Digital Production Buzz
December 18, 2014
[Transcripts provided by Take 1 Transcription]
Julian Mack, Creative Content Producer, Nightjar
Felix Mack, Filmmaker, Nightjar
Benoit Fouchard, Chief Strategy Officer, ATEME
Michael Cioni, CEO, Light Iron
Kim Snyder, CEO, Panavision
Voiceover: The Digital Production Buzz is brought to you by Blackmagic Design, creators of the world’s highest quality solutions for the feature film, post production and television broadcast industries; and by shutterstock.com, a global marketplace for royalty free images and videos. With over two million royalty free HD and 4K video clips, Shutterstock helps you take your creative projects to the next level; and by Other World Computing, providing quality hardware solutions and extensive technical support to the worldwide computer industry since 1988.
Voiceover: Live from Ralph’s Maytag Museum and Podcast Studio in beautiful downtown Burbank, it’s the Digital Production Buzz.
Voiceover: Production, post production, distribution.
Voiceover: What’s really happening now and in your digital future?
Voiceover: The Buzz is live now.
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, Mike Horton, has the night off and I wish I did too. I’m suffering from a slight cold, so I’m going to be a baritone rather than a second tenor tonight.
Larry Jordan: We’ve got a great group of guests. We’re going to start with Felix and Julian Mack, the two creative partners at LA-based Nightjar, as they talk about their new Hilary Duff video and a killer new project they did for Xbox.
Larry Jordan: Then Benoit Fouchard sets our heads spinning with ATEME’s new technology that allows us to stream 360 degree video content live to a virtual headset or a mobile device. This is some really cutting edge video compression technology that allows us to see reality in real time.
Larry Jordan: And there was a surprising industry announcement last week as Panavision acquired Light Iron. Kim Snyder, the CEO of Panavision, and Michael Cioni, the CEO of Light Iron, give us the inside scoop, along with their thoughts on the future of both production and post. I’m not going to say this acquisition changes everything, but it does cause all the rest of us to stop and think.
Larry Jordan: Just a reminder that we’re offering text transcripts for each show, courtesy of Take 1 Transcription. 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: We had this wonderful time yesterday at our open house. We’ve moved in to brand new offices and brand new broadcast studios and invited anybody that was in the area to come by and take a look and we had dozens and dozens of people coming through to take a look at our new facility. It was just delightful to see the folks that stop by. I’ve had a lot of requests for those that live farther away than the LA area to share pictures of the studio with those that weren’t able to attend and we are in the process of putting a video together that takes you on a virtual tour of our facilities.
Larry Jordan: One of the things I really enjoy is putting together gear and helping to understand how that gear works, both to create programs and to explain what good choices are for you and why I made the choices that we made here at the studio. There are some really neat toys that we’re working with and we’re going to be showing you as part of this video and explaining more as the show continues on into January. In the meantime, we are continuing to tweak all of our gear to make the most of it.
Larry Jordan: Now, you need to remember that you want to visit with us on Facebook at digitalproductionbuzz.com. We’re also on Twitter, @DPBuZZ; and subscribe to our free weekly newsletter at digitalproductionbuzz.com. Now, this gives you a weekly inside look both at our show and the industry. Two features that I like are the Inside Insight column, a look at our industry from a different perspective, and a featured interview from a past show that you may have missed.
Larry Jordan: Tori Hoffkey is our newsletter editor and she does an amazing job of putting each issue together. Comes out Fridays around noon after the show and I encourage you to subscribe to learn more. I’ll be back with Felix and Julian Mack right after this.
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Larry Jordan: Nightjar is based in Los Angeles and owned by two brothers, Felix and Julian Mack. They’ve been creating innovative content for video, sound and multimedia since 1999 and most recently they produced Hilary Duff’s music video for her hit single ‘All About You’, plus a mind bending end credit sequence for Xbox One’s ‘Sunset Overdrive’ and tonight we want to get the insight on how they did it. So first welcome, Felix.
Felix Mack: Hello. How are you doing?
Larry Jordan: I’m doing well; and welcome Julian.
Julian Mack: Hi, Larry, how’s it going?
Larry Jordan: Well, if you exclude a cold, things are going well; and if you include a cold, you guys are going to do much more talking than I am tonight, that’s for sure. Felix, I’m going to start with you. Describe Nightjar.
Felix Mack: Describe Nightjar. Well, I would say we’ve been around for about 15 years. We’ve always been multimedia and I would say that you should ask Julian to do that because he’s a much better person at answering that than me.
Larry Jordan: All right. Well, then, Julian, why did you and Felix decide to start Nightjar?
Julian Mack: I don’t know. It was actually something we just fell into. It was never really our plan to have our own company and run it for 15 years. It’s just something we started and did one project and we thought, “Wow, we made a couple of thousand dollars. How amazing is that?” We didn’t have to go anywhere, didn’t have a boss, and didn’t have to come in at 9am and didn’t have to do any of those things. We just did something directly with our name on it and we thought, “That’s pretty good. Let’s see if we can do this one more time,” and then it just kind of keeps on going somehow, miraculously.
