Digital Production Buzz
September 11, 2014
[Transcripts provided by Take 1 Transcription]
Jordan Soles, Executive Producer/CTO, Rodeo FX
Manon Banta, Executive Director,The Mobile Film Classroom
Grant Burton, Producer and Digital Analyst, Royal Australian Air Force
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Larry Jordan: And welcome to The Digital Production Buzz. The world’s longest running podcast for creative content producers covering media production, post production, marketing and distribution around the world. My name is Larry Jordan. Our co-host, the ever-handsome Mike Horton, is in Amsterdam for the IBC trade show. We’ll hear more from him in a minute.
Larry Jordan: Our guests start with Jordan Soles. He’s the Chief Technology Officer for Rodeo FX. A Montreal based VFX company that recently won an Emmy for their effects work on ‘Game of Thrones’. He joins us to talk about what they did and how they did it.
Larry Jordan: Next is Manon Banta, the Executive Director of ‘The Mobile Film Classroom’. This traveling film education studio on wheels is helping kids in Los Angeles improve their lives through film making.
Larry Jordan: And Grant Burton, a long time friend of The Buzz, produces training videos for the Royal Australian Air Force and has been doing it for almost 20 years. He joins us tonight live from Australia to talk about his work and the challenges of producing videos at 30,000 feet.
Larry Jordan: Just a reminder that we’re offering text transcripts for each show, courtesy of Take 1 Transcriptions. Now you can quickly scan or print the contents of each show, as well as listen to it. Transcripts are located on each show page. You can learn more at take1.tv and thanks, Take 1, for making it possible.
Larry Jordan: Remember to visit with us on Facebook, at digitalproductionbuzz.com. We’re also on Twitter, @DPBuZZ, and subscribe to our free weekly show newsletter at digitalproductionbuzz.com for an inside look at both our show and the industry.
Larry Jordan: The big news this week was Adobe’s reveal of new updates to all their video software tools. Probably the most striking change was the new interface, but virtually every program received significant new features. I have a detailed description of the new software plus an exclusive interview with Bill Roberts, Senior Director of Product Management for Creative Cloud Video Products at Adobe in tomorrow’s Buzz newsletter.
Larry Jordan: Earlier this week, Buzz producer Cirina Catania put on her reporter hat and took off for Amsterdam to create our coverage of IBC. You’ll be hearing more from her in next week’s show; however, earlier today Cirina spoke with our peripatetic host, Mike Horton, as he gets ready to produce this year’s Supermeet at IBC. She recorded this conversation earlier.
Cirina Catania: This is Cirina Catania, I’m here in Amsterdam with Michael Horton, the guru of the Supermeet, and there’s another one this Sunday. Michael, tell everybody what’s going to be happening this Sunday.
Mike Horton: Well, I am in Amsterdam, as are you, and I just landed about three to four hours ago and I’ve just come back from the convention center, or the RAI as we call it. This is our seventh year, Cirina, and I tell you, this is one of the most beautiful cities in the world, and the weather out there right now is fantastic. I’ve already seen on the streets a lot of people I know, and it’s been so much fun and it’s always been so much fun to just be here. What’s even better is that you’re here.
Cirina Catania: Well, thank you Michael. I think there are something like 50,000 people attending the IBC this year, right?
Mike Horton: I think it’s more like 70,000. It’s a huge convention. I think the only other convention in Amsterdam that is bigger than IBC is some sort of medical convention. That’s what the taxi cab driver said, but I’m not really sure. I think IBC is probably the biggest convention in Amsterdam for the entire year. Everybody knows about it. Every restaurant you go into, every pub you go into, everybody knows about IBC. Doesn’t matter if they’re in the broadcast industry business, they all know IBC is in Amsterdam.
Cirina Catania: Why go to IBC? We have NAB and there are a lot of other conventions out there. How is IBC different?
Mike Horton: You know what? There’s not a lot of difference between IBC and NAB, although there is a lot more European company presence here, there’s a lot more Middle Eastern company presence here. If you’re going to find a difference, it is the fact that there are more companies that are featured in the UK, Europe, Middle East and Africa here than there are at NAB.
Mike Horton: But it’s still a big networking event. It is still a place to meet people, just as the Supermeet is. It is that place to meet likeminded people who are most likely smarter than you are and you can learn from them. That’s why I’m here and that’s why I’ve been here for the past seven years co-producing the Supermeet along with Dan Berube.
Cirina Catania: Now, tell me, there are a lot of great presenters this year at the Supermeet. Who’s going to be presenting?
Mike Horton: Oh my God, we have such a good show. It is such a good show. First of all, our keynote speakers are Maryann Brandon and Mary Jo Markey, who are two wonderful editors who have edited all of JJ Abrams movies, and who are currently editing in London as we speak the new ‘Star Wars’ movie that is coming out in 2015. They are going to be our keynote speakers. So that gives you an idea how big a show this is going to be.
