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Offline in Your Briefs, Online in Your Jammies

Could this be the post-production paradigm of the future? In an era when editing and effects specialists control digital technologies through data screens and their clients can view the results via long distance communications, is it really necessary for everyone to congregate in the same crowded edit bay for creative minds to meet? Or could we all collaborate on a given video project from the comfort and convenience of our own personal work environment?

Ascent Media Group, a fully owned subsidiary of Liberty Media Corp., is investing a significant amount of resources to make this a reality. Comprised of some of the best boutique facilities in our industry, Ascent Media Group includes such shops as Company 3 (Santa Monica/New York), Encore (Hollywood) and R!OT (Santa Monica/New York/Atlanta); as well as Rushes (Mexico City), St. Anne's Post (London) and Ascent Media Network Services (Singapore) which means its reach encompasses most parts of the world. But in this post 9/11 environment, when travel is becoming increasingly cumbersome and expensive, some visionaries within Ascent wondered if they could bring their services to their clients rather than the other way around. So about two years ago, the company began establishing a broad menu of services using satellite, Internet, and Fibre Channel technologies. To comply with the spirit of "Ascent" under the aegis of eternal uplinks, all of the services are designated by the uplifting prefix "UP".

UP WITH WEB

UP Web is the most relevant of these remote services for editors since it enables a client to participate in an edit session from any secure Internet connection. At R!OT Atlanta, senior editor and Discreet smoke artist C. E. Raum says UP Web has added a new dimension to his ability to satisfy editing clients. "Especially here in Atlanta where we service agencies all along the east coast, this has increasingly become a great advantage for our customers," Raum tells us. "It's a lot easier than jumping in the car and bringing everyone involved down into our facility and I think this may become a major wave of the future."

Through UP Web, a facility like R!OT Atlanta pipes the output of the editor's main video monitor along with a stereo audio feed into a secure Internet connection and provides an unlimited number of coded passwords that allow anyone on the client's list to dial into the session from a remote location. Then during the online session the editor communicates with the clients via speakerphone, harvesting their comments as if they were in the same room.

Raum has discovered that the benefits of UP Web extend far beyond geographic convenience. Creatively, producers and writers can view the edit session from the comfort of familiar surroundings with all their research material easily at hand. Strategically, it enables all the clients and their support personnel to participate together in real time. Logistically, it means that you don't have to interrupt the session for additional input. But perhaps most importantly for the growing star power of top editors, it lets any agency in the country assure their clients that the best cutters in their field will be manning the console when their precious offspring is birthed, regardless of location.

REAL TIME

This became a practical benefit when Raum recently onlined a series of TV spots about the Carolina Lottery for the CNSG Agency that were produced in Greenville, S.C. "Their lawyers asked for the legal disclaimer to be a bit larger and stay on screen somewhat longer," Raum recalls, "and their publicity people wanted to give the logo a slightly different color. Through UP Web we could make the changes immediately without suffering any down time."

The creative offline editorial for the spots was completed at R!OT by editor Sean Polinsky on an Avid, and review copies had been sent to the clients as QuickTime files with a VHS tape for final approval. But these media don't allow for instant interaction during online assembly with the editor. The UP Web service that Ascent Media provides for the final online, however, uses RealNetworks' compression technology to stream its material over the Internet in real time which anyone with free RealPlayer software can receive.

UP Web is fine for low-res, real-time viewing, but what if absolute video precision is needed for color timing or effects creation? For example, suppose your client wants their footage timed under the golden eye of a famed colorist such as Stefan Sonnenfeld at Company 3 in Santa Monica but their production was shot in Texas?

Last February, Ascent began offering UP Satellite for the kind of absolutely dead-on picture critical remote sessions that are especially useful to give film shoots the expected picture polish. With UP Satellite, the output of Sonnenfeld's Da Vinci 2k color corrector scanning film negatives from a Thomson Spirit DataCine is sent directly to Ascent Media's uplink center in Burbank. From there it is beamed in an encrypted 10 Mbps MPEG-2 stream to a 1.2 meter satellite dish at the remote facility. Then a decoder displays the pictures on a broadcast monitor calibrated by one of Ascent's own house call technicians. For an equipment installation costing about $7,000 (not including the monitor) and a monthly service fee of $36, you can be sitting halfway across the country and looking at the exact same color imagery that Sonnenfeld is fine tuning back in Santa Monica.

Keith James, editor at an independent editorial house in Dallas called charlieuniformtango (whose name is often shortened to just "CUT"), tells us that 70-80 percent of its transfers are currently being accomplished through the UP Satellite service. James describes for us how this remote connection saved a crucial shot on a recent Juicy Juice spot for the Publicis agency.

"In that Juicy Juice spot filmed in a supermarket, when the handle of a grocery cart accidentally poked into the bottom of the screen, Stefan was able to immediately expand the image 80 percent to save the shot," James relates. "Otherwise, trying to re-frame it during online could have resulted in unwanted pixelization."

Even though they have their own talented online editors, CUT could not justify installing a full telecine bay for its local market. "UP Satellite provides us access to world class talent," James says, "It gives us a valuable competitive advantage."

Stefan Sonnenfeld agrees. "At a time of streamlined budgets, overburdened schedules, and increasing need for creative excellence," Sonnenfeld says, "we can now offer any talent at any time without having to travel. It is a terrific aid to creative collaboration."