Opportunity and Confusion
Ilove Netflix and Amazon. Who doesn’t? But our industry continues to struggle to incorporate these “new” platforms with all the grace of a snake swallowing a cow.
As with any kind of change, upheaval reveals hidden opportunities and shakes them to the surface — often violently — like gold nuggets in a sluice box. Case in point, there’s a trove of lovely content being made by the SVOD platforms, like Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale, which last year made history by winning a Best Drama Emmy.
Yes, the streamers are great for grown-up content where the margins are good and licensing doesn’t matter. After all, no one expects The Handmaid’s Tale to sell little unwed figurines riding on dystopian plastic vehicles. But, as we know, kids’ content is another story.
Just as movie theaters need to sell popcorn, kids’ content creators need to sell something in addition to their show. An animated series is just the worm bobbing on the hook, the shop window, the loss leader. And our historic allies in making any sort of profit — the networks, the toy companies and the retailers — are all in a slow, steady decline as content, products and viewers migrate online where licensing hits are as elusive as The Great Pumpkin.
On a long flight across the Atlantic I ran into my old friend Fred Seibert, who runs Frederator Studios. I asked Fred what he thought was going on and he said, “Everyone’s trying to figure out what to do. We no longer know how to monetize content, but that’s certainly not stopping any of us from making content and having a good time doing it.”
Then Fred paused, raised his famous shaggy eyebrows, and added, “This convulsion is somewhat familiar, it’s like broadcasters to cable, but literally multi-millions of times larger. So is the opportunity, as is the confusion.”
Opportunity and confusion. Regardless of whether you’re a small indie or an international broadcaster, no two words better describe the kids’ media space in 2018. And because the opportunity is so big, there is an influx of new players with new cash flowing into our wee sector. In the short term, this is happy news for anyone who makes original content. After all, there are more buyers to pitch to than ever before. But how about the long term?
One of the more dire predictions I’ve read came from Jeffrey Katzenberg in The New York Times: “This idea that Apple and Facebook and YouTube are now coming into Hollywood with these billions of dollars and are in fact going to change the enterprise of television is actually wrong. They’re not doing anything new or different or unique. It simply broadens the offering, and it may broaden the destinations that you can go to, but in fact that fragmentation at some point is going to implode.”
Yes, and we’re all going to die one day, but that does not keep us from enjoying the tiramisu. Recently, I spoke with a colleague who was feeling very stressed out about it all. He said, “Given all the changes in the industry, I just don’t know what kind of show I should make anymore.”
“I’ll tell you what I tell myself,” I said. “The devices may change, but people don’t. We’re still the same frail beings we’ve always been. And any story that speaks to our need for real connections, our fear of loss, and our enduring belief in love will always move us. So, make your show, the one that you were born to make, the one that pulls at you like a child, and you’ll be fine.” Josh Selig is the multi-Emmy-winning founder and president of New Yorkbased Little Airplane Productions, acquired by Studio 100 last year. He is the creator and exec producer of P. King Duckling, Super Wings, Wonder Pets!, Oobi, 3rd & Bird and Small Potatoes. Learn more at www.littleairplane.com.
Cloud rendering has been growing in popularity for some years now. With faster internet connections and immediate access to servers from Amazon, Microsoft and Google, it has become easier and easier to use the cloud for rendering. Furthermore, it’s not just for small studios that need some sporadic render power here and there. Larger facilities working on huge tentpole blockbusters are using the cloud. Movie studios have become more comfortable with the security involved. One studio, in particular, has been leading the charge — Atomic Fiction.
In the past, Atomic Fiction had been using a cloud system that ultimately went away for a while, so they ended up developing their own internal system that took the enormous footprint of rendering and moved it to the cloud. This allowed for a more streamlined internal system and kept the artist workstations available for working on shots. Once the system was tempered in the harsh, fiery environment of high-end visual effects production, they decided that others would benefit from this tool as well. That’s how Conductor, which was announced last year at SIGGRAPH, came to be.
