Introduction

From Concept to Completion with Confidence

Jordan at RackBroadcasters, VFX/post-production companies and digital media organisations often need to implement a new facility when commencing a business start-up, undertaking a new project, expanding or relocating.

Few companies wanting a new site have the luxury of time and funding for a purpose-built facility and the timeframe between the initial planning, approval and the required hand-over is frequently condensed. This leads to the risk that many issues are easily overlooked, resulting in delays and potentially expensive remedial work in the future.

This post looks at the considerations that should be made before undertaking a new facility roll-out or major upgrade.

Before You Order Anything!

It's always tempting to jump into any new project looking at what hardware and software will be required and to consider ordering these early. Here's an initial check list to undertake well before anything is ordered.

  • have a long, hard look at your current operations
  • identify existing issues
  • identify your goals and what you want to achieve
  • create a workflow wish list - how you imagine the work will be produced
  • decide on a deadline
  • tap into industry ‘brains trusts’ by talking to leading suppliers

Find Opportunities and Benefits

The opportunity to start a new workflow from scratch can deliver real world benefits for many organisations. By investigating current workflows you can locate bottlenecks and identify redundant practices.

Seek Advice - Improve Throughput

Skilled suppliers offer a consultative-based approach to objectively look at your goals, together with your current and planned operations, and in many cases, can demonstrate ways to work more efficiently. By re-framing your company’s vision you can see how a change in infrastructure will deliver a higher output using less mouse clicks. In one example a post-production facility we worked with increased each user’s daily output from 3 to 8 jobs after consultation, analysis, proposal and installing a shared storage environment with automated ingest, transcoding and quality control.

Key Concerns

  • new formats
  • improved storage & management
  • scalability
  • exiting Xsan
  • archiving
  • content retrieval

Delivering The Goods

How to Avoid Growing Pains

RolloutAs audiences have rapidly adopted higher resolution mobile phones, tablets and large screen monitors, content creators and associated distribution companies have had to modify their workflows. The demands of producing and delivering material in 4k, 8k and multiple other formats with short delivery times has required upgrades to editing, post-production and storage systems. Deliverables can now be as varied as a digital cinema package, file-based transfers to a global market or streaming online.

How to Handle Workflow Peaks & Expansion

While companies understand equipment cycles and have built technology upgrades into capital expenditure plans, they are very keen to ensure that they can scale their systems rather than replacing equipment. They want to know they can quickly and easily expand their production and operations at any time their business demands it.

Scalability particularly applies to storage systems where data continues to expand to fill available space. By installing advanced Storage Area Network (SAN) solutions content creators can now add storage as required, without interrupting workflows. In this way additional render nodes or transcoding servers can also be added to boost production.

Custom solutions can also enable customers to easily add extra workstations to cover additional staff during project peaks. Workstations can be configured to handle multiple applications so any desktop can be quickly switched to any task for maximum efficiency - eliminating the need for costly dedicated suites.

How to Manage All That Data?

Serious software solutions

The addition of Media Asset Management (MAM) systems can further improve the control of file-based workflows in a distributed and collaborative environment. MAM options range from simple to sophisticated to track assets through ingest, production to distribution while generating and managing critical metadata.

Exiting Xsan - How to move with the times

An industry-wide move away from legacy Apple Xsan storage has seen companies wanting to transition to advanced workgroup systems for improved workflows. SAN solutions supported by MAM software offer comprehensive and scalable solutions.

Overarching Archiving - How to make money by easily accessing content

Content creators have long aimed to maximise the potential income of their assets by originating and storing material at the highest possible resolution with the aim of being able to convert it to any future format. The move to simultaneous multiple delivery requirements for the many developing platforms has seen improved transcoding systems that can deliver workflow efficiencies. Flexible archiving strategies produce results when post-production artists needs to revisit a project. Whether it is an archival piece of material or a client coming back wanting to make changes, operators need to be able to source and retrieve material quickly and efficiently. The ability to deliver this process is a key differentiator for post-production and VFX companies and a daily necessity for broadcast promo departments.

The move to video-on-demand services also means broadcasters will need to migrate to sophisticated archiving systems to manage the storage and retrieval of assets.

Planning Your Solution

How to brainstorm your way to the best possible outcome

Whiteboarding the solutionOnce a company has investigated its current operations and identified its requirements the best way to explore available options is to work with an experienced solutions integrator. Company decision makers should be guided through a documented process to ensure they are comfortable with their chosen solutions and understand how each product is best suited to their brief.

  • artists, creatives and operators can test drive new tools on-site or at their supplier’s facility
  • whiteboard workshops with key technical staff enable engineers to brainstorm through multiple plans and outlines to identify potential improvements and eliminate problems.
  • a high level Conceptual Diagram can also be produced to clearly illustrate how media comes in, how it’s processed and how it’s sent out.
  • feedback from the operators’ test drive is added into the mix and the project moves ahead to the next stage

The aim of the whiteboard sessions is to factor in every potential outcome with clients. By repeatedly creating a range of scenarios a wide range of workflow and equipment concepts can be explored.

A proof of concept should also be created for complex projects. Deep solutions architecture and engineering is part of this pre-sales life-cycle and product vendors are often brought in to support their systems. Often the scope of the project can change through those sessions as more efficient and cost-effective solutions are developed.

Project Roll-out

Defining a Scope of Work

Proof of ConceptThe next stage is the Project Life-cycle where a Scope of Work is created so all stakeholders understand their requirements and sign an agreement stating what is and is not covered in the work. The integration partner then identifies the time it will take to complete each task by drilling down to every single detail to produce a Project Schedule with Start Work and Go-Live dates. Before the project Go-Live date an Acceptance Test Plan from the integrator involves identifying the customer’s original needs then testing and proving the solution to make sure that everything is working before obtaining customer sign-off. Only then is the project declared complete.

