Brain Farm Post Production Supervisor Danny Holland gives us an inside look at the creative tools behind Brain Farm. In this interview from NAB 2015, Steve Waskul and Danny discuss how the transition to the HP Z workstation powered by Intel® Xeon® processors and DreamColor monitors has enhanced Brain Farm’s production process and film quality.
As the conversation begins, Steve asks if Danny can explain his role as Post Production Supervisor to the audience. Laughing, Danny says he is the “glue that keeps everything together.” “We all wear different hats,” he continues, but the largest role he plays relates to infrastructure, or how they can move video material.
Well, Steve interjects, at Waskul.TV we do a lot of work with HP. “I understand you’re a recent convert to the Z workstation line.” In reply, Danny shares that prior to last year’s NAB Show, his company acquired their first Z820 with K5000 graphics card and duel Intel® Xeon® 10 core processors. One of the things he was working on at that time was doing 4K deliverables with the new machine. “I had a few older macs at the time and the difference in performance was pretty astonishing,” Danny enthuses. After acquiring more HP workstations, Danny explains that “utilizing the Z turbo drives from a storage stand point… definitely give you a lot of performance, especially in this 4K world.”
Considering the Z840 VS the Z820, Steve interposes, “There were a lot of things that happened around that time when the Z840 came out with their revisions.” Steve wonders if Danny has noticed a difference in performance. In response, Danny says that the form factor and the performance of the Z840 are definitely faster than the Z820, but insists that the greatest performance progression can be seen in the software out there now.
“So what kinds of applications are you using,” Steve queries. Danny shares that they’ve transitioned from Final Cut Pro to the Adobe Creative Cloud and are utilizing DaVinci Resolve for color work. “I think what I love about the Resolve aspect,” he continues, “Is the speed and efficiency you get with a dedicated color grading application.”
So, Steve asks, “At Brain Farm what kinds of projects do you work on?” “Sports,” Danny immediately replies. “So action sports, like golf and croquet?” Steve jokes. Laughing, Danny shares that Brain Farm has 4 projects they’re working on right now, all shot in 4K. Apart from their films on extreme sports like snowboarding and surfing, they also have a historical project on Yellowstone. So, Danny continues, “I handle all the post- the production guys get all the sexy tools to go film it.”
One of the biggest challenges, Danny admits, is “the media management of the 4K world we’re living in.” There’s a lot of media content to sift through, he explains, but having the HP workstations has allowed them to “cue up and chug through tons of media” more efficiently. For example, he continues, their skate film production crew shot 45 terabytes of material. They were able to go through it and get a trailer out in about a week. “Being able to transcode all that to pro res (our working format) relatively quickly really makes all the difference in what we’re able to do creatively.”
Curious about the storage solutions Brain Farm is utilizing, Steve asks if they utilize disk arrays connected to a network. From a Mac background, Danny explains that their infrastructure is a final shared storage system in which 225 terabytes of storage are shared over 1 or 10 gigs. If they want to directly transcode off the drives, he continues, they’ll use 5 Mac digital 8- bay thunderbolt RAID 6 terabyte drives to create enough storage. “Pro res media goes to the server, red raw media goes to LTO, and we start editing from there.”
Steering the conversation in a slightly different direction, Steve wonders how Brain Farm calibrates their interface to ensure color accuracy. Laughing, Danny says, “Well I think HP makes some pretty good monitors- we use the Z27X DreamColor monitor.” Having put them in every edit bay at this point, Danny says they “feel confident in their color from edit to edit.”
“So you’re using the Intel® Xeon® 10 core processors?” Steve wonders. Yes, Danny confirms, insisting that the software layer can really enhance media development as things like processing power progress. From the standpoint of a colorist, Danny enjoys pushing the boundaries of color correction with the Xeon processors, especially when the content he first receives in post is often flat res. “The opportunity to create those different moods or vibes you want to give out is pretty fun,” he smiles.
Thinking along the same lines, Steve asserts that the ever-evolving collaboration between software and hardware engineers is invaluable in making things that “were real drudgery before become almost like playing.” “Exactly,” Danny confirms. “It’s almost like technology has become so powerful that it almost disappears from the process… it really makes the experience.”
So let’s say you’re doing a documentary on the nature of Yellowstone, Steve poses, would you edit it all first and then go back to color correct? By doing an off-line edit of the pro res media, Danny explains, they can then take the 45- minute episode and go back to the LTO archived raw material and reconform the show to the raw material. “That’s one of the things I’m hoping software can speed up for us,” Danny laughs. From there, he continues, they can take the edited footage and put it into Resolve for color correction. “I think there’s definitely room for improvement in a way, but overall we’re pretty happy with what’s possible with a lot of those tools,” Danny finishes.
It seems like a different experience, Steve comments, working as an editor or on post- production where you see a film over and over because you really appreciate it, as opposed to someone watching the film one time. Nodding in agreement, Danny also believes it’s important for his editors to have an intrinsic understanding of the content they’re editing. For example, he explains, skateboarding has a lot of little nuances that can easily be missed if the person editing that footage has little understanding of the sport.
In closing, Steve and Danny look forward to Brain Farm’s upcoming films to be released. “We’ve been a little quiet because we’ve been working, shooting all this stuff,” Danny laughs, “So it’s nice to get some stuff out to the public.”