South Park - Creative COW Magazine

South Park - Creative COW Magazine




South Park: TV’s Longest Week

• The Future of On-Set Metadata

• Fixing It In “Pre”

• How One Small Team Handles 3 Network Shows



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Tim Matteson


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In This Issue:

Tim Wilson’s Column ............................................ 6

The Back Forty ..................................................... 46




South Park: TV’s Longest Week

South Park airs nearly upon delivery. Here’s why.

Hot Tools & Industry News

Here are some of the hot stories on the wire.

Metadata: Through the Eye of the Lens

Metadata for shooters, editors and compositors.

COWs Around the World

Users from around the globe take us into their world.

One Team. Three Shows. Every Week.

How one team handles three network shows every week.

Fix It In “Pre”

Workflow starts before the shooting does.

Learning More Than We Wanted To Know

Serving nearly a million different people a month teaches

you some real lessons in how to best structure a successful

business that can continue to grow.

September / October 2008 — Creative COW Magazine

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Workflow: It’s barely even a word at all anymore

The perfect

balance of


and annoying,

and still funky


Tim Wilson

Boston, Massachusetts

Associate Publisher

Creative COW Magazine

I’m not too fond of the “W” word. It’s an okay word on its own, but its thorough

abuse in marketing language has left “workflow” barely even a word at all anymore.

A good word, an important one if used properly, but otherwise hanging on

for dear life. There are a lot of other beaten-down, barely-words floating around out

there, and the more of them you string together, the less they mean.

You’ve probably seen a sentence like this one already today: “Maximize productivity

by leveraging the advanced functionality and native workflow toolset found in

the industry standard integrated suite.” See? Practically meaningless.

The more I thought about these barely-words, the more annoyed I got, so I decided

to just go with it. What could possibly be more annoying than “Workflow” for an

issue name?

How about Workflow 2.0? You know, like “Web 2.0” and “Business 2.0.” They sound

like they mean something, and there are people making a lot of money trying to persuade

you that they actually do mean something. They’ve been at it for years, but I’m

still not convinced. “2.0” feels so played out that it’s not new at all anymore. It’s OLD.

And so we come to the name “Workflow 3.0,” the perfect balance between annoying

and meaningless, and still funky fresh!

All kidding aside, “2.0” actually makes things less clear. The words carry more

weight without that frill. “The web.” “Business.” Same thing with “workflow.” If you

want to know what it really means, peel off the word “flow.” “Flow” sounds so ethereal!

Almost like magic. Long flowing robes and flowing tresses, resting beside the gently

flowing stream. Ah, sweet repose!

No, the real word is work. If “workflow” means anything at all anymore, it’s not

a product feature. Workflow is a combination of planning, discipline and creativity,

achieved by perseverance, mastery of technology, and, if necessary, brute force, to get

from one end of your job to the other. It’s anything but ethereal.

To redeem its abuse elsewhere, we have some especially gleaming examples of

the proper use of the word “workflow” here. A team of 9 posting 3 network series every

week. An animated show created in 6 days, arriving for air with 90 minutes to spare.

Using metadata to manage the massive amount of precise information required for

advanced VFX. There’s math in that story, along with Batman, James Bond, and a clear

vision of the future of, yes, workflow. Not that you’ll find that word in the article.

I keep coming back to the general inadequacy of “flow.” It implies a linear process

moving in discrete steps, one after the other. There’s an element of that in every

project of course, but hey, we’ve known for over 100 years that time itself ain’t all that

linear. Why should our work be? The stories in this issue largely describe lots of work

happening at the same time, with teams that may be spread across the globe, all the

work coming together only at the very end — parallel processes moving toward a

common destination.

It’s an evolution, really, from linear to nonlinear production, and now, to simultaneous


Well whaddya know, it’s “Workflow 3.0” after all! Just another public service from

your pals at the Cow, making sure that words still mean something. Read on for remarkable

stories about new and better ways to work.


September / October 2008 — Creative COW Magazine

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An inside look at TV’s longest week: the teamwork and technology

behind the Emmy Award-winning worldwide hit, “South Park

Each episode of “South Park” comes to life in six

days, start to finish — a crazy pace for an animated

series. Even crazier: each episode arrives at Comedy

Central in New York via uplink somewhere between

6:30 and 8:30 PM on Wednesday, to be shown that

night at 10 PM.

Cutting it close? Even a production as relatively

simple as a late-night talk show, where delivery might

entail no more than walking across the same building

it’s taped in, leaves more like five hours to air than


And because work proceeds on each episode until

the very last minute, an awful lot of things have to

go right, in very short order, with virtually no margin

for error.

It’s not just that the script has to be completed

in time for voice recording, creating and rendering

animation (including lip sync), color correction, visual

effects, scoring and audio post. It’s that the script

keeps changing to respond to the world’s most current

events, as well as the perfectionism of the show’s creators.

Which means that everything downstream from

Tim Wilson “Timmeh!”

Boston, Massachusetts USA

the script keeps changing too.

Their perfectionism is paying off. Now in its twelfth

season, “South Park” has been nominated for 7 Emmy

Awards for Best Animated Program, winning in 2005

and 2006 — and just as this issue was wrapping, the

three-parter “Imaginationland” was awarded the 2007

Emmy for “Outstanding Animated Program

(For Programming

One Hour Or More).”

South Park has

also won a GLAAD

Award, an NAACP Image

Award, a CableACE

Award, and the prestigious

Peabody Award,

among others.

Not bad for a cartoon

show about four

foul-mouthed boys

intended to look like it

was animated from construction paper


“I’d have finished this article a whole lot faster if I hadn’t kept stopping to watch

more episodes of ‘South Park,’” says Tim. Exhibit A: the article title and each of

the section headings is taken from an episode title. Pathetic.

EMMY is a registered trademark of the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. All rights are reserved.


Workflow at South Park Studios has evolved with

the sole purpose of giving creators and executive

producers Matt Stone and Trey Parker the room

to write, direct, add additional music to the work

of South Park’s composers, and if called for, to

write songs, in such little time.

Before attending the University of Colorado

where he met Matt, Trey studied at Boston’s

Berklee College of Music. His song “Blame Canada,”

co-written with Marc Shaiman for the movie

South Park: Bigger, Longer, Uncut” was nominated

for an Academy Award for Best Song.

The two also provide voices for most of the

show’s male characters.

Supervising Producer Frank Agnone is the

keeper of the workflow for the sixty people who put

the show together. From the time that pages for the

next episode arrive early in the morning after the previous

one airs, he makes sure that a lot of things happen


The basics are

traditional enough:

those early pages are

recorded, the dialog

is cut up and passed

to storyboard artists.

Editors start

building animatics

by cutting together

the storyboards and

dialog to start shaping

the scene.

Of course, even after the first pages arrive and

scene construction begins, nobody necessarily knows

where in the show it’s going to end up. The script

evolves as the week progresses: the final script is

generally in place around 2 AM Wednesday, about 12

hours before the show is uploaded for air.

Until then, the work carries on, scene by scene. As

editor David List notes, “It doesn’t matter so much to

us whether a scene is at the beginning or end, as far

as editorial is concerned. The challenge is more

for Matt and Trey as they build the story structure.

For us, it’s basically cutting. We know from

the beginning that there will be changes as we

go, but we’ve been doing this for so long that we

know how to keep moving.”

At the same time that Frank is working with

Trey to refine individual layouts, 3D modeling

begins. Those shots move very rapidly through

lip sync and into the hands of the animators.

“So it’s an ever changing formula,” says

Frank, “but ultimately it’s my responsibility to

make sure that the team of sixty people is staying

on schedule and we are hitting our deadlines

for Trey, hitting our video deadlines so that color

correction can happen on time, and then our audio

deadlines so that we’re making broadcasts

on time.”


Things get especially hairy on the last day: a 30-hour

stretch that begins early Tuesday morning on the way

to completion by Wednesday afternoon.

Picture lock comes in for a landing at 9 AM Wednesday

morning, when the video is recorded to tape and

sent out for final color correction. At the same time,

the final clean-up and re-conform from last-minute

edits gets sent through audio post one last time.

“Then the scramble is on for those guys to make

sure all of the proper dialog and ADR work is in place,”

says Frank. “Sound design for shots that are coming in

until that 9 AM hour on Wednesday morning are also

attended to, and then a mix begins.”

The mix comes together just as the color graded

picture comes back at 1 PM Pacific, when Frank pulls

the plug on any additional work. “If I’m lucky, I’m out

the door by 2 PM, sometimes 2:30, to our uplink facility

to start fibering the episode to New York. On average

the show arrives on the east coast between 6:30 and 7

PM [Eastern], and it’s on the air at 10 PM.

“We had a couple of shows in this last run where

I was getting the show there as close as 8:30 for a 10

o’clock broadcast.”

