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Storytelling, technology and workflow

Article ReferenceUnderstanding Business Process Modeling and Analysis

Ideally, the melding of technology and creativity will forge something that cannot be created otherwise. That is, technology should allow new forms of creative expression and streamlined, time efficient execution of all phases of production. Using business process modeling and analysis techniques can help in harmonizing production and technology. A white paper by Ultimus provides an exhaustive explanation on the value of modeling your business process.

See this referenced article for more information. Where thoughts become content and inspiration becomes visual effects, the creative phase is the aspect of production that involves artistic talent and will ultimately create brand image and differentiation. This differentiation will drive business models and gather an audience that can be transformed into rating points and new multiplatform distribution and ad revenue streams. There is a fundamental difference between the creative process and the technology that supports it. Creation and consumption of content is subjective. Technology is objective.

Take any conceptual story concept and ask a production team to create a TV drama. Most likely you will have as many different treatments of it as there are teams. Yet each will feel it has done the best interpretation of the basic storyline. The visual approach, effects, sound and dialogue will undoubtedly be different in each instance.

If we were then to test this TV drama on an audience, their responses would be a bell curve distribution. The majority would enjoy it. Maybe 10 percent would love it and 5 percent would think it was the greatest story written since Shakespeare. On the other hand, 10 percent may not like it at all and another 5 percent might hate it! No matter how good the content is, audience reaction will follow this pattern, and some people do hate Shakespeare.

With digital technology, it is generally an all or nothing proposition. Equipment does not subjectively analyze a bit stream. Loss of data can result in a slight, imperceptible impairment or total destruction of content. If it affects an application or an operating system, there can be a crash and unpredictable non-functionality of a resource. The point is that both the creative process and the technology that supports it offer particular challenges that make it hard to get everything "right." The difference being with storytelling you have some leeway, with technology there is none.

We’ve got to live together

In this multiplatform age the creative community and technologists must peacefully coexist. Creative types should no longer view technologists with contempt. Technology must be elevated to have equivalent input in creative and business planning at the earliest conceptual, brainstorming stages. Organizations that continue to treat technology as a given, and view their engineering departments as a commodity, are doomed for failure in the dawning multiplatform distribution era.

Conversely, engineering personnel must be sensitized to the creative temperament. Perfection is asymptotically attainable. Hence, an artist will feverishly work up to the last possible second improving their creation. Even though it will never be perfect!

The creative phase of the media lifecycle requires the integration of creative inspiration, business models and emerging technology. Each drives the other. A business model drives creative element and technology, i.e. repurposing content for a cell phone requires visual editing of a program for a 2.5in LCD and using technology to convert to the proper transmission format. Creative drives technology and business, such as HD animation rendering requiring more powerful technology. More efficient production allows more sophisticated GFX effects to be used on a larger amount of programming. And technology drives new business models and creative techniques and workflows, e.g. targeted advertising and iTV.

No man is an island

Up until a few years ago, most broadcast equipment was able to stand on its own, using SDI or other real-time methods for essence distribution. The LAN connection on PC equipment was limited in its functionality. With the migration to file-based content creation and editing systems, the network has now become the primary means of essence distribution. This marriage of broadcast engineering and information technology has given birth to a new media engineering discipline, where all resources are interconnected and interdependent.

The big picture matters. Brute force deployment will be significantly more expensive, in dollars and time, compared to an intelligently and efficiently engineered infrastructure that is harmonized with the production process.

Workflow and infrastructure

Maximizing the ROI on creative tools and minimizing the time spent in each portion of the creative process will allow production teams to meet the increasing demands of multiplatform distribution and consumption. Yet many a broadcaster has upgraded to digital resources but still has maintained their analog technology-based workflows.

Article ReferenceWork Flow Mapping

What is workflow? Surfacing in the 1990s, and today most notably utilized in attaining an ISO9000 certification, workflow process mapping is the documentation of steps in any task. The ultimate goal is to identify an area that can be improved and make the entire process more efficient in terms of productivity. A nine-step process to build a workflow map that can be used to help you analyze your processes is described here.

Article ReferenceSix Sigma Q&A

There’s a nother structured approach to workflow analysis. It’s called Six Sigma. Six Sigma is a disciplined, data-driven approach and methodology for eliminating defects (driving towards six standard deviations between the mean and the nearest specification limit) in any process. More than you’ll ever need to know is available at this site.

In the content creation process, it is important to integrate technology with the workflow. For example, an investment in a graphics media asset management (MAM) system may require a $50K purchase. Management may not see the benefit of installing a GFX MAM. They feel that graphics designers can continue as they are currently do, and navigate a loosely structured directory tree to find a needed graphics element.

However, a workflow analysis may reveal that graphics personnel spend between 10 minutes and four hours searching for archived content. This could be on a PC, over network resources or for physical media located on someone’s desk. Let’s say the average is two hours. Not only does this impact production time, but two hours of a $52K per year designer’s time is a $50 expense. If this designer makes 100 searches in a year and you have 10 designers, that’s $50K a year of time spent in searching for graphics content. The MAM pays for itself in one year.

In addition, the two-hour average search time is reduced to five minutes. This has resulted in reduction of the production process by nearly two hours on average. This time can be used to create graphics for more shows or more complicated graphics. In a multiplatform environment, this time can be used to optimally format GFX content to its delivery methodology and consumption device.

It’s all in the storytelling

Storytelling is what most of the creative process and media business is about. News shows consist of segments made up of stories. Sporting events are unscripted dramas. Even a game show tells a story.

Creativity is no longer limited by technology. With CG GFXs and animation applications anything is possible. The same is true for audio. But we cannot lose sight of our storytelling mission. Do the GFXs and sound contribute to the narrative? Do the graphics convey the right amount of relevant information that is easily understood? We often hear criticism about implementing technology for technology's sake, to have the latest and the greatest gadgets. A similar argument can be made about GFX, visual and audio effects for creativity’s sake.

Care must be exercised to use all the new creative tools to create aesthetically pleasing and informatively interesting content. The technological media revolution offers creative opportunity in many production processes:

  • Audio: 5.1, stereo, cross platform, micing techniques, sound effects
  • Studio sets: multimedia extravaganzas, DMX 512 and show control, virtual sets
  • Graphics: automation assembly, animation and render farms, HD computer platform performance
  • Sources: formats, feeds, remotes and backhauls, Internet, phone cameras, 1080p, HDV, citizen journalists
  • iTV and eTV: storyboarding, technical preparation

No stone has been left unturned. Every aspect of the content creation process has been profoundly impacted by the explosion in content produced for multiplatform distribution and consumption. Harmonization of technology, workflow and storytelling will result in compelling content, efficient production and a minimally stressed work environment.

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