After the success of their recent TV series Larry the Lawnmower (aka Larry), according to production company Ambience Entertainment’s producer on the show Monica O’Brien, there were only two things that were guaranteed for the company’s next project ‘William & Sparkles’ Magical Tales’, “The XDCAM workflow we developed for Larry and using Videocraft for the equipment and support!”
Magical Tales is an exciting series specifically designed to captivate and entertain the minds of pre-school children where, in each half hour episode, the audience are invited into the world of Sparkles the Fairy and William the Wizard.
Monica O’Brien explained, “The smooth production run we had with Larry the Lawnmower was due in no small part to the amazing sales, service and support we got from Andy Liell and his team at Videocraft. Bearing this in mind, when Magical Tales was green lit I immediately called Andy to discuss our requirements for the shoot.”
William and Sparkles’ Magical Tales consists of forty-six 30-minute episodes to be aired on Channel 9 throughout March and April, Monday to Friday at 3.30pm.
O’Brien continued, “The workflow we developed with Videocraft for Larry was not only unique but incredibly efficient. We had a couple of extra challenges with Magical Tales though, which meant that process had to be further expanded.”
One of the main differences was that Larry the Lawnmower was based around a single camera drama workflow whereas Magical Tales was to use a multi-camera ‘switching live to tape’ workflow.
“In addition to the change of workflows we also shot Magical Tales at Down Under Studios in Mount Kuringai, a great location but with no OB set-up for multi camera shoots.” Added O’Brien. “At this point it was Andy, over to you! I went straight to Videocraft and asked if we could do a multi-camera switching show on XDCAM HD and if we could set up our own mini production system at the studio as they had no OB facilities. I must say I wasn’t surprised when Andy said that it could all be done. Just how easily Videocraft did it was very much a surprise though.”
Liell and his team proposed Videocraft’s unique Fly Away Production kit. “Or Mobile Production System as it’s also known.” Said Liell. “The system is all based around the Panasonic AV-HS400 HD/SD Vision Switcher and literally comes in one portable roadcase. The real beauty of this system is that it acts as a hub allowing up to an 8 camera set up and clients can use any camera in the Videocraft range from the PMWEX1 XDCAM EX camera and Panasonic HPX302s to the SONY HDC1500 studio cameras. The system is easy to configure with colour-coded connectors, has a lot of flexibility and is used in many configurations. The Panasonic AV-HS400 accepts a variety of video and PC input options and up or down converts and scales the signal to suit the programme format. In this instance we even fed the electronic slates from director Ian Munroe’s MacBook Pro straight into the switcher and it all worked perfectly in HD.”
Monica O’Brien added, “The Fly Away Production kit was a revelation to us. Videocraft effectively produced a compact end-to-end solution that did everything we asked. Our director Ian Munroe was very happy as he got everything he needed including excellent monitoring and all the operators were delighted too.”
The Videocraft Fly Away system allowed a 3 XDCAM HD multi-camera set up with the on-set Technical Director controlling all three cameras. In addition director Ian Munroe was able to switch the live camera feed which was also being recorded.
“This meant we went into post with a rough cut ready to go and with the ability to re-edit it with individual camera feeds.” Said O’Brien. “It’s also the first time Ambience have used the XDCAM HD workflow in this configuration, and it was seamless. Utlising Sony’s XDCAM transfer application, we were again able to transfer the files faster than realtime into Final Cut Pro to deliver a fast-turnaround offline cut which really pays dividends, especially in post.”
Ambience used PDW700 and PDWF800 cameras which according to O’Brien, did the job perfectly. She added, “We controlled and painted cameras as we went. We then recorded to the PDWHD1500 XDCAM deck that we bought from Videocraft for Larry and also recorded ISO to each camera, which is an efficient and affordable alternative to traditional triax or fibre studio cameras and ISO VTR machines. At the end of the day’s shooting we got a main switched master tape which was 90% fit for broadcast, however having all that extra coverage from the ISO recordings on XDCAM makes it much faster to find the shots you need to finish it off.”
Omnilab Media’s CornerPost facility provided the post-production workflow by embracing the Final Cut Pro-ProRes offline path utilising the file-based workflow directly off the XDCAM Professional Disc media. This allowed them to work in ProRes reducing storage requirements without compromising image quality. Then, instead of re-ingesting all tapes at conform, CornerPost did a direct playout to HDCAM and XDCAM masters for audio playout.
O’Brien added, “The CornerPost team were amazing. They really got into the spirit of Magical Tales. One other significant point to note is that we used the low cost PDWU1 XDCAM disk drive from Videocraft for ingest. Normally you need one Digi Beta deck at the studio and one at the post house which equates to hundreds of thousands of dollars in kit. With our XDCAM workflow the deck is in the studio and the disk drive was at CornerPost for a fraction of that cost. There was no need to colour grade as the cameras were matched and painted by the CCU operator at the studio which also meant that we could turn an entire episode around in 48 hours including mastering out to XDCAM HD and HDCAM. We even pulled promotional stills off the HD footage as the quality was so good!”
Andy Liell added, “In addition to the Fly Away full multi-camera production system we also supplied tallies, intercom, camera control, video distribution technical and production monitoring. Ambience are very forward thinking in terms of efficiencies so we were very pleased to be able to help them achieve exactly what was required in terms of working within their budget and timeframe.”
Monica O’Brien concluded, “As a producer you want things to be as easy and painless as possible. Dealing with Videocraft is like that. You just call them, tell them what you want and they do it all. Not only that they always exceed your expectations and they are always friendly. In the case of Magical Tales Andy and Rentals Manager Nick Gleeson showed up, installed the kit within 2 hours and we started shooting by the end of the day. The fact is, by using this type of workflow and expertise, shooting in HD is simply not expensive any more and by using Videocraft it’s also problem free.”
Magical Tales begins airing on Channel 9 from 5 March, 2010.