It’s difficult enough to keep track of all this as it’s

being described that it raises the obvious question:

8 September / October 2008 — Creative COW Magazine

Creative COW Magazine — September / October 2008 9

how does Frank track all of this as it’s actually happening?

He walks the floor to stay in touch with his key

people, but “to be honest with you,” he says, “I probably

do 80% of it by memory.”


Part of Technology Supervisor J.J. Franzen’s job is keep

looking for technologies to enable ever-increasing

production values in the fixed six-day cycle.

“We have a very fast blade-based network switch

in place now, replacing a bunch of standard switches,”

J.J. says. “We also have a BlueArc Titan, a very robust,

very specific, hardware-accelerated file serving system.

All it does is serve files as bloody fast as possible.”

“Fast” means 2GB/sec., over 8 4Gb fibre ports and 2

10GbE clustering ports.

Those files come from a LOT of storage: 26 TB of

production storage, 33 TB of nearline storage, and 15

TB of Avid Unity shared storage.

They’ve recently upped the number of processors

on the render farm from 120 to 320, housed in

forty 8-core OS-X Apple Xserves. “Our work stations

are Apple-based so we can farm out rendering, compositing,

effects, compression. Basically anything that

artists can do, they can now do on the farm.”

The original “South Park” infrastructure was SGI

IRIX. Even after transitioning to Windows on the desk-


top, the render farm ran under Linux. That’s obviously

changed with wall-to-wall Macs.

“There are pluses and minuses for having a homogeneous

computing environment — doing everything

anywhere is definitely one of the pluses. Since I’m an

old IRIX/Unix head, the fact that Macs now bring that

level of functionality to me while also bringing one of

the best end-user experiences for my artists made the

switch a win-win scenario.”

Increased processing power has “helped us up our

game,” J.J. says, including deeper textures on characters,

fluid and particle effects — some of which are also

added with Apple Motion — and more sophisticated

scene lighting. “It helps the overall look of the show

and also helps Trey. He is definitely thinking more cinematically

now than he used to in the past, because he

knows what he can pull off.”

One of J.J.’s next tasks is to find a new renderer

for Maya. Current candidates include Renderman and

Mental Ray. “Some of the renderers out there do an

amazing job with photo realism, the kind of thing that

makes you say ‘wow.’ But the thing is, we don’t want

photo realism. We want something that’ll look exactly

the same as we’ve already got, but give us flexibilities

to go further.”

And faster. Although Comedy Central won’t be HD

until January 2009, “South Park” episodes are already

being produced in HD. An even bigger task is going

back to re-render the first 174 episodes!

“We’ve always been digital pack rats, so we still

have all the Maya (and before season 5, Alias PowerAnimator)

scene files we used to create the show,”

says J.J. “Since HD has become a real possibility, we’ve

started re-rendering all those old episodes at full

1080p, which also means re-framing all the shots from

standard 4:3 to full 16:9.

“It’s very labor intensive, but it also means that

we’ll be the only animated show from the pre-HD

world that will have its entire catalog of episodes in

full native 1080p. It’s pretty sweet.”


New ideas from Matt and Trey are constantly coming

in, and the process of tightening and refining each

scene goes on until the very last minute. “Basically every

time Trey walks away from the Avid, we have another

version of the show,” says J.J.

Depending on the nature of those changes, they

can ripple back through the entire pipeline: voices

need to be re-recorded for new animation plus lipsync,

the new footage added back into the edit, and

most critically because they get the new scenes last,

new audio post.

With production deadlines so extremely tight, the

audio post team doesn’t have the luxury of waiting

until an entire episode is complete before beginning

their work. The disaster to avoid is having them work

like demons to finish scenes that have substantially

changed, or worse, are no longer in the show at all.

The additional challenge is, once a scene has been

September / October 2008 — Creative COW Magazine

changed, getting it into audio post as quickly as possible.

Shared storage would seem to be the easiest alternative

— but it’s simply not an option: the Avid Media

Composer and Digidesign Pro Tools systems they use

don’t work together on Avid Unity storage.

David describes the process this led to. “First, I

asked our lead editor, Keef Bartkus, if he could stop

what he was doing to allow me to have a few minutes

to update the current sequence. After copying the se-

quence, I’d throw down a dummy track for audio to

reference new edits.

“Then I would initiate the conform, basically consolidating

media into an OMF and then copying the

media (upwards of 8 or 9 GB) onto as many as 3 external

FireWire drives.”

With five to ten new cuts of an episode on Tuesday

night alone, the copying process was sucking down 8

to 12 hours when the team could

least afford it.

They’ve recently turned to

StorageDNA 360, a software bridge

for data distribution and synchronization

across multiple storage

systems. All the video media is constantly

being pulled across from

the Unity to local hard drives for

the Pro Tools stations. When a cut

is completed on the picture side,

the media is on the drives for audio

post, fully synced and ready to go in

closer to 2 minutes than the previous

30-45 minutes for each cut.

J.J. says this means that “Matt

and Trey can throw out a random

idea and we can say ‘Sure, we’ll give

it a shot,’ because we feel relatively

confident that we can turn anything

around in a certain amount of



While distributing to local drives, the StorageDNA

360 is also passing everything to a nearline archive,

freeing up space on the primary storage that would

have been tied up by mirroring. They’re also automatically

preserving every version of the episode remotely.

“It gives us a disaster recovery scenario if the Unity

were to die, allowing the editors to get back to work

with a minimum of downtime,”

says J.J. “With the timeframes

we work under, every safety net



The idea for the Emmy Awardwinning


came from the summer before it

aired. “They called in the whole

crew for about 6 weeks and we

just worked on random stuff

that the lads had come up with,

basically developing concepts

for episodes in advance of the

run,” says J.J. “‘Imaginationland’

was one of those concepts.

The shortest version of the

concept is that a battle between

all of the good and evil characters

ever imagined spills over

into the “real” world. Featured players run from Aslan

to Zeus, and include Charlie Brown, both a Predator

and an Alien, Al Gore, Gandalf, Luke Skywalker, the

Blue Meanies, Michael Bay and Strawberry Shortcake.

And that’s a really, really short summary.

“The number of elements that we had to design

from scratch to produce these episodes was enormous,”

says Frank. “I think we approached about 120

September / October 2008 — Creative COW Magazine










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hours a week, each of those three weeks, in order to

get that show put on the air.”

An uncensored director’s cut of “Imaginationland,”

along with previously unseen footage is available

on DVD, and uncensored versions of the individual

episodes are available at You’ll

quickly see why the story was spread across three episodes,

why it won an Emmy, and, frankly, why the episodes

were originally aired with bleeps aplenty.


There’s plenty in every

episode to be offended

by beyond the language.

South Park” takes

aim at every religion,

and atheists to boot.

No politician or political

view is exempt. The internet,

rain forests, video

games, AARP, aliens

from outer space, racism,

tolerance and head

lice all get their turns in

the cross-hairs too, as

do Hollywood celebrities

of every sort.

Not that “South

Park” is so easily categorized

as anti-everything.

Touching moments sneak up on you, such as

the obvious sympathy for Britney Spears’ exploitation

in “Britney’s New Look” from Season 12, which also

observes that the distinction between the world of

tabloids and “real” news is barely worth talking about



Actually, theirs is satire at its very best: outrageousness

that doesn’t quite mask its humanity and

its emotional commitment to these issues, demanding

the same of its audience. Which is exactly why nobody

gets off the hook.

“That’s sort of the genius of Trey and Matt,” says

David. “It’s just really smart, smart, smart humor, and

it’s a win-win situation for wherever you stand politically.

I think that’s the beauty of the show, and I think

that’s why it’s been around so


It’s clear speaking to everyone

involved that they’re proud to

be part of a show that ultimately

means something. Not that they

have much time to enjoy it.

“It’s gratifying on a Wednesday

night, when emails and text

messages and phone calls start

pouring in. ‘Oh my goodness, can’t

believe you got away with it, how

do you guys do it, amazing,’” says


“They start flooding in after a

33 hour day that begins on Tuesday

morning, so it’s gratifying for

a minute and half, and then we

move on to the next episode just

like that.”

(Frank’s “moving on” includes

supervising syndication, international

versioning, the HD transition

— including the back library — and the exceptionally

extensive South Park Studios website.)

How can anybody

keep up such an intense

production cycle? The answer

is, they can’t.

Each season is broken

up into two 7-episode

parts, with the second

half of the twelfth

season just begun as you

read this. With a month or

so of work on either side,

that’s just under half the

year off.

Still, as David says,

the team enjoys the show

so much that they’re excited

to get to work on the

next episode as quickly

as possible. “I think if you

sat everybody down,”

says Frank, “they’d all say that we’re lucky to be a part

of such a wonderful production that has had not only

success, but longevity, which is such a rarity in this industry.”

It’s crazy, but it’s clearly working.


