2012/06/24 Leave a comment
Avenging the film workflow with the smallest devices seems unlikely. However, there is a group of visual effects and post production experts have solved the daunting task of capturing frame-by-frame of most of the summer blockbuster hits you have seen.
Men in Black 3, theatrical release over Memorial Day weekend proved good box office numbers. The race to the top started grand momentum, Avengers soared to super heights with their box office smash and recently MIB 3 zapped the competition. Another highly anticipated release is The Amazing Spiderman. This high flying action adventure hits the screen July 3rd.
With all this in play, there is an unsung hero who accomplishes feats with its own secret weapon. The team of the 5th Kind masters the universe with film production with the greatest of ease. Their device used during the script to screen workflow process was and is the iPad. I spoke the principal architects of this software platform used by Sony, Marvel Entertainment, and other major studios in Hollywood. Steve Cronan, CEO/Founder and Matt Walters, CTO/Founder.
Marianne Pfeifer: Do you think that your team is an invisible force to be reckoned with? Your products offer a truly seamless collaboration between screenwriters, directors, production crews, and studios.
Steve Cronan: We had a great time developing 5th Kind over the last decade to be the central hub for production teams to secure, share, review, track and distribute any type of digital file across all stages of production, post-production and finally into marketing and archive. The value that our production and studio customers find is that we integrate with multiple on-set point solutions so that you have just one web-based interface where you can find your files.
And, of course, we’re hoping with the last 30-plus blockbuster films we’ve managed that we’re becoming more visible!
Marianne Pfeifer: So 5th Kind’s platform is an integration platform. I understand that you provide a data wrangler on an iPad as part of your workflow process. How did the crew and studio for MIB 3 work with your system through the iPad?
Matt Walters: Men in Black was a more specialized use case with our system focused specifically on the visual effects workflow. We had users both from the production and the Sony Pictures studio side, and during photography, we provided a way for the VFX team to capture on-set data that the CG artists would use later, and a way to associate all that technical data to the individual elements that make up each shot. Our Data Wrangler for iPad was used on the set to enter the lens, camera, lighting and other pertinent information. That information would be automatically ingested to the larger system and immediately available for the CG companies working on the show. We also helped create the workflow during post-production that would automate delivery of elements, track and review work-in-progress shots between Sony Pictures Imageworks, outside vendors and the filmmakers at the studio.
Marianne Pfeifer: How much setup time is needed if a new studio relationship is struck?
Matt Walters: It really depends on the type of installation and scope of deployment. An enterprise system for a production takes a week or so to set up test and train the users while a small cloud system can be set up in less than a week. On one production, studio marketing is using our hosted cloud service to provide elements to vendors outside of the studio while a locally installed, enterprise system manages the assets and workflow for the production itself. A studio-wide system, on the other hand, tends to be a bigger undertaking because you are crossing departmental silos and integrating specialized workflows.
Marvel Studios built their network and workflow around our system as we were fortunate enough to set up with them at the very beginning. Our system now manages over 5,000 users, sharing files with 1,500 external companies, distributing over 45,000 files a week and up to 2.4 million files per year. Every Marvel feature production deploys a local server on location, and it syncs back to the main studio hub in Manhattan Beach, CA. and then relays the on-location production element automatically stored for immediate studio access. This helps tremendously with marketing because approved assets are visible to the appropriate teams and outside vendors for everything from billboards to toys and beyond.
Marianne Pfeifer: Let’s talk about 3D and special effects data wrangling. What is the additional infrastructure needed for this type of genre. It sounds like a production of size would need a tremendous amount of bandwidth and organization.
Steve Cronan and Matt Walters: The market push for 3D movies has driven much of the adoption of file-based production, and the amount of data is truly overwhelming. And not just in terms of file size – where a typical 2D production would generate 200TB of data, you double that for a 3D production shoot – but in terms of workflow management. Every 3D production is a visual effects production because every shot must be manipulated in one form or another to achieve the director’s vision for the 3D look. As a result, two separate camera streams much are merged, reviewed and approved. Add to that tracking and insertion of CG effects and animation and you’re talking potentially dozens of versions of shots, each with many “moving parts” that make up a roughly 2000-shot movie.
So it’s imperative to track and manage that workflow, whether the show is shot in 3D or the 3D effect is added after the production is complete. We created the Dammy® Award-winning workflow for Aardman Animations’ 3D production of The Pirates! Band of Misfits. Because it’s a stop motion (claymation) show, they would set up the model, shoot one frame, move the camera to capture the second eye’s perspective of the 3D effect, shoot that frame, move the model and do it all over again – for 2 years straight! Stop Motion Pro is a program that would combine the individual frames into a stream for the filmmakers to review “animation” on the stage floor, and once approved, our system would ingest the raw files, and create the deliverables automatically, sending them to Editorial, VFX, Archive and 3D dailies review for the director, reducing their typical film-based workflow from 1-1/2 days to 10 minutes. So you can see why a 3D production requires file based management and workflow.
We also have created the workflow tools for 2D to 3D conversions in collaboration with a large facility in Asia. This is an extension of our system’s VFX Module that tracks elements and stages of production for shots. We’ve broadened this application to manage each stage of restoration, 2D to 3D conversion, review, approval and assembly of the restored and converted shots. There are many point solutions that provide tools for the 3D workflow, but ours integrates those tools to provide a central hub for every aspect of the production, from script to distribution.
Marianne Pfeifer: Beyond entertainment, how do you see your platform used in other industries? To what extent?
Steve Cronan: We feel that the creative collaboration that takes place around tens of thousands of digital files for a production happens, in one form or another, in every creative industry. This ability to share, review, annotate, track, approve and reject, limit access, etc. Is not limited to just movies, and the tools that 5th Kind has developed in the crucible of film production are battle tested for work in creative agencies and commercials, toy design, theme park development, automotive design, etc. In fact, we are already branching out into these industries and are excited to build new tools to service creative teams outside entertainment.
And beyond review, approval and automating workflows, every creative industry needs an accessible archive. The archive 5th Kind provides for Marvel Studios results in $100,000 in savings per production, just from reusing accessible elements. We expect that Marvel will achieve double that savings, if not more, for their film The Avengers, as each character design, CG model, CG environments, etc. are all available in the system from previous productions. For 5th Kind, this is an automatic, built-in benefit because we start capturing creative design elements from the planning stages of a movie. Imagine the value any creative industry can gain from having those elements and their versions readily available. That’s what gets us excited about what we do.
About the team:
The 5th Kind team consists of a unique,forward-thinking group of individuals with expertise spanning software development, system administration, film production, entertainment marketing and more.
Steve Cronan, CEO and Founder
Matt Walters, CTO and Founder
Robert Crotty, Business Development
Jim Kass, Development Manager
With over 17 productions and a 5-year studio-wide asset management deal at Marvel Studios, 5th Kind has evolved into a highly efficient Communication, Collaboration, Distribution and Archiving platform. Department modules, from script, locations and casting to editorial, VFX and marketing, manage the entire production from a single interface.
5th Kind is the total data asset management solution, providing an interface to access data throughout the full pipeline, with an open platform to hook into any hardware or software along the way.
- CORE Software is scalable and designed to manage everything from individual productions to entire studios.
- ARC on-location hardware acts as a digital lab to ingest camera files and distribute to back-up, relevant departments and for dailies viewing.
- DIGISCOPE set-top-box provides viewing for digital dailies and video files.
5th Kind defines itself with fast, reliable and easy-to-use tools that are compatible with existing systems, providing solutions well ahead of the competition.