Mike Horton: And then, of course, we have Blackmagic Design. Who’s going to be showing some new stuff; Adobe, which has just announced new features to Adobe Premier, and to the Creative Cloud suite of apps and they’re going to be showing some of that; HP is going to be showing some new stuff – HP workstations; Isotope is going to be showing the RX4, which is brand new; and Atomos is going to be showing the Shogun. So it’s all brand new stuff and 20 vendors out there for people to hang out with and learn from.
Mike Horton: The people who man these tables aren’t just the marketing people, these are the smartest people on the planet who know and can solve all the problems that you have. So if you’re interested in film making, oh my goodness, Supermeet is the place to go.
Cirina Catania: It really is. It’s all the creative people you could possibly imagine in one room at one time.
Mike Horton: Yes, you’ve been there, you know what it’s like. It’s a lot of fun, and it’s a lot of learning, and whatever you put into it is what you’re going to get out of it.
Cirina Catania: What giveaways do you have this year?
Mike Horton: Oh, thank you for bringing that up. We have over 35,000 Euros’ worth of raffle prizes to give out, and this is valuable stuff. That, of course, is a really big deal in the Supermeet. It’s just a really fun, fun thing.
Cirina Catania: Well, a lot of people do. You have a lot of prizes for the room.
Mike Horton: We have a lot of prizes to give out. Some people call it the seemingly endless world famous raffle because it goes on forever.
Cirina Catania: There you go. Now, tell us what time, and where, and what we’re going to see when we get there.
Mike Horton: The doors open at 4.30pm, which is 16.30 in the 24 hour clock, at the Hotel Krasnapolsky, which is right in the heart of Dam Square, which is right in the heart of Amsterdam. There you will find 20 vendors to hang out with, and some of these people will actually not be at IBC, they will only be at the Supermeet. So that’s another incentive to get there.
Mike Horton: Also, another big deal here is that if you get through the doors before 6pm, HP is giving you a chance to win a fully loaded ZBook for absolutely free. It’s not going to cost you any raffle tickets, everybody’s going to get a raffle ticket and they all get a chance to win that ZBook. But the actual stage show starts at 7pm and goes on until about 10pm, then of course we have the world famous raffle after that.
Mike Horton: There’s going to be food, there’s going to be cash bars, there’s going to be a lot of networking time and it’s really up to you, the attendee, to get into the faces of all these people, say hello and you never know who you’re going to meet who might just change your life. There are plenty of seats left, but I’ve got to tell you that everybody buys at the last minute and they’re going to start buying now. I’ve already logged on and several tickets have just been sold in the last few minutes. Historically, Supermeets usually sell out.
Mike Horton: We will accommodate you as best we can, but you want to go to supermeet.com and just click on the button, ‘Buy a ticket’, so you are guaranteed a seat. You want to get there as early as you can, you want to spend as much time as you can with all the people there and you want to learn as much as you can. I guarantee you’re going to have fun.
Larry Jordan: That was The Buzz producer Cirina Catania interviewing Mike Horton, the producer of the Supermeet and co-host of The Digital Production Buzz. I’ll be right back with Jordan Soles after this.
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Larry Jordan: As the CTO of Rodeo FX, based in Montreal, Canada, Jordan Soles oversees all the technological aspects of the company. From IT infrastructure decisions, to software and pipeline design through to production management. He has a degree in artificial intelligence and cognitive science from the University of Toronto, and I want to find out more about how Rodeo FX managed to win an Emmy. Welcome, Jordan, good to have you with us.
Jordan Soles: Thank you very much. Thanks very much.
Larry Jordan: Well, first, thanks for staying up late. You get a gold star for that. We are very grateful, because you’re based a few hours ahead of us in time zone territory.
Jordan Soles: Yes, we’re based in Montreal, Quebec.
Larry Jordan: What is Rodeo FX?
Jordan Soles: Rodeo FX is a visual effects studio. When I first joined about four years ago, we were really focused on map painting and compositing, and the mandate from when I joined to where we are today has basically been to fill in the gaps and turn us into a fully fledged visual effects studio, being able to service all the needs that every other major visual effects studio provides.
Jordan Soles: We’ve been able to do that in such a way, that we’re not tied into years and years of old and antiquated pipelines that we’re trying to retro-fit to new software and new techniques. But rather we still take a nimble and quick approach to being able to try new software, and new technologies, and seeing if we can apply them there in unique ways to be able to make the resulting image as beautiful as we possibly can. And hopefully be able to render it in as shorter period of time as we possibly can in order to do even more work.
Larry Jordan: One thing I’ve heard a lot of visual effects companies talk about is this concept of pipelines. What’s a pipeline and why is it important?
Jordan Soles: A pipeline is basically how we move a plate that we would get delivered to us from on set and it would define all the steps in between before we actually deliver it typically back to the client or, in some cases, directly into a DI facility.
Larry Jordan: Could we consider a pipeline to be a workflow, basically a process of how the file gets from Point A to Point B?
