The Mill is one of the industry's most recognised and awarded VFX studios, who design, develop, craft and distribute ideas to any screen anywhere around the globe from their offices in London, New York and Los Angeles. They create pioneering VFX for the advertising, music, television and film industries alongside building installations, projections, applications and creating multi-media content and experiences.

Founded in 1990 by Robin Shenfield and Pat Joseph, both of whom still lead the group, The Mill now have a global team of over 500 made up of multi-national and home grown talent. Recent work includes advertising campaigns such as Nike's World Cup epic - Write the Future, O2's Niggles and Narks as well as several television dramas including the BAFTA winning Doctor Who, Torchwood, Merlin and Demons, and the soon to be released third instalment of The Chronicles of Narnia - The Voyage of the Dawn Trader feature film.

Having worked with us deploying FCSvr for his previous company, Neil, Head of Operations for the new building on Clipstone Street, called 10dot1 to implement a Final Cut Server system for The Mill too. He knew the capability of the software, and with our extensive experience with it, he knew that it would benefit the company for it to be installed by us.

FCSvr was setup to manage the media for their second London facility, comprising of 3 Smoke 2011 systems on XSAN storage. It was also tightly integrated with all aspects of The Mill's existing management infrastructure, with custom functionality including:

  • automatically creating new jobs in FCSvr that were created in the inhouse project management and scheduling software (JPS). All metadata in the JPS system were also transferred across automatically and any subsequent metadata changes in either system would be propagated to the other.
  • binding FCSvr to their existing Active Directory user database, rather than creating a second Mac based database (Open Directory). This preserved the existing single point of user management.
  • adding editors to the appropriate AD group automatically on the day the edit started. This would give them access to the material they need, which would otherwise have been restricted to them.
  • linking proxy versions of master assets created by FCSvr back to JPS, making them viewable within its web interface, as well as through the FCSvr interface.
  • creating a dub ordering service from within the FCSvr interface, allowing users request an asset to be automatically transcoded to a format from a list in a drop down menu. An email would be sent to inform the machine control room and then added to the billing system.
  • allowing for a fully tapeless workflow for delivery of broadcast material, using uncompressed QuickTimes as a source file, and automated QC requests/sign off via FCSvr

This was a unique implementation, demonstrating the flexibility of Final Cut Server and the extent to which customisations can streamline workflows with the requisite, specialist knowledge that we have at 10dot1. We are also currently still working with Neil to implement addition functionality to further streamline their workflow.

Viasat Broadcasting are the leading free-TV and pay-TV operator in Scandinavia and the Baltics. As both a satellite television distributor and TV broadcaster, they are responsible for over 50 channels, attracting a total of 125 million viewers in 31 countries. Although based in London, they have broadcasting operations in Nordic and the Baltic Countries, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovenia, Russia, Ukraine and Ghana.

However, Viasat needed to find a solution to their storage limitations and bottlenecks in their promo production workflow. They were ingesting tapes from a limited number of VTRs and storing this media on an Isilon solution, which rapidly became full. They needed to expand their storage capacity in a cost-effective and easily scalable manner.

When we arrived at Viasat, Davide, the Post Production Technical Supervisor, had already decided on installing an Xsan system as live edit storage since it was easily expandable with comparatively low overhead costs. Working together, we designed a completely new workflow and system to eliminate the need for tapes and to increase the efficiency in terms of storage usage. This system included finishing suites that were fibre attached for bandwidth, while the 50+ openplan Mac Pros for promo producers were connected via afp over ethernet using a multiport ethernet trunk for bandwidth.

Davide also wanted to re-use the media directly from the DIVA archive to create the promos from and use the existing Isilon as a landing pad for full length programmes restored from this archive. Previously, the media used to create promos already existed on the DIVA LTO tape archive for the transmission (TX) department but in order for the promo department to use it, it had to be dubbed onto tape and then re-ingested again. Based on his idea, we developed a custom cocoa application to his specification that allowed producers to access this media over the internal ethernet network and log the clips they needed. This application created full res sub-clips from the original and stored them on the Xsan so that only material that was used in an edit resided on the live edit storage and the original full clip remained on the Isilon, waiting to be purged.

The logging application also allowed producers to enter metadata about the clips that they had logged. Once the logging was complete, the application grouped all the clips in a folder structure on the Xsan based on metadata entered about the project they were logging for (ie Channel/Air date). A FCP project was also automatically created grouping all the clips logged into their relevant bins, based on the video source that they were logged from. Metadata entered previously would population the description field for each clip in the project too.

The new workflow based on a custom written application and Xsan shared storage solution has completely removed the need for tapes. Producers can now log their source media, create subclips and a preliminary edit, all from their desks. The edit is completed in the edit suites with no need to transfer media since all the subclips reside on the Xsan already. As mentioned the existing Isilon was re-purposed as a temporary landing pad for media retrieved from DIVA.

Viasat's workflow has been revolutionised by these changes and the improvement in time and cost efficiency will be huge advantage going forward.

Nickelodeon UK Ltd is one of the oldest children's television channels available in the UK, with household characters such as SpongeBob SquarePants and Dora the Explorer as the face of the brand. Having won countless awards, including BAFTAs, they now broadcast over 8 channels. As a result, they have a high volume and variety of content, ranging from programmes to adverts and promos.

With an Xsan setup and several Final Cut Studio suites already in place, Final Cut Server (FCSvr) was the natural solution for both asset management and streamlining the existing workflow.

Jan, the Broadcast Operations Manager at Nickelodeon, had already been testing FCSvr and had an idea of the workflow he wanted to put in place for the Traffic and Acquisition department. We worked with him on his initial plan, helping to refine it and ensure that all the desired the functionality was achievable.

The main change that we suggested was to utilise FCSvr's interface to easily search for files, instead of users having to manually search through endless folders. In addition to this, we automated several key process, removing double data entry and streamlining approvals and delivery mechanisms.

We integrated the internally developed database so that jobs created there would be automatically created in FCSvr, along with the associated metadata. An approval process was introduced that both prevented the accidental delivery of assets to transmission (TX) and automated the delivery of approved assets to both TX and their DIVA tape archive system. This subsequently evolved to include an automated process that would pass approved assets through a Harding Flash and Pattern Analyser. Any asset that failed the Harding test would be sent back for reediting, along with its Harding report for the editor to read.

Completed jobs that were approved and delivered were automatically purged from the system after a specified time frame. This included all rushes, viewing copies and master assets, which would have had to have been delivered to TX and archived in order for it to be set as complete by the system as an added protection. Only the final FCP project and the low res proxy of the final deliverables were left, which could be used to help retrieve the full res version from archive if needed. Storage usage on their XSAN volume was reduced from 10-15TB to under 3TB, just by removing these completed, and often duplicated, items.

Much of the workflow was achieved with custom written scripts that we developed specifically for Nickelodeon to deliver as close to Jan's initial requests as possible. FCSvr, backed up by extensive custom automations, has successfully revolutionised the workflow. Previously, in order for producers to view any new shows and edits, digibeta dubs had to be made, which would require a deck to be free to make, as well as a deck to be free to view them on. Now, producers anywhere in the building can view them on any client machine, regardless of whether it is a Mac or PC. Not only can they view these as low resolution proxies, they can also review and approve items, and write notes for editors from their desks too.

We provide ongoing support and development for this system and have subsequently added further departments to the workflow. We continue to work closely with Nickelodeon to ensure their system evolves in line with changing technologies and their delivery requirements.

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