Larry Jordan: Yes, I know that feeling. Julian, how do you divide up the duties? Who does what?
Julian Mack: Well, Felix is much more the visual mind of it and I’m much more the verbalizer of the whole thing, so we both work on concepts together like the straight up conceptualizing a video, what it’s about, that kind of stuff, but he is much more a graphics mind and I think much more in terms of verbally and music. So if there’s a script involved usually I will write most of it, though Felix knows how to do it as well, and he will generally do anything that has to do with After Effects, those kind of things all are his side and anything to do straight up with sound is just mine, and the rest we kind of share.
Larry Jordan: Felix, when you’re tackling a new project, when it’s still just a concept floating around in the air, do you tend to think about it visually and then present the visuals to Julian? Or does Julian come up with the script and then you have to invent visuals to go with the words? Which comes first, pictures or sound?
Felix Mack: I think pictures for me, definitely. For me, the pictures come pretty much, I guess it’s been like that since college, that I come up with a couple of looks pretty quickly in my head, probably in 30 seconds, and usually of those one of them actually ends up making it to the final product. Once I come up with those, I try to explain it and verbalize it to Julian, which is not always easy for me but I try, and he can then take that and present it to the client in a much more coherent manner than if I tried to do it. But at the same time, he thinks of things immediately as well and sometimes we sort of meet in the middle, depending on what kind of stuff it is.
Larry Jordan: I can hear that. Clearly, some people are better at speaking than other people are and some people are much better at visualizing, so I can easily see how the two of you could split the work. But after 15 years, don’t you get tired of working with each other?
Julian Mack: Well, not really because the luck we’ve had is that, first of all, because we share the duties, we’re not always doing stuff together. So although we sometimes do projects that take a couple of weeks, there might be three, four, five days in a row where we really don’t have to do anything with each other because I’m completely useless when it comes to animating stuff, I just cannot do it. I can edit video and I can shoot video but apart from that, any visual stuff, you can just completely forget it.
Julian Mack: So large stretches of time we’ll be working completely separately and otherwise we get along pretty well, and… we’ve had in our projects are quite different and over 15 years a lot has changed. There’s no more packaged media really, which is something we worked on quite a bit ten years ago. So everything changes and it’s actually pretty fun. It’s keeping us on our toes.
Larry Jordan: I throw this open to both of you – what are some of the projects you’ve worked on recently? Who are some of your clients and what projects? I want to talk about the Hilary Duff video and I do want to talk about ‘Sunset Overdrive’, but in addition to those two, who are some typical clients and projects?
Felix Mack: These are two video projects we’ve made. We did some corporate video just before that, basically explaining how these point of sale machines work, we’re doing some kind of ad work for their web stuff, basically straight up advertising for corporate style things, as well as one thing that we do quite a lot, which is streams for television and concerts which are essentially making the big screen content that is behind the performers, and that’s for television shows as well as live concerts. We do quite a bit of that lately.
Felix Mack: This year, we did some stuff that was on the Latin Grammies. We’re doing a very large show that’s going to be up on Christmas in Japan. That’s the kind of stuff we work on generally, it’s a real mixed bag, interestingly enough.
Larry Jordan: Well, let’s focus on this new Hilary Duff video that you produced, to the song ‘All About You’. Tell us about your involvement in the project. What did you guys do?
Julian Mack: The call was essentially to make a lyric video and generally they don’t include the artist, it’s just lyric animation. They’re released to YouTube and that’s kind of the new art form of making content, because people want to listen to songs but they need some visual stuff because they just use YouTube as a jukebox nowadays. But they wanted a twist and they wanted Hilary to be in it and the trick here was that there was really only nine days from when they called us to when it needed to be released. So then it took a further two days for them to say, “Ok, you guys look good enough to do this for us.”
Julian Mack: They’d never heard of us before, of course, the record company at least; and then they liked our concept that we sent them that we made over the weekend and then we had to very quickly make a video and what we did was everything. We came up with the concept, Felix did the animations of the words and everything, we both filmed it – he’s camera A and I’m camera B. We got the studio ready. Hilary brought, of course, her own skill and makeup people and that kind of stuff, but that was it.
Julian Mack: We came up with a concept that was a very simple one, just her in front of a green screen or a black background doing the video in a sexy way so you can’t tell if she’s wearing clothes or not, but we’re not really revealing anything, and we came up with that concept because we had no time to make anything else, no sets, nothing. They liked it and I think it turned out pretty well. Basically, we did the whole thing from start to post production to delivery.
Larry Jordan: Now, I want to be really clear because I was confused when you first started describing this. You shot her as well as providing the lyric animation. It wasn’t just adding the animation over an existing video, you did everything from the video on up, correct?
Julian Mack: Correct. We shot, we were on set, we lit it out, we edited it. We did everything apart from the song and apart from what Hilary did.