Jordan Soles: It is. That would be it exactly. For us, a pipeline can hit a number of different departments and, on top of that, it also has a lot of color based workflows that feed into one another. Depending on the color space of the frames that we’re getting delivered to us directly from dailies, how do we convert that and how do we work with it in a way that is as non-destructive as possible, and also be able to deliver in a way that the editors, as well as the DI facility, are able to manipulate the image as much as they possibly can.
Larry Jordan: I’m confused. We’re shooting video. The video is shot on an RGB color space. It’s output to an RGB color space. What’s this business with color?
Jordan Soles: That is obviously the most ideal. The newer cameras that we’re seeing right now, for example all the RED cameras are recording in a proprietary RED log format. But we’re now beginning to see cameras like the F65 be able to record and output data using ASUS Primaries, and so we’re suddenly having to deal with a world that is slightly more complicated to be able to mitigate living in a proprietary file format or color space world. In so doing, it’s kind of complicated things just a little bit in terms of how we move from one color space to another.
Larry Jordan: I suspect complicated more than just a little bit and you’re being polite, but we’ll come back to that point. I was just reflecting, your title is Executive Producer and Chief Technology Officer, which seems to be an inherent conflict of interests because generally the Executive Producer worries about getting money and the Chief Technology Officer worries about spending money. Where do you find your time being spent and how do you balance the two?
Jordan Soles: Well, I’ve always found that in a visual effects world, it’s a balancing act between trying to get things done as efficiently as possible and also trying to do things that maybe we haven’t done before, sort of push the boundaries. And so what the CTO title allows me to do is apply a vision that I have that may not be for next month, but might be for next year or two or three or four years down the line, and see how I want the studio to grow in that direction technologically.
Jordan Soles: The cool thing about having the Executive Producer title, it also allows me to then focus in on finding projects, that allow us to be able to grow, also towards that direction and build capabilities that maybe we didn’t have before and, if we didn’t have them before, great. Four years from now, not only do I want to have those capabilities, but I also want to be able to bring in even more projects that have even more complicated effects, or more complicated creatures. Although they seem to split in terms of the actual title itself, in many ways they walk hand in hand.
Jordan Soles: I used to work at a company in Los Angeles called Sony Imageworks, and what we learned from doing fully animated films there was that there was a real need to have a person in production who had a really good, and sound technical understanding of how the actual infrastructure works and so, when I moved to Rodeo, it was a very natural fit for me. So I kind of pride myself in being able to keep my feet in both worlds, although I would suspect my wife isn’t a big fan of it, in so much as it takes up quite a bit of time.
Larry Jordan: Oh yes, I believe that. Let’s give you a chance to brag for just a minute. What are some of the projects you guys have worked on recently?
Jordan Soles: Most recently, we delivered ‘Game of Thrones,’ for which we received an Emmy, which was really cool. Also, the other projects that we delivered this summer, Luc Besson his film ‘Lucy’ with Scarlet Johansson. We also delivered ‘22 Jump Street’. I think those are probably the most recent films that were released over the course of the summer. On top of that, we have another film about to come out in October called ‘Bird Man’ and a film that’s going to be coming out in the winter called ‘Jupiter Ascending’.
Larry Jordan: What specifically are these films calling on Rodeo FX to do?
Jordan Soles: Initially, I would say about four years ago, Rodeo was really known for being able to build an expansive environment from just beautiful, beautiful map paintings and then be able to put them into the scenes as seamlessly as possible. In the last four years, we’ve obviously been building that out and… world into a two and a half to fully 3D world, and even recently we’ve been called upon to add special effects, water, fire, dust, sparks, building out planes, building out tanks, building out all sorts of assets that we are suddenly having to animate and so that’s what we were called upon for.
Jordan Soles: In fact, for the film ‘Lucy’, we had to do an entire sequence which was being filmed in Paris in August, which is a really, really difficult time to film in Paris because all of the tourists are there. So to be able to close the streets off to film a giant car chase was quite difficult. And so we ended up having to do a lot of pre-visualization with the stunt coordinator to be able to make sure that the cars that they wanted to flip and destroy, that they would fit in the area that we were planning on driving them through, and that the camera angles that they wanted to be able to shoot would indeed work, and that they would have to work with respect to the amount of time that we had in which to shoot.
Jordan Soles: We’re now being called upon, even before a film or a sequence has even been thought of and that’s really quite impressive for a company of our age. We really enjoy it.
Larry Jordan: I want to talk about the 3D backgrounds for a second, then I want to talk about some of the tools you’re using. How do you create those amazingly detailed 3D backgrounds that I was seeing on your demo reel? Some of them were spectacular.
Jordan Soles: Thank you. For the most part, it usually starts off with one of our concept artists. It’s kind of a low cost, and a really quick and easy way to go. So one of our concept artists will basically rough out a very rough sketch, either Frankensteining it from things that they find on the web, or creating it completely from scratch, but creating a number of different iterations to be able to present to both visual effects supervisor and ultimately the director. We find that being able to work that way and creating a bunch of little thumbnails…
Larry Jordan: Is this ink on paper or are they using a computer?
