Online at the Speed of Wow!

With the vast majority of primetime scripted TV shows being shot in high definition these days, the challenge of online mastering programs containing data-intensive HD images can be daunting.
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With the vast majority of primetime scripted TV shows being shot in high definition these days, the challenge of online mastering programs containing data-intensive HD images can be daunting. Most importantly, it can be time-consuming, which, as every tree squirrel in Hollywood understands, equates to money.

Accom has a solution for this, called ShowCase. It enables online assembly of even high-def shows with lightning speed that cannot only affect a show's bottom line, but also provide extra time for the all-important creative process that happens before the final EDL gets assembled.

In a way, ShowCase is a reflection of the origin of the company's name. Founded in 1988, the appellation "Accom" (pronounced "a'-kom" with the first syllable rhyming with "may") was derived from "Occam's Razor," a concept put forth by the 13th century philosopher William of Occam, who is famous for saying, "Pluralitas non est ponenda sine neccesitate," or roughly, "the simplest way is usually the best."

Following that dictum, Accom has produced several industry-leading technologies that efficiently cut to the heart of video production challenges. The company's DVEous/MX universal-format digital video effects system is the only freestanding DVE to provide eight channels of standard-definition and high-definition effects capability, and its ClipStore DDR earned a STAR award from TV Technology at NAB2004.

But for online editors, the technology that most reflects the straightforward Occam's Razor approach is the Axial line of edit systems.

RAVES REVIEWED

Designed to combine the throughput horsepower of a linear, tape-based edit controller with the flexibility of nonlinear disk-caching, thanks to its RAVE (Random Access Visual Editing) option, the venerable Axial 3000 system has become a favorite of many high-end finishing houses.


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"We like to call the Axial system an 'un-linear' edit system, because you can either edit visually by marking cutpoints, based on 'live' playback from tape, or by manually entering timecode locations," said Jim Barclay, production products marketing manager for Accom. "Once a cut's position has been determined, the system's TrimClips feature also stores extra head and tail frames on its internal hard disk so the operator can trim the edit without having to scrub through the tape."

As one of our industry's few remaining linear edit controllers, the Axial system has always been well-suited for creating final masters from tape playback. But it is when the Axial is combined with its optional ShowCase software that the system approaches what has been called, "online at the speed of Wow!"

One of the West Coast's premiere post facilities satisfying an impressive list of major clients with the Axial/ShowCase combination is Technicolor Creative Services Hollywood, although it will probably forever be referred to at its Sunset and Gower location by its previous title, "Complete Post." Like most major video service providers, TCS Hollywood can offer a variety of finishing platforms to the 15 to 20 primetime series it masters each season, but sometimes, for efficient mastering of long-form programs, it's hard to beat the directness of sourcing from tape, especially when you can gain a significant speed advantage under the control of ShowCase.

REMEMBER THE RAZOR?

"ShowCase really streamlines both SD and HD mastering," said Marco Bario, vice president of sales for Technicolor Creative Services Post Production. "The system probably reduces the time needed for online assembly by 50 to 70 percent compared to traditional linear mastering processes."

Tony Teresi, one of the seven online staff editors at TCS Hollywood, was actually involved in the original development of ShowCase with Axial's Jeff Greenfield, so he is well familiar with the system.

"As people learn more about ShowCase, they realize its assembly speed allows them to actually spend more time offline," Teresi said. "If we can count on pumping the show through online more quickly, that gives them more leeway before locking the picture."

As Teresi described it, the advantage of ShowCase software under the control of an Axial 3000 system is that it can load selected takes from tapes on up to four VTs simultaneously onto the four sets of Accom WSD/HD DDRs with Medéa arrays in Technicolor's machine room.

CREATING MASTERS, 24/7

The Medéa storage systems can hold up to eight hours of HD material, which is a lot of high-definition data to randomly access. In fact, since TCS Hollywood has three online bays with Axial 3000s that are ShowCase-enabled, if client demand warrants it, the company can be creating online masters around the clock.

The shows Teresi has finished on ShowCase include hits like "Will and Grace," "That '70s Show," "8 Simple Rules," "The Quintuplets" and "Reba," although the line-up from all the networks keeps growing.

"Increasingly, even hour-long dramas and MOWs are taking advantage of ShowCase finishing, with the majority shooting 24P for acquisition," he said.

Teresi starts by feeding the system with the timecode locations for the cuts created during offline. ShowCase works off either a Grass Valley or CMX 3600 SMPTE-based EDL (Edit Decision List), although Teresi often uses third-party software to translate lists generated by Avid or Final Cut Pro systems. The lists can come either on disk or over the Internet.

These days, most of the shows provide HDCAM source tapes (or film-to-HD transfers); ShowCase looks at the list to determine which tape should be loaded onto each of the four disk drives.

YOUR CLIP, SIR

"The system wants to do a 'roll-through' procedure-often called an 'A-mode' assembly- by which it starts at the head of the show and works sequentially down to the tail," Teresi said. "So ShowCase is thinking about where it wants to go even before loading the disks, and optimizes where the source material is assigned by intelligently evening out its allocation."

To facilitate this, ShowCase analyzes the EDL to determine where the shots should be stored, and even guides the tape operator in the machine room to thread up the proper tape on each VTR as needed. Once everything is on disk, the actual online can proceed almost in real time when mastering the video for a cuts-only sitcom.

That means the 22 program minutes for a half-hour show go together right before the client's eyes in just about that amount of time. If audio work is also involved, this can take an hour-and-a-half, depending upon complexity.

Simple transitions can be added through the Snell & Wilcox HD1012 high-definition switchers in TCS Hollywood's online bays, although more complex effects will need to be created in high def on a dedicated outboard system.

"These days, almost every producer has gotten so particular about their show's look that they take the master into an effects system like Discreet's fire or flame to customize it," Teresi said. "That way, they can create unique transitions that set their particular productions apart."

But for the basic assembly, Teresi admires the speed of loading material and playing it out that ShowCase provides. HD shows usually end up on HDCAM tape, while the few remaining standard-definition productions get recorded onto Digital Betacam. Then, if needed, they go through tape-to-tape color correction before delivery to the network.

"ShowCase has proved an extremely useful tool for online editors who are in the show assembly world," Teresi said. "It's a no-nonsense approach that maximizes the utilization of your clients' time."

HD SHOWCASE

Although the Axial 3000 edit system serves mostly as the front-end for ShowCase, Accom has just recently upgraded the capabilities of the Axial controller itself to handle the display of high-definition signals internally with the company's new Axial/MX system, which shipped in July. The Axial/MX is housed in a more compact package around faster processors and features Accom's new universal-format HD- or SD-Video architecture, from up to five sources, providing a nonlinear-style editing experience in a linear environment. Of course, for the fastest finishing, Axial/MX talks fluently with ShowCase, enabling high-end facilities such as TCS Hollywood to continue to provide "online at the speed of Wow!"