September / October 2008 — Creative COW Magazine

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Artbeats adds new royalty-free

footage shot on RED One

Artbeats has just debuted the first and only

royalty-free stock footage shot on the RED One

Digital Camera. The initial release of over 300 clips

features a wide variety of natural scenes such

as wintery mountain vistas, remote waterways,

ethereal clouds, melting icicles and so much more.

“This is the first time that footage with resolutions

higher than HD (3K and 4K) is available on the

market,” said Phil Bates, president and founder

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“This first launch is just a very small sampling

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footage from outside sources that will encompass

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View the Artbeats RED demo at

16 September / October 2008 — Creative COW Magazine

Creative COW Magazine — September / October 2008 17


Avid: $3.68 trillion in box office

Avid Video, Audio, Networking and 3D Animation

Customers Deliver Highest-Grossing Summer

Blockbuster Movies for 2008

Generating a combined revenue of more than $3.68 trillion at the

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Unity MediaNetwork for editing and shared storage; Digidesign®

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and Softimage®|XSI® for 3D animation, 3D design and visual effects.

To create The Dark Knight, the latest film in the Batman franchise, the

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For composer Hans Zimmer, creating the score for The Dark Knight

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projects. With literally stacks of proprietary sample playback

machines delivering hundreds of outputs, the demands of multitrack

recording could only be entrusted to Pro Tools|HD®.

For the live-action, CG-heavy feature, The Incredible Hulk, four editors worked with six companies employed

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for the film was mixed using Pro Tools hardware.

To handle the complex project of editing the film, nine Avid Media Composer Adrenaline systems

connected to an Avid Unity MediaNetwork with 17 terabytes of shared storage enabled the four editors and

a team of assistants to simultaneously access media and flexibly share projects on the fly.

For the stereoscopic 3D film, Journey to the Center of the Earth, Quebec’s Hybride, one of the companies

at the forefront of stereoscopic 3D, used SOFTIMAGE|XSI. In all, a team of 80 people at Hybride spent more

than 15 months creating 234 scenes in stereoscopic 3D for this film.

Hancock, starring Will Smith, was edited on Avid systems, scored by legendary film composer John Powell

and his orchestral team using Sibelius software, and mixed in Pro Tools. In addition to Hancock, Powell and

his team used Sibelius to score a number of successful films, including this summer’s Kung Fu Panda.

For more details on Avid’s place in the summer’s blockbusters, please visit the News & Press Releases forum

at to find out more about Avid’s blockbuster Summer.

September / October 2008 — Creative COW Magazine

M etadata

through the eye of the lens

Pictures and sound are data. Information about them

is metadata — the data about the data.

Metadata can begin with information as simple

as reel name, clip name, date, duration. However, with

new cameras skipping video and film as we’ve known

them and recording straight to digital files, the potential

complexity of the metadata skyrockets.

This is why metadata collection is moving closer

and closer to the beginning of image capture, to lenses,

cameras, even cranes.

Dave Stump is the chair of the Camera subcommittee

of the American Society of Cinematographers,

and co-chair of the Metadata

subcommittee. His message to

Hollywood is how critical it is

that camera issues and metadata

issues be addressed at the

same time.

Creative Cow’s Gary Adcock

assists Dave on these two committees,

and told us about a presentation

that he and Dave gave

during NAB 2008 to illustrate

metadata. Dave held up a photograph

of his grandfather, and

asked if anyone in the audience

could figure out who it is. After

some guessing, someone in the

audience suggested looking at

the back of the photo to see if a

name was written there.

Dave Stump, ASC,

is leading the charge

to collect and protect

metadata through

the entire production pipeline,

from the set through post.

Here’s why it matters...

Dave said, “Ah, you mean check the metadata.”

As his “day job” Dave has served as the visual effects

director of photography and VFX supervisor for

dozens of films, as diverse as “X-men” and “X2,” “Batman

Forever,” “Stand by Me,” “Free Willy,” and 2008’s

James Bond film, “Quantum of Solace.”

Regardless of a film’s scale or genre, Dave’s task is

the same, enabling the realistic combination of camera

footage with CGI. Until very recently, much of that

work was done by hand, guided by informed guesswork,

hoping to match camera position, lens length,

focus and more— typically all of them in motion at

once over the course of a shot.

In 2000, Dave was part of

a team that received a Technical

Achievement Award from

the Academy of Motion Picture

Arts and Sciences, for hand-development

of advanced camera

data capture systems, which he

describes below. We’ve come a

long way since then, in no small

measure thanks to the concerted

efforts of Dave and his colleagues.

As he tells it, his first goal

in that ongoing effort was simply

to explain what metadata is,

and why it matters.

— Tim Wilson

Dave Stump: Privately, the secondary goal was to

shame the proprietary sense of everyone in the manufacturing

community who builds our tools. Because

everyone who builds a machine, every one who builds

a computer-driven device, everybody who uses metadata,

builds their own metadata scheme, and no two

of them talk to each other.

You know the saying, “Standards are great. That’s

why we have so many of them.” If no two standards

can talk to each other, there’s no uniformity to the

metadata. It becomes meaningless.

Gary Adcock: It’s

not only that they

can’t talk to each

other. Even when

they do create and

handle metadata,

they don’t store it

in the same place.

The ASC is trying

to maintain the integrity

of the workflow.

Dave: That’s right.

Whether we are

shooting on film or

digital cameras, the

pictures inevitably end up as files, data. You send part

of that data out to a visual effects house, some goes

out for edit, and so on. Most of the systems used in this

will bring in a DPX file or Cineon file. But the data in it

that would have told you when and where it was created

and who it belongs to, or what the original camera

settings were — or even how quickly the camera

was panning from left to right in degrees or frames

— frequently all of that information is discarded the

moment it’s ingested into a new machine. Thrown in

the thrash.

“What do I need that for? I’m just here to do some

compositing.” There’s no reason why we can’t all agree

on the value of the data like that, and agree to do no

harm to it.

Naming is vastly more important than you would

intuitively think it is, because that’s how you find

things. Names are the first thing you look for in databases.

So for starters, we can agree to preserve the

naming convention of a particular movie or particular

studio or a particular post house or particular vendor.

But the kind of metadata that we expect to put

on our pictures goes vastly vastly deeper than that.

Have you read the menu structure of a Sony F900 or a

Panavison Genesis? The menu tree of the Genesis is, I

don’t know — Gary what would say? Probably 100 different


Gary: Minimum. I think its closer to 200. With the Sony

F23, it’s something like 262 items.

Dave: So yeah, 262 menu entries. The F23 is almost the

same back end menu structure as the Genesis, so call

it 260 fields of metadata that ought to be included in

every picture the camera makes. Just for that camera


The problem is that so few of the people who are

part of this process have sat down and agreed on how

the data ought to come out. Most of them want to build

the machines where the data comes out themselves,

and fit them into another proprietary box which you

have to buy from them.

So the monetary interest in being the only solution

for metadata prevents the universalization of

standards. And, excuse me, that’s what standards

mean! Something that’s open source and universal.

When you say “our standard,” it’s no longer a standard.


Dave: What we are discovering now is the truth in

what I proposed years ago, that you can make cameras

that are smart enough to know what lens you are putting

on. You plug a lens into the camera and little contacts

in the back go here it is, Panavision lens, 15mm,

Serial number 119 and here is its mustache curve, here

is the distortion map for this lens, it is focused at 7 ft.,

stopped at f8, and so on.

20 Creative COW Magazine — September / October 2008

Creative COW Magazine — September / October 2008 21

Tim: I was struck by your earlier example of following

the degrees of the angles that the camera moves

through during a shot.

Dave: Yes, on a frame-by-frame basis. Because the

visual effects people then have to take whatever pictures

you’ve created at 24 or 29 or 120 frames per second,

put them into a tracker, Boujou or PFTrack or who

knows what, and solve for movements including dolly

and tilt, focus, zoom, boom, swing, track and everything

else that goes into a shot. It’s a horribly complicated

equation to figure out after shooting.

Yet in the grand scheme of things, that’s a minuscule

amount of data to collect while shooting. You only

have to remember to ask, “O’Connor, the next time

you build a pan head, we want it with a plug for a data


Or “Panavision, do you have a GPS set that you

can build into the base plate?”

GPS apparently takes very little real estate because

it’s there in my iPhone sitting on my desk.


Gary: I look at it from the post side. Cooke Optics has

this little box, the “/i dataLink.” It records focus, zoom

and all that from the lens, and then everything from

the camera too. It records all that to this little SD card.

Now you have the actual data. Instead of having

to recreate it, you can do motion matching and everything

in VFX long before the footage itself actually

gets there. There’s not somebody waiting for the footage,

and then starting to do all this work manually for

weeks and weeks on end.


Dave: Exactly. This is the classic mistake that studio

bean counters make. “We need to get the budget

down, so let’s beat this guy up for more of his wages.”