Jordan Soles: In this case, they’re using a computer. The toolset that they use is 100 percent Photoshop, but they’re able to really whip it out really, really quickly, and we can get… pretty easily. We get… on color and composition. We’ll create mood boards as well to make sure that we’re hitting the right colors that they would want to be present. We even describe the lighting of a particular scene in such a way to make sure that it works.
Jordan Soles: Usually from there, it really gives our artist a blueprint upon which to build, and at that point we evaluate the actual scene, and determine exactly how much needs to be in 3D versus how much of it we can leave in 2D. That particular process is really quite useful for us because it also means that we don’t have to spend quite as much time building out everything in 3D.
Larry Jordan: What’s your 3D tool?
Jordan Soles: For the most part right now, we’re modeling using a software called ZBrush. We’re in Montreal, so we’ve been using a software developed here for a very long time called Softimage that Autodesk just killed. Softimage was basically our modeling animation layout lighting tool and since we’ve been migrating everybody over to using Maya.
Larry Jordan: In the time we’ve got left, a couple of questions. I just need a short answer – when do you determine whether to shoot something in real life, think of ‘Lucy’, versus do it CGI, in terms of cost?
Jordan Soles: We always prefer to shoot in real life. In fact, we have our own RED Epic camera and we have our own shooting stage. When it comes down to it, if we can shoot something in real life, we’ll go ahead and shoot it. We find that shooting smoke, fire, whatever, those effects end up looking a lot more real, and a lot more believable to the audience than trying to do it in CG. What we’ll end up doing is shooting a lot of smoke, and then we’ll end up doing 3D smoke, and the 3D smoke will basically be a very animated 3D smoke in order to sell, and then it just sort of ends up being a blend.
Larry Jordan: Hmm. When you’re doing all these effects, you’ve got to have, like, 500 million assets. How are you managing the assets and keeping track of everything?
Jordan Soles: Yes, we use a software called Shotgun. It’s our production tracking system as well as our asset management system, and from day one we’ve let that become the brain of the facility. Everything begins and ends with the production tracking system. Again, it harkens back to my production background. A producer knows best and they’ve got the money, so they’ve also got their hands on the purse strings. So they know where and when spend the money. So we let our production tracking system be our guide for our artists.
Larry Jordan: What software tools are you using as we look around your shop?
Jordan Soles: For the most part, what you’ll see is a lot of Photoshop for map painting and concept artwork. You’ll see Maya for a lot of layout and animation. You’ll see a software called Mari that we use for texture painting. You’ll also see for compositing mostly nuke stations and then you’ll see, just because we live in the same offices as Autodesk, a bunch of flame and flare stations.
Jordan Soles: We find value in having both a Flame and Flare Station as well as a Nuke Station there. It’s very useful for two different things. On top of that, we use Final Cut and/or Avid for smoke, depending on how the production is moving forward. Then we use a tool called RV to handle dailies playback and we use a tool called CineSync that we typically use with clients.
Larry Jordan: It’s an amazing collection of tools. How big a team do you have working with you?
Jordan Soles: Well, when I started there were about 30 and now we’re totaling about 170.
Larry Jordan: 170? That’s amazing.
Jordan Soles: Yes.
Larry Jordan: Where can we go on the web to learn more of the work that you guys do?
Jordan Soles: Just rodeofx.com. That will give you a very good indication of what we’ve been involved in.
Larry Jordan: Very cool. That’s rodeofx.com. Jordan Soles is the Chief Technology Officer and Executive Producer at Rodeo FX and, Jordan, I’ve seen your demo reel, you have some amazing talent up there. Thanks for joining us today.
Jordan Soles: Thank you very much for the time.
Larry Jordan: Take care. Bye bye.
Jordan Soles: Bye.
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Larry Jordan: Manon Banta is the Executive Director of The Mobile Film Classroom. She’s designed standards based curriculum connecting early cinema to modern film making to promote digital literacy among at-risk youth. She is also a founding member of the Los Angeles Digital Literacy Alliance to provide digital media learning innovation for Los Angeles children ages five to 18. Hello, Manon, thanks for joining us.
Manon Banta: Hi, Larry. Thank you so much for having me on your show today.
Larry Jordan: We are delighted and I’m looking forward to learning more because I’ve heard nothing but wonderful things from people whose opinions I respect about you and the work that you’re doing, but let’s start by having you tell me what The Mobile Film Classroom is.
Manon Banta: The Mobile Film Classroom is a production studio on wheels. We’re an RV outfitted with Apple computers, flat screen monitor and sound recording booth. Everything the kids need to get on board to tell their story. We drive to the locations, we partner with schools, libraries, probation camps, foster care centers to provide the digital media storytelling training to kids and all I need is a place to park.
Larry Jordan: That’s like “have film, will travel.”
Manon Banta: Yes, very much so.
Larry Jordan: How did it get started?
