Part 1—Content security and cloud workflow.
By Andy Marken
Maybe it’s the fact that it’s been three years since folks could gather to see and talk about creative industry stuff. Maybe it’s because creators and deliverers want to discuss the important topics of the day—content security and working in the cloud… and Netflix.
There was a lot to cover at NAB, so we’ve divided our coverage and analysis into two segments. This one is on security and cloud work, while next week, Netflix and its better/different advertising will be covered.
The creative hot topics this year at NAB were the focus and refinement in content security from beginning to end and the streamlining, improvement, and budget advances that have been made in cloud workflow.
It’s more than just a moral issue when it comes to movie and show piracy.
It will cost the M&E industry more than $50 billion this year, with more than 80% of the loss attributed to illegal (torrent) streaming services. Contrary to the pronouncements at CinemaCon held concurrently over at Caesar’s Palace, a theatrical window of any length (day/date, 17–20 days) doesn’t solve the problem; the only solution is robust, aggressive security from beginning to end.
The film/content industry really didn’t think much about content security and project protection until 1998, when the first feature film, Windhorse, was shot and post-produced digitally. Before that, you shot stuff on film, put it in cans, took it to folks who cut it, color-corrected it, added and enhanced the sound, painstakingly tweaked the frames, and cut it again. Anything that was left over was swept up and thrown into the trash.
But now, everyone (except for a dwindling number of holdouts) uses Blackmagic Design, ARRI, Red Digital Cinema, or even iPhone cameras to shoot their stuff, often capturing five to 10 times the amount of content they will ever use. After all, solid-state devices (SSDs) are cheap and can be used three to four times (and even longer but no one wants to push their luck) before they’re thrown in the drawer or filed somewhere. It was expensive and time-consuming but relatively safe.
The studios/content distributors wanted the projects completed yesterday, so instead of moving files from postproduction station to postproduction station (sneaker net), the tool folks—Adobe, Avid, Frame.io, Blackmagic (DaVinci Resolve), LWKS Software (Lightworks), Autodesk, and others—moved their products to the cloud so postproduction specialists could work their magic no matter where they were located. Suddenly, loss and theft became a major problem throughout the food chain and ecosystem.
Nagra provides digital media security and multiscreen user experience solutions. At NAB, an executive in the Nagra booth said, “We’re offering some of the most advanced solutions this year from the moment of ingest, throughout the production/post process, and even for delivery.”
Booth people tend to say such things, but in looking and understanding Nagra’s various hardware and software solutions, they’re pretty darn good.
The person continued: “System/process attack probes go on round the clock, round the calendar. We and a few of our competitors constantly beef up processes and procedures to ensure no content is lost, while simultaneously not being an impediment to the production. The weak link is the person behind the keyboard who innocently responds to the phishing probe and ransomware and malware is introduced and content is stolen. Someday, we’ll have the solution… someday.”
The best cloud folks—AWS, IBM, Google, and Microsoft (Azure)—have security offerings that creators, producers, and deliverers should certainly consider. In addition, the workflow folks—Adobe, Avid, Blackmagic Design (DaVinci), Autodesk, etc.—offer some levels of security.
However, we’re sort of partial to the people who focus 100% of their attention on keeping content safe every step of the way, using encryption, conditional access and authentication, and zero trust, for instance.
While there are some solid regulatory and industry standards and recommendations for content protection, products and services that cover all the bases without getting in the way of the production process are best.
All the products we visited at the show had their strengths/weaknesses, pros/cons, and cheerleaders/naysayers; but even with fewer exhibitors this year, there was only so much time. Besides, workflow/production tools are hotter, sexier.
LED video walls weren’t on our “gotta check this out” list; but OMG, they are awesome the way they have changed the content industry so quickly.
Sure, you’ve seen photos of projects like The Mandalorian, and work that is being done in Atlanta’s Tyler Perry, Blackhall, and EUE Screen Gems, as well as Toronto’s Pinewood, Cinespace, and AstroLab—in addition to leading studios around the globe and up close. It’s awesome.
The virtual production solution came just in time, what with the lockdowns and travel restrictions. The LED walls comprise hundreds of high-def displays that serve as interactive backdrops and are a little like the old-fashioned greenscreen but much more sophisticated. The good news is the prices are coming down as the number of producers and assemblers increase to the point where if a studio doesn’t have a video wall, they’re not really a studio.
In the cloud
But in our mind, the real magic, the real work, begins once the digital content leaves the camera and moves to the time- and money-budget-compressed postproduction process.
Development and refinement of cloud-enabled products, from storage to post phases and processing, made giant strides forward in the past three years—especially the remote production tools for editors, colorists, VFX, animation, audio/sound, dubbing/captioning, mixing, and other specialties. With the content in the cloud and the best tools, no one thinks twice about sending project work to people across town, across the country, or halfway around the world.
While there were several very good workflow/production products at the show, we focused on the three solutions that provided frictionless security, compliance, seamless collaboration, and workflow from anywhere—Adobe, Blackmagic Design (DaVinci), and EditShare.
Adobe added Frame.io to its expansive production arsenal in the third quarter of last year and has done an outstanding job of integrating the online video review/collaboration platform for creatives.
Users of Premiere Pro and After Effects can work seamlessly with all their tools and Frame.io in the Creative Cloud, providing an end-to-end cloud-based video platform. It enables editors, post specialists, and key stakeholders to collaborate to analyze, evaluate, adjust, and approve work faster than we ever thought possible.
One of our longtime Adobe friends showed us how creatives can work on five different projects concurrently. He noted that soon two users will be able to collaborate on a project in real time to reduce production lag time and minimize rework.
Ever since Blackmagic Design purchased DaVinci Systems back in 2009, the company has been making it more feature-rich, more capable, more user-friendly, and more affordable for creatives, just like their cameras. DaVinci Resolve 18 is a major cloud collaboration update that allows multiple editors, colorists, VFX artists, and audio engineers to simultaneously work on the same project, same timeline… from anywhere.
The new FX AI tools are powered by DaVinci’s Neural Engine. It’s a real time-saver for editors and features a load of additions that handle FlexBus conversion, accelerated GPU paint, and a proxy generator that automatically creates linked proxies for faster editing, as well as a roster of Resolve FX additions.
Sometimes, we think Blackmagic Design CEO Grant Petty really might make good on his goal of making the company the go-to source for video storytellers.
EditShare started its move to the cloud with Flex cloud solutions a couple of years ago, and now all their core capabilities—openness, interoperability, and scale are available and affordable to creatives in the cloud. In its simplest form, EditShare Flex provides robust media asset management (MAM), high-performance, software-defined storage and AWS cloud-based virtual workstations. Flex Cloud Edit+ adds accelerated file-transfer capabilities, comprehensive workstation management, and more, all integrated into a single EditShare environment.
We simply ran out of safe production time (pun intended) because we wanted to spend time at Nvidia’s booth. We wanted to find out more about the latest Nvidia RTX GPU that is being used by all the best creative product solutions (from companies like Blackmagic Design, Avid, Autodesk, and Adobe) to handle today’s advanced 8K video production quickly and efficiently.
It’s exciting to see how the M&E industry’s tools-of-the-trade producers stepped up to meet the challenges and opportunities of the last few years, helping the industry condense five to seven years of advancement into just a few—and do it right.
But don’t worry. We’ll cover the Netflix/streamer buzz and streaming services dilemmas next week.
First, we’ll rest our feet.