Using the Cloud - article by Marc Loftus in Post Magazine

Culver City, CA -

July, 2013 issue of Post magazine, pg. 26/27. 

More and more productions are embracing cloud technology as a way to increase productivity and save costs. There are many applications in which the cloud can serve to benefit a project, be it in review and approval, local or long distance collaboration, or even to employer a facility's pipeline beyond its local infrastructure through cloud rendering. 

This month, we talked with a number of studios that have embraced the cloud. Each is using it in a different way, but all are seeing benefits in terms of productivity, performance and cost savings. Toronto's Township & Company, for example, is using the cloud to add rendering resources to its pipeline. This allowed the commercial studios to branch into long-form work without the need to invest in additional high-end - and expensive - workstations. 

The FX show Sons of Anarchy has been using the cloud to distribute dailies, eliminating the need to burn as many as 50 DVDs each day and then drive them to different locations throughout Los Angeles. 

Here's a look at some creative uses of cloud technology, the manufacturers that are offering solutions, and how post pipelines are benefitting. 

 

Sons of Anarchy

Sample Digital, which rebranded to the name DAX (www.daxcloud.com) recently, has a cloud-based review and approval system that's being used by the likes of Warner Bros., Fox and CBS. Scripted television is the company's bread and butter, says account representative Morgan Swift, though DAX has also expanded to support unscripted television as well as film work. 

Mad Men, The Walking Dead, The Good Wife, Person of Interest, NCIS and Sons of Anarchy all use DAX's solution as does Lionsgate on the feature film side of the business.

Swift says the company's motto is "Your Media Universe," where productions can safely store and share dailies, cuts and documents too. Pricing can run from $1,000 to $2,000 per episode, which included 50 seats, each with a very specific level of access. DAX is Flash based, so anyone with a Mac or PC running an up-to-date version of Flash can review and approve footage from their computer. The company also offers an iPad application, that Swift says has become very popular since it was introduced two years ago thanks to its ease of use. 

Shows that employ DAX upload H.264 video to the company's LA-based servers. "We don't do any compression of the video when you upload it," explains Swift. "When you export from your Avid of Final Cut Pro system, that's what it's going to look like online." 

DAX sends the production an Excel file to fill out, which determines who has access to dailies and cuts, as well as what additional features will be employed. Options range from dynamic overlay watermarking to date, time and user name stamps. 

Grace Whitehouse is associate producer of FX's Sons of Anarchy and says the show, which is in its sixth season, has been using DAX's solution for two seasons now. "It's been a big help for us," says Whitehouse, "It saves us a ton of time. Before we used DAX, we were making DVDs for our dailies, which was kind of a waste of material and resources. Now we get our dailies up by 6am or 7am instead of sending DVDs out in the afternoon, so I think everyone gets the dailies much earlier because of this."

According to Whitehouse, there are 20 people on the production side of the show that need to see footage, along with another 10 or 15 at the studio, and another 20 at the network. DAX makes it easy to distribute. "It's there for them to use if they want to check out a new actor or a specific scene," she says of the executives' needs. "Our director of photography checks dailies every day, so they are use it often."

Sons of Anarchy shoots with two Arri Alexa cameras. They also use the Sony FS5, a small Sony crash cam, and GoPros too. Each day results in two to four hours of footage being captured. A typical episode requires seven days of shooting.

"Our lab, Modern VideoFilm, does our dailies transfer process," she explains. This involves syncing sound, adding LUTs/color correction, creating the H.264 files for posting to the DAX cloud solution, and creating DNx36 copies for Avid editorial. The show has three editors and two assistants. 

"One thing I love about viewing dailies on DAX is that the dailies reels can be sorted by scene, take and camera," she notes. "So you can jump to a specific scene or take if needed. Sometimes I'll make a playlist that just included one take of each set-up, so I can get an idea of the coverage they shot for the scene without necessarily having to watch every take. I personally use my laptop and iPad, depending on where I am. If I am in the office, I use my laptop. If I am at the lab or on the mix stage, I use my iPad."

While DAX cloud solution offers the option of streaming or downloading footage, Whitehouse says it's 20th Century Fox's policy not to use the download feature. "We are only streaming," she explains. "We do have a watermarking with a user name and a date and time. That's a protection for the material, so nothing leaks out."