Remote Editing On Avid DS

New York’s Ironik Design & Post relies on DS for the Final Four games of the NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship
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If you landed the high-profile, remote editing gig for the Final Four games of the NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship, you know you would need more than a laptop NLE since you’d be cutting all the special graphic elements, teases, on-air promos and bumpers for ESPN.

So when Sean Stall, owner and lead graphic artist at New York’s Ironik Design & Post headed out to the Scottrade Center in St. Louis last April, he packed a whole top-of-the-line Avid DS system into two Viking cases and brought along what he considers to be the most powerful digital edit system available.

Stall considers himself a DS artist, and he has cut spots for prestigious clients, such as Radio City Music Hall and Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines in addition to ESPN, using the DS system. He calls it an all-in-one tool, but it has to be put into the context that with new version 10 software, Stall’s Avid DS can cut any resolution format up to 4K, including raw files from a RED One digital cinema camera.

“It’s the Swiss Army knife of our industry, able to take a project from soup to nuts,” Stall said. “We offline on Avid Media Composers at Ironik, but online and finish everything on the DS.”

Of course, there are other multifunctional NLE packages on the market, but most of them require you to leave the editing environment to access a third-party plug-in for sophisticated effects creation and image manipulation. That often takes time, and time is something Stall would never have enough of to keep up with the fast-paced requirements of an NCAA Championship broadcast on ESPN.

SERIOUS HORSEPOWER
Stall took some serious horsepower to the NCAA tourney, with 3.2 terabytes of external storage, 2.5 terabytes internal, running the DS system on an HP xw8400 platform with dual quad-core Intel Xeon 3.0 GHz processors, 10 GB RAM and both the legacy Avid Nitris DNA accelerator input/output system and the new AJA 2Ke dual-link I/O card with K3 breakout box. He also has it loaded with almost every graphics and effects package available so other digital artists can work their creations on his traveling NLE.

Ironically, even with all that editing muscle, Stall often has to access archived footage going as far back as 3/4-inch U-matic. That’s why he needs the multitude of inputs that the Nitris DNA offers. Although the AJA option allows faster conforms and can support 4:4:4 video, Stall had to be prepared for the fact that many great moments in sports happened before digital recordings.

Stall shared the courtside duties with graphic artist Ian Williamson, an Adobe After Effects specialist who had been building teases for the Final Four broadcasts over the previous four months. While Williamson was rendering After Effects graphics on his own workstation, he took over some of the editing duties on the DS.

“We arrived on site Wednesday, April 2, and the DS system kept running ‘round the clock for the next six days, receiving elements from ESPN’s EVS server and sending back finished compositions to their remote broadcast truck,” Stall said. “We also ingested a lot of footage from the ENG field crews to edit them into individual player background packages. Often these were shot with rough green screens, but the DS had the latitude to save the compositions.”

This is exactly the way Avid designed their highest-end NLE.

“The Avid DS, at its heart, is actually a compositing system whose advanced software can take advantage of both GPU and CPU processing,” said Vincent Maza, worldwide marketing manager, post production for Avid. “For example, when used on stereographic 3D projects, it is even powerful enough to utilize ‘3D containers’ that let you edit the left and right eye video channels as a single track on the timeline. Any effect built onto one eye, is also applied to the other and DS can then online master them together.”

A FEW CHALLENGES
But the real power of any NLE is the creative brain that is flying it. To begin with, Ian Williamson, of course, did not know which teams would make it to the Final Four so he had to work with open templates for his graphic elements and be ready to plunk in the individual teams/players as the match-ups were determined. Likewise, Stall had to leave holes in the sequences he was building for the final Championship. These would be filled with either prepped archival footage, shots from the semi-finals, or green screen player profiles.

One of Stall’s greatest challenges, however, was to help make the games seem riveting to the audience even though the UConn Huskies outmatched the Louisville Cardinals in the final game, which ended up a lopsided 76–54.

“We still had to come up with content that made the competition worth watching although sometimes it was pretty one-sided,” Stall recalled. “Even if there were only a few Louisville highlights, we would harvest all the emotional moments, fist pumps, and great athletic moves as we could glean from the Cards. Then, thanks to fast cutting, we’d add as much editorial energy as possible. We wanted the home viewers to get the impression there was always a chance for excitement.”

Stall had to keep in mind that fans of both teams were still very involved as the games progressed. “We used as many scenic shots of St. Louis as the ENG crews could gather in our bumps to give a sense of locality to the flow of broadcast,” he said, “and we’d stir up the excitement with all the tricks in our graphics palette. But that is why we needed as capable a system as the Avid DS.”

The bottom line is that Stall’s Avid DS system ran 24 hours a day without a glitch. He did restart the workstation during the late night shift to clear out the memory cache and to give it a brief rest just to keep luck on his side.

“I couldn’t have been happier with its performance,” he recalled. “Even Ian Williamson said our Avid DS was his favorite system of all time.”

Jay Ankeney is a freelance editor and post-production consultant based in Los Angeles. Write him at 220 39th St. (upper), Manhattan Beach, Calif. 90266 or at JayAnkeney@mac.com.