HPA Tech Retreat Day 3

Post On Demand, VFX on GPUs, and more.
Adam Wilt
By Adam Wilt 02.22.13

The Tech Retreat is an annual four-day conference for HD / Video / cinema geeks, sponsored by the Hollywood Post Alliance. Day 3 covered a legislative update, post on demand, ACES, the VFX business, file-based architecture, IMF, working in raw, digital intermediates exchange network, the cloud, and what comes after file-based workflows.

Herewith, my transcribed-as-it-happened notes from today's session; please excuse the typos and the abbreviated explanations. (You can follow the Tech Retreat on Twitter with hashtag #hpatech13, thanks to various Tweeters in the audience. I post my notes at each day's end.)

Washington Update 

Jim Burger, Thompson Coburn LLP

IP issues: What happened in Congress this year? Nothing! Regulating IP and the 'Net was the third rail.

Aereo: Networks sued Aereo, public performance copyright infringement. Aereo's defense relies on Sony and Cablevision cases; claim no public performance. Single antenna, single performance? Not guilty. Appealed to 2nd Circuit.

Fox TV vs. barrydriller.com / Aereokiller (Aereo-like service). Ruling: No, that one transmission is a public performance (then, is Slingbox illegal?). Appeal filed, but could have a circuit split, one for infringement, the other against.

DISH Hopper (commercial-hopping DVR) "Auto hop" litigation:  If you enable the DVR, it'll store up to 8 days of shows, and auto-skip commercials. CBS/Fox/NBC filed copyright lawsuits. May see the Sony Betamax ruling revisited (which was: if the device is capable of non-infringing use, it doesn't matter if some people use it to infringe). Fox lost preliminary injunction; judge said "all the Hopper is, is Sony on steroids". Fox is appealing.

Kim Dotcom / Megaupload. Dotcom arrested on criminal charges, fighting extradition from NZ. Fight over servers; Megaupload rented servers from US firm Carpathia. Now Megaupload is shut down, customers can't get access to their 25 Petabytes of data on Carpathia's servers. Dotcom out of jail but still fighting extradition. NZ High Court ruled that the search of his home was invalid; evidence illegally seized; release to FBI violates treaties; NZ's PM apologized to Dotcom. Extradition judge calls the US "the enemy", recused. Still up in the air. Dotcom has now opened a new upload site with servers OUTSIDE the USA.

Telecomms: Spectrum for sale. Congress finally acts, Spectrum Act of 2012. Authorized FCC to conduct auctions for mobile broadband; reverse and forward auctions, followed by repacking. Involuntary relocation compensated and protected.

Also, coordinating with Canada and Mexico will be tricky. 205-page NPRM, with lots of comments. 600 MHz Band plan? 5 MHz blocks, separate uplink/downlink bands:

FCC auction process:

Looks very difficult to meet these deadlines.

Looks very difficult to meet these deadlines.

To encode or not to encode? How many copies will copy-protection allow? '92 Telecom Act: assure commercial cable STB availability and power to restrict cabled encryption/scrambling for TV compatibility. Memorandum of Understanding: encoding rules (ER), like HBO allows one generation of copying. 2002 FCC ruling; DISH sues, saying FCC has no direct authority (DISH isn't cable [paraphrasing. -AJW]). Is interpretation reasonable? Ancillary authority? Court said no. FCC says, we were removing a stumbling block to cable box availability; court disagrees. FCC says 2002 rule can't work without ER; so court vacates entire 2002 rule!

Q: If the sequester happens, will they furlough all the lawyers at the FCC?

Post on Demand panel

Moderator: Chris Parker, Bling Digital
Callum Greene, Executive Producer, "Pacific Rim"
Richard Winnie, VP Post Production, NBC Universal
Gavin Barclay, Co-producer, "Suits" and "Covert Affairs"
Chris Jacobson, VP Creative Services, Colorist, Bling Digital

So what's changed in post?

Paradigm shift. Was a clear break between production and post, when the can of film came off the camera and got the "exposed" tape on it. Now, more blurred, with DITs, on-set work, etc.

Move away from bricks & mortar, with portable post in hotel rooms, on laptops, on-set carts.

Reduction in workforce, perhaps a bit too far (like one DIT doing everything).

It's not all about the hardware; one size doesn't fit all.

So what is post on demand?

One of Bling's P.O.D.s in the demo room.

One of Bling's P.O.D.s in the demo room.

