaround.”


The Sony versus Panasonic battles ranges in HD as it has in every other arena the two have challenged each other. Many area shooters have plenty of time with Sony cameras, but the Panasonic VariCam is gaining new converts daily. In fact, I’d guess that Florida probably has more VariCam owners than Sony CineAlta HD camera owners. David Nixon Productions has been using the VariCam for a couple of years. David tells me about some of their experiences with the camera. “We’ve just bought the P+S Technik Pro35 Digital Image Converter. This enables us to utilize 35mm film lenses on our VariCam. The ‘look’ of this system is so much like 35mm film that it’s uncanny. The engineers at P+S Technik figured out that if you increase the target area up to 35mm, you can gain a shallow depth-of-field. So to do that, they have built a mirror system that bounces the image up to 35mm in size and projects it on an actual 35mm ground glass. This system is mated on the front of the VariCam and then you mount a 35mm lens (such as Panavision or Zeiss) to create the classic ‘look’ of 35mm film, where only the subject is in focus and everything else is out of focus. It really works!”


“We’ve just completed two projects with this system. The first was a standard definition project for Disney. They wanted to create the look of a film trailer, so this system was perfect. Not only did it look like we shot on 35mm film, but we were able to create the very dramatic look of a feature with radical focus shifts and very tight depth-of-field focus to keep the background soft. The second was a feature length dramatic film. By shooting on the VariCam with the Pro35 and Panavision lenses, the audience in the theatre will never know the movie wasn’t shot on 35mm film….and it saved the producers thousands of dollars in film and processing costs. This project is being cut on HD right now, and will go to a 35mm print for theatrical release. This will sell the ‘film look’ even more by gaining the texture and grain of the film print.”


o2 Pictures jumped also into the hi-def world with their own purchase of a Panasonic 24p VariCam. The camera was used extensively on a project for Disney Vacation Club that required shooting DVC members in their own homes all over the country. “We’ve been shooting almost non-stop since we bought the camera, and I’m incredibly impressed with the image quality” said director DanO’Loane. Much of the hi-def imagery is currently on display at the new sales center at Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort and Spa. “We created a whole new multi-media experience for the guests and the sales team. So we’ve had a chance to really branch out this year, both with the kind of work we’re being asked to do, and the way we’re doing it. It’s pretty exciting”. 

Whether it’s for creative or budgetary reasons, area producers and post houses are poised to be at the forefront of digital film and video technology, bringing cost-effective innovation to their clients. With costs coming down and the economy heating up, the year ahead looks good indeed. 


Written by Oliver Peters for Create magazine

Central and West Florida Film & Video Production Spotlight, Part I


In a word – diversification – best describes the strategies being applied by area production and post professionals. Diversity in projects and new technology keep Orlando, Tampa and the surrounding communities hopping with productions that include reality television, independent feature films, infomercials and, of course, television commercials.


The Metro Orlando Film and Entertainment Commission has relaunched its website ( with new features, such as a section where people can “list their property” for locations. This should be great for producers like Philadelphia-based Banyan Productions, which last year shot the entire series of Trading Spaces Home Free in this region, choosing eight metro Orlando couples to compete for a new home. In addition, Banyan also taped several episodes of the regular hit series Trading Spaces, as well as another series, Perfect Proposal, in and around central Florida. It’s not all about reality TV, though. Part of the Film Commission’s website redesign includes an Industry Resource section powered by for up-to-date information on industry jobs, events and seminars.


Central Florida continues to be a favorite of film producers. Oprah Winfrey’s Harpo Productions shot for several days in Orlando and neighboring counties for the upcoming ABC movie-of-the-week, Their Eyes Were Watching God, starring Halle Berry. This was a two-year effort in location scouting and permitting and about fifty local crew members were hired for the production. Central Florida made the national spotlight at the past Oscars, when Charlize Theron picked up the Best Actress win for her portrayal of convicted killer Aileen Wornos in Monster. As a central Florida story, Monster required such key locations as the Seminole County Courthouse, the Diamond Motel in Kissimmee, Fun World and general shots in downtown Orlando.


About seventy-five percent of the crew was local, including Stephen F. Campbell, an area film and television director of photography, who served as the “A” camera operator on Monster. Steve commented, “For me the most amazing part of the experience was while I was watching Charlize’s performance through the lens, it was mesmerizing to see her portray the character of Aileen Wornos. We would do a take and I would say to writer/director Patty Jenkins, ‘she’s become that woman!’ We were able to provide the LA-based production team with a central Florida-based, technically and creatively inspired crew that is on par with any in the country.  Along with being the ‘A’ operator on the show, the opportunity to DP for a few days allowed me to work very closely with Oscar winner Charlize Theron, director Patty Jenkins and to have a creative participation on an Academy Award winning picture.”


Local production companies have been staying the course to grow their business. HB Production Services is now in its eighth year offering a mix of production, post and marketing savvy. HB Production Services, together with producer/director Joseph P. Torina of Torina Media, Inc., has produced eight infomercial projects which are currently airing in over twenty markets throughout North America each week. For these clients, the team develops the script, shoots “real people” segments all over the country and keeps two newly installed Avid Media Composer Adrenaline bays busy fine-tuning the finished stories. According to Harry Brockman, president of HB Production Services, this is balanced out with post and fulfillment for over 250 commercial spots. These are posted in HB’s linear editing suite, which has proven to hold its value, because of the real-time compositing and short turnaround required.


i.d.e.a.s. at the Disney-MGM Studios is moving beyond the traditional boundaries of commercials and entertainment television. In the past year they produced Courage, Colorado, a show that is part marketing, part reality TV. Greg Galloway, VP of Entertainment for i.d.e.a.s., tells me that, “Courage Colorado - two thirty-minute episodes, shot entirely in high definition – is part of a new reality-based program designed to help fulfill the dreams of a family or group of friends each week by taking them on an adventure in Colorado. The first two episodes starred the Van Eerden family from Greensboro, North Carolina, who visited various Colorado adventure spots during the ten days of production. The family participated in activities ranging from an authentic cattle drive to whitewater rafting to rock climbing. Courage Colorado was produced by i.d.e.a.s. in association with Orlando-based Skydog Productions, the marketing firms of Yesawich, Pepperdine, Brown & Russell and PRACO (Colorado Springs). The two episodes aired numerous times over the past two months on the Outdoor Life Network.”