Larry Jordan: Did you get any specific instructions from the client on how they wanted this presented?
Julian Mack: No. We presented them our idea in a PDF with some graphics, what we thought the look should be, and then they just let us run with it.
Larry Jordan: Ok. I have a creative question that I want to spend a little bit of time talking with you guys about. We’ll learn about the cameras and everything else in a second, but the question is involving the cutting. There was a lot of rapid cutting, a lot of fast dissolves, jump cuts, a lot of blurred out of focus shots that could have been anything. What was your thinking in terms of the speed with which you were cutting and the shots that you were selecting? It had a unique style, but it also was so fast that you couldn’t really see what was going on and in addition to the speed, the text was flying around the screen.
Julian Mack: There are a couple of things. First of all, the style of today is more everything, I believe. So you need to create a certain pace especially in music videos – they tend to be quick cut; and number two, the idea was that it needs to be interesting because there’s really just her and a black background – and Hilary does a fantastic job in front of the camera which really made it a lot easier for us to get useable footage because we had 60, 70 minutes to shoot this video and she was really good every take – and we wanted to confuse the people a little bit as to what they’re seeing, because basically it’s all just close-ups, so the idea that we presented in our presentation was that it’s kind of a tease.
Julian Mack: You don’t know, is she wearing something? What’s going to be revealed and what’s going to be dissolved into the background? There’s a constant barrage of that happening so it looks like it’s a real music video and not a person who is very good at it, but just a single person dancing in front of a black background could be a little bit boring for three and a half minutes.
Larry Jordan: Let me come back at you for just a second. One of the things that I teach my students – and I will grant you, it’s old school and doesn’t fit in with the ADD society that we’re in today, but many times we do extremely fast cutting to confuse the audience as opposed to help them to see what’s going on. Are you using the fast cutting to hide something as opposed to revealing it?
Julian Mack: Yes, to hide that there’s really just one person in front of a black background and that it looks like there’s a ton of stuff going on like this. Although we really only have a couple of framing options and we have no backgrounds or narrative structure or anything like that, so that was kind of it, to make it look as if there’s a lot of different viewpoints, really. That was kind of the concept here.
Larry Jordan: And to switch back out, because I’m not here to pick on you, but it’s nice to be able to ask this question because I’ve often wondered it myself – what kind of gear were you shooting with and what format and how long did it take you to edit it?
Julian Mack: I can have Felix answer the camera stuff, if you like.
Larry Jordan: Absolutely. Felix, what did you use for a camera and what video codec did you pick?
Felix Mack: In this case, we used a Blackmagic 4K production camera and a Blackmagic 2K production camera and we used all Canon lenses, I believe, at least I did, on my camera and the codec we chose was the ProRes HQ in this case because I haven’t worked with the RAW format before and with the turnout we had, I preferred to have something that we could just drop in and edit immediately as opposed to trying to figure out color spaces and all that without knowing anything about it. That was the reason for the ProRes, because it’s a format I’ve used extensively and I know it’s versatile and it’s going to be quick, so that was our option for that.
Larry Jordan: Well, that and the fact that you had almost no time to get this edited. You didn’t have time to spend a lot on the color grade either.
Felix Mack: Exactly.
Larry Jordan: There’s another really cool project – we’ve only got a few minutes left but I have to touch on it. You guys did the closing credits of Xbox One’s ‘Sunset Overdrive’, which has got to be the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen. It looked like you were shooting posters on a wall and the credits were actually people listed in rock posters. Where did this idea come from and how did you do it?
Felix Mack: In that case, the game is a very punk rock style game and there’s a lot of punk rock music in it and they had the idea already set more or less that they wanted their names to appear for the game company in the form of these posters. But the rest was fairly fluid, so we had to figure out how many names, what the pacing was, what kind of band styles there are and how it would fit in with the game.
Felix Mack: Originally, I was doing some research and I thought most of the… could be black and white and photocopied and that sort of thing, but that looked way out of place with the colorful game style. So we opted to do it a lot more vibrant and varied and it’s a pretty crazy style so we were able to go all out on design and use lots of, there’s probably 5,000 different type… and shots in there, so there was a lot to do as far as visual graphics go.
Larry Jordan: Was that shot in camera with those actual posters? Or was that all CG?
Felix Mack: No, that is actually all in camera. That was also the 4K Blackmagic camera. We ended up printing all those out and using the street style techniques of pasting it up on actual boards and stapling it and then we filmed all of it.
Larry Jordan: It fit perfectly with the style of the game, it looked wonderful and so organic and not computer-ish, that it was really brilliantly done. I was very impressed.
Julian Mack: Thanks.
Felix Mack: Oh, thanks, Larry. Yes, it was quite interesting because that’s the Blackmagic camera with a 100 millimeter Canon macro lens on a monopod with the image stabilizer on and then it was in 4K and so we could move it a little bit afterwards as well as the real moves and kind of merge that digital and analogue world together to create something that it’s really hard to tell if it’s camera or not.