Callum: Did portable lab in CT about 5 years ago, both for tax reasons and to get closer to the director (shooting on Genesis); was a big deal to do this. Now, "Pacific Rim" shot in Toronto, no question about shooting in digital and having near-set or on-set lab. The change in 5 years is night and day. If you can work close to the set it streamlines things, improves communication, saves money. Would be very odd now to go back to using more traditional bricks & mortar lab.

Richard: Every situation is different, look at every show on its own (snowflake workflows). Enormous convenience not having to ship drives, saves a day. anything you can do for the production folks, not having them drive all over town, hard to get 'em to look at a cut anyway. File-based made pricing structure more tractable, but had to rework workflows (RED didn't make it easy on us!) Bling was the first place we found with a focused approach. We do so many shows in Canada now. You have to have the right people on the show if you're going to try something new; have to have someone there gung-ho on the new workflow. If you can do it, no reason not to. Increased efficiencies.

Chris Parker: It doesn't have to happen overnight, don't have to ignore existing regimented systems. Have to take baby steps, look for opportunities where the right team is in place to push the envelope a bit.

Gavin: If you have a savvy team it opens a lot of creative doors you wouldn't find otherwise. "Covert Affairs" has a tight schedule; producers want more international shooting, that would require shutting down, moving, etc. 15 countries in 3 seasons, turning around on a 10-day cut.  Last shot in Amsterdam, had 9 days to lock the cut. A problem in the traditional way, shipping dailies back home or looking for a Dutch post house. Now, send a guy along to a hotel room with his gear, transcode dailies there, see them the next day. All we need to do in advance is find a fast Internet connection.

Chris Jacobson: Show in Miami, we're in LA. We could create LUT for camera tests all in the same day, shipping over high-speed Internet. Working in the finishing pod with editorial, editor wants to try something new, we can just collaborate there in the office, try pushing it, then render it out on location to a DNX, makes it easier for them to show to producers. Things like VFX-heavy shows, would cut the VFX into the offline, hope it works. We cut 'em right in in parallel in the online, saves time and money.

Chris Parker: how were VFX handled on "Pacific Rim"?

Callum: ILM did most VFX, we were shooting in Toronto, office in LA, everyone able to dip in and see how the shots worked. Everyone talked, worked essentially in real time, posting in LA, we need that speed. We'd still go to SF once a month to be with director, that tactile one-to-one is the best, but taking advantage of the tech to bring cities closer is huge, made it all possible. We were able to send footage back to LA, get a quick cut, see the scene is OK, and you can strike that set.

When you have a DIT on-set every day, a discussion goes on, and it's very beneficial.

Re-illustrates that it's a work in progress among all of us. That's why Tech Retreat is so useful, we come here, discuss, then go back and work things out.

What if something breaks? Build redundancy in pods, so if a computer goes down or a SAN breaks, gear is so inexpensive you just have backups in place.

So many of those finger-pointing exercises are gone; just walk down the hall, with production and post all being on the same team.

ACES Audit

Josh Pines, Technicolor, and Howard Lukk, Disney

Characterize digital camera to determine IDT. IDTs provided in CTL Color Transform Language, camera vendors are doing this. Not in a format that plugs into all the color tools, needs translation.

RRT: reference rendering transform. Some liked it, some not; new RRT coming out. RRT has to be invertible, new one will be, so those working in 709 can convert back to ACES color encoding.

Needed way to preview on set. All color correctors have their own way to deal with ACES internally, but CDLs weren't portable. Added "proxy ACES", cameras can apply a 3x3 LUT, and a clear spec for translating proxy ACES decisions to color correctors. Spec in process.

Disney's perspective: biggest drive from archival. Currently transfers have been done with proprietary LUTs and secret sauces. "Everything we have in the vault isn't worth anything, because I don't know how to re-encode it." Huge step: "101 Dalmatians" release in 2011, was able the use ACES RRT to generate 709 output. "Santa Claus" has lots of red, in first RRT reds go red-orange, so was completed traditionally instead. "Roger Rabbit" worked with RRT. Try a full-on short production, "Telescope", F65 4K ACES all the way. Super-saturated color palette, "saturation to 200%, and it never broke a sweat". After Effects does ACES wonderfully, Photoshop not at all: why not? Realtime OpenEXR 4K playback "challenging". Overall, this is a really great space to work in.

Comment: Camera IDTs sent to academy as CTLs, but to color corrector folks as part of their SDKs. ACES to Rec.709 works well, if OTD gets you where you want to go. Doesn't eliminate need for a trim pass (but may eliminate need for secondaries in trim pass).


Next: VFX: A Changing Landscape, and lots more...

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