Instead, for a shot that used to be a Boujou problem,

you create a sync frame, like the bloop on the

slate. Now comes the rest of the data: here’s the center

shutter open pulse, here’s the pan, tilt, focus, zoom, fstop,

dolly, boom — synchronized with every frame of

the film that you shot.

The artist who would have spent six weeks tracking

this out by hand, and reverse engineering camera

position and focal length anecdotally or from someone’s

handwritten notes, can now simply take the

metadata file, plug it in and start doing the work. The

real work.

This is the way that I love to frame the discussion,

as an invitation to the producers and the studios

who want to save money. You know, we can all stand

around and haggle over 50 cents an hour for every employee

on the staff and you can feel like you’ve saved

some money.

Or we can automate those people’s work, get it

done in a week’s less time or a month’s less time, and

then save some real money.

Everyone asks, well, who’s going to pay for developing

all of this new automated metadata collection?

I say, we already pay for it anyway. How often do you

buy computers and cameras and lenses? We renew and

replenish this stuff on a daily basis. At least ask manufacturers

for what you want in the updates, rather than

just taking what you’re handed.


Dave: One of the obstructions to automating

the motion picture workplace is

that we don’t have a tradition of metadata

on set. We have a tradition of what I call


For example, script supervisors for the

most part take a paper copy of the script,

and note vast quantities of metadata in

real time just by watching the movie being

filmed: script changes, which actors are in

each shot, and so on.

And they notate that using lines and

squiggles and arrows and notes all over

the typed script, with hand written notes

to elaborate. They accumulate vast quantities

of paper that people have to keep in


The first assistant and the second assistant, all

the cameramen, the loader — these people keep vast

amounts of paper notes too. If you want to know what

lens they were shooting with, or if you want to know

what filters were on the camera or what settings they

shot with, you have to dig out that notebook and find

Creative COW Magazine — September / October 2008

the page that you want, and hopefully it’s in the right


Once you don’t have to have those notebooks

stacked in shelves, it becomes a downhill rush to automate

all metadata coming to the editors. It’s a small

step from there to attach the metadata to the picture

files themselves, and to preserve that information as

it passes from machine to machine in post.


Dave: The Tim Burton Batman movies were where I

first used my hand-created data capture system. In

the earliest days of live action motion control and

data capture, we had a shot that started in a macro

closeup, then boomed up to 60 feet in the sky. The

question everyone asked was, how in the world are

we ever going to focus this thing?

We ended up attaching an encoder to the crane



In one sequence, James Bond and Camille (Daniel Craig

and Olga Kurylenko) are tossed from an airplane with only one

parachute between them. To create the illusion, the actors and

their doubles were trained to free fall inside an ex-military vertical

wind tunnel, six stories tall with a wind machine blowing at 150

MPH. “We took out all the windows and and some of the walls and

painted it white to suit our purposes,” says Dave, “and we strung

lights everywhere — in the bottom, all around the walls.

“We put in 8 Dalsa Origin 4K cameras and 7 Sony F900Rs, all

of them locked in place. We also had an Arriflex 435, which was

mounted on a Steadicam and flown in freefall alongside the


“The heart of the challenge was to synchronize all of those

cameras, so that running with 90 degree shutters, they all have the

same effective center shutter opening interval. And it had to be

very, very precise.

“The reason that we worked with

so many digital cameras is because we

could use the the images as data from

those pictures to create a data cloud,

to recreate the bodies of the actors in

any given position. We knew the focal

length and the characteristics of every

lens, so we solved for every pixel from

every camera, for its position in space

throughout the entire synchronized


“And what you end up with is a 3D

model of those people, in that space, for

the entire length of that shot. A double

negative was taken of that data and

solved for the position of the actors,

who were then regenerated as CGI

characters and inserted into real aerial

photographic backgrounds from the

film’s locations.

“It’s pretty astounding.”

arm to give us a numerical value for the position of the

camera at any given azimuth. We then wrote a lookup

table as an “if/then” equation. If the arm has boomed

up 6 feet, then the focus should be set at 6 feet. If the

arm has boomed up 12 feet, then the focus should be

set at 12 feet.

I’m oversimplifying, but it’s easy to put a motor on

a focuser. Once you write that lookup table, and you

swing the arm, and the arm data drives the focuser,

there’s no mistake to be made. You have the numbers.

It’s just an equation.

It turns out that you can record anything that you

can measure. So for “Batman Forever” I built a little kit,

and Panavision, to their credit, built me three encoded

PanaHeads that had differential encoders on primary

axles, recording pan and tilt, and converting that to

degrees, and saving that data.

Then I put a little puck wheel on a dolly. As it rolls,

it can measure tracking distance usually within greater

precision than16ths of an inch. For

swinging the arm of a crane, the same

thing: you put an azimuth encoder

to the chain of a Titan crane or you

put inclinometer encoders on the

side of the arm. When you read how

many degrees of tilt the arm is going

through, you know exactly what

height the crane is at.

So we were able to record all

these axes of movement, unobtrusively.

There was a little extra wiring

on the dolly that we ran through a

nice little cable harness, on down to

an RS 422 line connected to a computer

sitting off to the side.

Tim: How did we get from your hand-

Creative COW Magazine — September / October 2008

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Dave: I had a meeting with some of the fellows from

the Fraunhofer Institute in Europe. They saw that I was

building and developing my own hardware and encoding

systems, and then strapping it all onto dollies

and cranes and arms.

They said, “We get that you like to tinker and build

this stuff yourself, but your greater value to the community

is in making articulate demands of the rest of

the hardware community, so that they get other people

to build it for you.”

That was very liberating to me, very freeing, just

realizing that the community can make demands of


And now, Panavision have a data port out of every

Technocrane they own. You can walk up and plug

a data capture system into the base of a Technocrane

and record every move for every frame. I wrote the

connector standard for them, so I know. [Laughs]

More than that, it’s just a big conduit, a data passthrough

for anything attached to the Technocrane, including

any camera and lens data that can be collected

off those machines.

Tim: Can you also collect metadata from non-Panavision

cameras and their lenses on the crane?

Dave: Yes! If the camera and lens and head send out

data, it will pass through the crane. So you can put an

Arriflex camera on that crane and record all the data.

Tim: Now you’re talking!



Dave: You know, Arri have taken a somewhat a proprietary

approach to packaging their data. But they’re

starting to see the logic of open source. And Cooke,

they’ve completely embraced the concept of the lens

as an open source data device.

Panavision actually got involved very early on

with putting encoders in their lenses. The guys at Fujinon

also developed a system to output data from their

lenses for George Lucas to use on the first digital Star

Wars movie.

So there have been baby steps, but the Cooke

/i Lenses are the first committed, open source invitation

to everyone to embrace gathering metadata from

lenses. If you look on the Cooke Optical website, you

can download a PDF file. “Here is the standard, here

are the connectors, here is how it’s wired, here’s how

the data comes out. Do with it what you will. It’s open


They completely have the right idea. It’s up to us

in the community to demand that the rest of imaging

chain deliver data recorded to the images themselves

as they’re gathered on set, in ways that everybody else

can use.


Dave: Once we have metadata everywhere, everyone

will look around in shock and awe and ask each other,

“How did we ever make movies without this stuff?

On-set metadata collection will become as ubiquitous

as the walkie-talkie. You know, how did we

make movies before we had walkie-talkies? Well, we

shouted and stood on the side of the mountain and

sent semaphore to the guy on the next hill. We sent

smoke signals! Fire a gun — that means “GO!”

And now, you look at all the walkie-talkies on a

set and don’t even think to ask anymore how we ever

made movies without them!

Well, when on-set metadata becomes useful

and ubiquitous, we’ll be saying the same thing about

it then. Instead of waiting for all the pieces of paper

from the script supervisor and everyone else on the set

to arrive in an envelope at the production office each

night, we can have digital metadata, collected automatically

on-set, delivered even as we’re shooting.

The amount of information in today’s physical

metadata — script notes, camera movements, camera

settings — is trivial, insignificant in size compared to

the actual picture or sound data we’re already collecting.

But getting it attached to the picture and sound

data is NOT trivial. And it won’t happen unless you ask

for it.

The question is being asked. The answers are being

provided. It just takes time for the herd to move

in that direction. So, every chance that I get, I speak

to the herd, and I speak to the possibility of what we

could be doing.

The tools of metadata can and will enable authorship

of images, control of look management, efficiency

in visual effects and editorial, and make better movies

while saving the producers and studios money!


Creative COW Magazine — September / October 2008


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Cows Around the World

The “W” in COW stands for “world,”

and we really mean it.

Here are reports from Cows in Russia, India,

the Netherlands and Canada about what

they do, and what they’re working on.

George Bazhenov

Ekaterinaburg, Russia

iPro, a distributor of Apple, opened a training center in

Moscow this spring with outlets in St. Petersburg and

Ekaterinaburg, my home city. I recently gave two FCP

courses — a five-day course in a local university and a

three-day course in the iPro training facility here.