Manon Banta: Actually, it was a program of the Mary Pickford Institute for Film Education. It was their educational outreach and in 2012, when that organization was winding down, we all wanted to see the program continue. So I started a new non-profit called The Mobile Film Classroom and we have been going on from there.
Larry Jordan: You started the non-profit? This is very similar to jumping off a high bridge and hoping the bungee cord holds out. That’s not a low risk activity.
Manon Banta: Yes, I think most people would be terrified about where we are. We were very lucky because we had the whole vehicle. I’ve been with the program since 2008, so I had the level of experience of running and executing programs, and working with kids and developing it, so it wasn’t just a pilot program. But not with a lot of cash to spare to start out. I have a background in indie film making at ultra low budgets, and that’s exactly what it feels like every day when you’re working with the kids. When we take them through their six week program, it’s like you’re producing that many low budget films.
Larry Jordan: I’ve had a chance to watch some of the videos that are on The Mobile Film Classroom website – we’ll get to that address in just a minute – but the kids look like they are so hooked on the whole process. That’s a major achievement, to get their attention.
Manon Banta: They get on the bus. For one, the atmosphere doesn’t feel like a regular classroom, so that helps. Then we get them hands on, put cameras in their hands right away and they’re doing it and they get into production teams, they have to come up with their idea. Usually there’s a framework of the overall scope of the project, there might be one where the kids do a silent movie, and the school or the organization wants them to focus on bullying. So from there they come up with the idea of their story, and then they work together in teams to script it out, plan it, film it and then edit it. So all the work is done by the kids themselves. There are some days where we just have to cut the power on the bus for the kids to get off.
Larry Jordan: What was it that hooked your attention back in 2008? What made you decide to join?
Manon Banta: I had been volunteering with a documentary film company that was part of Mary Pickford and I started assistant teaching. The hours are so much better than film production – so not getting up at 5am – but it hit all the buttons on what I like to do as far as thinking outside of the box, trying to make things happen with very little, watching the kids’ creativity and see their little lightbulbs go off and see kids that were in continuation of high school, the sense of pride they got when they finished something. That’s what keeps me hanging onto that bungee.
Larry Jordan: And hoping it holds on.
Manon Banta: Hoping it holds on, yes, yes.
Larry Jordan: Where does your support come from?
Manon Banta: We get some government grants and we’ve got a little bit of foundation and corporate support, but the bulk of our support right now is from earned income. We’ve been working with the County Libraries, for example, for the past few years and they have grants where they need programs for teens, and so they have us come in and do programming with them.
Larry Jordan: What is it that you need that you don’t have?
Manon Banta: The bus that we have was outfitted in mid-2008 so, as you and your listeners know well, technology has changed quite a bit in that time. So we are looking to get a new vehicle, an eco-friendly digital media bus and updated equipment. With the kids, we’ve been using flip cameras and sometimes we have donated cine cameras or DSLR cameras for certain projects. So any kind of upgrade in camera equipment would also be really wonderful.
Manon Banta: We are part of a $100,000 grant challenge right now in the LA 2050 program by the Goldhirsh Foundation. If people were to vote for us, it would be very helpful too because that would put us a long way towards realizing the dreams I just outlined; and we’re looking for volunteers as well.
Larry Jordan: You were also one of ten people selected to do a fast pitch in November of 2013, pitching for more revenue. How did that go?
Manon Banta: That was an amazing experience. That’s an organization called Social Venture Partners. Basically, what they’ve taken is the venture capital funding model, twisted it and put it for non-profits. It teaches us how to tell our stories, and speak in everyday language and do it quickly to get your elevator pitch down. So that was a wonderful training process and it really opened the door to so many different opportunities. We partner with other non-profits for some of it as a result of being involved with that and meeting other people.
Larry Jordan: Tell me a little bit more about the kind of projects you have the kids work on. What’s your goal?
Manon Banta: Some of the projects that we do, for example we work with elementary age students, we have them create silent movies. We start out by telling them how cinema began, and giving them that history of the art form and it also is a good way to what they call an education scaffold. So we’re talking about using very simple techniques and in a way almost mirroring the way films started.
Manon Banta: They’ve got just the very simple cameras, the flip cameras. Taking sound out of it when you’re dealing with young children is also a really good idea; and then, but not because they’re doing silent movies, they get to act out and they work collectively to create one movie. That’s five production teams and they each film and edit a part of that. Then with older kids, we like to get older kids, especially high school kids, to work on projects, whether it’s a narrative project or a short documentary or a PSA. Something that makes them start to think about their role in the community.
Larry Jordan: Manon, there’s more we can talk about but I’m going to run out of time. What website can people go to to learn more and is there a way for people to contribute?
Manon Banta: Yes, you can go to our website. It is www.mobilefilmclassroom.org and once you’re there, there’s buttons that can take you to donate if you’d like, and then there’s also on the homepage is a short video about our program and a pink button right there at the top that you can click on if you want to vote for us in the $100,000 grant challenge.
Larry Jordan: Thank you. That’s mobilefilmclassroom.org and Manon Banta is the Executive Director. Manon, thanks for joining us today.