Conductor is the conduit between the facility and the cloud-agnostic environment, so you can decide the server flavor of choice. It submits jobs to the cloud, but also maintains dependencies, which means that the assets, rendered elements, textures and caches that live within the walls of the studio are migrated to the cloud so that the servers have appropriate files. This is not just critical for rendering CG from Maya, Arnold and V-Ray, but for compositing as well. Comps use a ton of rendered CG assets. In a cloud system, the CG is rendered in the cloud, but is then synched back to the studio for local work. The comp is sent back to the cloud for rendering, and the rendered CG assets are still up in the cloud for server access, which greatly reduces the network traffic back and forth.
Conductor comes with its own API, so for facilities that might already have a pipeline rigidly in place, additional tools can be written to interface with it to keep the workflow consistent with the methods that have already been established.
Those who sometime work at large facilities, and then frequently work from their home studio (like yours truly) know the pitfalls of both environments. I’ve looked at the cost considerations of cloud rendering in both situations. For a large studio rendering all the time, 24/7, benefitting from an IT department that maintains the farm — well, cloud rendering may not be cost effective. However, I’ve witnessed shows that have hundreds of render nodes at their disposal run into a situation where renders will not get done in time. So they have to burst a bunch of nodes in the cloud to help bridge that gap.
When I work from home, with two to three workstations, I may have a critical render that I need the next morning. Through Conductor, I can estimate the render times, choose the power of the boxes I need, load-balance the cost based on how fast I need things, and then spin those servers up and get my renders rendering.
Cloud rendering is truly the wave of the future, and Conductor is one of very few production-ready tools that can work with the big guys as well as the small guys. Website: atomicfiction.com/conductor Pricing: Varies per size of project and services.
Red Giant is known for its super suite of compositing and motion-graphics tools ranging from color grading and looks to 2D particle systems to compositing aids. And they work across numerous platforms and hosts, each one a key contribution for any serious filmmaker or designer. Its latest offering is an upgrade to its Universe suite.
Universe is a library of looks, transitions and filters to emulate different mediums, such as 16mm or 8mm film, chromatic aberration, camera shake, Knoll Light Factory or HUD components. In fact, there are too many effects to list. But in 2.2, Red Giant has added 11 new transitions that build upon already existing effects.
Clock wipes, linear wipes and shape wipes have always been stock transitions, but they often had to be created manually, or just followed a basic style. With control over shape, color and thickness of edges and glows, users can now customize to get a more subtle Star Wars- y iris wipe, or an in-your-face Wonder Woman wipe. All of which are GPU accelerated — as are all of the Universe effects.
Other transitions-du-jour include flicker cuts (made popular by horror movies), camera shake transitions and color mosaics. Some have a more retro-type feel, such as VHS transitions for when you are losing the magnetic information of a tape, or retrograde transition with frame jumps, showing the frame edge and sprockets. There’s even a slide carousel transition for those Mad Men- style presentations.
Universe also offers a couple of updates to existing effects: VHS now has additional controls to not only get the feel of degraded (or not so degraded) video, but also the artifacts you get when pausing or fast-forwarding. There’s also Retrograde, which provides a 16mm or 8mm look to your footage — not just the grain, chroma, blur, etc. (which are still important), but also the framing, gate weave, jitter, etc.
Universe is available on Windows and OSX, and can be used in After Effects, Final Cut, Motion, Vegas, DaVinci Resolve and HitFilm. And as of Universe 2.2, most are available on Avid Media Composer 8.9.
Personally, I’m a visual effects guy rather than a motion graphics designer, so I would be using a subset of these. That said, vfx people are always inserting footage into monitors (people watching a VHS in a film that takes place in 1983), or adding footage projected onto a screen (maybe like Pennywise the Clown in the slideshow in IT), or a glitch-y hologram of Emperor Palpatine. So, if you are a motionographer you’ll get a ton of use from Universe, and if you are a vfx guy, you still can benefit. For a yearly rental fee of $99, I think Universe 2.2 is definitely something that should be in your library. Website: redgiant.com/universe Price: $99 per year Todd Sheridan Perry is a vfx supervisor and digital artist whose credits include Black Panther, The Lord of The Rings: The Two Towers and Avengers: Age of Ultron. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. [Reviewed products were all tested using an HP ZBook 15 G3 Mobile Workstation running Windows 7.]