The three-day FCP course is madness, although

my students absorbed quite a lot, and even passed the

certification exam. They were a sight to look at after 90

minutes of questioning in English! Microsoft is more

generous with non-native English speakers and doubles

the certification exam time for them, I am told.

I am certified to teach FCP and Motion but editors

and their employers are not prepared to buy training

right now. Also, custom duties and fees on hi-tech

goods in Russia are so high that customers in Far Eastern

cities, such as Khabarovsk and Vladivostok, sometimes

prefer to go to South Korea, Japan and China

and shop for Apple products there.

Meanwhile, I do sales presentations with Apple

Final Cut Studio, Aperture, and using Wacom tablets.

I even went abroad with Final Cut Studio and Aperture

recently — to Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan. But my

most recent destination was Khabarovsk (seen here,

right), with Tomsk and Magnitogorsk before it.

On a more creative front, I am finishing a DVD project

with footage from a literary festival that took place

in Ekaterinaburg. Young writers and poets competed

among themselves and took part in writing workshops

for three days. Six miniDV cassettes were used to tape

some of these activities. My task was to edit the material

and output a 90-second

ad, a seven-minute narrative

and a 90-minute documentary.

The project is almost

finished, and this week I

plan to burn 80 DVDs that

will eventually be mailed

to every participant. The

most distant of them lives

near Lake Baikal, 2800 kilometers

east (approximately

1400 miles) in Siberia, near

the Mongolian border —

but I have made it very clear

to the client that mailing

will not be part of my job.

And of course, our

wedding season has just ended. Due to climatic conditions,

it is short and intense. Every bride wants to get

wed and not wet (and definitely not frozen on the way

to the limo). DV shooters are in high demand, and I join

their ranks with my Canon XM2.

Guess what I use as a backup and B-roll cam? A

Flip! It is excellent in semi-dark conditions and beats

the XM2 when I shoot dances. Brides don’t like dancing

before on-camera lights.

With all that, my reading focus has shifted from

Final Cut Studio to Business & Marketing and Event

Videography at the COW.

Subrato Sangupta

Mumbai, India

I have had over 18 years of experience in cinematography,

coupled with nearly 12 years as a Director of

Photography in Bollywood. To me, the best cinematography

is the kind that takes you into another world,

and makes you quickly forget that you are watching a

movie. Seamless and realistic.

(That’s me, at right.)

My favorite lighting style is to shoot with naturallooking,

motivated light sources. I enjoy working with

large soft sources and then “paint” in the shadow

areas. I work very

hard to make certain

that whatever

story is being told

is enhanced and

c o m m u n i c a t e d

with the light and


Most recently,

I have finished the

research for a documentary

on child

prostitution and

sex tourism in Goa

that I hope to pro-

duce. There are few, if any, local prostitutes in the red

light districts of India’s major cities. The majority have

either migrated or been trafficked to those cities.

The daughters of migrant prostitute women are

generally expected to enter into prostitution as soon

as they reach puberty — and even before that, they

are expected to work all night performing in bars.

Prostitution involving boys tends to be less formal, but

is still quite common.

Locations like Goa can combine large numbers of

vulnerable children, and an under-resourced police

28 September / October 2008 — Creative COW Magazine

Creative COW Magazine — September / October 2008 29

force inexperienced in dealing with child sexual offenses,

plus a high degree of respect for western men,

to create an environment safe only for pedophiles. It

is a very sensitive subject, and I am now looking for

international funding for it.

I have my own production company in Mumbai,

shooting HD with the Panasonic HVX202. I have a team

that works with me, as well as equipment for multicam

shoots (events).

Should a foreign producer choose to work in India,

I offer location scouting and help with local financing

along with my DP services. After producers apply for

permits at the Indian Embassy in their home nation,

I can help them obtain the approvals in India. If the

application is for a documentary or a television show,

we obtain permission from the Ministry of External Affairs.

If it’s a feature film, then from Ministry of Information

and Broadcasting. There is a permit fee of $200

for feature films, but none for documentaries. After

clearance, we then apply for actual location permits,

Jan-Willem Breure

The Hague,


Even though I have

a Dutch name, I am

of Rwandan origin,

and grew up in Kenya

and Namibia.

Since I was young

I have always been

looking for new

ways to communicate.

I have basically

done everything one

can do with his hands:

creating drawings,

paintings and animation.

I also have a passion for music. I am currently

signed by two record labels, River Praise Records

and Bigbadboy Records. I create my own beats and

also write lyrics both for myself and for other artists.

(I sometimes rap in Dutch, but prefer to use English.)

I’ve done a lot with hip-hop: performances including

at the Xnoizz Flevo Festival in August, video clips and

television interviews.

My other interests include video production and

editing, of course. I use the Panasonic HVX200 to shoot

both DV and HD, and work in a combination of AE, Premiere,

FCP, Photoshop and Cinema 4D.

I recently finished a video for myself as a rapper,

Mission JW. It’s not a clip with just “yo, yo, yo” and

“bling, bling, bling.” The mixes are deep, and a serious

message that is also treated with humor. The central

theme is the prejudices against immigrants, even

from agencies which vary depending on location.

In case of aerial photography in India, one needs

to apply at least three months before the shoot, as this

is the most time-consuming permit process. If the DP

is a foreign national, permission will take 90 days, but

if the DP is Indian it will take only 50 days. There are

two ministries involved in this permission: the Ministry

of Civil Aviation and the Ministry of Defense.

I have been able to do all of this for many productions

from all over the world. Some of my most recent

projects include: working as a fixer for a travel documentary

and cookery series, “Rhodes Across India” for

UKTV Food; DP and Line Producer on a documentary

about Kalaripayattu (a martial art originating in the

Indian state of Keral) by Dutch filmmaker Herma De

Walle; and second unit camera for an episode of the

documentary series “Shipbreakers” for National Geographic.

I am truly blessed to find that I can make a living

doing what I love to do.

those who were born and grew up here.

At present I am working on a video for the artist

“Levi.” It is going to be an abstract clip, combining 2D

and 3D with special effects to create a fantasy world.

After that, I will work on a commercial for SME TV,

the first afro-oriented broadcasting network in the

Netherlands. The commercial will be flashy, yet still

displaying African roots. I will create the video and the

music that goes along with it as well.

I will also be traveling to Poland, where I will shoot

video clips with the R&B/hip-hop group “Sweetsani.”

The group consists of two singers and one rapper

(me). We’re planning to release our album next year in


I’m working on many other things: writing and

producing, designing a clothing line, and drawing and

painting as much as I can.

I want to be challenged. For that reason, I constantly

push back my boundary lines. Because in the

end, there is no boundary line to art.

Pete O’Connell

Montreal, Canada

When I finished doing compositing

for “Mr. Magorium’s

Magic Emporium” at BarXeven

last winter, I did VFX and

graphics for an independent

documentary about oil, and

then went to Argentina with

my wife. She’s from there, and

we were able to take some

extra time on this trip before

I started in May with Mr. X. They’re a

major Canadian effects house, with

around 70 or 80 people in Toronto,

and 10 or 15 here in Montreal.

My first job with Mr. X was

on “Death Race,” starring Jason

Statham, which came out late this

summer. There are a whole bunch of

green screen shots with him racing

in the car, looking intense, looking

over his shoulder at other racers and

so on. It switches from one shot to

the other, between the green screen

shots and some live shots taken

around some abandoned buildings

in Montreal.

This was also my first compositing

job using Nuke. It’s a node-based

compositor originally developed for

in-house use by Digital Domain, and

won a Technical Achievement Academy Award in

2001. It’s developed now by The Foundry. Mr. X and

Weta Digital are among the high profile houses using


I’m using it on a movie called “Whiteout” at the

moment. It’s a murder mystery set in Antarctica starring

Kate Beckinsale that will be released in April 2009.

We’re adding snow and doing some 3D work.

One of the big deals with Nuke is that you can

hand-create EXRs with ease. EXR is a format designed

by Industrial Light and Magic and used on all the films

they work on. It’s a super-high resolution format, with

a dynamic range of over 30 stops. It also stores all

kinds of information in a single file — a shadow pass,

specular pass, ambient occlusions, and so on. You can

mix and match them, and tweak them to get the shading

just right to integrate with the real world.

EXRs are also efficient. Instead of having a huge

tree with two or three hundred nodes, I can have just

one node with all the separate passes still accessible in

it. Because all of this information is collapsed into one

file, you have to keep a bit more of it in your head.

You also have to be bit of a mathematician, think

about the numbers a lot. For example, there are 1024

possible channels in an EXR — RGBA are just the first

four. And each of them is displayed as a black and

white image. So you have to get used to thinking

30 September / October 2008 — Creative COW Magazine

Creative COW Magazine — September / October 2008

about making adjustments to your scene by adjusting

those black and white images to affect, say, how much

color correction you’re applying to a scene, or how

transparent layers are relative to each other.

