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Avid software shapes figure skating programs

Thanks to new software upgrades from Avid (opens in new tab) and grass-roots lessons learned from past Olympics productions, editors creating HD content for this year’s Winter Games broadcast on NBC were actually able to enjoy their Olympic experience.

As a veteran of nine Olympics productions, Bob Barzyk, a veteran editor and founder of Pow! Pix, a New York City-based post and live sports TV production services company, knows the difference between a streamlined workflow and a bottleneck-laden slog. Barzyk led a team of three editors who set up temporary facilities in Vancouver, British Columbia, to produce athlete profiles and other non-live programming related to the figure skating events. They usually had deadlines of several hours or, at most, by early the next day.

The team used the latest version (4.0) of Avid Symphony Nitris DX and Media Composer HD editing software, which includes the ability to find exact locations in a video scene from among a long list of video clips using keywords.

Every Avid was connected to a variety of tape decks and truck feeds through a HD-SDI/RS-422 router, which allowed everyone easy access and control of any deck regardless of its location.

Two dedicated digitizing stations run by production personnel captured and logged footage live as it happened from a variety of format types, including HD video material shot on HDCAM, XDCAM, RED ONE digital cinema cameras, Panasonic P2, Canon 5D and Panasonic Lumix GH1 digital SLR cameras (used for numerous specialty shots).

Software-only Media Composers were used as production stations to log daily footage and identify desired clips stored on an Avid Unity system. Some of these systems were used to cut HD video segments for the Web. Compared to the days of highlighted paper scripts and time code lists, this preselection process made the editors’ job a lot easier; although, at times, the staff was sending logged clips faster than the team could use them.

Barzyk and his staff managed more than 200 hours of source footage, at different frame rates, image sizes and compression ratios, for hours of on-air programming. Leveraging Avid DNxHD compression at 145Mb/s to reduce the time-consuming wrapping or unwrapping of files, they brought an empty 24TB Unity storage array to Vancouver in early February and filled it up entirely by the end of the games.

“We were pulling in XDCAM files natively and using the Sony 4:2:0 codec within our Avid editing environments,” Barzyk said, noting that they also received 1080i HD clips via fiber from EVS replay servers in the production trucks. “We actually started taking advantage of a close integration between the EVS and Avid systems in China for the Summer Olympics. This year, we streamlined the approach by providing a dedicated workstation to accept the EVS files, which then ran unattended as the EVS operators sent clips directly to our Unity. We were transferring files from EVS at over 300Mb/s over the GigE network.”

It quickly became clear that with the ability to ingest 30-minute clips into the on-site Avid storage array in about 10 minutes, the new version of Avid editing software was saving the team a lot of time and allowing them to do what they do best: tell stories.

“Once a clip is in the Nitris DX system, all you think about is creative storytelling,” he said. “That’s the way it should be.”

Working with a variety of NTSC and PAL formats, Barzyk’s team also liked the new standards/format conversion capability in the Avid Nitris DX system. Upon importing a clip into a project folder or directly on a timeline, the Nitris software quickly identifies the format and automatically resizes and/or changes the frame rate to fit the desired format the editor is working in.

This meant the editors saved a step by seamlessly importing PAL video clips into an NTSC project timeline or adding 24p footage to a 30fps segment for North American TV broadcast. Another feature, called Script Sync, allowed the team to virtually link interview transcripts to a specific video clip. This lets the editors choose from a variety of phrases or even single words among a list of clips using the Avid software’s improved database management tools.

Barzyk has seen it all since Pow! Pix started working for NBC on linear editing systems in 1992 for the Barcelona Summer Olympic Games. By the time the 2000 Summer Olympic Games came along, his company (along with many others) was using the one of the first Avid nonlinear systems. In Sydney, Australia, there were three Avid nonlinear editing systems and 23 linear editing systems dedicated to SD program production. In Vancouver, there were 45 Avid systems and five Sony linear workstations cutting HD content.

“This year, there were several times when you said to yourself, ‘It should always have been this transparent to the editing process,’” Barzyk said. “Before, we had to send out tapes for standards conversion, and we had to read through paper transcripts or search around the clips to find a phrase or scene we needed. Now, we've eliminated those steps and maintained the high quality that required for broadcast.”