ITN Productions has adopted Sony CI cloud platform. George Jarrett speaks with head of postproduction Olly Strous to find out what Impact the technology has had to ITN’s workflow
To say ITN Productions is a company with a wide footprint would be no understatement. The production company has departments spanning TV content creation, advertising, industry news, digital news, sport and more.
Dig down deeper and you’ll find a multi-seat edit and grading facility supporting all of these verticals, plus its own outside client.
But key to pinning all of this together is the fact that everything it does ends up on the Sony CI Media Cloud Platform, now managed by Sony Intelligent Media Services, via Aspera.
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The person responsible for giving the post division its ‘own entity’ status was Olly Strous. As head of ITN Postproduction he looks back at adopting Ci and says: “The ability to work everywhere was the immediate win. Suddenly we could have a producer in America watching content we had shot that night, and he/she could start thinking about how the story was going to be created, with paper edits.”
As the Ci platform developed Strous looked at other acquisition methods, notably cameras that connect directly to Ci via XDCAM AIR.
“Every time you pause the camera you upload a proxy, which is essentially good enough quality for us to publish to our digital social media platforms,” he says. “Acquisition was something we had not considered we would use the platform for, but another acquisition method was the introduction of file request.” This, he explains, is the mechanism of being able to send a link out and people just publish their content to that one link that would then form itself into a folder within a workspace. “This presented a sort of online repository of clips for a particular production, and was another huge win.”
From being a transient space where ITN put proxies, rushes, and rough cuts until they were ditched, suddenly it made sense to store its masters in the cloud.
“We thought just take the selected assets we need to sell – the final MXF files and the elements we know are sellable – and now we have a dedicated workspace for all our completed projects. Everything goes up to Ci and is sorted into a nice folder tree. If we have secondary sales of those programs we can select the assets, trigger a media box and deliver them faster than we ever could,” explains Strous.
“We go to red carpet events, with the Sony Air cameras. As each person is interviewed, pause is pressed and it zooms up to Ci. The footage will be incorporated into a show either immediately or next day. Our digital news syndication team sell them on.” Olly Strous
ITN Productions has kept its original Planet Earth LTO library separate from the cloud, and supports it with the cloud library. How does it mix working with proxies and full res content; surely with Aspera it could send full res in all directions?
“In terms of how we use the Sony platform and how we work with proxies and the raw media there is currently a little bit of a disconnect. That comes from folder structures and how cameras record their clips,” says Strous. “What we do with our proxies is that every time someone presses pause it creates a new clip: we stitch every single instance of pausing into one clip which becomes a single combined proxy.
“This has timecode that jumps around all over the place, so there is no direct relationship between the raw that goes into the editing suite and the proxy, other than the timecode,” he adds.
In fact the combined proxy can be a 90-minute clip that seems to work well for the ITN producers, at least currently. Rushes, be they for ITN or external client productions, do produce an insane amount of material.
“Shooting ratios are an industry wide issue,” explains Strous. “You can just press go and you have a bank of relatively inexpensive memory cards, plus relatively inexpensive hard drives that allow crews to shoot the shit out of everything.”
A new world of AI tools is getting closer but so far ITN has a way of dealing with tons of rushes.
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Say for example it is an interview. All of these by default go up to a speech transcription service (called Temi), he explains. This processes the material and it has its own editing tool, which means the transcript is linked to the video and we can go in and change words. “What we do is create low res proxies, and we have enough encoders so that we are not really fussed about how much people shoot.
“We have a Planet Earth encoder for everything we do, so we use Content Agent for our staging area,” he added. “What we have done in terms of how we use media boxes and proxies, and how we deal with all that concerning rushes, is that our material goes into Content Agent, which sends it into a stitched H.264 MP4 with burnt in timecode. We then have an app that our developers built which is the bridge between Content Agent and the Sony Ci. It publishes that content to a specific folder within Ci.”
A media box is generated and that is passed back into the house-developed app using Sony’s API. The end result is a bespoke email with all the information embedded into it. Is the ITN world one where OPEX and pay as you go is the mantra?
“It certainly helps to run a business with more clarity and with more visibility around spending, and you can build services to projects. You have a lot of clarity when you are budgeting,” says Strous. “Now we are tending to buy off the shelf services, and support that with in-house development. With our small team of software engineers we like to use the APIs of known products. We let everyone else do the development and then piggy back on their back door.”
In the case of Aspera, ITN has its own independent contract (and Sony also embeds Aspera in Ci).
“We harness the power of Aspera in Ci, and that has been fundamental to us using the platform,” adds Strous. “The thing we found with using the cloud is that the user’s experience shouldn’t be impacted. By having Aspera on the platform it means all of our proxies that people view and approve are in HD because they can be. It has made it more accessible to upload better resolutions and longer files.”
This means it is not even a proxy any more, but it is a UHD full resolution transmittable file – another “immediate win” for the ITN man.
From office to home
ITN’s post house is a 60 seat editing facility based on 32 physical rooms and desktop working, which typicall creates the one-minute entertainment bullets ITN produces. Every box has an Avid Media Composer with Symphony, the Baselight plug-in Editions, plus da Vinci Resolve from Blackmagic.
“They have grading monitors and scopes, so you know you are in a calibrated room,” he explains.
As we chat, he moves away from technology in order to discuss one of the biggest things of the moment: remote working.
“People are looking closely at regional and remote working,” he explains. “Everyone has started to embrace the fact that people are as productive at home as they are in the office.” So what can we do to empower that? “We have already started doing a load of proof of concepts about working remotely. You could create pop up regional offices.”
Strous allows his team to openly work from home. The result? They are more productive, he has found.
“There is a weird psychological thing that makes you feel you need to be seen have done your work.”