Speaking of outdoors, Florida is host to many major water sports competitions and leisure activities. Capitalizing on this is World Productions, the television division of Winter Park-based World Publications, publishers of such magazine titles as Waterski magazine. Headed up by executive producer Ken Kavanaugh, World Productions currently produces Sport Fishing Magazine (Outdoor Life Network), Hook The Future (Fox Sports Net) and the Mastercraft Pro Wakeboard Tour TV series for ESPN. World handles full location production and post on these projects and also makes its facilities available for hire to outside clients.


The commercial world continues to rebound. John Dussling, GM at longtime central Florida production company Florida Film & Tape, reports the spot business has been quite strong in the last year. “We produced a series of commercials for Valencia Community College in conjunction with VCC’s Marketing Department. In their own words, the students’ passion for their studies was a key to the success of the commercials. With the PUSH agency, we produced several Addy Award-winning commercials for Florida Citrus Sports to promote Orlando’s two major college football bowl games: the Tangerine Bowl and the Citrus Bowl. The humorous theme, Right In Your Own Backyard, featured a football-dressed character and a tangerine-clad character swinging on a swing set; bouncing on a trampoline; and running through a lawn sprinkler …right in your own backyard.”


Alphawolf Entertainment, another stalwart of the Orlando commercial scene, saw quite a few changes this year, including moving into a new location within the Celebration community and an official name change from Alphawolf Entertainment to imageROCKS. As if this wasn’t enough, executive producer Jim DeRusha and producer/director Jack Tinsley have been quite busy with spots for The Golf Channel, Orlando Utilities Commission, Florida Lottery, Hasbro, Mississippi Development and Hughes Supply. Disney has been a traditional client of DeRusha’s and this year saw the production of various promos and interstitials to promote the new EPCOT attraction, Mission Space. These have included working with a number of celebrities like Tiger Woods, Buz Aldrin, Roger Clemens and Pudge Rodriquez.


Several companies either expanding or on the move are Gate Seven Creative Studios, Digitec and Eagle Productions. Along with moving literally across the street, Digitec has also upgraded audio and video post facilities, added another DVD authoring station and expanded interactive services to support their new customized software and hardware product offerings. These new services include online instructional design, with an emphasis on game-based learning, with or without Digitec’s Knowledge Direct WEB software product (an easy-to-use learning management system).  Content design and development services support Digitec’s V-Wall product, an array of  flat-panel video monitors that can display up to sixteen synchronized channels of video and audio.


Eagle has upgraded its new facilities to include a full Adobe-based video suite with Premiere Pro editing and Encore DVD authoring. They’ve recently produced 275 science videos as part of series of DVDs for a New York educational publishing company. In an innovative use of the web, Eagle used Flash Communication Server and Flash to make near-real-time client approvals feasible during the shooting stage of the production.


Gate Seven upgraded both Avid Media Composer suites and added a third Avid Symphony system. In addition they’ve entered into an in-house partnership with AniMill to offer design, animation and effects services. Business for Gate Seven has been brisk with spot work for Universal’s Revenge of the Mummy – the Ride campaign, promos for Sunshine Network and a series of vignettes for the Speed Channel.


The past year has been busy for Kent Vanderberg, president of Elite Film + Video (formerly Elite Digital Video). The new name reflects the fact that in the past year film has increasingly been their production format, along with video. Last November Kent directed a corporate image film for Virginia-based Computer Science Corporation, picking up a Gold Addy for the effort. Along with a heavy schedule of presentations for Siemens Medical Solutions and events at Disney, Kent had a chance to return to his first love, live concert events.  Seven cameras and 24-track audio covered the onstage action during a wild night at Ybor City’s Twilight Club, where performances by The Verve Pipe’s Brian VanderArk and New Orleans-based Cowboy Mouth rocked the house. Both bands are negotiating the release of concert DVDs from the material.


22A Productions has found success in handling projects outside of the US. As an in-house production management team that is part of the Universal Studios Production Group, 22A, headed by Charlie Krestul, coordinates and produces various internal and external jobs. These have included a 3D film based on Sesame Street for Universal Japan, producing commercials for Wet & Wild and various outside commercials. When I say outside, I mean that! The 22A management team has recently produced international commercials for Praxis and Chocomel in Australia and Missing Witness in Africa.


One of west central Florida’s largest media facilities, Tampa Digital Studios, has seen projects increase four-fold during the past year. Notable projects include commercials and direct response spots for Sam Seltzer’s Steakhouse, Florida Digital Technologies, Kuhn Volkswagen and others. Tampa Digital Studios has moved towards CD-ROM and DVD production as a substitute for VHS duplication. Specific projects handled by Tampa Digital include a paint ball DVD by Focus TV and Workouts For Women Inc. In response to the rising film and video production taking place in the Tampa Bay area, Tampa Digital Studios has added two new Avid editing suites and expanded its graphics and animation department, now providing clients with 3D and 2D motion graphics. The new capabilities were used to create the 15-second opening graphics package for six one-hour special programs of American Muscle Car, aired weekly on the Speed Channel.


Written by Oliver Peters for Create magazine