The Cost of Creative Production Concepts

There were several creative production concepts being promoted at NAB 2015, all seeming to suggest the old cliché of “fix it in post” has given way to “make it in post”. Workflows were floated that spoke to High Frame Rate shooting, 4K, 6K resolutions and beyond, high dynamic range, immersive picture and sound, and virtual reality.

The main theme that stood out for the processes related to above is that more than ever, you can kick the creative can down the road to a later point in time in post, rather than “baking in” elements of your photography during production, such as exposure time and framing.

Of these concepts, the one that has just begun to be adopted in significant numbers is 4K shoot, post and delivery. This is because so long as you are equipped with the bandwidth to deal with the higher data, much of the production R&D is already behind us. HDTV was introduced as an abundance of consumer technology but little content. It appears now we will have the inverse where producers are future protecting their intellectual property by producing in 4K while everyone waits for the mass adoption by the consumer of 4K entertainment and display technologies.

4K production pipeline

While the step up to 4K bandwidth can be handled easily in production and post with standardized workflows, it’s just as easy to forget that by compounding creative production concepts, an exponential demand is placed on bandwidth to a point where it can be crippled.

For example, a production may start with a baseline of 4K shoot and post because that’s what they are required to deliver. So they shoot with a Red Dragon camera at a nominal 4K resolution, with 7:1 compression. But then the director or DP wishes to shoot 5K at 5:1 compression so that it can be reframed tighter later in post, which effectively doubles the data. As well, the location is a vast room interior with floor to ceiling windows on a sunny day so the DP wishes to shoot in Red’s HDRx mode which doubles the data again. And it’s a two camera shoot so double it once more. So how does that effect everything else down the chain?

On a given shoot day, this example could generate around 2 terabytes of camera data. That means more camera cards needed in circulation between the cameras and the DMT (data management technician). Their job it is to back up the media on set onto the abundant raid 5 hard drives as well as the travel drives that go back to editorial and the lab where it is redundantly backed up again onto hard drives and LTO tapes. Assuming the DMT, editorial and the lab are sufficiently staffed and equipped to turn around dailies on that amount of bandwidth at today’s processing power (which they won’t be), the costs for camera card rentals, hard drives, LTO archiving have gone up by a power of 3 and additional time demand placed on labor and workstation processing.

This doesn’t even get into higher frame rates where say shooting at 96 frames per second, everything quadruples further. While it’s all an easy setting change in the camera, it’s important to know the implication for workflow and budget if you can afford what becomes exponentially creative – and voluminous.

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