How do 34 staffers produce 1,850+ Television spots & 600+ Radio spots...every month? Automation. Ryan Salazar also rewired studioZ's entire facility top to bottom for digital workflows that can still accommodate the HDCAM some of their clients still require. Combine that with a new machine room, 40 servers, eight Pro Tools suites, triple-redundant archive backups, and you'll find a facility that constantly rebuilds itself for the future.
Not too long ago, I put out an article about converting your analog audio studio to digital -- and boy did I get the mail! People seemed to think that I was unaware that studios have been digital for a long time. FYI -- I am aware.
The fact is, the article was for the benefit of those smaller shops still relying on analog and using the excuse that they are "purists" to keep from entering the 21st century. I merely wanted to show how systematic it was to convert.
Here's one fun-fact about our facility that will BLOW YOUR MIND. Our post production facility is beyond automated. We have 34 staffers (37 with freelance) and crank out this much work...
1,850+ Television spots &
600+ Radio spots...
Divide those numbers by employees and HUH!? Crazy. The automations allow us to perform much of that work. We have hundreds of them in place doing all sorts of things like automated tagging of spots to MPG2 encodes for DG and all sorts of other things. At every studio that I've ever worked (and I've worked at some very large ones) usually produce five to ten spots in a day -- if they're lucky. They usually spend weeks on them. Yes, we have spots in production that last months. We also have spots that get cranked out within several hours. The volume of this place amazes me and I'm so proud to have helped make it that much more efficient.
With that said, I want to talk about how I completed the digital transformation at our studio and what I've done in the process to make it happen. Rebuilding a facility within the existing 24/7 operations was a huge undertaking. I had to rebuild the entire machine room while still keeping it running for everyone on the old system. Yes, most of today's work is tapeless, but we still receive a lot of footage on tape, specifically HDCAM. We also get quite a few "client-dub requests."
Over the past 7-years that I've been here, the ENTIRE facility has been rebuilt...
4. New Media with watermarking capabilities through Nielsen's Sigma. This allows us to track if and when spots air and to hold broadcasters accountable.
5. Engineering -- This department wasn't even here when I got here! Well, it was...but it was a closet with 3 G4 computers. I now have more than 40 servers, 322 TB of Facilis TerraBlock storage on a Q-logic 9200 switch, FlipFactory automations and automatic deliveries of client-approved media directly to the broadcasters!
Account Executives watch their spot on the web and then approve the media for a client to preview. The client watches the spot. Once approved, they click a button. That button triggers a signal in our facility to grab the mastered spot (Apple ProRes 422 HQ file) which is labeled by job and version number, and then renames it based on the ISCI code for DG Network. The spot is delivered AUTOMATICALLY to DG Network within 5-10 minutes. It could be 3:00am and a client approves the spot. We aren't even here, BAM the spot goes to the broadcasters.
I love technology! I'm very proud of those automations and many automated QC processes I have put into place.
6. Added animation capabilities to the studio with a CRAZY fast render farm (480 cores/240 GB RAM)
Our facility cranks out an AMAZING level of work. Everything must purr like a little kitten or all hell can break loose.
So, while the facility was fully functional...
I went into the machine room... at the very left is our old video router. To the very right was empty... BAM! Light-bulb snapped on. Place the new Blackmagic Design Videohub on the right side! I then proceeded to rebuild the room from right to left, and planned on slowly eliminating devices starting with the older (not saying names!) overly-complicated and way too many parts... video router.
Once the router and emergency-planned HD patch bays were in place, I proceeded to cable all of our edit, visual effects, new media and video dub systems. I left all of the old cabling in place so it functioned with the old router. By the time I was done, every room had "2" sets of cables: Machine control, tri-level sync, HD-SDI In and HD-SDI out. We can't forget all the organization! Every cable was labeled by number and entered into a database -- over 900 terminations were done (by myself and a co-worker). Machine control... 9-pins per side of cable x2 and about fifty of them!
When I rewired the machine room and video/visual effects suites, I pulled six miles of cable out and ran seven miles of new cable.
I then moved on to the analog-digital/digital-analog conversions. This was put in place to allow older decks and devices and their capabilities to interface with newer gear. More than sixtyBlackmagic OpenGear converters were utilized, and several AJA devices as well.
Once everything was in place and fully tested, I began moving the rooms over to the new router. This process was easy. I simply unplugged the cables from each AJA Kona LHi, LHe and Kona 3 and swapped them with the new terminations.
We then tested the new (and totally cool) Blackmagic touch screen interfaces that I had installed. iPad controllers were mounted on walls throughout the facility as well.
Every older system in the facility was upgraded to be a MacPro 12-core, 24 GB RAM, NVIDIA Quadro 4000 card, ATTO 41-ES fiber card to interface with our QLogic switch and now nine Facilis TerraBlocks! In case you don't know this about me by now -- I LOVE Facilis. ;)
Pictured Nikki Broeckelmann, Production Manager.
Each system also received a Plura PBM-217S or PBM-224S display. EVERY system... even our production planners/QC folks got this setup! I'm totally OCD when it comes to consistency in a facility. Why have different devices in other rooms to introduce strange variables?
Pictured (l-r) Ross Axiotis, Editor/Visual Effects and Kevin Lowther, Motion Graphics Supervisor.
Now, ANYONE in the facility can access mastered television or radio spots and listen/view them on broadcast reference monitors. Thanks to Facilis, our TerraBlock Multi-User volumes are fully accessible to everyone. This is such a time saver. We have so much storage that we keep mastered spots in digital format and available via Fiber INDEFINITELY. Yes, you heard that right!
Everything is also backed up nightly to LTO tapes. And because I'm on the paranoid side of losing mastered spots, I made sure our New Media department has a way to perform a third backup. This backup is done to a series of solid state drives that are cataloged into our database and can be cross-referenced by job numbers. This backup is almost never referenced, it's JUST THERE! :)
Even though so many systems are tied into each other, I try my best to keep it so when something goes down, only one or two things are affected. This way, much of the facility can stay operational.
Now... what can I build next? :)
We interrupt this story for what may look like a commercial, but isn't. This is a non-compensated testimonial created by Ryan Salazar, because, as Ryan notes, they have been very happy with their Facilis Terablock storage. We include the video here because it offers a dandy inside look at the nerve center of studioZ. [Creative COW]
This is me, appearing in an unpaid video, which highlights some of the upgrades described in this article! The video was originally produced by me as a testimonial for Facilis and is a great showcase of our capabilities.
Ryan Salazar discusses the design and rebuild of the eight suite audio department at Ft. Lauderdale's studioZ, why it was so time-consuming, and why it was completely worth the effort for them -- and for you too.
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