Cinema Dailies round-trip

Silverstack Lab x Copra | Workshop report | Be4Post x ADIT

On the 8th of November this year, Be4Post, Paris based DIT equipment rental house and the ADIT (Digital Imaging Technicians Pro Organization) have invited two German companies for a workshop.

Of course, the main purpose of their coming was to showcase their products (and new features) to French technicians. However at the end of this day of presentation we could have reconsider the topic of the workshop :

Let’s gather these two companies and make them interact so we can discuss the connectivity of their systems.
Photo by Ishan @seefromthesky

Introduction

This report is built on content mostly delivered by both speakers and in a small part on my own thoughts. There is no other goal in this writing to report this workshop from my perspective.

Patrick Renner (Pomfort) started his presentation by exposing the current context. He assumes that each road is different. In other words, the limit between production and post-production is thin and porous and it is hence more and more uneasy to define any border between the two.

In order to maintain a threshold between prod and post, let’s consider this assumption : post-production may start when the card is taken off the camera and in the hand ready to be offloaded.

Pomfort policy

Onset Tools ! The main focus of Pomfort is to provide onset tools for technicians. If you consider the whole range of products available in Pomfort catalogue, you could control the settings of your Alexa, live-grade the direct signal from the HD-SDI output (LiveGrade Pro), copy and verify all recorded medias (Silverstack ; see further), generate all XML/ALE flavours you may need, archive your media on LTO tapes, apply your live corrections on the rendered clips (Silverstack Lab). Possibilities are numerous. Pomfort positioned itself in-between onset action and post-production. Therefore Pomfort software range is in the heart of this fluctuant threshold.

I’ve personally been using Pomfort products for a few years now. I should even say that Silverstack is the backbone of my dailies pipeline. Whatever software I had used to render the proxy files I mostly copied the files via Silverstack.

Missions of the software

Let’s have a closer look in Silverstack missions, as presented by Patrick Renner, during this workshop:

  1. copying camera cards : The initial goal of Silverstack is to allow its users to duplicate the freshly recorded clips on one or several storages. To accomplish this aim, Silverstack offers a lot of options : distinct destinations, cascading copy (meaning successively copying on different drives, allowing to start working on your main storage before all the copies are done) and of course a couple of checksum verifications (sha1, the traditional MD5 and the fast xxHash). (learn more)
  2. having a record of all your cards : Silverstack is not only a copy software, but also a powerful tool allowing you a retrospective glance on your project. Once you have registered a new reel/card, its metadata are stored in the Silverstack database and can be summoned whenever you need. Silverstack could be considered as an interactive ledger in which data from the past could be looked at instantly.
  3. onset Swiss army knife : Pomfort offers 3 different flavours of Silverstack, which are Silverstack Offload Manager (the lightest version, in which you can mainly offload your cards), Silverstack (classic version, and XT) and Silverstack Lab (additional sync and transcoding tools). There is also the SealVerify that masters the integrity of your drives content.

Pomfort software spectrum is even larger (considering the pocket manager, LiveGrade and Cliphouse (no longer available)). Each app is tailored to answer a specific need and from this initial starting point expanding deeper.

Multi layers strategy : the journey of metadata

As a media manager, Silverstack needed to be absolutely reliable and this robustness qualified Pomfort processes. Thus you can consult your metadata throughout the onset workflow (any doubt about the aperture used 3 weeks ago? what was our colour temp for this shot again? you name it!)

As the needs kept increasing, the software grew in complexity. Therefore Pomfort developers built a multilayered application which appears pretty simple for the basic uses but that can be more and more precise as you browse deeper in the multiple option tabs. When Silverstack Lab has been released, we were curious to see if Pomfort will adventure further in the post-production world and becoming a competitive colour-timing software.

“Silverstack is not a colour grading software.”

The range of colour grading software keeps growing. As Patrick said, each DIT station has Blackmagic DaVinci Resolve installed and this versatile software answers to many post-production needs. Pomfort remains in its limits of control : offering the on-set technicians (DPs, DITs, DMTs, 2nd ACs…) the best app for their specific needs. Silverstack Lab includes some tools originally designed for LiveGrade (you will recognize the CDL node for instance!).

