Avid Insider Seminar (Part 1 – Interplay)

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Avid presented the latest in their “Insider” seminar series last night, this time at the Skirball Center at the top of the Sepulveda pass. The session was presented by Michael Phillips and Matt Feury from Tewksbury, along with Scott Wood of Digidesign and Michael Krulik and others from Avid Burbank.

Though it might seem like an odd place for a post-production seminar, the Skirball turned out to be a great venue. It’s a beautiful facility with a modern, spacious screening room, and a big, inviting lobby area where good food and drink was served. It’s equidistant from the valley and the west side, very close to the freeway and has plenty of parking. The rush hour drive wasn’t great but it was considerably easier than I expected.

Four technologies were demonstrated:

  • Avid’s Interplay “asset manager”
  • DNxHD 36 for offline high definition editorial
  • automatic voice recognition for script integration
  • and a new video player for Pro Tools

The presenters worked together to show off the way the different systems interacted and, in general, did a very good job. There was a lot of equipment involved, all routed into a central projector, and I suspect that it took plenty of time and elbow grease to set everything up and make it work seamlessly. There was enough material presented to cover several seminars, so there’s much to talk about, and it will take me several posts to cover it all.

I’ll start with Interplay. It’s an entirely new suite of products designed to make it easy for a group of people to work with almost any kind of digital media. Physically, it’s a server that sits on top of Unity, along with a software-only player and an extension to the Media Composer. The server costs $18,000. Mike Cavanagh, from Keycode Media, thought it might rent for about $600-700 a week.

The idea is that a modern production is dealing with an avalanche of files: stills, video, audio, visual effects. They live in different places and lots of people need access to them. Each file is typically a modification of something else, and you need a way to organize all those versions. The Interplay server manages all this stuff and makes it available to various people, either in your facility or over the Internet. Each person gets a specific amount of access, and the Interplay engine creates and handles a history for each file. Producers, directors and others can view files, and log them or annotate them with comments via a software-only player. Editors interface with the system using their Media Composers, which will include a set of tools to deal with the Interplay server.

This is a whole new idea for feature film folks and it’s going to take a while for people, me included, to digest it all. It allows you to do an unprecedented amount of media sharing, and that means it will change the way we relate to producers and directors and others. Whether that’s good or bad depends on your point of view. Editors will have to make use of a new tools that seem quite powerful, but they have a techie, Windows-centric feel that isn’t particularly familiar. (For the moment, all the software is Windows-only.)

The versioning tools allow you to work on a sequence and periodically check it in to the server, which will register your latest creation as a version, complete with a set of comments that you add. You can then use the server to step through the versions or “roll back” to a previous one. I like the idea — I think we all spend way too much timing dealing with versions — but whether this approach simplifies things remains to be seen.

In general, the system seems to make the most sense for a large workgroup, say a crew working on a reality show. Eric Rigney from Sony suggested that it might also be valuable for a big feature with lots of visual effects. It’s harder to see how all that horsepower would work for an independent feature film. And the fact that right now there are no Mac versions is going to slow adoption in Los Angeles.

The other technologies shown last night seemed more immediately interesting on a typical feature film or TV show. More on that tomorrow.

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