Not long ago, filmmakers like David Zvi Levine had to wait for digital video footage to arrive at an editing studio by courier before he could begin the post-production process (editing). But with the evolution of the cloud, creatives like Levine are now able to collaborate remotely and in real time.
Levine is a creative producer on Western Digital’s video content team. An industry veteran, he founded one of San Francisco’s first production companies to adopt digital editing in the 1990s. He remembers a time when he had to convince people they could edit on a computer. “My desktop was a beast with 20GB RAM and a 3GB HDD,” he mused.
Today, he and his colleagues expedite video production with new workflows enabled by the cloud.
“Technology has allowed an incredible leap forward that permits the editing process to get out of a four-walled space,” said Levine. “It was only a few years ago where editors, producers, and directors collaborated in an edit suite for hours, days, and weeks often focusing on a single project.”
Now teams can be spread out around the globe where producers and directors can pop in and out of a variety of projects multiple times a day via video chat, while editors can access practically any asset needed.
“If a team member has slow bandwidth or file size is an issue, we can generate small proxy files right in the camera and get them up to the cloud quickly to begin editing with. Once the full size high-res files are available online, we can swap them in without an issue. It’s all just so easy,” said Levine.
In a recent example, members of Western Digital’s video team interviewed the company’s CEO at its headquarters in San Jose. They captured footage and uploaded files to the cloud for a New York-based colleague to begin editing right away.
“Within a couple hours, we had a rough cut for review. A couple hours later, we were delivering the final product. All this was getting done while the production crew was packing up the set and driving home,” said Levine. “It’s wild to think that just two years ago, after a shoot, we’d jump in a car and head over to an edit suite to transfer files or head over to FedEx and ship drives before we could start editing.”
A lot has changed in the past few years
Trevor Pressman is CTO of Fridays, a San Francisco-based creative agency focused on films, experiences, and digital creative development. The company grew rapidly with marquee clients (such as Oracle, EMC, Marvell, and Stanford) who still remain their customers. Today, Fridays works on more than 100 active projects at any given time.
“A big part of our company ethos is remaining agile, always researching, looking ahead to leverage or develop new technologies to help us do our best work in production and post-production,” said Pressman.
Among Fridays’ offerings is Contactless Filming, which the company originated from their live event workflows even before the pandemic. The filming kits include remote-controlled tripods, cameras, audio, zoom, focus, and lights, as well as virtual directing. All these components can be run securely and remotely from anywhere in the world.
“As opposed to the mediocre quality you might get with videos captured on a webcam or virtual meeting provider, we take our high-quality cameras, sterilize them, and put them in a box to ship anywhere in the world,” said Pressman. “Once the kit arrives, the recipient double-clicks a single icon and we hop on a call with whomever is remote and take control of our cinema-quality systems.”
Fridays’ contactless filming was used in part to produce a Super Bowl ad in 2021 featuring Lil Nas X and select social media influencers. The campaign included the Super Bowl spot plus a handful of video vignettes for each influencer, each person being disruptive in their art or cause. It was remotely produced and edited with collaborators in four countries.
Pressman credits peer-to-peer technologies and access to cloud resources, including cloud storage and collaboration tools, as key enablers to contactless filming and remote collaboration. He counts these among the biggest changes in the video industry over the past decade, much of it fueled by the cloud. As technology continues to evolve, Pressman looks forward to more cloud-native products, including media asset management systems, which Fridays uses to easily search and access its media and content.
“With video files becoming larger and larger, the infinite capacity of cloud storage and the scalability and accessibility to cloud services are making a huge difference,” said Pressman. “Today, we’re able to securely access, search, review, share, and collaborate on all of our different types of content—on-prem, in the cloud, or archived data from a decade ago—from any device at any time.”
Sound at the speed of light
Along with video collaboration, the cloud has enabled audio collaboration like never before, but little of it could happen in real time. Imagine a family trying to sing “Happy Birthday” in unison across three continents via the internet.
JackTrip Labs is a real-time music collaboration platform that solves the problem of latency and enables musicians to play tightly synchronized performances over the internet.
Mike Dickey, CEO and co-founder of JackTrip Labs, first got involved with the technology behind the platform when it was an open-source project out of Stanford University. He was on the board of his 11-year-old son’s choir when the pandemic hit. Suddenly the choir was unable to practice together because anything they tried online had delays that made it impossible to sing in sync. Dickey, who has a passion for music and audio gear, began tinkering with JackTrip to see if he could help the choir sing together again.
“I realized I could send audio to a cloud server using JackTrip and get it back in a few milliseconds, which is like standing a few feet away from someone,” said Dickey. He then explored how JackTrip enabled simultaneous interactions as opposed to other collaboration tools that were designed for taking turns in conversation. “The idea that I could take the audio and transmit it over a distance made me realize we could make the audio between all these boys get to one another that quickly. I’ll never forget the joy on their faces when they realized they could sing together for the first time.”
Dickey doubled down on JackTrip and eventually left his job at Splunk Inc. to focus all his attention on the technology, turning it from an open-source project to a foundation and eventually to a for-profit business. Today, JackTrip Labs also features video and livestreaming for live collaboration.
“A big reason we can do what we do is cloud and edge computing, and this is how it intersects with my past,” said Dickey.
At Splunk, Dickey was very interested in edge computing and the trend toward moving more compute capacity closer to the user.
“The purpose of edge computing primarily is to deploy a low-latency application as close to people as possible,” said Dickey. “That was the exact problem they’ve been trying to solve with music – the latency was too high.”
Dickey attributes advances in fiber adoption and audio devices to making JackTrip Labs possible. Moving forward, he believes JackTrip’s technology can be applied to more use cases for online interactions and cloud-enabled creative collaboration.
“Every form of online interaction is better with more realistic audio and more realistic video,” said Dickey. “Creating authentic experiences online is the future for any use case.”
Harnessing the cloud and its resulting innovations has given creatives a wider palette than ever before to create what’s next. From corporate video teams to creative agencies to feature filmmakers and more, the cloud has accelerated collaboration and redefined creative workflows. As technologies advance, the future is bright for real-time cloud collaboration.