Larry Jordan: It was very cool. Julian, what website can people go to learn more about you and your work?
Julian Mack: They can go to nightjarco.com.
Larry Jordan: That’s nightjarco.com. Julian and Felix are the founders and, guys, thanks for joining us today.
Julian Mack: Thanks Larry.
Larry Jordan: Take care, talk to you soon. Bye bye.
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Larry Jordan: Benoit Fouchard is the Chief Strategy Office for ATEME. Recently, they unveiled a groundbreaking 360 degree video technology for a live broadcast. Available as panoramic media for tablets, Smartphones and virtual reality headsets, this other worldly spherical device will be demonstrated to the US during the upcoming International CES in Las Vegas. I wanted to learn more, so we invited Benoit on to tell us about it. Hello, Benoit, welcome.
Benoit Fouchard: Hello, Larry. Thank you for welcoming me on the show.
Larry Jordan: Oh, it’s always good to have you back. It’s been almost a year, so we’re always pleased to have you return. First, give us a description of what ATEME is.
Benoit Fouchard: ATEME is a video compression company specializing in complex mathematical algorithms to carry digital video around networks, and we are focusing on the broadcast market to help send better, larger, nicer pictures around to all sorts of devices.
Larry Jordan: Now, I cannot get my brain wrapped around why a company specializing in video compression is capturing images. How did you make the step into 360 degree image capture?
Benoit Fouchard: I’m going to try to make it a short story. I think you’ve heard about the success of the Oculus Rift device and the attention that virtual reality is getting. A key to this success is the ability for the device to immediately react to any of your movements and display the new field of view. Now, this is only possible in modern devices and with modern networks if you send the entire spherical view to the device and let the device decode or interpret this entire sphere and only provide for your vision the field of view that you have selected through your movement.
Larry Jordan: So let me just see if I can get this straight. You’re sending the full 360 degree picture, but only displaying the picture in the direction in which we are looking?
Benoit Fouchard: That’s exactly right and that is why this new application puts so much strain on the compression, because all of a sudden you’re not sending just a picture that you are looking at, you have to send all the surroundings in order to be able to immediately react to any movement or any touch on a touch screen and change the field of view accordingly.
Larry Jordan: So from the end user’s point of view, they’re not looking at this spherical weirdness which is showing the 360 degrees, it’s like the way we see with our eyes – the world surrounds our head but until we turn our head or turn our eyes, we only see what our eyes are looking at at that instant.
Benoit Fouchard: That’s right, Larry. In fact, we will show at CES a spherical display so that you have the ability in that demo to see the entire sphere that is captured, but this is not the default way of offering 360 degree video to end users. It’s rather more the interactivity that is interesting.
Larry Jordan: Did you need to invent new codecs to transfer this? Again, I’m thinking back to your strength in video compression. What new technology did you need to invent to pull this off?
Benoit Fouchard: No, we didn’t need new codecs, but the latest codecs will be a tremendous help to get this application mainstream. Because it’s so demanding to send a lot more pixels to the end device, it makes the latest codec, HEVC, all the more required in order to have mass deployment of the 360 degree video technology.
Larry Jordan: So this is an application of the new H.265 codec, which is a way of reducing the bandwidth that the video requires?
Benoit Fouchard: Exactly.
Larry Jordan: That is very cool. What is it exactly that your company is supplying? Are you capturing the image, transmitting the image or displaying the image?
Benoit Fouchard: We are certainly not in the display business. We are showing interesting display types and we’re partnering with multiple display related companies to make our demos. What we are doing right now, like in any emerging application, even though we are a specialist in video compression, we actually have to become a systems integrator and provide end to end solutions for our customers in the broadcast industry to get this market started.
Benoit Fouchard: While we normally focus just on the compression that will enable this application, at this moment in time we get involved in the capture, we qualify camera systems, we get involved in the streaming, so we are able to assist broadcasters to experiment with this technology end to end all the way to the client application in the receiving device, be it a PC, tablet or a virtual reality headset.
Larry Jordan: Is this a theoretical breakthrough or have we seen a practical application for it?
Benoit Fouchard: Well, we’ve had several practical experiments recently with broadcasters. A few broadcasters in the US have done experiments and there are other companies that are then supporting this 360 degree video development, fortunately, otherwise there wouldn’t be a market, really; and what we can talk about in Europe, we’ve recently been covering the Independence Day of Finland, the Presidential party with a lot of VIP guests. We brought the capture of the 360 degree video right in the middle of the crowd partying, interviews and musical performers and we’ve also had an example in sports recently that was very successful. I’m not sure which one you’d like me to talk more about.
Larry Jordan: Sports is probably better, I think.
Benoit Fouchard: The sports example, this was done by the Swiss television company TPC. The Swiss are very fond of ski racing and there was a major ski racing event, the Lauberhorn race, taking place on a week day and that’s when they thought that probably over the top streaming would be a very good vehicle to bring this event to people who could not be in their living room watching TV.
