Workflow

Best Practices for setting up remote Post-Production

Maarten Verwaest
March 14, 2020

With NAB being cancelled overnight due to the COVID-19 pandemic, schools being closed around the globe, industries coming to a full stop and entire countries being locked down, it is hard to overestimate its economic impact.

As a producer or post facility, how does it affect your business and how do you cope with the challenges imposed by the present situation? Chances are you are looking into setting up remote post-production workflows, allowing creative staff to securely ingest material from a distance, collaborate online and make pre-cut material available for remote editing.

Fortunately, technology comes to the rescue. A number of companies including Limecraft have been offering remote ingest and online collaboration since a few years. As a matter of fact, some of our customers use it to enable incredibly complex and extremely demanding workflows that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise.

When we launched the company in 2010, we assumed that all producers, regardless of size and breed, would at some point use the cloud for managing media online and running post-production remotely. What we couldn’t predict was the timing. So, when the dust will have settled, as governments and business all over the globe are now urging people to stay at home and work remotely, 2020 will be remembered as the infliction point for remote post-production in media and entertainment.

In this blog post, we illustrate the best practices for setting up a solid post-production workflow by 5 key applications ranging from ingest to approval.

Key recommendations

  • low-resolution copies allow you securely collaborate without the need to physically displace assets or people
  • use proper ingest software to create those proxies, to secure high-resolution material overnight
  • make sure to maintain the link between the proxies and the original footage. It allows you to relink the original, so there’s no need to compromise on quality
  • using a true cloud-based asset management, you can prepare pre-cuts for remote editing and allow your editor to finish using his or her editing software of choice, where and when he or she wants
  • by restricting export and import to the selected material fragments, you realise significant savings on transfer and online storage capacity
  • using the same cloud-based logic, you can easily extend the workflow into graphics, VFX and sound stages by securely sharing material and reconciliation of the deliverables
  • by using automated versioning, cloud-based tools for verification and approval, and by dispatching masters to the stakeholders online, you can create a large number of versions at marginal cost

Use proxies for remote Collaboration

Before we enter into details of how to create and manage proxies, let’s first grasp a sense of the advantages of online and remote collaboration. Thanks to the availability of tools such as Slack and Zoom, meetings can be held also with team members in other physical locations.

So how about video? Although technological advancements allow many industries the ability to work remotely, many in the professional video editing field are still juggling a hodgepodge of applications to share material from locations other than the office, including Dropbox, WeTransfer, and Vimeo. Solutions that are often limited in capacity or compromise visual quality or security.

At Limecraft we know how to handle vast collections of valuable material, worth 100k€ per shooting day and up. Whether you are managing rushes, cuts or masters, Limecraft Flow swiftly manages several 10.000’s of files per collection without latency.

When you hit the play button or when you are sharing a collection for review, comments and approval, we are streaming a low-resolution version of the picture material.

With a bitrate low enough to play out video over commercial internet product or mobile data, the visual quality of the images is still good enough for the director or the editor to prepare the edit. Yet, upon export to edit, we offer the possibility to circle back to the original footage or high-resolution edit proxies (ProRes HQ, DNxHD or DNxHR).

Last but not least, our frame-accurate player allows you to comment and to mark time-in and time-out to the smallest detail. Also note that our player uses the embedded time-code, and that it allows backward as well as slower or faster play out.

In short, cloud-based collaboration is much more than file sharing using Dropbox or WeTransfer. Built-in version control allows you to select, comment and to create stories using the low-resolution proxies, whilst at the same time finish using the high-resolution footage without the need for manual relinking.

Ingest is more than transferring raw material

Inges is the process of making material available for post-production. It is a complex process that requires deep knowledge of the editing tools and requirements further down the process.

More often than not, the job of a Digital Image Technicians (DIT), Data Handler or Edit Assistant is underestimated. They have the enormous responsibility to take the source material, ensure it is backed up, audio is added, colours are corrected, subclips are stitched and each fragment is correctly labelled. In complex productions that can amount up to 1000 files or clips per shooting day.

“Derushing” or preparing the dailies for editing, used to be a manual process that took place in offline edit suites. The source material would therefore be transported in high resolution to the post facility, to be manually audio sync’ed and colour corrected. The edit assistant would then create proxies for review and make those available via a file sharing platform. This is a slow and time-consuming process, as it takes 1 or 2 days to transport the raw footage and another couple of days for processing.

To accelerate the process and to make sure dailies are available for review and selection on the day of the shoot, you need flip the order and execute all pre-processing at the source and prior to the dispatching. Using artificial intelligence, synchronisation and grouping clips should take no more than seconds. Next, the DIT or data handler picks the right encoding formats and storage areas and starts the ingest. The ingest software encodes the different versions and executes the transfers overnight.

Use Limecraft Edge for creating proxies, linking the different versions
and transferring all copies

Apart from the pre-processing and the physical transfer of media, these is one more action to take during ingest and it critically important. Setting the metadata vital for the efficiency and the version control downstream.

Without proper metadata, 1000’s of orphaned clips will create total chaos in post-production and kill whatever efficiencies you created upstream. With proper metadata settings and input, 80% of the offline edit is automated, allowing you to globally save another 30% in post production. So how does it work?

