Archive for the ‘Customer Stories’ Category

Case Study: 2G Digital Post – Operating at Real Time

How Southpaw’s open source production asset management system moved 2G Digital from a fast to a real-time workflow

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The Need for Speed

In the world of digital mastering, the work is fast and competition is fierce.  No company understands that better than 2G Digital Post (2G), the mid-sized post production facility competing in the exclusive world of studio/network mastering.

On any given day, 2G might be encoding and re-mastering multiple seasons of episodic television for delivery to various digital platforms, editing theatrical features for network broadcast, creating versions for airline audiences, and much more.

2G’s goal is not to be the biggest post-production facility in the world – it is to be the best.

Achieving that goal takes speed and quality. Unlike feature films or visual effects, mastering projects takes days, not weeks. In this environment, companies who lack the talent, the technologies and the workflow to consistently deliver high-quality content on time to their clients will ultimately fail.

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Post Production Roadblocks

With the industry’s rapid move away from physical media and into digital media, 2G found themselves with a number of growing challenges that were jeopardizing the speed at which they could deliver their projects:

-       Storage systems were rapidly filling with an unorganized mass of digital files and data, making it harder for staff to find what they needed at a moment’s notice.

-       The internal job entry and workflow system – a combination of a homegrown system called Strat2G – was unable to keep pace with the rate of jobs coming in. The process of entering jobs and connecting them to tasks, people and files was arduous, and the order system could only handle up to 60 titles at a time. 2G was getting orders for episodic work that included 120 titles and more at one time!

-       There was no way to determine what was happening with any given job or title in real time. Determining a job’s status required information to be exported to Excel, and then sifted through to find the information needed.

In early 2012, 2G made the decision to look for a technical solution that could simplify and therefore speed up their workflow. They wanted a system that was easy for their employees to use and could be adopted by the entire studio.

After looking at a number of solutions, they quickly realized that commercial solutions weren’t an option. Many had nice interfaces, but in all cases, they were too closed as systems to modify in ways that would make adoption easier. Of the DAM commercial systems, most had little workflow functionality included, if any at all, and adding those features would take significant work. They also considered building their own, but they knew that would take a significant amount of work and money to start from scratch.

These realizations lead them to one solution: TACTIC ENTERPRISE from Southpaw Technology.

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The Open Source Revelation

After selling commercial licenses for its software for a number of years, Southpaw Technology open sourced its production asset management system, TACTIC, in 2012. The move was done for a number of reasons. Chief among them was the fact that Southpaw’s TACTIC came out of the film, VFX and post production world, and the founders quickly learned that every studio’s workflow is different. Trying to support those varying workflows with a set of features did not work. The system needed to be more flexible than that.

So Southpaw spent its time creating the flexible building blocks – the underlying infrastructure – that would allow studios like 2G to dig into the code and start building their own workflow solutions. They reinforced their open source product with a Southpaw Solutions team, an experienced set of “Tacticians” that could help 2G (and other content creators like them) solve its core workflow problems.

“TACTIC was perfect,” said Chris Thompson, president and COO of 2G. “It came from the CG production world; so it had all of the production elements in it that we needed, such as asset management, project management, workflow features, customizable templates, and more. It was open source, so we could really get into the software and tweak it to our heart’s content. And without the upfront fees, we could invest in support from Southpaw’s experienced Solutions team, which helped us get up and running quickly in the development of our own solutions.”

After deciding to use TACTIC, 2G hired only one programmer for in-house system design and development, Matt Misenhimer, an experienced TACTIC programmer and business efficiency consultant, to mold TACTIC into the form most suitable for 2G’s business needs.

“Using the open source code of TACTIC ENTERPRISE, we quickly began developing an order entry system that tied to a new task manager,” said Thompson. “The order entry system allows us to enter orders far faster than what we had before. For example, we can now enter multiple orders at once, which is a huge time savings, especially when we’re doing episodic work. The system auto-populates tasks, and assigns individuals to the tasks. So in one system, we’re able to connect orders to tasks and resources, which is something we never had before.”

As people work on the tasks throughout the day, they enter what they’re working on into the TACTIC-powered system as well as how much time they’ve spent on each task.