Benoit Fouchard: So they covered the race with a 360 degree video capture during the whole four hours of the event, because ski races can span a long period of time, and they actually attracted 74,000 viewers over that event, and that’s a lot for Switzerland. For a regional broadcaster, by the way, because TPC is the German language part of Swiss broadcasters, I think that’s a very encouraging result.
Benoit Fouchard: We know that other broadcasters have enjoyed success recently – I think ABC News is having a lot of success with its broadcasting of traffic surveillance cameras hanging from a helicopter, and that’s also a 360 degree capture of Los Angeles traffic.
Larry Jordan: You’ve mentioned broadcasters exclusively. Is broadcast the only market, or is the technology so expensive that only broadcasters can afford it? Or can this be available to people who are not broadcasters?
Benoit Fouchard: This technology is about to become mainstream, just like GoPro’s action cameras have become mainstream. The next style of action camera that everybody carries everywhere will probably be 360 degrees, so there are a lot of applications. I could name a few. In France, the police have found that if they capture some crime scenes with 360 degree cameras, they can actually save a lot of cases of reconstitution, that the judges would not call for reconstruction or restaging of the crime scene, because they had access to the 360 degree capture and could browse at their leisure inside that video.
Benoit Fouchard: Of course, there are teaching applications, there are medical applications, but we at ATEME are just focusing on broadcast because this is where, when you try to reach thousands or millions, the efficiency of the compression of that stream will be paramount.
Larry Jordan: How are you pricing this?
Benoit Fouchard: That’s a difficult one, because it’s still fairly experimental. You’ll have a camera system and you can imagine a camera system, if you want broadcast quality, you’re going to be at broadcast camera pricing. You have a server system, which is the centerpiece, which creates the stream and that is typically comparable to a broadcast quality encoder, so it’s in the tens of thousands of dollars. And then hopefully there is no cost on the display side, except if you want to build a custom application around it, which can be quite nice.
Larry Jordan: So you’re still figuring out the whole infrastructure and pricing part of this?
Benoit Fouchard: Yes, I’m not very much at ease on the pricing side because we’ve only done a few trials so far and we’re still trying to understand how to put this in the hands of larger audiences. But at the moment we could not support too many clients in parallel.
Larry Jordan: Where can people go to see this technology?
Benoit Fouchard: The next show where we will be showing this is at CES in Las Vegas and we will have a suite there and people can see many demos there – the spherical view on tablet, on a spherical device, on a virtual reality headset and we are even going to show it as you could experience it in your living room, decoded by a set top box and you’re using the remote to change the field of view, so browse around the sphere with your TV in the living room. People are welcome to meet us at CES.
Larry Jordan: And for people who can’t make it to CES in Las Vegas, where can they go on the web to learn more?
Benoit Fouchard: We have a small website dedicated to this application. It’s livesphere.com.
Larry Jordan: That website is livesphere.com and Benoit Fouchard is the Chief Strategy Officer for ATEME. Benoit, thanks for joining us today.
Benoit Fouchard: Thank you for having me join you, Larry.
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Larry Jordan: One of the industry’s most respected companies, Panavision, just acquired Light Iron. Kim Snyder, the CEO and President of Panavision, and Michael Cioni, the Founder and CEO of Light Iron, both join us today to give us the inside scoop about what this means for the post production industry and their two companies. Hello, Kim, welcome.
Kim Snyder: Thank you very much. Hello.
Larry Jordan: And welcome, Michael, it’s good to have you back.
Michael Cioni: Hello, Larry.
Larry Jordan: Kim, you won the short straw today. Tell us first of all why Panavision decided to acquire Light Iron.
Kim Snyder: Well, Panavision is a company that stands for customer service. It is our mission to provide equipment and services to our customers who are producing motion pictures such that they can be very efficient and very productive on set. What we really want to do is to give them the tools so that they can feel productive and utilize these tools and not have to worry about the technology, rather use the technology to really create their vision. We’ve been all about that for many, many years but we started to think about where the business of motion pictures has been developing, particularly in the digital age.
Kim Snyder: It became very clear to us that our customers are looking for an end to end solution. They’re looking for equipment and services from capture all the way through to delivery, and that was something that became clear to us, as I said, and we got very excited about. As we started to think about how that might transpire and how we could enter into that space, there were a variety of things we considered but we had been watching Light Iron for many years, since their inception, we’d been very impressed with the company – very entrepreneurial, very creative.
Kim Snyder: Michael and his team have really set the bar high and have delivered very interesting solutions from a workflow perspective – so we began this discussion with Michael and are very pleased to have Light Iron join the family.
Larry Jordan: I can understand from Panavision’s point of view the idea of providing an end to end solution, especially because so much of media is now being captured digitally as opposed to traditionally on film. But this is new territory for Panavision. You guys specialized in production, not post. What makes you feel secure that you can pull this off?