Which is the essence of compositing in a lot of

ways. Transparency, right? Visualizing transparency as

a black and white issue.


So what are YOU working on? The world wants to know!

When you have a minute, drop us a line:

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One team. Three shows. Every week.

How can one team triple its post-production workload without going insane, while keeping all

three clients happy? Here are some lessons learned from a decade of workflow innovation.

DigitalFilm Tree was born from the idea of combining

some key then-emerging technologies to

create budget-conscious film editing workflows, using

basic desktop computers, and basing it all on tools like

QuickTime and Final Cut Pro 1.0.

Some of our first breakthrough features were “Full

Frontal” and “Rules of Attraction,” helmed by visionary

and maverick directors who explicitly wanted to

explore new workflows for independent production.

Our first major challenge was designing workflows

that could be relied upon for traditional, largescale

feature film production.

Working closely with editor Walter Murch, we

were able to do this for Anthony Minghella’s “Cold

Mountain,” which established once and for all that Final

Cut Pro could be a viable part of mainstream Hollywood


The software itself is easy enough to use. Our challenge

was providing the in-house expertise to resolve

specifically film-related issues. These included cut list

and negative cutting problems that could be traced

Zed Saeed

Hollywood, California USA

back to improper telecine, or a less-than-thorough

creation of the initial Cinema Tools database.

We saw many of these same issues on our first

major HD project, “Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow,”

which was shot on HDCAM at 24p, using the

Sony F-900 camera.

The biggest obstacle wasn’t managing all the effects

and compositing, which is what you might think.

It was that none of the tools of the time — Final Cut

Pro, Cinema Tools, AJA Kona, the SANs we worked with

— were qualified to work with HD.

The producers of Sky Captain were determined to

live on the bleeding edge, and these solutions simply

weren’t more than half-baked at the time. Fortunately,

we were able to work closely with all the manufacturers

involved, who were every bit as anxious as we were

to pull it off...which we did.

Our recent work on “The Forbidden Kingdom,”

starring Jet Li and Jackie Chan, added many additional

layers of complexity. We coordinated with the prodution

team during the shoot deep in mainland China,

Zed Saeed is the Senior Post Production Consultant with DigitalFilm Tree in

Los Angeles and New York. “Each year, some miracle technologies appear.

Few of these last,” he says. “Part of my job is to bet on the right horse.”

Cinematographer Peter Pau with Jet Li (left) and Jackie Chan (right) on

location deep in mainland China for “The Forbidden Kingdom.”

where our responsibilities included making tape backups

of the Panavision Genesis RAW files, and placing

them physically in a safe to satisfy the insurance bond.

We also coordinated a post team spread across China,

the US, Korea and Australia.

[Editor’s note: Zed wrote a full article for CreativeCow.

net covering every aspect of this remarkable production.

You can find it at


All of this put us in the right place, at the right

time, to work with Final Cut Pro in the world of episodic

production: all of the challenges of film production,

now applied to the creation of two dozen “short films,”


Episodic work brings so much more pressure that

it’s no wonder that the same studios who signed off on

Final Cut Pro-produced movies weren’t ready to use it

on their TV shows.

The pressure on us: the same team of nine that

used to post one episode of a single show each week

now becoming responsible for posting three different

network TV series, every week, at the same time.


We helped the medical comedy “Scrubs” become the

first major TV series to be onlined in Final Cut Pro,

starting in their second season. By the next season, we

took on the role of consultants and created, designed

and implemented an on-site Xsan system and network

for two editors and two assistant editors.

Even though “Scrubs” originates on super 16mm,

the final air master is delivered on Digital Betacam. At

the same time, the studio requires film cut lists in case

of a future film negative cut, which means that we had

to build that into the workflow as well.

We offline QuickTime files

from the dailies we process.

These are sent to the Scrubs editorial

for a creative edit. The Final

Cut Pro project files are then

emailed back to us for online

and finishing.

Our work has expanded to

all post services, including visual

effects. It is no small honor that

Jon Michel won the 2005 Emmy

for Outstanding Multi-camera

Editing for his work on Scrubs

Along with a move from

NBC to ABC, “Scrubs” will also

be moving from film to HD. The

HD transition has the reputation

for being difficult, but

compared to film, it’s a breeze.

One of the things you can’t

see as a viewer is that we’re

carefully preparing the Cinema

Tools databases and linking

them to the QT files as

we go, totally conformed to

match back for film integrity. That is, we have to

confirm every single clip against the edge code, so

that when going back to the sources for later cuts,

producers can actually find the clips they need.

Now, with HD, the only thing we have to

Zach Braff, “Scrubs”

worry about is timecode. We capture video, we output

video, end of story


Every post house has its challenges, but nothing prepared

us for what we call “The Great Flood of 2005.”

We came in one morning to find over 6 inches of water

across the entire facility. Let me tell you, walking from

32 Creative COW Magazine — September / October 2008

Creative COW Magazine — September / October 2008 33

one room to another is a sloooow process when wading

through 6 inches of water!

We did dailies in the parking lot and continued to

online and deliver work to the clients, never missing a

day or a deadline for the next 2 weeks, until we found

a temporary space upstairs to move into.

We found and purchased a 10,000 sq. ft. facility

in 2007. We dubbed it “DFT 2.0,” because we now had

the opportunity to build for the future we’d seen was

coming: a data-centric environment, with the highest

bandwidth possible. We built it around a facility-wide

dual-fibre network.

Bandwidth wasn’t enough. We created a multiplatform

shared environment to use our Mac, Windows,

Linux and IRIX platforms at the same time, sharing

files with no conversions or duplications.

We now had the network and workflow in place

to go from posting a single TV show every week

(“Scrubs”), to two a week, (“Everybody Hates Chris”)

to three a week, (“Weeds”) with the same number of

people and just a few more Macs.


Produced by CBS Paramount and airing in the US on

the CW network, “Everybody Hates Chris” is based on

the life of comedian Chris Rock, who also narrates.

The speed with which “Everybody Hates Chris”

is created surpasses anything we have seen or experienced

before. The major concern has been that the

show’s child stars grow and change so quickly. As a result,

Everybody Hates Chris is shot and posted almost

twice as fast as any other TV show we’re familiar with.

One of the biggest changes we made to our workflow

was the addition of Apple’s Color to create the final

color correction. Even in cases where Final Cut Pro

is used for editing, final color work is often done in da

Vinci, Lustre or other very expensive color correction

suites. We believe that “Chris” is the first major network

show using Color.


Patrick Woodard, DFT’s lead colorist, did some

tests for “Everybody Hates Chris” producers, director

and director of photography. Everyone agreed that

the results held up very well.

The production team for “Chris” had several reasons

for taking the leap to Color. The first, obvious one

was the savings: traditional color grading suites can

cost upwards of $500/hr.

Another reason was that “Everybody Hates Chris”

is shot digitally, first with the Genesis Viper camera

and now with the Sony F23. The production felt that

they would benefit from a complete digital workflow

and all the flexibility of the digital process.

Flexibility was part of the third reason: speed.

Keeping everything tied into the Final Cut Studio sped

things up significantly.

Of course, one drawback of Color is that its output

is not in real time. Fortunately, Patrick has been able to

harness network and distributed rendering in Mac OS

X to take care of the rendering.


We never planned on posting 3 TV shows at the same

time! Yet because of shifted production cycles after

the recent writer’s strike and an odd series of convergences,

that’s exactly what we’re doing.

The shared-file system environment and workflow

efficiencies we’ve developed allow the same 9 people

that had previously been turning out one episode of

TV each week now able to do three, while still keeping

relatively sane hours.

September / October 2008 — Creative COW Magazine

The fourth season of “Weeds,” coming to a close

as I write this, was our first with them. They didn’t contact

us for our FCP experience. Their editorial has been

based around Avid systems, and it’s working for them.

Rather, they came to us for our workflow expertise.

Their goal was to find new ways of working more economically

without sacrificing quality.

The production shoots on two Sony F23 cameras,

currently at the top of the Sony CineAlta line. (At this

writing, the F35 has yet to ship.) The show is recorded

in 4:2:2 to the Sony SRW-1, which is an HDCAM SR

format portable deck, typically filling 4-8 fifty minute

tapes per day.

The HDCAM SR camera masters are delivered to

us every night, where we create the DVCAM dailies

that go to the Weeds cutting room.

(After considerations of various formats, we decided

that DVCAM was the most efficient for editing.

DVCAM decks are more affordable and the DVCAM format

in general is more reliable and efficient than mini


In addition, digital “viewing” dailies are created

and uploaded to a secure, encrypted web-based viewing

system for “Weeds” producers, and for Showtime

and Lionsgate execs.

Weeds typically has two main editors and two assistant

editors, all using Avid Media Composer. When

picture is locked, an assistant editor provides us with

AAF files, 24 frame & 30 frame EDL’s, an Avid Bin, and

QuickTime reference files.

