At Sim, we have always prided ourselves on our service. When we started our dailies lab six years ago, we had one Mac Pro tower rendering at about 1fps. At the time, we were attempting to compete with the traditional brick and mortar labs that had a ton of money, very slick and presentable offices, theatres, and true professionals backing this space up that had been working in traditional labs for years. So why did we blow up? Why did we go from just a couple of us operating the single Mac Pro in a 12×12 room, to now having offices in Vancouver, Toronto, Los Angeles, New York and Atlanta, while servicing jobs across the globe?
There were certainly several factors. One of which was starting with a team of three guys who were changing the game on set: Chris Parker, Wayne Jennings and Manny Rego. Now, everyone and their second cousin claim to be the first to have designed and offered RED file based dailies…So, I won’t be that guy and say that they were the first. But they were certainly among the few blazing a trail for how data management and file based dailies should be run.
Next up…”Let’s start a lab”
Timing and Workflow…
I was brought on board at this time to work with Sim and make a run at offering dailies as a separate service from the on set work that they already had on lock with about 15 freelance crew.
As a lot of the facilities in town were offloading this RED media to an HDCam tape and then making a Beta tape for capturing into Avid, we started offering Avid dailies that could conform back to the actual R3D files. For any technical people reading this, I will elaborate on this workflow as I think it’s pretty funny thinking back!
* Footage was backed up on set to an external hard drive.
* The shots were colored on set within Red Alert, by our DITs.
* We were then sent the RED alert color file that could be attached to the shot in RED Alert.
* However, because you could not just simply jump shot to shot comparing looks like you can these days, we had to remember the hot keys to jump from the current shot to the next. (Something like File > Open > down arrow to go to the next shot > Enter). So while we would be hitting these hot keys, we would have to close our eyes, then once you opened them you would be on the next shot. Do they match? No? Do it again and go back. Haha. There was certainly no fancy wiping between the shots and grading them side by side.
* Once we got through coloring all of the media, we would open the footage in RED Rushes. Within here we could point the application at the RED Alert color and render out our files….at 1fps!
* HOWEVER… our editors were looking to get 23.98fps in a standard definition project. Therefore the workaround that we found was:
* Export QT files with a DNXHD codec at 1920×1080 and 23.98fps.
* Make an ALE through Meta Cheater.
* Import this 1080P ALE into an Avid HD project.
* Now that the ALE is in the project, switch the format of the project to SD.
* Now select all of the shots in the bin and batch import, pointing the ALE to the QTs.
* This will import the QTs in SD, but maintain the 23.98 frames per second even though you’re in an SD project!
* Therefore everything conforms back to the native R3Ds!
A lot of the editorial teams we were providing commercial dailies for at the time really loved this.
There had to be more to it than this ridiculous workflow we ran though, right?
Correct. We then were in a very unique position where we did not have a big infrastructure built up, no pre-conceived ideas for how things should work, but rather just an opportunity to simply do things, how we thought it made sense. Not knowing what the other labs were doing and what the norm was, actually played in our favor! We didn’t try to take old ideas (reels) for how tape based workflows ran and try to ram file-based workflows into a…square hole…as they say! We again, just did things how we thought it made sense!
In Comes Service.
Our focus knowing we were as green as we were and how big our competitors were, was to service the sh** out of every job and be there for our clients as much as we could be.
One of our goals was to not have an “Operations” person leading all client communication and answering calls. Scheduling, fielding political and technical questions, designing workflow, etc…couldn’t this be done by a technical person? Why can’t we put a technical person right front and center with our clients? What if someone could phone our staff and the person who answers the phone can jump onto the Avid and talk through the problem right there and then? None of this, “let me get back to you” business…Or the classic, “let me talk to my technician.”
In Comes Our Workflow Team
We now have workflow crew who work full time supervising and producing shows and these are the people talking to our clients. These people are all hungry, energetic, enthusiastic geeks with swagger! This has made Sim an incredibly fun and energizing place to work! Sure, we still have operational people and they are incredibly integral to the system. However, it’s kind of like a quarterback/coach relationship, with our quarterback out there making plays and sometimes making on the spot decisions. But the coach is super key in keeping all of the right players in the game and overseeing bigger picture operation.
What Was Our Latest Swing Though?
Merging with all of the companies we are now a part of. Any time this workflow team I mentioned above wants to know about a new camera format? No problem. Walk downstairs, fire the camera up and run some tests. This is why we know brand new camera workflows inside and out as soon as they come out. And, with the more recent merger of our finishing divisions, we can take a new camera out, run it through:
– On set paces
– The lab
– An offline Avid
– Any sound workflow can run through for sound conform testing
– Onward to video conform
– Into final color
– And if we so chose to…out to deliverables…
Having this kind of accessibility and having workflow staff who can focus on development work has led to some super fast innovation and growth!