Kim Snyder: Well, I think a lot of it relates to where production is moving in this new digital age with so many of the services that are actually moving on set and when you think about the likes of having a mobile lab available to the film makers so that they can look at their dailies on set or near set, make some color corrections. On set has really been our space for many, many years.
Kim Snyder: There is equipment at play to provide these services. We are an equipment provider. We are also a technology company. So I think all of those things will work very well and complement working with Light Iron to deliver the services that customers are looking for. It really isn’t the environment any more where people are saying, “Ok, I’m going to go somewhere, I want to get a camera somewhere, lenses somewhere else and then I’m going to go to another entity or even another place to look at my dailies and then finally somewhere else to finish.”
Kim Snyder: All of those things are moving much closer together into a place that we have experience in bringing that technology to bear, so I do feel that we have a lot of opportunity and transferrable technical experience to bring to the situation.
Larry Jordan: Michael, the very first thing I saw after I picked my jaw up off the floor when you and Panavision announced the merger, the first thing I thought was, “If Michael can’t survive as an independent, then nobody else can survive either.” Do you think this sends a message to the post production industry, that it’s just impossible for the small company to survive?
Michael Cioni: That’s very clever, Larry. Very interesting, because there is a lot of evidence that might be a takeaway from how this works, but the truth is it’s actually not a story that small businesses can’t survive at all. In fact, the amount of small businesses that are growing internationally that provide the same types of service for digital cinema that Light Iron does are actually growing at a very, very significant rate and I get a lot of feedback on my international travel that that’s the case.
Michael Cioni: It’s the larger companies that typically are the ones that are shrinking and there’s a tremendous amount of evidence that suggests that is factual as well. But the truth is, only specifically for me, and you know this, I’ve always wanted more and I’ve wanted to expand the information and the capability of some of the tools and techniques that we have. Your show and resources and circles that you and I travel in, that’s been one of my biggest missions.
Michael Cioni: The fact of the matter is Panavision has an amazing history and a very wide reach and the truth is, from a totally selfless perspective, the acquisition of Light Iron by Panavision is, for me personally, the ability and opportunity to expand the messaging that you and I both believe in to a much, much wider audience.
Larry Jordan: But at Light Iron, you’re the guy in charge and now all of a sudden you’re a piece of a much larger company. That is not a small transition for a small business owner to make.
Michael Cioni: Yes, that’s true and that’s something that I’m really excited about as well. But the truth is we’re going to focus on different sections. We’re breaking it down into very, very small pieces and we’re letting that be based on the priorities of film makers. One of the number one priorities that film makers have is to simplify workflow, and that usually is stemming from the set. The visual effects community’s doing ok, sound community’s doing ok and distribution community’s doing ok.
Michael Cioni: Right now, it’s mainly the production community and that transition into editorial. We are a small company getting coupled with a much larger one, but we’re breaking it down into small parts and you’ve got to look at it not like a Wal-Mart acquiring a small candy manufacturer. You’ve got look at it that the way Panavision runs their business is based on people and each individual project is a specific type of sales and marketing and technical group at Panavision working directly with the people that have to make the films.
Michael Cioni: When you break it down into that bite sized perspective, what Light Iron is here to do is improve the workflow for each of those people. Panavision doesn’t look at its customers as one big blob of customers. They look at each individual person as a problem and solution to the problems that they may have or challenges they may face. Light Iron’s exactly the same way and, when we break it down, it really doesn’t matter how big or small Light Iron is. In fact, most people think Light Iron’s a lot bigger than it actually is because of the messaging and the impact we have and the physical side is a lot less important than the impact that it really has on the community.
Larry Jordan: Kim, as I listened to you describe what attracted you to Light Iron and as I listen to Michael talk, it sounds like there are actually two pieces to the puzzle. Yes, Light Iron is post production and finishing, but the really attractive part of Light Iron, it seems to me, was the digital Outpost, their DIT solution. It sounds like that intersection of set with post, that transition from one to the other, is what really captured your attention. Is that a true statement?
Kim Snyder: Yes, that’s very accurate. I think that, given our experience on a set and what we want to do in the future with respect to creating very innovative and new solutions for film makers, we want to be game changing here, from an efficiency point of view and a creative point of view; and you’re absolutely right, the biggest attraction was on set, but there are a lot of things across the spectrum from end to end that we also think we will leverage with this marriage.
Larry Jordan: So what’s your plan for the Light Iron Outpost solution? Is that going to continue or are you going to subsume that into something else?
Kim Snyder: It’s absolutely going to continue and, in fact, we plan to have a Panavised Outpost and locate those in all of our offices around the world.
Michael Cioni: We think, Larry, that as workflow becomes more and more challenging because of the amount of variables that are applied to a production community, the community is interested in a more ubiquitous solution, and again that goes back to the reach that Panavision has and the fact that Outpost now has a carrier that can take it and deliver it to all these film makers.