First, before you begin, the data handler needs to agree with the sound engineer and the editor on the naming convention, and adjust the pre-sets of the ingest software accordingly. By doing so, episode-scene-shot sequences will be automatically linked.

Secondly, upon each backup or ingest operation, the data handler creates the primary keys to retrieve the material afterward and to construct the bins in the edit. These can be shooting day, camera name and card name, but this is not mandatory.

When these metadata are properly set during production and the data handler dispatches the dailies, each shots will be earmarked automatically, allowing the Asset Management system to cut the shots into scenes without the need for manual relinking.

Using proper metadata, shots are automatically cut in scenes

Last but not least, both the ingest software and the Asset Management solution must be smart enough to keep track of all versions (not just the proxy). By doing so, upon export to edit, it allows you to pick the right file format (web proxy, edit proxy or original, using LUTs or not, etc).

Ingest also means you need to track offline versions

Remote editing, whilst using high-quality Proxies and decent editing Software

At the core of any post-production operation, whether remote or on site, is the edit process. So let’s cut to the chase: to do their job, professional editors must be able to cut decent quality material and using decent editing software. It can be either Avid Media Composer, Adobe Premiere or Davinci Resolve, but not an imitation of editing software in a browser. Because manipulating high-quality video requires a low-latency experience and because browser-based apps lack elementary functionality. For the same reason, you should not ask a professional editors to cut using low quality proxies or streamed proxies. Substandard input only yields substandard output.

With that sorted, we extended Edge with the functionality to pull a pre-cut project from the cloud-based Asset Management to local storage, using edit proxies of sufficiently high quality for editing in his or her software of choice. This allows for maximum flexibility in the edit, without any compromise at all on quality or oversubscription of the network or the storage.

As an editor, you select the collection you’re working on, pick the right encoding format considering the available bandwidth and the software you are using, and, finally, you can either keep the original folder structure or adapt it to your needs.

Upon download, Edge will create a proper folder structure, execute a partial retrieve (only restoring the selected fragments), in the right format and including all the available metadata.

When you’re ready to share an intermediary version for review or when the edit is locked, just re-upload the bin to Limecraft Flow and we will take care of the relinking.

By only staging the fragments you’re working on, you optimise the available bandwidth and storage capacity. Make sure your editor is using high-quality proxies, as there’s not a single argument left to allow poorly encoded or streamed picture material. And regardless of the version you used for cutting, the edit can be rendered in any level of high quality later on.

Extend the workflow in the sound and VFX stages by exchanging auxiliary Media (Audio, Graphics) using shared Collections

Beyond the offline edit, we need to make the project ready and available for graphics and VFX, grading and sound stages. However, you don’t want to share the entire project and because you don’t want to create a duplicated folder structures for each step in post-production, do you?

So here is where the cloud-based Asset Management solution comes in. It allows you to securely share specific collections and to manage permissions (play out, comment, approve, download, re-upload).

Depending on the permissions you associated with the share, the receiver will get a view similar to this one above. As a production manager, you are now able to share a specific episode, scene or item for VFX, sound or subtitling.

On the receiving end, depending on the permissions granted, the editor or sound engineer can download a copy of the material (proxy, high-resolution and or watermarked). When done, he can re-upload the rendered version, or just the sound or the graphics.

As a production manager, during the post-production process, you remain in control. You keep track of every single step, and you’ll be notified upon successful completion of certain deliverables.

Online Mastering, Verification and Delivery

As a final step, you want to share the master and possibly the different versions for distribution for review, verification and approval by the different stakeholders.

Also, in this stage, there are different aspects to consider. First of all, we strongly advise to automate the versioning and to avoid having to manually rework and render each individual version in the edit suite.

For example, consider subtitling. Rather than going back to the edit suite to “burn in” the subtitles, consider uploading them first and displaying them online. It’s easy, it saves you another version and a lot of time, and it is as frame-accurate as it can possibly be.

Pro-tip: built-in QC will help you detecting timing or spotting errors.

Secondly, rather than to bring stakeholders together in a screening room, why don’t you consider sending a copy of the master to the stakeholders?

Eventually the same method applies for dispatching the copies for distribution. All of these can be easily set up by extending the pre-existing cloud-based Asset Management solution with proper workflow management. Compared to conventional mastering and delivery, an online alternative allows you to create and distribute several versions at marginal cost.

Wrapping up the Business Case

  • Online collaboration brings the media assets to the team members rather than the other way around, thereby avoiding them having to join physically. A proper video collaboration environment like Limecraft Flow avoids excessive file transfers and redundant copies of material being kept, sometimes literally, all over the place.
  • Ingest is more than file transfer. By far the largest productivity increases are incurred by managing the metadata.
  • To deliver a great product, editors cut using high quality proxies and by using proper editing software. They can’t do their job in a browser-based imitation of editing software, or by using substandard proxies.
  • Securely interact with free-lance graphics and sound professionals by using online sharing features, allowing them to download copies and to re-upload their work
  • Cloud-based mastering, verification and distribution allows you to create and manage several versions at marginal cost