By Richard Kipnis

Back in 2008, our team here at virgin earth regularly worked with over 21 different cameras and recording formats (see Figure 1), fighting what folks in the production world refer to as “the format wars.” While serving broadcasters, ad agencies, TV production companies, and corporations from all over the world, we had to constantly adapt our production techniques—including cameras and TV formats—to their postproduction workflow or broadcast transmission standard.

Meanwhile, producers and production companies were shouting for equipment makers to stop the spiraling cost of upgrades as newer recording formats invaded the market.

The traditional production method was cumbersome and time- and labor-intensive. First you shoot on videotape, transfer the footage to an nonlinear editing workstation, edit the piece and add titles and subtitles, and then export or record the final edited program back to videotape for delivery. Worse, it all too frequently led to “generation loss,” degradation in quality that can creep in when copies are made.

Something had to change—and it has.

Our solution was to go tapeless. In the past year or so, low-cost digital cameras capable of capturing high-definition pictures and sound to high-capacity compact flash memory cards and hard drives have dramatically altered workflow in broadcast television production, and especially in corporate TV production, and the way video producers like virgin earth work with clients. Now we capture our footage directly to hard drives and deliver our final edits via FTP or other secure file servers online, in full high definition.

The happy result: no generation loss and a quicker, streamlined workflow on our side, which saves our clients time and money, and is a major saving grace on time-critical projects. Not surprisingly, this elegant and environmentally sound solution is going mainstream.

Makers See the Film on the Wall

Panasonic and Sony knew that a tapeless workflow was the logical next step, which is why both companies have introduced less expensive cameras that offer multiple TV recording formats and store the footage on compact flash memory cards instead of tape.

Panasonic was the first off the line with its P2 Card cameras, which use compact flash memory cards that hold 8 or 16 gigabytes of material in SD or HD (8Gb can store 37 minutes of footage in standard definition, or about 19 minutes in HD). That data can be transferred to an editing workstation for postproduction—no rewind necessary—and played out in real time. In other words, faster-than-real-time file transfers are possible, speeding up the postproduction process. Sony’s new XDCAM format camera, which records in multiple TV formats (HD, SD, PAL and NTSC) and stores data on compact flash cards up to 32 gigabytes, allows over an hour of recording on a single card. Lately, Still Camera and Film camera makers are releasing their own version of tapeless or filmless cameras, and even Hollywood films are starting to be shot with high-end filmless cameras.

In 2008, final edits for virgin earth’s corporate clients were primarily delivered on DVD or in several videotape formats. Both of those options require clients to execute an extra step—process the material for their intranet, or duplicate dozens of DVDs for distribution by mail—adding time, labor and cost.

Our fully digital tapeless workflow solution lets virgin earth shoot footage at the source in HD directly onto hard drives, making it instantly ready to edit. We can separate the good takes from the bad within minutes and either copy the footage to our client’s hard drive for editing or post the footage online for our client’s to review.

Fast and Businesslike

Corporate users especially crave the capability to record speeches, presentations and training sessions that can last a full day and quickly turn this material around for distribution to a wider audience, typically on secure corporate intranets or channels.

Since virgin earth works with a variety of foreign and Japanese clients in English and Japanese, they also often require subtitled versions of their content. Below is the anatomy of a tapeless workflow from camera to English and Japanese versions of the final edit for a typical corporate production.

1. Shoot with single or multiple cameras in full HD quality on and recording on AJA’s Ki-Pro Digital recorders, backed-up by recording in-camera on Compact Flash memory cards.

2. Transfer all footage and other elements to a virgin earth editing workstation

3. Preparing to edit

To ensure no loss of data, we back up the compact flash cards or hard drive recorders containing all the day’s footage so the original material is instantly available for editing.

We prepare all interviews and spoken presentations for client review, overlay a time code window (See Figure 2. (NOTE: Add screen shot with TC in window.), and upload the time code window copy for online viewing on a secure web page.

The client reviews the footage and sends comments to virgin earth, including time code references for the good takes or desired portions for editing, noting in and out time codes. (This is called the “paper edit.”)

Meanwhile, virgin earth is busy choosing music and working on graphics, logos and perhaps a splashy opening sequence.

4. Edit the rough cut

Working per the client’s paper edit, we assemble a rough edit of all good takes and fine-tune the cuts to make the presentation smooth, adding music and doing the opening and closing titles only (no subtitles just yet).

We then upload the first version on our secure server or deliver it directly to the client for review and comments. Once we receive written comments for any additions or changes, we finalize the second version for client review. Once that’s approved, we immediately begin work on a transcript of the presentation for translation.

5. Subtitling

Next, virgin earth either sends the client a transcript of the approved edit or translates the material. In any case, the client knows the material best and must sign off on the translation or modify the text to reflect specific company nomenclature or product-specific terminology. Clients also often require legal compliance checks, so we wait for them to approve the translation before we edit in the subtitles.

Once the translation is approved, we add subtitles to the final edit and deliver version 3, with subtitles, for client approval. Any changes are made and the video is then ready for delivery.

5. Delivery and encoding

The final edit often goes to corporate TV departments, website managers or even third-party website designers who load the material on the client’s website for external or internal communications. In this case, we deliver the HD version of our final edit via a secure server. Clients can then download the video for encoding or DVD duplication, preserving the quality from camera to final edit to viewers without ever requiring videotape.

We also encode and deliver the final video in a number of formats and media, including Windows Media Video, Quicktime and Flash, on DVDs, or MPEG4 for iPhones and other mobile devices. The HD edit can be recorded to any HD tape format for distribution to broadcasters or as an archive.

Ask us about the benefits of using the tapeless workflow for your next project.

The master eye, executive producer and CEO of virgin earth, inc. —Japan’s oldest and most respected foreign-run TV and film production company — Richard Kipnis has had a lens trained on the world since 1977. As an editor and producer at NBC’s Tokyo bureau and director of network operations in Asia for Reuters Financial Television, he filmed some of the biggest news stories in recent history, including the assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II and the Kobe earthquake. At virgin earth, he and his expert crew have filmed artists like Coldplay, Yo-Yo Ma and Beyonce, shows like The Next Iron Chef America and The Amazing Race, produced documentaries on Pearl Harbor, Samurai and the Lucie Blackman murder case, and over a thousand projects for Apple, Yamaha, Siemens, Toyota and Goldman Sachs and other major corporations.