The show is assembled from the HDCAM SR tapes,

captured at 4:2:2 via HD-SDI to the Apple uncompressed

codec. We then conform, scene by scene, in


(Just as there was none for Weeds switching from

Avid, there were no efficiencies to be gained by having

us switch from FCP.)

Each week, the Weeds team completes two onlines

— one each for two episodes. The first is the

Promo Online, used for the “Next time on ‘Weeds’...”

announcements. These involve general online assembly,

without final color, VFX, or titles.

Second is the Final online, which includes all of

the above.

The first step toward onlining is identifying the

shots that need VFX or other treatment. These are

treated first, then graded using Color.

While he is also working on “Everybody Hates

Chris,” lead colorist Patrick Woodard breaks each episode

of “Weeds” into 4 7-minute “reels.”

Since the output from Color needs rendering, this

allows Patrick to color one reel, send it off for rendering,

and start work on the next, keeping episodes from

both shows moving forward at the same time.


Below is a typical week for “Weeds.” The episodes are

numbered so that “4008” is Season 4, episode 8. The

“JT” referenced on Wednesday is post-production supervisor

Jonathan Talbert.


4008: QC & Deliver

4009: Title ; 4009: Finish Color

4011: Promo Assembly Lock


4009: Picture Review 10am

4009: Changes & laydown by 6pm for Sound

4010: Final Assembly Lock

Creative COW Magazine — September / October 2008 35


4010: JT Spot Color & VFX Notes

4011: Promo Assembly Deliverables by 4pm for

DHL delivery


4009: Sweetened Master returns in evening

4010: Assembly Dubs by 8am for Spotting

4010: VFX


4009: DVD sent for closed captioning by 8am

4010: Color; 4010 Title

So, as we arrive at the end of this particular week,

we’ve sent the final version of Episode 9 out for closed

captioning, and are coming to the end of Episode 10.

Episode 11’s Promo Online is also nearing completion

on a pace that will allow it to be shown as “Next

time on Weeds” as soon as Episode 10 finishes airing.

And that’s just for “Weeds.” Don’t forget that the

same team of nine of us is also posting and finishing

full episodes of “Scrubs” and “Everybody Hates Chris

simultaneously, every week.


When a TV show is finished, it is rare for the producers

to walk away with just one tape. Far more often, there

is a (very) long list of items that are to be extracted

from the master, and sent to various locations, executives

and broadcast facilities.

We have had to create a complex deliverables

matrix and handbook for each of the three shows we

work on every week. It goes all the way down to the

precise machine room patches needed to accomplish

the task.

“Weeds” has two lists of deliverables. One is

the set of tapes and disks of various formats that are

passed between members of the team during the post

process. The other is the set for final delivery.

Here is an illustration of the deliverables for week

one of “Weeds” this season.

Note that in addition to tape or disk format, there

are numerous requirements for audio channels, timecode

placements and VITC that have to be attended to

for each item, for each of the two lists of deliverables.

Needless to say, each of the networks for whom

we produce shows have different lists.”


We have an extensive quality control check Monday

mornings before the network begins working with the

episodes we deliver.

The HDCAM-SR of the final master for Weeds that

we deliver to Lionsgate also goes through an additional

third-party QC check. We were proud that in just our

second week with “Weeds,” we got the message from

post supervisor Jonathan Talbert that the episode

sailed through that third-party quality check without

a single request for changes.

The only way we have been able to pull it off

was organization, and clear communication between


None of our edit bays has a computer in it – only a keyboard, mouse, computer screen and a KVM box. The

computers all live in the machine room.

This “Keyboard, Video and Mouse” system, tied together through our ethernet networks, allows us to view

and control any computer from any screen and keyboard, anywhere in the facility. An operator can start a

capture on one Mac, then with the tap of a key switch to another Mac to check on a rendering, then switch to a

third to check dailies or color correction.

Similarly, our waveform/vectorscope sits in the machine room, and anyone from any bay can access it

at any time. True, software such as Final Cut

Pro and Color have their own waveform and

vectorscope for monitoring brightness, color

values and other values, but they are nowhere

near as sensitive, reliable or accurate as

hardware models.

Among the critical features of our

Tektronix WFM7120 is a detailed error log.

Based on values we can program (“legal”values

can often vary a little bit from broadcast facility

to another), this unit generates a very detailed

error log for any program put through it.

Having a description of the error, and

the timecode where it occurs, completely

eliminates the days of sitting there on a stool

to watch a show on scopes and hope to catch

every error.


September / October 2008 — Creative COW Magazine

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teams. Even though the teams were using different

gear, each with their own workflows, we

were able to develop a single joint workflow

that served us all.

Did I mention that we’re doing this for

three network shows each week?



Creative COW wishes to thank all of

our contributors that gave of their time

to make this issue a great one. Each of

you is remarkable as you are all very busy

people and yet each one of you has been

willing to share your time to bring your

experiences and expertise to our readers.

Thank you, we appreciate greatly your

willingness to open up your stories to the

Creative COW Magazine readership.


DigitalFilm Tree’s workflow chart of Weeds

September / October 2008 — Creative COW Magazine

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Pre-production can keep your project on the rails as you balance storytelling

and project design, while staring down the barrel of brutal deadlines

The South Dakota Advertising Federation gave us

a unique opportunity: producing nearly two hours

of animations for use throughout this year’s ADDY

awards program, our regional portion of the world’s

largest advertising competition.

Besides the videos setting up each of the award

presentations, we also created a short visual effects

film for the show open, chronicling a few-second slice

of time where two cowboys catch each other cheating

while playing poker.

As long as we kept to the evening’s western

theme, the SDAF gave us complete creative freedom

— but due to scheduling conflicts, we had less than a

week between principal photography and delivery of

the final edit.


To complicate things further, the shoot location was

five hours away from our facility on the other side of

the state. We would not have an opportunity to go

Carl Larsen

St. Cloud, Minnesota USA

back and re-shoot if we overlooked something important

on location.

Therefore, we did as much preproduction as possible.

We had to have a clear understanding of what we

needed to shoot, and maximize our limited time with

the actors on location.

A static storyboard using rough pencil sketches

was a good start, but it didn’t give us any information

about camera moves, or the timing of our shots.

To help with that, we created a motion storyboard, or


It’s a simple process. We placed the storyboard

frames on a timeline to work with shot lengths. Then

we broke the frames into layers so that we could move

them to reflect changing camera positions.

This was especially helpful as it allowed us to play

with the timing of the shots, simulate camera moves,

and begin working on some of the more complicated

visual effects even before principal photography began.

“I’m a Creative Cow reader — maybe even a junkie,” says Carl. “I pass this

story along as encouragement that great productions can have very humble

beginnings.” Carl recently began his own production company, Telescope

Media Group, and wishes Vision Video “the absolute best in all of

their future projects.”

From top: storyboard with final shot; example of shallow depth of field

We also did several camera tracking tests and

mock shoots in our studio, which proved to be invaluable.

Because we planned to shoot everything overcranked

at 60fps, it was all the more essential to have a

strong understanding of how the edit was going to fit

together before the shoot began.

Thanks to our extensive pre-planning, we knew

the length of each shot, the camera’s perspective and

movement, and even had a music score in place before

we ever rolled camera in Deadwood.


As we went into the project, our goal was to create a

realistic effects film with high production values that

drew attention to the story, and not the effects themselves.

The production involved 2 days of shooting, 5 actors,

2 locations, 14 visual effects shots, and a very limited

budget, using a team of just the 3 of us at Video

Vision: Cody Redmer (previz, editor, lead compositor,

camera/DP, sound design); Dan Bruns (previz, crewing,

location scouting, assistant camera); and me (VFX supervisor,

assistant compositor).

We shot with a Panasonic

HVX-200 in 720p HD mode at

23.976 fps, using a Cinemek

Guerilla-35 depth of field converter

and Nikon f1.8 primes.

The “G35” is an HD 35mm

adapter still under development

as I write this. Its most attractive

feature is that it has a

static imaging plane and does

not require power. As a result,

it’s a simple, lightweight, and

compact unit that is very friendly

to off-speed shooting.

Since ours was a beta model,

one of the biggest challenges

was that it lost a significant

amount of light — I estimate

about 4 stops. (The newest production

versions are said to lose

only 1.4 stops.)

Nevertheless, it afforded

us the ability to mount 35mm

Nikon lenses on our camera.

This provided the beautifully

shallow depth of field and extreme

focus pulls seen throughout

the film.

We also used various camera

support systems, including

a home-made dolly system, and

a 10 foot Advanta-jib with pan

and tilt.

Editing was done in Final

Cut Pro, visual effects were handled

in After Effects, and music

was scored in Reason.

Here are a couple of examples of the way we put

the pieces together to tell our story.


