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2016: a big year for post production

Michael Burns dissects a year in the life of the post production sector

When seeking to gauge how 2016 has been for the post production sector, an obvious barometer to check is how some of those in the front line have fared. The post facilities in the UK in particular are a very talented and resilient crowd, but have had to deal with an array of new technologies, and the retooling/reskilling required to keep up with demand, while rates issues, takeovers and other economic concerns have added another layer of pressure to the sector. It’s definitely been an interesting year for everyone, and a golden year for some.

“2016 has been a great year for us,” says Dave Cadle, managing director of Envy Post. “Our turnover has increased, as our clients are winning more commissions. It’s incredibly important that current clients are happy, so when they win more work you are hopefully in a good position to accommodate it, as they want to come back to you.”

2016 saw Envy grow, adding another building of about 10,000 square foot on Mortimer Street in London’s Fitzrovia district, and it wasn’t the only one, as The Farm opened a new 90-suite facility on nearby Newman Street.

Expansion of another kind was on the cards for dock10 in MediaCityUK, when it acquired 100 percent of the shares of 422, the long established Manchester-based facility (the deal excludes 422’s sister company based in Glasgow). Evolutions opened a third London facility, and also expanded its Bristol operations with the purchase of natural history specialists Big Bang. Finish acquired VFX specialist Realise Studio and together they rebranded as Freefolk, while probably the biggest sale of the year occurred when VFX giant Framestore agreed to a £150 million takeover by Cultural Investment Holding, a Shanghai-based conglomerate.

Molinare, no stranger to acquisitions in the previous year, consolidated its takeover of Shoreditch-based VET by adding seven new offline suites to Molinare Hoxton.

“Our East London operation is now up and running, so our overall year has been one of growth,” says Richard Hobbs, commercial director, Molinare TV & Film.

It was a bumper year for this facility too, working on The Durrells, Marcella, The Tunnel, Cold Feet, the new Endemol gameshow Tenable, as well as Hackenbacker, Downton Abbey and The Night Manager.

“We feel we’re a destination for high quality post production, building on our previous success with a positive boutique post production experience,” explains Hobbs. “We’ve worked on an incredible number of high profile productions, including multiple drama and factual productions posting in UHD.”

The increase in UHD work and file-based delivery has made a big impact across the sector, but added pressure to retool and reskill. High dynamic range (HDR), seen as the key to selling the UHD concept, not only prompted software developers to redefine their grading tools, but also caused a bit of a standards war.

“2016 has been focused around 4K and UHD, and the introduction of higher dynamic grading,” says Hobbs. “At one point we had 30+ hours of UHD work going through the facility, including projects for Netflix and Discovery’s first ever scripted drama, Harley and the Davidsons. Inevitably with this scale of technological developments there is a focus on your technical infrastructure, so we’re very pleased that our research and development in this area has been so successful.”

Envy has also seen 4K work increasing. “Although gearing up for it is expensive, we will be involved in more and more projects,” says Cadle.

“In some respects, UHD is no different from when we went from Digi to HD,” observes Gina Fucci, managing director at Films at 59. “But the added possibilities with HDR are making a difference.

“File delivery in a world where people are shooting file-based is also having an impact,” continues Fucci. “There are ever-larger amounts of media to be pushed and pulled, and a lot of camera manufacturers have brought out new cameras and codecs that require careful attention.”

The progression of file based ingest and delivery, as well as its secure, multi-gigabit private network connecting Timeline North, Timeline Soho and Ealing Studios, has enabled Timeline to streamline its workflows.

One significant test was the two versions of the Haçienda Classical documentary for Channel 4 and Sony, on which Timeline provided full picture and audio post in October. For example, the complex grade, by DI colourist Trevor Brown, involved nine types of camera formats across four varied locations, for two different versions of the show.

“This was a complex project involving a great deal of varied media – yet the offline, online, grade and dub were all seamless” says Paul Tovee, head of post production at Timeline North. “Our team handled this very well indeed. We are developing a remote Avid editing solution, which will go live in early 2017.”

CBBC drama The Dumping Ground also kept Timeline busy, utilising a remote grading workflow with DaVinci Resolve.

Tovee explains, “This allowed our Manchester based client to work with their preferred colourist based in our Ealing, London facility, without having to travel and therefore reducing costs. Grading remotely [allows] clients the flexibility of working across multi-sites, reducing costs and providing an environment friendly option in accordance with BAFTA Albert+.”

Software developers were also devoting a lot of resources to remote working and particularly cloud-based post, with a big focus on collaboration in 2016.Avid’s Cloud Collaboration for Pro Tools allows collaborators to share audio and MIDI tracks, edits, mix changes, as if they are working together in the same studio. This was followed for by Media Composer | Cloud, while at IBC came Avid Team Bundles, which is essentially a collaborative system in a box for small facilities and workgroups.

Also launched at IBC, Flow Story from Editshare taps Flow databases and servers to allow remote, real time collaboration with other users of Flow systems. Team Projects was the Adobe response to collaboration demands in 2016, bringing its enterprise level Adobe Anywhere project sharing technology to the Creative Cloud desktop apps Premiere Pro, After Effects, and Prelude.

Adobe and other major developers, such as The Foundry, were also keen to support another big trend, VR

“VR is definitely making waves and requires teams to work more collaboratively,” says Fucci. “Cheaper than 3D, it is definitely being used by producers to enhance viewer experiences.”

State of the nation

Contrary to the optimism of some of the London facilities, Fucci believes it’s been a hard year for many in the regions. “The changes at the top of the big players, production companies and broadcasters has caused unrest. I believe there has been less commissioning hours available due to sports, election and Brexit coverage. In addition, economic unrest across the globe has made everyone more cautious.

Fucci continues, “We are proud, through all the unrest, to have been involved in some key projects from kit hire through to post production, including Trollied, Poldark, Great British Bake Off, Hairy Bikers, Planet Earth II, Wild West, Life at the Extreme, River Monsters, and John Bishop’s Gorilla Adventure.”

“Brexit offers an opportunity with the pound’s strength weakening,” says Hobbs. “As a destination for post production we feel like we’re in a good place to attract international productions.”

Cadle feels that Envy experienced no immediate effect on work after the Brexit vote. “However, kit is definitely more expensive as certain manufacturers have increased costs in production and passed those on to us.

“There seem to be a few post houses financially stretched at this moment, so they will need a good 2017,” adds Cadle. “The challenge will be rates issues. Building rates will be a concern as ownership rates are going up. As for opportunities, with our new building we expect some growth in our advertising arm of the business. Multi-episodic programming also seems to be a growth area for a lot of our clients.”

“In a sector already facing tight margins, it feels like 1992!” observes Fucci. “But we have sustained things over the years across the sector by finding new ways of doing things, working closely with producers to build trust and help develop talent.”

Looking forward to BVE in February, Fucci already has her shopping list ready. “We are keeping a close eye on where Avid is going with 4K updates, any plugins, new Adobe updates and data management/handling,” she says. “As well as storage options for the future including nearline, and increasing existing storage and back-up technologies for location as well as post.”

“We believe 4K and UHD will be ever-present in 2017, and that presents additional focus on technological trends and the additional storage required,” says Hobbs. “We’re excited by the creative opportunities that our clients have with their productions and next year we’re looking forward to again, given our experience, being a source of knowledge and technology that is second to none.”