Videocraft, the leading broadcast equipment sales and rental company, supplied a Sony XDCAM HD solution to Ambience Entertainment for its new children’s TV series Larry the Lawnmower, opening the door to a groundbreaking new workflow.
Glenn Fraser, one of the three directors on the Larry the Lawnmower series explained Ambience’s decision to use the new equipment and workflow. “We knew there was going to be a developing requirement for HD content for children’s series like LARRY, and the existing HD acquisition strategies were either too expensive or weren’t fully developing the rounded look we thought could be achieved. This XDCAM HD solution came along at just the right time. It might feel like there’s a new flavour of HD turning out every six months, but when it comes to practicalities, there are really only a few things to consider. Number one being, ‘is your acquired picture considered real HD by the partners to whom you’re looking to deliver your deliverables?’ The pinnacle of HD delivery is still pretty much the BBC standard – most of the other broadcasters take their lead from them, so if you can tick the acceptable acquisition criteria that they demand, you’re pretty much safe. Secondly, you’ve got to ensure that the uplift to HD isn’t going to outweigh the programme’s delivery opportunities. It’s not much good feeling sexy about having HD at the front end if you don’t have the processing power or storage to run the extent of your series without burning drive space. It’s a false economy. The PDW-700’s clever compression algorithm means that it’s possible to get your pictures travelling back and forth in a good stream at 50Mbs. And all that in full raster 1920×1080.”
Videocraft’s involvement began even before the project had been green lit with NSW State Manager Andy Liell consulting to the Ambience team and suggesting a package that included the PDWHD1500 Sony Professional Disc Recorder, PDW700 Sony Professional XDCAM® HD Camcorders and PDWU1 Professional Disc Drive Units. Once the package was agreed Liell and colleague Rob Floro conducted extensive testing on the kit with Fraser, cameramen Brad Smith and Richard Rowley, Series Producer Monica O’Brien and Senior Production Manager Kate Cooper.
Smith added, “The progressive pictures the PDW700 delivers are without doubt, the knockout clincher. These cameras and this workflow bring HD back to levels that, although slightly more than Digibeta, are very affordable and give all the advantages of tape and non-linear. It’s the top of the line in XD evolution.” With Ambience’s budget having to cover 65 half-hour programmes for Channel Seven, editing and storage also became key deciding factors. “We investigated a variety of platforms for editing.” Explained O’Brien. “Omnilab Media’s CornerPost facility provided the ultimate post production workflow by embracing the Final Cut Pro-ProRes offline path utilising the elegant file-based workflow directly off the XDCAM Professional Disc media. This allowed us to work in ProRes reducing our storage requirements but without compromising the image quality. As the schedule is tight the only way for us to get through 65 half hours was for us to further utilise the XDCAM workflow in a way that we haven’t been able to do previously due to cost and time constraints. We did this by using a media manager on set who, with a running knowledge of the scripts and the series’ goals, would be the first pair of eyes across the footage being delivered by two camera units every day. Her job, to collate the good, the bad and the very useful, into a bank of reusable locations, and character expressions. Then employing Sony’s XDCAM transfer application, transfer the files 1.5 times faster than real time into Final Cut Pro to deliver a fast-turnaround offline cut. Instead of re-ingesting all tapes at conform, we do a picture lock-off in FCP and playout to the AVID DS HD Nitris suite for grading and titles.”
Adam Spendlove, CornerPost’s technical engineer said, “After extensive testing this was by far the most efficient workflow taking into account the time issues we were challenged with”.
Larry the Lawnmower is shot in a visualised studio space created by veteran designer Michael Bridges and imaginatively light-sculpted by Peter Borosh, ACS, and gaffer Graham Dickson. The Directors and the LARRY crew deal with a child’s eye view of LARRY THE LAWNMOWER that is a hyper-realised world and exists within the backyard of a large suburban garden. Similar to Doctor Who’s Tardis, it is a place of seemingly infinite size and opportunity for the characters. Due to the fast turnaround schedule for episodes, the team were having to workably effect choice on a textural scale, and decided most efficiency was gained by doing 95% of their work in camera. Everything is bright, and richly detailed – grand, green lawns and azure skies – it is something like leafy, suburban Australia in miniature with puppets. “With such a huge amount of work to be undertaken, the Videocraft team, led by Andy Liell, have truly been pivotal to the success of the project thus far.” Fraser continued, “Videocraft’s services and assistance have been nothing short of exceptional. In testing workflows via their Final Cut Pro setups they were always quick to initiate solutions, not sales. As a reasonably confident technician at this level myself, it would have been easy to see through a sales patter, but the experiential wealth they were able to honestly share meant that they were genuinely interested in the truth of the tests. The level of Rob and Andy’s technical and hands-on expertise meant that I never felt compromised and always felt supported.”
Monica O’Brien concluded, “We are absolutely delighted with the XDCAM HD solution and the service and support from Videocraft. This is a real benchmark. As a result, HD productions are now truly affordable due to the efficiency of the XDCAM workflow. The argument that HD is too expensive just doesn’t hold up any more. We just couldn’t do this amount of episodes in the time we have without this workflow – it’s that simple. Andy, Rob and the whole team at Videocraft have been phenomenal. I have never experienced such amazing service and you can quote me on that!”