Round-trip

Moreover and also noticeable is the current distinction between technical and creative inputs. Very common in the post-production environment, there is now a cascading scheme. In other words, the image colour pipeline runs through the technical corrections before being artistically oriented. This is something very clear in the in-layer construction of Daylight BLGs and in the IPP2 (red digital latest image processing pipeline) where you define your technicals parameters before adding any creative layer.

In LiveGrade, you could for instance set a neutral look in a lens CDL node that could be summon whenever it is needed and having an additional CDL node in which you could design your actual look. Patrick told us about a interesting case study : a DIT using LiveGrade not to colour-correct the live stream (contrary to most of us …) but to save some time in his own pipeline. He keeps this pre-grade for himself (not displayed on the on-set monitors). By pre-grading the clips, he has a base layer on which he could work subtly when on Silverstack Lab.

a Silverstack Lab station ©Pomfort 2018

What is really outstanding is the capacity of Pomfort to build tools that are not only able to work in its family circuit (LiveGrade → Silverstack) but also with other softwares. The DIT day-to-day jobs is to make the media travelling through his pipeline without troubles. And each pipeline has its own peculiarities and an application encouraging a collaborative spirit is more than welcome.

As Silverstack is a database rich in metadata, there was no better tool to populate the Copra xml file required to feed this cloud-based app.


COPRA Dailies System

Copra4 is the dailies dedicated application created by CinePostproduction, a Berlin based post production house. Ansgar Krützmann came in the first hand to showcase the Copra app and in the other hand to run through a more complete pipeline : from footage to dailies on the Copra app !

What is it?

The app is born from an intern need. CinePostproduction designed copra app to display dailies on iPads and as a browser video player. The concept remains simple : once your dailies are rendered, you just have to push them onto a server which then feed the app. All the associated metadata are hence useful as they enable the capacity to sort the clips, to filter them, to find any of them and so on. What I just described looks just like plenty of current video player but when these guys started working on their app almost ten years ago, they were rather visionary.

In their apps hood Cine Postproduction has developed copra and sharc, which, as per their website, securely delivers DCPs to cinema theatres. For the design of both services they inspired themselves from two sources :

  1. Apple for the clean line design
  2. Autodesk Flame for the logo (see also sharc logo)

As a result, Copra benefits an elegant design, pretty intuitive gestures interactions and an authentication method to secure access the dailies. In addition, it is able to store attached document such as notes, quality check report and others PDF, PNG, JPG documents.

During its short life, Copra has established several collaborations. Since its early days it was available on Colorfront OSD & ExD output settings. The software renders mpeg4 files with a correctly formatted XML allowing you to ingest clips and their associated metadata very easily.

Another implementation has been made by QtakeHD which offered a COPRA-server in its large range of modules. All recorded H264 could have been made automatically available for playing as soon as the clip were saved in the chosen folder.

And newly implemented is the Copra xml generation in Pomfort Silverstack! This is the reason why we were attending this exclusive workshop in Paris.

Copra, iOS compliant © CinePostproduction

Three shades of Copra

CinePostproduction offers 3 flavours of copra server services :

  1. copra cloud : you can push your media to Germany-based data servers and from that moment on your videos are available on all registered devices.
  2. copra on your server : same pipeline as the first one. This option is relevant for companies already running a server on their own side. They can hence setup the server configuration of their choice and customize the aspect with their own branding.
  3. copra local server : you can run that same server on your own machine (Mac / PC / Linux), Docker-based.

The cloud version has no limitation in users, devices, traffic and storage. Therefore you can push as many dailies as you need to.

