For many of us, 2020 transformed our work habits. Changes to the way we work that always seemed years away got rolled out within a few months. Fast forward to today, and the world seems to be returning back to some sense of normalcy. But one thing that’s not going back is how we work, especially for media production teams. Virtual production, remote video production, and hybrid cloud have all accelerated, reducing operating costs and moving us closer to a cloud-based reality.
So what’s the difference between virtual production, remote production, and hybrid cloud workflows, and how can you use any or all of those strategies to improve how you work? At first glance, they all seem to be different variations of the same thing. But there are important differences, and that’s what we’re digging into today. Read on to get an understanding of these new ways of working and what they mean for your creative team.
Going to NAB in April?
Want to talk about your production setup at NAB? Backblaze will be there with exciting new updates and hands-on demos for better media workflows. Oh, and we’re bringing some really hot swag. Reserve time to meet with our team (and snap up some sweet goodies) below.
What Is Virtual Production?
Let’s start with virtual production. It sounds like doing production virtually, which could just mean “in the cloud.” I can assure you, it’s way cooler than that. When the pandemic hit, social distancing became the norm. Gathering a film crew together in a studio or in any location of the world went out the door. Never fear: virtual production came to the rescue.
Virtual production is a method of production where, instead of building a set or going to a specific location, you build a set virtually, usually with a gaming engine such as Unreal Engine. Once the environment is designed and lit within Unreal Engine, it can then be fed to an LED volume. An LED volume is exactly what it sounds like: a huge volume of LED screens connected to a single input (the Unreal Engine environment).
With virtual production, your set becomes the LED volume, and Unreal Engine can change the background to anything you can imagine at the click of a button. Now this isn’t just a LED screen as a background—what makes virtual production so powerful is its motion tracking integration with real cameras.
Using a motion sensor system attached to a camera, Unreal Engine is able to understand where your camera is pointed. (It’s way more tech-y than that, but you get the picture.) You can even match the virtual lens in Unreal Engine with the lens of your physical camera. With the two systems combined, a camera following an actor on a virtual set can react by moving the background along with the camera in real time.
Virtual Production in Action
If you were one of the millions who have been watching The Mandalorian on Disney+, check out this behind the scenes look at how they utilized a virtual production.
This also means location scouting can be done entirely inside the virtual set and the assets created for pre-vizualiation can actually carry on into post, saving a ton of time (as the post work actually starts during pre-production.
So, virtual production is easily confused with remote production, but it’s not the same. We’ll get into remote production next.
What Is Remote Production?
We’re all familiar with the stages of production: development, pre-production, production, post-production, and distribution. Remote production has more to do with post-production. Remote production is simply the ability to handle post-production tasks from anywhere.
Here’s how the pandemic accelerated remote production: In post, assets are edited on non-linear editing software (NLEs) connected to huge storage systems located deep within studios and post-production houses. When everyone was forced to work from home, it made editing quite difficult. There were, of course, solutions that allowed you to remotely control your edit bay, but remotely controlling a system from miles away and trying to scrub videos over your at-home internet bandwidth quickly became a nuisance.
To solve this problem, everyone just took their edit bay home along with a hard drive containing what they needed for their particular project. But shuttling drives all over the place and trying to correlate files across all the remote drives meant that the NAS became the next headache. To resolve this confusion over storage, production houses turned to hybrid solutions—our next topic.
What Are Hybrid Cloud Workflows?
Hybrid cloud workflows didn’t originate during the pandemic, but they did make remote production much easier. A hybrid cloud workflow is a combination of a public cloud, private cloud, and an on-premises solution like a network attached storage device (NAS) or storage area network (SAN). When we think about storage, we think about first the relationship of our NLE to our local hard drive, then our relationship between the local computer and the NAS or SAN. The next iteration of this is the relationship of all of these (NLE, local computer, and NAS/SAN) to the cloud.
For each of these on-prem solutions the primary problems faced are capacity and availability. How much can our drive hold, and how do I access the NAS—local area network (LAN) or virtual private network (VPN)? Storage in the cloud inherently solves both of these problems. It’s always available and accessible from any location with an internet connection. So, to solve the problems that remote teams of editors, visual effects (VFX), color, and sound folks faced, the cloud was integrated into many workflows.
Using the cloud, companies are able to store content in a single location where it can then be distributed to different teams (VFX, color, sound, etc.). This central repository makes it possible to move large amounts of data across different regions, making it easier for your team to access it while also keeping it secure. Many NAS devices have native cloud integrations, so the automated file synchronization between the cloud and a local environment is baked in—teams can just get to work.
The hybrid solution worked so well that many studios and post houses have adopted them as a permanent part of their workflow and have incorporated remote production into their day-to-day. A good example is the video team at Hagerty, a production crew that creates 300+ videos a year. This means that workflows that were once locked down to specific locations are now moving to the cloud. Now more than ever, API accessible resources, like cloud storage with S3 compatible APIs that integrates with your preferred tools, are needed to make these workflows actually work.
Just one example of Hagerty’s content.
Hybrid Workflows and Cloud Storage
While the world seems to be returning to a new normal, our way of work is not. For the media and entertainment world, the pandemic gave the space a jolt of electricity, igniting the next wave of innovation. Virtual production, remote production, and hybrid workflows are here to stay. What digital video started 20 years ago, the pandemic has accelerated, and that acceleration is pointing directly to the cloud.
So, what are your next steps as you future-proof your workflow? First, inspect your current set of tools. Many modern tools are already cloud-ready. For example, a Synology NAS already has Cloud Sync capabilities. EditShare also has a tool capable of crafting custom workflows, wherever your data lives. (These are just a few examples.)
Second, start building and testing. Most cloud providers offer free tiers or free trials—at Backblaze, your first 10GB are free, for example. Testing a proof of concept is the best way to understand how new workflows fit into your system without overhauling the whole thing or potentially disrupting business as usual.
And finally, one thing you definitely need to make hybrid workflows work is cloud storage. If you’re looking to make the change a lot easier, you came to the right place. Backblaze B2 Cloud Storage pairs with hundreds of integrations so you can implement it directly into your established workflows. Check out our partners and our media solutions for more.