Manon Banta: Thank you so much, Larry.
Larry Jordan: Take care. Good luck.
Manon Banta: Bye.
Larry Jordan: Grant Burton has been creating training videos for the Royal Australian Air Force for almost 20 years, where he is now a producer and digital analyst first as a member of the RAAF and now as a civilian. He’s also a very active participant in the live chat on The Buzz each week and it’s wonderful to be able to say hello Grant, welcome back.
Grant Burton: Good evening, Larry, how are you doing?
Larry Jordan: We are doing great, although for us it’s evening, for you it’s, like, tomorrow and before this interview is over I want to find out what our weather tomorrow is going to be like. Good to have you with us.
Grant Burton: Ah. Yes, same, same. Long time, no hear.
Larry Jordan: Here’s my question – what does the Royal Australian Air Force need with a video producer?
Grant Burton: Good question. You would think in these days of computer based simulations and aircraft modeling techniques and e-learning, it would all be a bit redundant. But due to the efficiency and the production methods of video production these days not being as costly as, say, they once were when I started about 30 years ago. It sort of faded away about a decade ago and has now come back with a… because often when you want things produced very quickly and efficiently, video is going to be a better way to go than trying to produce something like a simulator or desktop based simulation, or even e-learning practices.
Grant Burton: It’s easily amendable because of the way we do digital workflows these days. So often it’s the most cost effective method of doing training.
Larry Jordan: What’s your mandate? What kind of programs do you specialize in?
Grant Burton: From sitting in a chair ergonomically to flying an aircraft. How’s that for a dynamic?
Larry Jordan: I’d say that pretty well covers the spectrum, yes.
Grant Burton: Yes. It could be anything. It can be everything from leadership – which I’ve done a lot of things on – to ethical behavior through to engine maintenance, to the recent stuff I’ve been doing with air crew, learning how to start aircraft and fly aircraft, all that sort of stuff. We’re not able to do the stuff that the simulator can do or the real aircraft, but there’s a lot of intermediate stuff that is in paper form, in checklists, that’s very hard to understand unless you can conceptualize it, and simulators, like aircraft, cost money to run and maintain and sometimes it’s overkill. You don’t need that, you just need them to learn a procedure or learn some grout learning sort of things.
Grant Burton: It’s all up to, I guess, me having my own media advertising strategy because we’re a big organization, nowhere near as big as the American forces, but we are a diverse organization spread across the planet and a lot of people don’t know I exist, as surprising as that might sound. A lot of the time people go, “Oh well, we have to go to a commercial agency,” and this has happened.
Grant Burton: Let me give you an example which relates to the recent work I’ve just done. Someone wanted how to start a certain type of helicopter we had. They got a commercial agency, they… produced over a number of weeks and they got a $25,000 bill. It was a good product but was it worth $25,000? You’d have to ask them. So when we did similar stuff for another aircraft, they said, “Oh, you exist. You do this?” “Yes, yes, yes.” “What’s the cost?” “Nothing. I’m employed by the government, so I don’t actually cost you a thing. I’m an internal capability.” “Right. I think we need to use you then.” That’s actually happened.
Larry Jordan: Is the principle bulk of work you do training, or do you have stuff the public would see?
Grant Burton: No, I don’t do anything with public relations. That’s handled by a media public relations unit, which we do have that is fairly funded and staffed, and that’s everything from broadcast, cinema, press releases, all that sort of thing. They look after that and they are, funnily enough, ex-trained RAAF photographers, videographers and structurally they don’t exist anymore. They’re all reservists, we don’t have them any more. I used to actually do the same job myself when I was actually wearing a uniform, but now they are the reservists, or it gets contracted out, and for the Air Force, I’m the only internal capability to do training, so I’m it.
Larry Jordan: Are you a team of one? Or do you have people that help with you putting these videos together?
Grant Burton: No, team of one. I’m it. I work with what we call an SME, which is a… expert. That will be like a pilot or an aircrew specialists from a particular platform. They assist me in storyboarding and directing. They get an education of what it’s actually like to produce a video, which is always interesting. Some people think a three minute training video takes maybe five minutes to produce, and they soon get the realization that it might actually take a number of weeks to do three minutes. That’s always an interesting education. But no, I’m everything – director, storyboard, producer, lighting, editing, you name it. Even coffee maker sometimes, believe it or not.
Larry Jordan: Let’s take a look at the gear that you’re using. I know that your training is everything from, ‘how to sit in a desk chair at the office’ to ‘how to fly some incredibly sophisticated machinery’. But do you have a go to hardware set-up that you work with, camera that you like?
Grant Burton: The camera I like is the one that’s just been ordered. I know this sounds quite backwards, but I’m still on a tape based workflow. I’m still using DV tape, but that’s about to change in the next fortnight because I finally have ordered actually my first solid state camera because we’ve finally got a budget for this year to buy a nice…
Larry Jordan: Now, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait. Wait, wait. Did you say that you’re shooting DV tape?
