Most of us have been there. You ask for advice — or are asked for advice — and the first response you get from someone is not how you should implement a workflow; but rather how they do it. After all, if it works for them, it will work for everyone, right? Wrong. There are some standards to workflows, but no two studios do things in the same exact way. So how do you develop the workflow that’s best for your studio?
Workflow design is just as much an art as a science. Your personal workflows and experience, although valuable, should be looked at as a philosophy more than a template for others. Let’s cover some of the basics of workflow design.
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The natural tendency is to look at the hardware and software first. It’s the biggest mistake you can make. When approaching workflow design, it’s most important to analyze what the users of that technology are willing to accept. PC or Mac? Adobe or Avid? What have they been using for years? How much training will you have to give them? What types of personalities are you dealing with?
The existing workforce will be the biggest road-block you can encounter. Why? People resist change. Everyone is excited about it, until it comes time to change the way they do things. If someone has to change or learn something new, their job security is now in question. What if they can’t learn it? What if their weaknesses are discovered? And worst of all, people are victims of marketing. If they’ve been using a Mac for years, and you suddenly switch them to PCs without warning, they will assume it won’t work as well. And therefore, it really won’t work as well. Plato had a great phrase to illustrate this: “A man that believes he will die tomorrow will find a way to make it happen.” Users that believe a system won’t work will subconsciously sabotage its success.
Users that believe a system won’t work will subconsciously sabotage its success.
Because of this, any changes that are made to existing workflows need to be met with a philosophy that is centered around changing as little as possible, making changes within their current equipment or making changes slowly to shift their acceptance window towards the new workflow one step at a time.
This also includes managers of the users. You’ll find yourself referring to “the triangle” a lot with managers: fast, cheap, good — you can only pick two.
You must remain software and hardware agnostic. Recognize that everything said above also applies to you; it is human nature after all. Certain things can remain in place. For instance, understanding that Cuda cards have advantages in motion graphics and animation that OpenCL-based cards don’t have — but having the ability to ignore the marketing and look at the raw specifications is important, as is researching and understanding that technology with an advantage can shift paradigms on a dime. You must remain impartial.
If a production house is using Avid, for example and you see that the Adobe suite is more cost-effective, recognize that switching to Adobe may not be the best solution. You must step back and look at the big picture. What are the deliverables? Do they have to deliver the final project as well as the finished video, as is the case with most cable networks? What software is acceptable to their clients?
Time is the most precious resource a studio has. Anywhere you can save time — even seconds — multiplies greatly. Improving efficiency is usually why a workflow designer is brought in. For instance, how often are personnel watching rendering progress bars? Is a render farm going to save time and money? How much time do assistant editors spend logging and ingesting footage? Can it be automated to allow AEs to pivot to other tasks?
When analyzing time-savings, it’s important to not threaten the job security of personnel. People have relationships in offices and studios. Recommending replacing someone with a robot is always a tricky proposition. Instead, you have to work within the existing framework of job responsibilities as much as possible.
Sandboxes are isolated areas where you can prototype new technologies and workflows.They are ways you can show off tech that you feel a studio should adopt, and enable better acceptance among personnel and management. Remember, it’s one thing to say, “you know, we can set this up so all you have to do is plug in an SD card and all the footage will be ingested automatically.” You’ll get a lot of eye rolls, and even some looks of fear. It’s another to walk a group of people into a room, plug in an SD card and show them. There, you’ll get a few, “whoa” comments.
Plus, if something goes wrong on a sandbox; you don’t shut down all of production, lose your client money or risk your reputation. It gives you a chance to perfect a workflow before introducing it to the studio.
Workflow design is always a tricky proposition with an existing studio. Between personnel issues and mixing technologies that should work together, but sometimes don’t, your reputation is always at risk. Moving slow, cautiously and with an open mind is always key.
Ty Audronis has been in the TV/Film industry for over 20 years. He’s designed studios on budgets from $3,000 to $6M. He is considered an expert on post-production workflows and technologies by many high-end studios.