Site Suitability

How to avoid a sick building

The selection of premises to house a new facility can be more problematic than simply arm wrestling estate agents. A contemporary post-production environment requires an array of considerations that need to be met when considering a property deal. All these issues are becoming increasingly important with the trend to relocate and establish post-facilities in inner-city suburbs.

Key Concerns

  • Building restrictions: heritage listing, local council restrictions
    The entire project can come to a grinding halt if it falls foul of laws and regulations regarding modifications to the building. Dealing with bureaucracy can cause significant delays and blow budgets with unforeseen restorations.
  • Mains power supply and modification
    Post-production requires a lot of clean, continual power preferably through efficient cabling  which often involves a complete upgrade and refit. From the street connection to emergency standby systems the supply, management and distribution of power is a key requirement.
  • Heating/cooling requirements and associated equipment location
  • As the local climate swings wildly outside, staff, clients and equipment must remain comfortably accommodated to work efficiently and most climate control systems in existing buildings are not designed to cope with the requirements of post-production. The location of heating and cooling control equipment can also raise serious issues with the need for additional power, external supporting structures and noise generation high on the list of concerns.
  • Machine room location, suitability
    Space is at a premium in most facilities and finding suitable room to house all the centralised equipment for post-production can be difficult. Ideally these rooms should be easily accessible for staff, cabling connections and climate control systems.
  • Sound proofing
    Acoustically isolating suites and the facility can require extensive soundproofing to ensure creatives and their neighbours are not noise affected.
  • Lighting
    Lighting is a major factor in controlling the look, feel and working conditions of a post facility. This is augmented by the use large, high resolution screens by most digital artists and attention to lighting is a critical concern for a successful workflow.
  • Custom sound and vision
    Dedicated audio suites and screening rooms require specialised treatment to handle custom sound and lighting requirements.
  • Cabling
    Connecting centralised equipment to distributed suites with fast networks requires running specialised cabling through walls, roofs and floors. Installing suitable cabling to suit designed premises can be fraught with difficulties so advance planning is needed to avoid delays.
  • Internet and communications
    Internet and phone connections are essential tools but with the NBN still unavailable, most companies are forced to rely on incumbent network operators. Ordering and activating any communications connection is often a frustrating exercise with long waiting lists in some locations.

Building Solutions

Engaging an experienced integration vendor will go a long way to help understand what is required to bring a building up to the standards required by a post-production client. After completing a full site inspection the vendor will supply a Recommendations Report detailing the full range of any problems with suggested solutions.

Service

Once a you have moved into their new facility and begun producing content, the next step is to adopt a service plan to maintain systems and equipment. A Service Level Agreement (SLA) provides peace-of-mind assistance in a range of options. With a high level of service, priority response time and extended hours, an SLA can ensure minimum downtime and maximised production by providing ...

  • on-site support
  • phone, email and remote technical support
  • regular on-site check-ups or service calls
  • on-site meetings throughout the year
  • regular conference calls

Extended Service

Whiteboarding the solutionA specialist supplier should be able to provide a wide and flexible range of service options to partner with their customers to maintain productivity. These could include

  • implanting a skilled engineer on-site for the length of a project, system installation or staffing need without the cost of recruiting and employing your own staff
  • Standard Operating Environment (SOE) refresh which is a proactive check of workstations and storage to ensure all software is up to date and compatible. The supplier can also restore production systems to a clean, default, set of software tools and operating systems. 
  • remote support where a technician provides effective remote support, logging into and working with a customer's computer from a remote location can resolve more than 50 percent of cases remotely, saving time and money
  • prepaid support plans that offer a high level of service when it’s needed with the ease of making a support request without the paper work. Prepaid plans usually include a pricing incentive over ad hoc service
  • customised Training in small groups or 1-on-1 sessions customised to a choice of tools and workflows utilise the supplier's training or facilities or to have expert trainers run workshops on-site
  • Consulting Partnership to road-map business technology for a minimum of 3 years to design and deploy solutions, provide on-going support and a refresh in the third year

About Digistor

Digistor designs, builds and supports outstanding technology solutions for VFX and post facilities, broadcasters and any professionals who need to manage digital media. By partnering with our customers, we enable them to achieve their business and production goals and inspire them to creative brilliance. We provide a full range of services to guide customers through their investment decisions and achieve their goals.

Digistor recently celebrated four years as a Autodesk Silver partner by winning Autodesk’s customer satisfaction award for the third year running. The awards re-affirm the company’s position as the leading Autodesk supplier for service and support in Australia and NZ.

The key to our client success has been 25 years of experience that forms the bedrock for our ability to deliver qualified advice. New and existing customers recognise and trust the true value of this knowledge and bring their plans and ideas to Digistor for feedback. Digistor Customer Assurance Plans (DCAPs) implemented using our team of skilled engineers plus Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) compliance has allowed us to help the leading post-production facilities, broadcasters and other professional organisations that manage digital media produce the the very best content for our screens.

For real-world examples of new site installations and facility upgrades visit ...

Digistor helped get VFX facility Studio Blackbird up and running in four weeks.

Blue Post engaged Digistor to assist in providing hardware, software and services to consolidate storage and workflows in the Melbourne office, but also assist in creating their brand new Sydney Facility.

The Editors is a collective dedicated to the art and craft of editing based in Newtown, Sydney. Recently they have completed high end TVC’s for clients such as Qantas,Toyota, and Transport NSW.

ALT VFX worked with Digistor to set up a state-of-the-art facility responsible for the cutting edge effects in the new Tooheys Extra Dry Commercial, The Nocturnal Migration.