Grant Burton: Correct, I am still on DV tape at this present time. But that will change in the next fortnight because we’ve finally got funding for a new camera.
Larry Jordan: Wow.
Grant Burton: But yes, I’m shooting currently on a Sony VID1, which isn’t even true high definition, it’s 1140 by 1080. But again, since I’m not broadcast and my end state for delivery to the client is DVD video or 720p to go on our internal intranet, it’s not been necessary to be at a higher resolution anyway. So we’re not really losing too much out of the quality issue by still shooting onto DV tape. But, yes, at this particular present time, it’s still DV tape, Sony Z1, a decent several thousand dollar lighting kit, a number of good Sennheiser and Sony lapel mics, Rode microphones.
Grant Burton: That’s about it. It’s quite a basic set-up. You could go and purchase it down your local video store, similar sort of gear and, in fact, the gear I’m about to use, in American dollars, probably about $10,000 worth of equipment. As I’ve found, though, it’s not always about the type of equipment, it’s more about the talent behind the camera.
Larry Jordan: I need to clarify something. You’re not actually shooting standard def, you’re shooting in a format called HDV, but it’s recorded on something that looks like a DV tape but it’s actually a version of high def.
Grant Burton: Yes, that’s correct, it is, yes.
Larry Jordan: You see, I knew as a technical person you would not want to have people think incorrect technical thoughts about the kind of work that you’re doing.
Grant Burton: No, no. Technically, anything over 720p, of course, is classed as high definition. My true definition really is 1920 by 1080 is real high definition, anything else is a… HD but I think there’s lots of technical debate now that we’re moving into 4K realms and beyond.
Larry Jordan: Yes, true enough, true enough. Aside from the fact that it’s just you, what do you find are the biggest challenges on the job?
Grant Burton: Setting realistic expectations of the client. I think anyone in the commercial world would probably come across the same things as I’ve alluded to before. Because I’m dealing with people who are not production people. They are experts in their particular fields, from management leadership, to mechanics, to pilots. Most of these people have never had direct exposure of what it’s like to produce a five minute, or ten minute training film or making, as we did last year, which was quite interesting, more like an interactive storybook where you would have decisions. You would get those decisions, you could choose a decision on the screen in Powerpoint and that would play the next segment of the video depending on your choices.
Grant Burton: But even that whole method of thinking is setting the client’s expectation of, “Well, how long will this take? How much time do I need to dedicate to it? What sort of resources will I need?” and that requires an education to the client with regard to, “Ok, this is only five minutes, this is only ten minutes. Will this take a day of my time? Will this take two weeks? How much do they need to communicate to me?” and those things I can only ever establish in pre-production meetings. I remember someone asking me once, “Oh, don’t you have a…” what do we call them? We call them basic line instructions, which just means a step by step process, “don’t you have a five step process of how I can determine as the client to question your services, how long this will take?” and my answer’s always, “Well, no, it’s like asking how long is a piece of string,” and once you get beyond the flippant remark of that, it always depends.
Grant Burton: Is it a narration piece? Is it something that requires hands-on demonstration? Do we need cutaways of certain other things, or footage I can’t get hold of off stock? You get into that. How do you want it narrated? Do you have a budget to get me a professional narrator? Because I’ve got to hire professional narrators, my voice obviously isn’t good enough, or I don’t think it is, and they sometimes will go, “No, we haven’t got a budget, we’ll have to narrate it ourselves.”
Grant Burton: Well, that’s fine, then find someone who can speak Australian English well, or they go, “Oh no, we’ve got several hundred dollars. We could afford 30 minutes of narration, and I do have some staff or clients that I can give that.” It all depends, but that all comes out of one or two pre-production meetings. It’s a real education just getting clients… how long they can expect it, what format it will take and what it will look like; and also my capabilities as well, because I’ve got to set realistic expectations that I’m not a graphic designer, I’m not a visual effects person and sometimes they go, “Oh, we’d like a big explosion to happen here.” “Not really versed in CGI. We could do it but it would… and it would cost this much,” and they go, “Hmm, maybe we’ll just do an effect, a flash and we’ll whiten the screen and we’ll simulate the same effect. Fair enough, that’s what we’ll do. We’ll save ourselves probably $1,000.”
Larry Jordan: When you’re working with clients, some of the stuff you shoot is regular office environment. Staff training is staff training, regardless of what job they have. But sometimes you’ve got to be in an aircraft and that aircraft is not necessarily attached to the ground. How do you shoot that stuff?
Grant Burton: Yes, that’s a really good question. It depends, again. Are we going to keep this aircraft flat and level? Is it going to be on the ground or in the simulators? Simulators sound like they’re really easy, but they can be just as bad as the real aircraft because they are not made to have cameras in them.
Grant Burton: As I found out, the starter switches on some of the aircraft are jammed about one inch from the pilot’s knee down to the left and there’s really no way to jam a Prosumer type camera down there, but I found a way. It’s called someone holding my back with suspenders, while the pilot actually gets to be trained how to use a focus ring, while I hold an LED light with my iPhone to light the instrument panel. Yes, it’s total fly by your seat filming.
