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Avid Live Shows At dock10

by Keith Marshall, media manager at dock10
Since launching in January 2011, we’ve overseen more than 700 hours of production – all of which have taken advantage of our highly advanced production facilities. It’s genuinely brilliant to be working somewhere like dock10, formerly known as The Studios, MediaCityUK – as there hasn’t been a production facility built like this for many years, and we probably won’t see the like built again for many more years to come.
At the forefront of it is our end-to-end digital workflow, which has helped us become one of the partners of choice for everyone from the BBC to Sky to indies like SO Television and Avalon.
Some of the fantastic shows that we’ve been working across include Blue Peter, Rhyme Rocket, Justin’s House and Dragons’ Den.
A blueprint for asset management
As media manager at dock10 it’s my job to know the exact status of a show’s footage at any given time, so that I can report back to the client. For live weekly shows, it means the turnaround time is extremely fast. My team works with all the different types of footage - from pre-recorded clips, to archive material, to the live feeds coming in from the studio floor. It’s vital that we have a workflow that’s reliable, scalable and flexible, giving the best end results for the client.
Our post-production workflow, consists of Avid AirSpeed Multi Stream ingest servers, hooked up to Avid ISIS 7000 scalable shared storage, with an Avid Interplay Production Asset Manager (PAM) sitting over the top, working as our media manager engine.
We have 19 Avid Media Composer editing suites, and an Avid Pro Tools audio dubbing suite, all running the latest versions, and connected to ISIS 7000 and Interplay PAM. When dock10 was a mere twinkle in the eye, we were clear we wanted an end-to-end Avid workflow, as we knew the offerings are rock-solid and that media flows through it perfectly.
We can be working on 12 different projects at any one time, all at different delivery stages, and running through the Avid workflow. Production teams are constantly out on location, creating films that we’ll pre-edit and then slot in to the live show. Typically, a pre-recorded insert will be six to eight minutes long, and after it’s been edited on Media Composer it’s then passed on to a Pro Tools dubbing suite via Interplay PAM.
We then create a ‘soft’ edit of what a show will look like and stitch into that where the pre-recorded inserts and any graphics are planned in the running order. This gives the show’s producer an excellent overview of how the show will pan out.
The flexibility of our Avid workflow also means we can accommodate any last- minute editorial changes. For example, with Blue Peter we can be editing pre-recorded footage that’s been filmed up to three months in advance. Or we can be working on footage that has been shot outside at the MediaCityUK piazza on the morning of the live show, and has to be stitched into the soft edit and signed off by the client, in a matter of hours.
The other end of the spectrum is one of our many multi-camera studio shows such as Alesha’s Street Dance or Justin’s House. Here huge amounts of planning and effort have gone into creating the perfect show in studio which is being recorded by up to seven cameras from different angles. By capturing all the cameras on AirSpeed Multi Stream, then using the group functionality of the Media Composer, we have access to every possible option at the click of a button in multicam mode. We also record individual mics on different camera feeds allowing total flexibility between the main mix and individual mics and cameras – very important when you can have judges and guests all talking over each other!
Obviously with so many streams of HD material the creation of a low res, low bandwidth proxy is a must. However Avid’s Dynamic Relink feature allows us to switch between the proxy for multicam editing and the full HD to view back the results in all its glory at the click of a button. Being able to view and edit with the material within seconds of recording means turnarounds between recording and transmission can be tighter than ever – not always a good thing!
Being a media manager is all about limiting surprises. Interplay PAM gives me the peace of mind to know that footage edited three months ago, or even longer, can be found immediately. This means we don’t have to have those awkward conversations with clients along the lines of ‘Sorry, we can’t find that great film you shot in our archive. Would you mind reshooting it?’
Behind all of our video and audio files is a sophisticated metadata infrastructure – the lifeblood of any good media asset management system and archive. A key brief for the asset management system we wanted was to ensure all files are easily searchable, without needing a computer programming degree.
Interplay PAM takes the pain out of metadata by automating the process. For live shows you can have multiple editors all working on the same sequence, but at different stages, so it’s imperative that tagging is correct. Once the footage is ingested through our AirSpeed Multi Stream ingest servers - either from the pre-recorded films or straight from the studio floor - Interplay PAM enables every media file component going into the system to be tracked. It also allows us to find the different resolution and format versions to maintain version control. The ability to search a sequence that multiple users have contributed to, as well as seeing an overview of the project at any time, is invaluable when giving a status report to the client.

Our challenges are…
One of the biggest challenges for any project we do is working out what the issues will be in advance, to try and prevent them from happening. For example, with Blue Peter and the nature of the programme – putting its presenters through ever-more challenging tasks in ever-more challenging environments - the production team makes pretty complex pre-recorded films. They also like to experiment with shooting on different devices.
The openness of Avid Media Access (AMA) means most formats we’re given to work with are supported, so the painful task of transcoding the footage is taken away, and we can start editing straight away.
In the run-up to London 2012, the Blue Peter team went on the road for Blue Peter’s Big Olympic Tour, which follows the Olympic torch around the UK. For this mini-series my team at dock10 was editing archive footage from past Olympics to slot into the live shows. We then made re-edits from these shows and slotted them into the regular Thursday shows to make that content topical and current. With the tight turnaround on these shows, our editors are dealing with lots of archive and pre-recorded footage and editorial changes are made all the time. It’s at times like this our Avid workflow is really put through its paces.
It’s a cliché but certainly true that no two days are ever the same in post-production. And at dock10 my team are kept on their toes. Knowing they can rely on a workflow that will take the strain of a complex, fast-turnaround production, and won’t let us down is as valuable to me as the exceptional talent that’s operating it. Bottom line, it makes for a happy media manager!
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