“The whole system has really changed our thinking. It’s gone from ‘Oh, we can’t do that with our internal technology’ to ‘What workflow challenge should we solve next.’ That's a far better challenge to have, and open source TACTIC is the reason for that.”

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Business in Real Time

With the solutions 2G has already built using TACTIC, 2G has turned what once was a fast-paced work environment into a real-time work environment.

“Because everyone is working in TACTIC, we can instantly see the status on every project,” said Thompson. “That enables us to identify potential bottlenecks before they become hurdles, and to shift resources to take care of any potential risks to schedules.”

As 2G moves farther down the path of creating a real-time workflow, they continue to see other opportunities for TACTIC.

“With TACTIC, we created a way to more accurately collect business intelligence about who’s working on what, and how long things are taking to complete. Using this information, we customized TACTIC to also provide a cost analysis and forecasting system for client work,” said Thompson. “We now have a clearer picture of how much jobs will cost, and whether we can pass any savings on to customers. With other commercial project management, shot tracking or digital asset management solutions on the market, building something like this never would have been possible. We simply couldn’t customize those systems enough to meet our needs.”

2G has also created an interface for clients. “Ultimately, our customers can use it to upload their work and send it off to us. Once we get it into our order system, our clients can see the status of their projects in real time. In fact, they’re able to see the actual file on the server and the status of the work on that file, as well as receive automated emails regarding important updates to their projects. That is a huge benefit for them.”

“At that end of the day, open source TACTIC has not only made us more efficient – it’s helped us stay ahead of the competition. With a faster workflow built on TACTIC technology, we can get more high-quality work done in a shorter amount of time. And in this business, that’s critical to our long-term success.”

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Case Study: Legend 3D Builds Production Pipeline on TACTIC

Overview

Legend3D is the leading 2D-to-3D conversion studio in the industry. The company was founded in 2001 by Dr. Barry Sandrew, and has grown exponentially since they started to provide 2D-to-3D conversions in 2009. As its team and project load has grown, so too have the amount of digital assets that need to move through the conversion process and the inherent complexity of that process. To help manage the process, Legend3D turned to Southpaw Technology and their production asset management system, TACTIC.

This case study outlines Legend3D’s use of TACTIC and the results they are achieving by having a flexible production asset management system in place.

Legend3D – Leaders in Conversion

Legend3D began its work as a digital intermediary, focusing primarily on colorization. Five years ago, the company realized there was an opportunity to support the growing market for conversion of 2D films to 3D. It started providing conversion services to its studio clients and has quickly become a leader in the field.

To date they have completed conversions for Disney, DreamWorks Animation, Warner Bros, Sony Pictures Entertainment, Hewlett Packard, MTV, and many others. Within a year of doing conversions, Legend3D went from a studio of 30, to having over 300 employees. The company attributes its blistering growth to its commitment to providing the highest quality conversions of any company in the industry.

 

Creating An Efficient Conversion Pipeline

Streamlining production pipelines is critical in any production, and that is especially true for conversion work. Legend3D started with just the one conversion project in late 2009: Alice in Wonderland. From there they were immediately able to ramp up their conversion production to five simultaneous projects, a remarkable accomplishment. They were able to scale up quickly because they had a good handle on their workflow.

The only way to create an efficient workflow is to understand the entire pipeline process. If people are only thinking about the steps immediately before and after them in the pipeline, they do not have the entire picture. Companies tend to focus and tackle one area of the pipeline at a time. Instead, they need to be asking, what is the goal of each piece, and how does it affect every other piece of the pipeline? In other words, companies need to understand, and drive efficiencies across the entire pipeline.

Anthony Lopez, Legend3D’s director of information technology has made a career out of deciphering production pipelines, having done it now for a number of studios. When Lopez first came to Legend3D, he spent a lot of time going through every step of the company’s production workflow. Lopez admits that spending the time upfront to define your pipeline can take up to a few months, but if you go through every single process, the rewards are well worth the work.

Having done similar exercises in the past, he has become an expert at breaking down critical pipeline components. Lopez explains, “You have to know and understand what you want your pipeline to be if you want to run a profitable studio. “

Lopez outlines four key components for successful pipeline implementation:

 

1. Talent: Without talented individuals it doesn’t matter about a pipeline. This is not confined to the artists, but includes the entire company working together to increase production efficiencies. That includes everyone from the producers, coordinators, and programmers. They each play an integral part in the pipeline.