Grant Burton: But other stuff, yes, if it’s in the cockpit and we’re moving around, we’ll move away from Prosumer cameras because that’s a safety issue. You can’t have a 20 pound camera subjected to four Gs of gravitational force being a loose object in a cockpit. You’ll do someone some rather heavy damage with that sort of thing, even wearing a helmet. So we resort to things like GoPro’s stuck around the windows and things like that.
Grant Burton: Fortunately, though, they’re only generally for flying sequences as such, and flying sequences are very much stuffed back into simulation and training like that. The stuff I concentrate on for flying is more procedural like to do an initial electrical check, or how to actually start the aircraft. They sound like simple processes, but the client also educates me. I just found out that studying one of our particular platforms is a 15 minute process of about 100 different steps. It’s quite amazing. It’s just like if we had to start cars this way, no-one would drive, but it’s the way aviation on certain platforms is.
Larry Jordan: Wow. What productions are most in demand? What are your clients most interested in?
Grant Burton: The big thing at the moment are the flying sequences, and start-up sequences and things like electrical checks, as I’ve just done recently. Doing procedural stuff is root learning. To give you an example, they might get shown a sequence once in a classroom and then they might get shown it once again in a simulator, and then they expect them to basically do it in the aircraft.
Grant Burton: That’s not enough for them to get that down pat, and the problem with that is if they don’t get that down pat, and they’re learning other things as they go along, they haven’t learnt those basics. They’ll wash out as a student and that’s expensive, as an Australian taxpayer, to wash those out.
Grant Burton: As our Chief of Air Force said, we can’t afford to lose one motivated individual, one motivated student. We have to find more innovative ways of keeping people who wish to be in the military, and especially to be pilots, and retain them. And so that’s the thing, is getting those step by step procedures, and getting them to practice that just by watching these things over and over, and just by trying to get the muscle memory in their head of what switches need to go after which, and which things to look for after what.
Grant Burton: Reading a flight manual and looking at a bunch of cockpit instruments doesn’t always gel. You can sit there and read the manual and look at them. But if you don’t know where a certain thing is out of a multitude of switches and dials, then the manual’s still not going to help you. There needs to be a visual supplement, and that’s what the videos are being used for – as a visual supplement to the flight manual, if you like, for certain procedures. The actual flying itself, that’s more decision making and that’s not an easy thing to do with videos.
Grant Burton: Video is very linear by its nature, and so the things that are linear in flying are the things that they’re concentrating on. And that seems to be the bulk of my work at the moment. We’ve discovered the value of simulators and we’ve got a number of simulators for different aircraft platforms.
Grant Burton: Only in the last two days I’ve got an email request from two other clients at two different bases for two different… aircraft requesting very much more the same that I’ve just done for the last several months. To do a whole bunch of sequences for one platform takes me about several months. So I think I’ve got about two years of work ahead of me just on those things alone.
Larry Jordan: Well, Grant, we will let you get back to work. Thank you so very much for joining us. I’d ask for a website, but nothing that you do is available to the public, so we’ll just imagine that it’s perfect in every regard.
Grant Burton: And if anyone actually does want to contact me, they can just contact me through my Gmail account, which is firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll be happy to take any questions there.
Larry Jordan: Give me that address again.
Grant Burton: Granthburton@gmail.com.
Larry Jordan: And the Grant himself is the voice you’re listening to. He’s a producer and digital analyst for the Royal Australian Air Force and, Grant, thanks for joining us today.
Grant Burton: Thanks for having me on, Larry. Thank you.
Larry Jordan: Take care. Bye bye.
Larry Jordan: Well, I guess you couldn’t get a more wide ranging show than tonight. We started with some of the most incredible backgrounds you can imagine for Game of Thrones and wrapped up with a one camera operation shooting training videos for the Royal Australian Air Force, and in between had a wonderful chat about The Mobile Film Classroom and getting kids excited about film making and staying in school and continuing to improve their lives.
Larry Jordan: I love the range that we have on this show and I want to thank our guests – Jordan Soles, the Chief Technology Officer of Rodeo FX; Manon Banta, the Executive Director of The Mobile Film Classroom; and Grant Burton, video producer for the Royal Australian Air Force.
Larry Jordan: There’s a lot happening at The Buzz between shows and it’s all posted to our website at digitalproductionbuzz.com. You can visit with us on Twitter, @DPBuZZ, and Facebook, at digitalproductionbuzz.com. Music on The Buzz is provided by SmartSound; The Buzz is streamed by wehostmacs.com.
Larry Jordan: Text transcripts are provided by Take 1 Transcription and you can email us at any time at email@example.com. Our ever incredible producer is Cirina Catania, who’s currently at IBC in Amsterdam, as is our co-host, Mr. Mike Horton. My name is Larry Jordan and, on behalf of all of us, including our engineer Adrian Price, thanks for listening to The Digital Production Buzz.
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