Michael Cioni: But the fact is we’re inventive people and we are going to be reinventing this process. The next iteration of where we’re headed – and you’ll be one of the first to see it when we’re ready – is going to be in that arena where we’re innovating on a level and on a line that other people aren’t and when it comes out, everyone will have another ‘a-ha’ moment when this is ready to deploy and those are the types of things that get people really excited about working in the digital arena.
Larry Jordan: So, Michael, what happens to the existing team of people and resources that are now Light Iron?
Michael Cioni: Everything with Light Iron stays exactly the same. If you’re a Light Iron customer or a Light Iron Facebook fan, everything stays the same there. What we’re doing is basically mobilizing the Outpost and Lilypad sections into Panavision, because Panavision is not technically getting into post production. That is something that Light Iron provides and will continue to provide and it’s something that allows us to apply our research, our color science up the food chain.
Michael Cioni: Panavision and their customers become a beneficiary of Light Iron’s color science department and our back end workflow and archiving groups, but ultimately it’s going to stay exactly the same and it’s the Outpost side and the data management on set that is going to be moved inside of Panavision, where it ultimately belongs. Look, Larry, there are two ways – I’m really cutting this very black and white – to go about the future production. You’re either post that rents cameras or you’re cameras that rents post and from a far enough view, that’s basically a picture of the future and people are sort of doing it both ways.
Michael Cioni: Some people are post people that rent cameras, some are camera people that want to rent post. I believe that the latter is better. It is more conducive to the existing production community for camera rental groups and production specialists to add post production to their service provision, as opposed to post people trying to integrate the accessory world of cameras into theirs. Does that make sense?
Larry Jordan: It makes sense, but why? It sounds like you’re saying cameras are the harder of the two to learn.
Michael Cioni: Ah, interesting. I wouldn’t say cameras are the harder of the two to learn. I would say the specifics of inventory are more complex to acquire and in the post world, Larry, we have our little book of tricks but most of those books of tricks are limited or manifested in ways of software, and you need limited hardware to date, that obviously wasn’t true ten and 15 years ago, but today software tends to drive most of what we do in post to be nimble. In production, it’s hardware.
Michael Cioni: Custom accessories, different component pieces, even just changing out lenses to be more customized to a specific shot or a specific movie or commercial, those are the types of things that require inventory and that’s something post houses don’t have.
Kim Snyder: And I also think that it goes back to this topic we were discussing about wanting to be mobile and where the services are moving to and towards in terms of where they are completed, and so the idea that Panavision is working with customers from the moment of green light to say, “What are you trying to accomplish? How can we do that and assist you with your vision on the camera and lens side?” We will now be able to include, “How can we do that on the workflow side?” and do it on set, near set and even in post, should they desire to do that, so I think some of it directly relates to the movement of where the services are happening and how the customers desire that to transpire.
Larry Jordan: Kim, you use this as a transition in services, but are you also seeing a transition in technology that Panavision hopes to take advantage of?
Kim Snyder: Oh, absolutely. Light Iron has an amazing breadth of technology that it will bring to Panavision and we are also a technology company, so I think the combination is going to be very powerful. Michael will be working with us as we develop equipment to bring to the market and we will marry that up with the workflow, so I’m very excited about the technology.
Larry Jordan: So, Michael, you’re not heading out to some remote Caribbean island to put your feet up in a hammock someplace?
Michael Cioni: You wish! I wish! Boy, I would go crazy if I didn’t have a computer in my hands and a keynote to deliver. But you know what’s important for the listeners, Larry, is what this really means for them. We’ve had some good talks here and you ask some tough questions, which I like, but what does this mean for the listeners?
Michael Cioni: I believe that if you look at the birth of digital cinema in the late ‘90s, think of that as like kindergarten; and then it started to get a little more mature with something like the Viper, which had the first pseudo log approach to capture and that was like grammar school; and then we moved into, when Red came out in 2007, P2 in 2006, this was more like junior high and the cameras got a little more sophisticated.
Michael Cioni: Now the question is where are we headed? I believe there’s specific benefit to people that like Panavision and Light Iron, that’s obvious, but it sends an important message that we’re now going to get into our adult years and basically digital cinema is growing up and it’s figuring out who it is and what it needs to be and how it needs to work. It’s less of an experiment today and it’s now becoming more mature. I believe that this is a picture of what cinema is going to look like for a lot more people as we go five and ten more years into the future.
Michael Cioni: The fusion of production and post production, which we all know on an IT level is absolutely happening, but on a business level, this is one of the rare instances where it’s happening. In fact, Panavision and Light Iron are not the first camera and post production group to merge. There are very few, but we will definitely not be the last and people need to think about what the picture of the future’s going to be on that business side and then what the heck are we going to innovate?
Michael Cioni: Well, when you put two really clever people in a room and groups of people in a room and they’re able to innovate on behalf of each other, the sky’s the limit. Without these types of mergers, I think the cinema production and post production community would be delaying the maturity that is really necessary for some of the most advanced things that we all deserve to use in our storytelling.