 

2. Infrastructure: The right storage and server solutions are important. Companies need to think into the future when building their infrastructure so they create a scalable solution.

 

3. Collaboration: Departments need to collaborate. If only 20% of the production team is collaborating it will fail. There are too many disconnections which mean added waste and expense.

 

4. Tools: Tools are a huge component of Legend3D’s production process and Lopez notes that they have built a number of proprietary tools to help automate and streamline their production process. However, the single largest tool they use is TACTIC, a production asset management solution.

 

TACTIC at Legend3D

TACTIC was developed by Southpaw Technology, a company co-founded by two veterans of the visual effects industry: Gary Mundell (CEO) and Remko Noteboom (CTO). Both have worked extensively with large-scale productions at a wide range of studios. It was the limitation of existing tools that finally lead the pair to build a system that they hoped would work for others.

TACTIC is a web-based system that combines asset management, project management, workflow management and communication tools in one unified system. Its flexibility enables it to adapt to any workflow, mine data from any application, creating any type of report, and be accessible from any location.

Lopez maintains that their use of TACTIC is a key component to their success. Legend3D installed Southpaw Technology’s TACTIC production asset management solution on everyone’s system in the company. “TACTIC can do whatever we want it to do, we just needed to know what we wanted it to do first,” explains Lopez.

The company uses TACTIC to monitor the production in real time, and to produce up-to-the-minute reports, such as status reports and productivity reports. They also have it built into every department in the company, including their administrative and accounting functions. With everyone in the company using it, it has become a backbone for every facet of Legend3D’s work. “We view Southpaw as strategic partners and have worked side-by-side with them to create the system we have today.” He believes Legend3D’s growth has been in part due to the success they have had implementing TACTIC into its pipeline.

Lopez maintains, “We have been able to leapfrog two years of development by trusting TACTIC’s capabilities. It is such an extensible tool. It has been able to do everything we’ve thrown at it and allowed us to adjust quickly to problems.”

“TACTIC is a very open, flexible and powerful tool when used correctly. The important thing is that studios first need to understand their pipeline before TACTIC can be effective,” explains Lopez. “Unfortunately, most companies have gotten accustomed to having applications define their process because the tools have been so restrictive. But with TACTIC it can be the other way around, studios can define their process, and implement TACTIC around it.”

Lopez continues, “To be successful you need to break down all the parts of your pipeline and figure out how it works in your own studio. Once you understand that, TACTIC will do whatever you need it to do, and much more. Every studio is different, and every studio has a different approach to their pipeline, and TACTIC is built to be the translator between pipelines.”

 

The ROI of an Efficient Pipeline

Thanks to their detailed tracking, Legend3D has been able to increase their total shots per day by 10-fold, which Lopez directly attributes to efficiency and improvements by everyone in the production process. The increased efficiency is not only at the artist level, but includes everyone in the production pipeline. From production staff and data management teams to accounting and business development, the entire company is more efficient.

Legend3D is now able to track a single daily shot and compare it to any other day. This enables the company to see variances in productivity on a daily basis and know the precise status of each shot. Legend3D uses TACTIC to track daily correspondence with their clients, and develop custom delivery logging pages that help log every version of a shot that gets distributed. This customized naming convention process has helped them eliminate tracking errors on shots.

“With TACTIC, we are able to track the exact amount of time we spend per shot and per task, which not only helps us monitor the production in real-time, but has also helped us in project bidding and accounting,” notes Lopez.

TACTIC is the interpreter between pipelines and in 3D conversion that is critical,” explains Lopez. “With TACTIC as the interpreter it doesn’t matter about the workflows. TACTIC becomes the translator between the pipelines.” As a result, every person involved in the production is free to focus on their work, not on the mundane tasks that tend to bog productions down.

Astral: Getting in the Flow

How Astral Will Streamline its Creative Workflow with TACTIC  

Background

Based in Toronto, Canada, Astral Media (now known simply as Astral) is Canada’s largest radio broadcaster and is a major force in premium and specialty TV programming in Canada. Every day, hundreds of shows are promoted and “aired” by Astral and its vast network of affiliates to viewers across the Canadian market.

