Saturday, January 1, 2011

Streamlining the future

I think future productions will have streamlined work flows where a lot of tasks will be automated all the way from preproduction to distribution. Much of the automation will be in the background by collecting, and re-purposing metadata. The metadata will make it possible for software to exchange information more efficiently and consistently.

Here are some of my predictions of what could happen in the future. Some of these ideas are existing products, services or research and I've listed links.


Let's start with the script. As a script is being developed and written, everything is tagged as metadata. Since most screenwriting programs already handle formatting, this is a background task the writer isn't aware of it until they want to be.

Final Draft 8's file format is XML, so can be imported into any text editor or other screenwriting programs like Celtx and Adobe Story. This means better collaboration between writers, using their preferred software.

Final Draft

Collaboration begins with the script stored in a secure central server, where revisions and notes can be appended. Story meetings done by remote video conferencing, while everyone is viewing/modifying the same documents, like in Adobe Story or Celtx Studio. This virtual collaboration will extend into the production meetings.

Adobe Story

Celtx Studio

After approval, script breakdown and budgeting can be streamlined when tagged data is be sorted into locations, cast, props, vfx sequences, etc. The tags are used to data mine various databases for props, locations and actors.

The producer finds tax incentives, vendor deals, crew/cast hires, etc and have it all reflected in the budget in real time. Cost overages can be tracked more precisely. Variations of the budget can be generated more efficiently.

Schedules can be viewed in both a global or departmental level, with real time updates on tasks.

As actors get cast, they could be face tagged as their characters. Those photos/videos can be used for preliminary digital character model building if needed for a digital double.


Locations and props get selected, new photos/videos could be tagged with metadata that would be sent to the art director, cinematographer, production designer and visual effects supervisor.


Some of those photos/videos could be used by the storyboard/concept artist and previsualization team to develop animatics of key scenes, which gives the vfx supervisor a better idea on what techniques for different shots.

Previsualization could play an important part of the story development process. George Lucas did this when developing the Star Wars Prequels. As sequences are written, a previs team can animate and edit the sequence together, giving a better idea how the story is progressing.




The cinematographer could use the photos/videos with the colorist to prep look development for the visual style. When the cinematographer does camera/lenses tests, all media and metadata is preserved to test workflow pipeline. This is when the editorial team is assembled to continue the workflow testing through post.

Iridas Onset

Testing becomes crucial since many aspects of the pipeline from cameras to NLEs are computer based and may have compatibility issues to be resolved.


Script supervisor has a live link to the production database, so all entries are maintained on set and remotely synced with main database. The camera and sound reports are also synced to the main database.

Tablet devices that have real time feed of video/audio dailies from camera takes, so no need to crowd around the video village.

Light Iron Digital has a service called Outpost Mobile Systems, running their custom software called LiVE PLAY, which shows dailies from Red Cinema Cameras playing out to iPads.

LightIron Outpost2

Data cinema cameras are offloaded to data stations. The cards will be archived to local storage, in addition to being remotely archived over high speed, encrypted data lines. The metadata from the camera is also archived, as well as synced to main production database. The camera metadata includes camera and lens information, as well as information from a motion control device.

Real time dailies feed is also sent by high speed encrypted data lines to editorial room with script supervisor, camera and sound reports, along with any camera metadata.


All onset reports and metadata in the production database are pushed to the editorial room with the dailies. Dailies get face tagged with character names, as well as scene, shot, take, location and other pertaining data.

The dailies also gets tagged with script dialogue that matches the audio, like Adobe OnLocation currently does. OnLocation can even import a script from Adobe Story and match the dialogue with parts of the script.

Adobe Onlocation

The editorial team would use their own asset management system for ingesting, transcoding and tracking assets. There are lots of asset management systems available, some are affordable like Final Cut Server or CatDV Pro.

Final Cut Server

CatDV Pro


A number of NLEs like Final Cut Pro and Adobe Premiere Pro interact very well with other applications in their product suites, but it's more important that applications interact with competing applications to minimize the redundant work when switching between NLEs and other applications.

Adobe Premiere can read Final Cut Pro XML format if the media is accessible by both applications, an Final Cut Pro timeline can be recreated in Premiere.

Third party developers like Automatic Duck, and Intelligent Assistance specialize in these types of tools.

Automatic Duck

Intelligent Assistance

Since a lot of different digital cinema cameras have their own proprietary format, it'll be important to have a high quality intermediate format for mastering. So camera original material can be transcoded to the intermediate format with metadata. This especially becomes important for visual effects and color grading.

There are some codecs like Cineform Raw, Avid DNxHD and Apple ProRes, that can be used as an intermediate, and hopefully become more robust in the future.



Neo4k Cineform Raw

Adobe is working on a Cinema DNG which is similar to the DNG format they developed for still cameras.

Cinema DNG

There's a lot more ideas for new workflows, techniques and technologies that I'll mention in the coming year, but this is a good start.