Copra can stream the dailies on iPad, iPhone (with a dedicated app), through your favourite browser and also via an apple TV. This latest, like the other supported devices (iPhone X, iPad Pro 2 and following) can display up to 4K media and HDR as well.

technical solutions

Nowadays, Copra is able to read several types of file such as h264 codec in QuickTime container. Quoting the upload page :

Supported file extensions: mov, mp4, m4v, txt, rtf, jpg, jpeg, png, tif, tiff, pdf, doc, docx, xls, xlsx, zip, tar, xml, mxf, wav, aiff, mp3, m4a

h265(HEVC) is already supported as well and MXF container and are yet to come !

screen capture from Silverstack Lab (Dec. 2018)

Various resolutions are supported, as there is no limitation for this parameter. We even tried the 8K output which was looking so great! For a feature movie I usually rent a couple of iPads Air 2 128GB and so I am able to locally load all the dailies onto each iPad at SD res. My settings are Copra m4v files at 1024*576px (2mb/s). You could consider the quality is too low but it is most of the time fair enough and the crew is satisfied by having all the clips on a single device, rather than watching best quality videos.

For commercial I would rather use the HD settings (1920x1080 at 8mb/s) or 4K files.

Of course, all the footage are audio-sinced before rendered. (Audio settings : AAC 48kHz stereo).

Silverstack Lab to Copra © pomfort 2018

Once you have rendered all your dailies clips, attached to its XML file, you just need to drag and drop them on the webpage. Copra used to have a native app to upload the files through a FTP pipe. This app is not needed (you can deal with the webpage) but could still be useful to manually handling metadata.

Copra upload © CinePostproduction 2018

Users are moderated by the administrator (usually the DIT). Project access has to be granted for each users, which allows to control who can watch which videos. Of course a custom watermark with names of the user is displayed in overlay on the video.

Copra offers many other tools (notes, customized blanking, colour grading, playlists…) that you can have an idea of when watching their presentation page.

“Copra is playing team”

Copra is offering reviewing features and allows collaborative approval. All devices are linked through the server (cloud version) and you can share notes and ask for reviews to your collaborators, which can be an efficient talk tool between on-set production and post-production. Moreover you can email EDL, XML and ALE so the playlists are easily shareable to editors.

I have been working with Copra for quite a while now and here is why I like to :

  • thanks to a well-thought UX design it is easy to use for all members of the crew (director, script supervisor, producer, dp…)
  • once it is setup it is really stable and downloading is fast
  • you can store locally all the dailies of a feature film on a single device
  • the search engine is super-quick and you can find any clip having metadata attached (smart reel)

I have worked mainly with the local server. Each end of day I give the iPads to the DP and director with all the pre-graded and synced footage so they can have a look during their trip back to the hotel, or during the evening.

Copra team is currently working on its future release (Copra5) for which they have restarted from scratch to offer a brand new user experience, that suits better the contemporary users management.

Copra XML output is already supported by Pomfort and Colorfront with more to come and an API is also scheduled. Thus be ready to connect more closely with this app. We don’t know much about it for now but it sounds very promising.


What’s next?

What I find very interesting in both these pieces of software is that they are absolutely focused in their aims. The first has concentrated its efforts on the on-set needs and the second on the dailies viewing. And thus, they became very efficient. They have built versatile tools oriented in their specific direction.

But furthermore, they have established themselves part of a pipeline. That is to say, they have built tools not to remain isolated in their own environment. Either Pomfort apps range or Copra are a piece in the whole workflow and they are encouraging the collaborative road.

Each DIT, Data Manager, in/out lab technician etc. has his own pipeline designed on his experience and specific needs. Therefore each one uses different apps. Not being stuck because you are working on a certain software seems logical but too rare for not being mentioned. Mainly it is a language concern : for an imaging technician, being able to cross-work on different apps is essential.

As an example, we have been paying attention to the lenses metadata (Cooke /i, Zeiss eXtended MD) and for now it looks like they are lacking a homogeneity, as the manufacturers does not tune with each other. The metadata concentration is probably one of the DIT/Data Manager major concern in the future and we, as imaging technician, will need new tools in our apps to be able to follow up and translate data as technical and creative decisions.


I would like to thank Ansgar Krützmann, Ivar Beer and Patrick Renner to have come to Paris and have showcased how their applications could interact. It was a pleasure meeting them and inspiring to see a working pipeline remaining simple although it is fast and efficient.

Be4Post and ADIT are also to be thanked (of course).