Sitting between the Programming Department (the department that locks in the show schedule for the month) and the Operations Department (the department that broadcasts the shows every day) is a small team of 12 talented motion and print designers collectively called the Graphics Department.

The responsibilities of the Graphics Department at Astral are vast. All production of On-Air, Off-Air and Multi-Platform graphics come through this department. That means, the team creates and ensures consistency and quality of all on-air branding, interstitials, and motion graphics for their own shows, all website graphics, print ads, and promotional material for their shows, and all graphics that go out to their affiliates. There is usually a ton of coordination that takes place, from sourcing media from studios, to obtaining approvals on graphics, to managing a number of sub-contractors when there is overflow.

To add to the complexity, Astral has been growing exponentially and transitioning from tape to digital content, both of which are forcing Astral to re-think how they approach the management of their digital assets.

Astral’s TACTIC for Asset Management With their rapid growth and move to digital, Astral’s Creative Department was suddenly challenged to find a solution that was capable of organizing terabytes of digital content, and giving all departments greater visibility to that content in order to speed the iterative process across the organization.

After looking at multiple solutions, they decided to employ TACTIC for two reasons: flexibility and price. Other solutions were simply too geared to film or visual effects production, and not flexible enough to adapt to their specific workflow. Or, they were geared to handling on-air needs only and were simply too expensive. No other solution on the market was capable of integrating so easily into their processes for the price.

Astral’s first step with TACTIC will be the creation of a secure media library consisting of thousands of images and assets. As content is ingested, it will be tagged with an array of information, including legal descriptions, ratings, whether it’s linear or on-demand, date of first run, what channel it will be on, genre, series identifier, synopsis, country of origin, delivery size, and much more. That information will not only assist in the searching capabilities of the library; it will reside with the asset and be passed along to subcontractors and affiliates to inform them of the asset’s proper use.

Recognizing that new solutions often run into adoption issues because they present a new workflow, Astral is working closely with Southpaw to create a user interface on top of the TACTIC library that will make the experience of searching, finding, tagging and using assets far more comfortable for all users in the organization.

Streaming Workflow Managing and providing access to the TACTIC media library is just the first step in the process of streamlining Astral’s creative workflow. The second step is to employ TACTIC’s powerful project management and workflow features to automate many of the tasks that happen manually today.

TACTIC is able to interface with its traffic systems to get key information associated with each asset. TACTIC will cross-reference assets based on new programming lists, keywords and info fields, and will automatically notify the Creative Department and other stakeholders as to what is still missing. When all assets are assembled, triggers built into TACTIC will automate the process of packaging a complete set of assets related to the title and delivering them to the appropriate people.

A secondary, but equally important plan, is to use TACTIC to support Astral’s creative brief process. Given TACTIC’s flexibility, a user interface is being designed to mimic the information needed by the Creative Department for their creative briefs. As information is entered, it will automatically create a project in TACTIC. Managers will then be able to take that and assign tasks, notes and resources to it, as well as assets. As resources and timelines are assigned, TACTIC will automatically inform everyone as to what is needed by when and by whom.

Looking down the road, Astral hopes to use TACTIC in the Interactive Department as well, allowing them to tap into the same media library, with all of the associated notes and file histories. This will simplify the sharing of assets across departments and minimize duplicated work.

End Goal At the end of the day, the goal of TACTIC is not just to simplify asset management and automate manual tasks. Ultimately it is to improve openness, inclusion and oversight across Astral. In an organization as large as Astral, those goals are what make TACTIC indispensable.

Inhance’d Assets – How TACTIC is tying Inhance Digital’s workflow together

Background The room is dark, illuminated only by the large screen on one side of the room. Executives sit in chairs, awaiting the spectacle that is about to unfold before them. And then it comes. A passenger jet appears, its aerodynamic lines and sunlit windows radiant as it glides above the clouds across the screen. The airliner turns gently away from the audience, revealing the underside of the fuselage and wings. A voice speaks, filling the room with the virtues of this particular plane.   (more…)