The only shot which we had essentially completed before

principal photography turned out to be one of the

most impressive. It appears at the middle of the film,

just after a muzzle flash leaves the audience wondering

which cowboy has just fired his gun.

The camera starts far above a saloon in a heavy

40 September / October 2008 — Creative COW Magazine

Creative COW Magazine — September / October 2008 41

ainfall, races to the ground, and goes through the

roof to reveal the cowboys holding drawn guns around

a poker table. The shot ends with the camera moving

from a vertical orientation above the scene to a horizontal

perspective of the cowboys.

What sells the shot is the way we were able to

combine the CG elements and the live-action footage

into one fluid and believable movement.

Everything that appears before the camera finishes

moving through the roof of the saloon, was created

entirely in After Effects using a combination of 2D and

3D compositions.

Once the virtual camera moves through the roof,

we switch to a 100% live-action shot of the cowboys

captured in camera on the HVX with the Advanta-jib.

The CG components of the shot were approached

in two parts, with separate After Effects comps and

cameras that were later meshed into one single move.

The camera goes from high above the desert to the

roof of the saloon in the first segment, then through

the various layers of the roof to reveal the cowboys

within the building in the second.

We began by creating a 2D terrain map for the

environment using Google Earth images. These were

then parented together and scaled exponentially to

simulate the effect of a camera rushing toward the


We also wanted to give the impression that there

was a downpour of rain interacting with the camera as

it flew into the roof of the saloon. For this, we created

a rain system with Trapcode Particular using custom

particles. This allowed us to have the raindrops fall


past the camera while the background was scaling

slowly, but then to speed past them before reaching

the roof of the building.

Additional clouds were added to make the shot

feel more organic. Finally, a number of adjustment layers

and selective grading masks were applied to the

composition to perform a day-for-night conversion

and to add additional depth of field rendering to the


In the second CG segment of the rain shot, we

made a 3D multi-plane composition to simulate the

movement of the camera through the various layers of

the roof. A number of photographed wood particles

were arranged in 3D space to give a more realistic impression

of the camera passing through the roof.

As a final step, the live action plate of the gunfighters

was brought into the scene as a 2D element, then

scaled and time remapped to match the movement of

AE’s virtual camera and the live-action footage.


Whenever possible, we made a conscious decision to

integrate live-action elements into the composites to

deliver a more nuanced and convincing end result. The

“window shot” proved to be a great application of this


In this shot, the camera pulls back from the gunfighters

in the saloon, moves through a window, and

dollies back roughly forty feet to reveal the sheriff

pointing his rifle at the dueling cowboys.

Instead of taking a series of still images and pulling

a virtual camera through the scene, we recorded

two live action shots: we physically moved the camera

and combined them into one seamless motion.

In the end, this shot required significant stabilization,

tracking, roto, rig removal, and time remapping

to get everything to match together. However, working

this way gave a more realistic sense of perspective

as the camera moved through the scene. There was no

other way to achieve the realism required for this shot

using still photography and a virtual camera alone.


Sound design played a critical role in adding production

value to the film.

The music was composed before shooting — even

before the rough edit of the animatic was completed.

This way, the music set the pace of the shots, and contributed

much more to the overall mood of the piece.

Once the animatic was replaced with the footage

from the shoot, the music was recomposed to accommodate

for small shifts in the timing of the edit.

Since all the footage we shot had no associated

sound, dozens of effects were added in FCP to highlight

each subtle movement within the piece. When

everything was finally synchronized in the edit, there

were over twenty tracks of audio dedicated to sound

effects alone.

At one point, we could not find an appropriate

sound effect for the cocking of the cowboy’s revolver.

September / October 2008 — Creative COW Magazine

So, we decided to try recording

something ourselves in the studio.

I would normally not recommend

bringing a couple of handguns to

work, but in this particular case,

that’s exactly what we did.

The final sound used in

the edit was a combination of a

.38 Magnum and a .22 revolver

cocking simultaneously. A small

amount of reverb was applied

to the recording to make it mesh

more realistically with the action

of the footage.


With less than a week of post production,

we were very pleased

with the results of the film.

It was especially satisfying

to see that the film looked it was

produced by more than just the

three of us.

As with any project there

were some small surprises along

the way, but our emphasis on preproduction

helped us determine

the difficulties we would face

early in the planning process. Had

we taken the all-too-common approach

of shooting first, then attempting

to “fix it in post” later,

the project would have failed.

Start to finish, it was also a

reminder for us that complex visual

effects are amazing, but it is

critical that they are used in a way

that enhances your story, not just

for the sake of using the latest


Careful attention to production

details also means that you

don’t have to be a big company

to do exceptional work. In the end

your clients will thank you, and so

will your audience.


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INDEX: ........................ 45

Adrienne Electronics ............. 45

ADS Group recording ........... 39

AJA ............................................... 13

Artbeats ..................................... 11

Avid ............................................. 47

Blackmagic Design .................. 7

Brooklyn Independent ......... 45

CalDigit ....................................... 19

Digital Juice .............................. 23

Dulce Systems ......................... 44

DVPA ........................................... 44

Elsevier / Focal Press ............. 31

Fibrenetix .................................. 29

G-Technology .......................... 25

HD Soundtools ........................ 45

HP Computers ........................... 5

MAM-A ....................................... 45

Matrox ........................................ 37

NEO Sounds .............................. 45

Panasonic ................. back cover

Roland / Edirol ......................... 39

Small Tree .................................. 44

Smartsound .............................. 15

Sony ............................................... 2 ....................... 27

has the answer!

44 Creative COW Magazine

Creative Cow Magazine 45


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Learning More Than We Ever Wanted To Know...


Bandwidth. Now that is a

word that we have used a

lot over the last year or so. We use

lots of it to supply Creative COW to

its ever growing body of users —

but we could use a lot more of the

personal variety, as well.

My apologies for the fact that

this magazine is a little late, but

among my other duties, I have

been grooming Tim Wilson to take

over the magazine. He has done

such a great job with it that Kathlyn

and I have talked it over and

have asked him to head the magazine

completely in 2009. He was delighted

at the offer and so, starting

with the next magazine, our November/December

issue, Tim and a

new team of designers and editors

will take over the magazine.

We know that Tim will do a

great job as he has done remarkable

work on the magazine since

joining us over two years ago. He

loves this magazine as I do. When

he first joined the team, I told him

what I’d like this magazine to become:

“picture Pink Floyd’s ‘Dark

Side of the Moon’ in print as a magazine,

Tim; with issues themed like

the great concept albums from the

70s,” I told him. He got it instantly

and we have been running with the

idea ever since.

The trouble is, we’ve been

running into the problems that occur

when one of the two chief guys

making a magazine is also the Director

of Business Development of


a huge website that is constantly

having to deal with seemingly endless


2008 was incredible. We started

the year with about 300,000

unique users a month and a third

the number of servers that we

have today. We spent 2008 building

servers and racing to keep up

with the incredible growth of the

COW. Why? Very shortly we should

break over a million unique visitors

a month, likely by mid-November.

Yes, this month. We are

getting over 976,000 unique visitors

a month right now and we

have grown over 150,000 visitors a

month since just last August 27th.

That’s two months. We have been

going nuts trying to keep up with it

all and add new features, as well.

In all of this, I told Tim that

while I hate to walk away from the

magazine — as I love doing this —

it’s time to do what I do best and

let Tim wear the hat that he wears

so well.

So, beginning with the next issue,

Tim becomes the magazine’s

Editor-in-Chief and Associate Publisher.

Kathlyn and I will remain as

publishers — which is just a fancy

way of saying that we’ll write the

checks for Tim. Well, Kathlyn will


Me, I am going to focus on the

kinds of business development

duties that I have been doing all

along, but now I get to do it without

the distraction of deadlines re-

Ron Lindeboom

Paso Robles, California USA

quired by the magazine. And Tim

gets to work with people that are

always available. Tim smiles.

The COW has been experiencing

an incredible degree of growth

and I have been working closely

with Abraham just to keep up with

it all. In August of 2007, we served

250,000+ unique users a month,

according to Google Analytics. In

September of 2008 we began passing

the 900,000 monthly unique

visitors marker. By the end of October,

we were passing the 975,000

monthly visitors marker. Wow.

We started doing this back 13

years ago on a $39 a month web

account. Today, it costs many hundreds

of times more than that to

do what we do. (Now you know

the reason for all the banners. Sorry.

But please note that without

the great sponsors you see in the

COW, only a broken address would

greet visitors. So thank you, sponsors.

And thank you most sincerely

for believing in and supporting

this magazine. Both Tim and I have

loved making it and now I will love

watching what Tim does with it.)

It has been an honor to have

been a part of a magazine that has

been so graciously accepted and

supported by the industry. I have

learned a lot making it over the last

couple of years. And the thing I have

learned most is: some talents must

be used sparingly so you can focus

on your greater strengths.


September / October 2008 — Creative COW Magazine

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