Larry Jordan: Michael, I hope that as you get absorbed into the gigantic company that is Panavision, they do not keep you from sharing your opinions. I always learn every time you prognosticate. It’s fun to listen to. Kim, to follow up on Michael’s thought on where we’re going for the next five years, where do you see Panavision going? What’s your strategic vision? You’ve clearly integrated services, but where do you see the industry going that Panavision is responding?
Kim Snyder: That’s an excellent question. I think that we at Panavision feel it’s very important to differentiate such that we can meet the needs of our customers and we will continue to invest in equipment, particularly on the lens side – that’s historically been a very strategic part of the company and I see that continuing as we go forward – investing in things like accessories and even cameras that we can bring to the market, and then marrying that up with the services that we just talked at length about today.
Kim Snyder: I think that digital capture is going to continue to evolve. We’re seeing so many changes, not just with the technology but also in the distribution models, the business models, and I think that marrying up those types of changes with technology innovation gives a huge opportunity for Panavision to touch production in a very productive way. So what I imagine us doing is innovating together, thinking about what it means to do motion pictures in the next five to ten years with technology like the cloud etcetera, so I see lots of opportunity and Panavision wants to be on the forefront of that.
Larry Jordan: Kim, do you see the biggest challenge being technology and the biggest opportunity? Or is the biggest challenge the business model and figuring out how to pay for all of this?
Kim Snyder: Yes, I think they’re both very important and I do think they go hand in hand. I think that the business model will be difficult for those of us as vendors in the industry if we don’t have unique differentiated technology to bring to the table. If we do our job in the latter, I think that the former will take care of itself.
Michael Cioni: You know, Larry, Steve Jobs said that if you don’t cannibalize yourself, somebody else will and my interpretation of what he’s suggesting actually goes a little deeper. What does that mean? How do you self cannibalize and how does that really yield? The truth is what it forces you to do is re-innovate. By self cannibalizing, you go on this discovery journey and that discovery reveals things that would not have been revealed had you not tried to self cannibalize.
Michael Cioni: I have a pretty good idea of what cameras are going to look like in 2021. I’ve published some of those concepts and I know that a lot of the services that I currently provide will not be necessary in 2021. That’s a message that a lot of people need to swallow and it’s hard, but it’s true, and so I’m always thinking, “Well, what can I do to make sure that I’m relevant, that I have value?” and that self cannibalization approach becomes this really exciting exploratory journey in which you realize what you can do to do better, and to make more, and to create more and to succeed.
Michael Cioni: The Panavision team basically is echoing that and there are a lot of amazing traditional and longstanding business people there and then there’s a lot of fresh new ones, and I think that shows there’s a healthy blend of the history of Panavision and the future of Panavision. Light Iron, we don’t have much of a history, we’re just getting our teeth, our first teeth are coming in, but we basically have this very rapid approach to self cannibalization and I am really excited to be able to distribute some of those concepts and ideas into cameras, which I’m passionate about, and further fusing post production and production together.
Kim Snyder: And as far as the business model goes, I do believe that if you are providing something that provides value to the customer, they’re going to pay for it and so that’s sort of the part and parcel thing, where if we can differentiate and bring unique technologies to bear that support the film maker to deliver his intent, that the business model will follow suit.
Larry Jordan: Kim and Michael, this has been a fascinating conversation. Kim, for people who want to learn more about Panavision, what website can they go to?
Kim Snyder: www.panavision.com.
Larry Jordan: And Michael, does Light Iron still have a presence on the web? And if so, where can people go to keep an eye on what you’re up to?
Michael Cioni: We always will and we always have lightiron.com as well as michael.cioni.tumblr. My blog’s always been available and a great resource for information.
Larry Jordan: Kim Snyder is the CEO and President of Panavision; Michael Cioni, the Founder and CEO of Light Iron. Kim and Michael, thank you very much for joining us today.
Kim Snyder: Thank you.
Michael Cioni: Thank you, Larry.
Larry Jordan: I really liked that interview. I appreciate both Kim and Michael being so forthcoming. In fact, I want to thank all this week’s guests, starting with Felix and Julian Mack, the Co-founders of Nightjar; Benoit Fouchard, the Chief Strategy Officer at ATEME; and Panavision CEO Kim Snyder and Light Iron CEO Michael Cioni.
Larry Jordan: There’s lot of history in our industry and it’s all posted to our website at digitalproductionbuzz.com – hundreds of past shows and thousands of interviews, all searchable and available. It is always interesting to see just how far our industry has come.
Larry Jordan: You can talk with us on Twitter, @DPBuZZ, and Facebook, at digitalproductionbuzz.com. Music on The Buzz is provided by Smartsound. Text transcripts are provided by Take 1 Transcription. You can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Our producer is Cirina Catania, our engineers are Megan Paulos and Ed Goyler. On behalf of Mike Horton, my name is Larry Jordan, and thanks for listening to the Digital Production Buzz.
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