Aframe Brings Cloud Computing to Video Post
Q&A with Aframe's CEO David Peto and New U.S. President Mark Overington
Everyone may be talking about the "cloud," but until recently, the thought of using a simple Internet connection to securely access, view and share large, broadcast-quality media files during post seemed about as solid an idea as leaping out of an airplane into the large puffy stuff floating below. Enter Aframe, a London-based company that grew out of the post industry there and has built a private cloud storage service for managing the reams of professional video content being generated digitally. Aframe has a simple, Facebook-like interface and has just expanded into the U.S. with a new office and several new partners (you can read the press release about the launch here). We caught up with CEO David Peto, the founder of London's Unit Post Production, and Mark Overington, Aframe's new U.S. president and one of the founders of Avid, to learn more about the platform and how it can help DPs, producers and even their clients come out from under all that data and get back to work.
StudioDaily: Why is this the right time to launch a browser-based cloud platform for post production in the US?
David Peto: In our opinion, it's long overdue, but the technology is finally robust enough to fill a very dire need. I'm a former producer and before I came into the studio I was out filming. I cut my teeth on 35mm film. I moved through the transition from producing standard-def to high-def content. Then I went off on my own and ran a successful post facility. It was doing really well but every single one of my clients was coming to me completely overwhelmed: as resolutions expanded and file sizes got larger, so did the sheer number of files themselves. They went from watching one tape containing the footage to sorting through 25,000 files labeled "RS 1010101" and so on. They were throwing up their hands and saying, "Help! What do I do to manage all this?" Add to that the fact that content is now coming from all over the world and everyone needs to work on it instantly and deliver their shows immediately and from anywhere. They were losing so much time and money sorting it all out.
I really believe that technology has been getting in the way of craft and creativity for some time. During my post facility days, I could see how technology was complicating the lives of our clients at every turn. What we wanted to do with Aframe was to remove that obstacle, to let freelance DPs and producers work with each other from anywhere in the world in a really simple way via the Web, not unlike how they'd communicate on Facebook. But what we really want to drive home about this product is that we are from the industry, so we fundamentally understand what the real concerns are for the post community in terms of security, speed and resolution. In terms of cloud computing in general, Google and Microsoft are great, but we actually speak the language of the people we work with. So we've blended a really deep knowledge of the post market with the kind of heavy-duty Web development that solves workflow issues and works for them right away.
What does the competitive landscape look like?
DP: As far as we know, we are the first to do something like this, and we don't know of any other companies who will be launching anything similar at NAB. Even if there is some surprise late entry into this market, I doubt that they will have a solution as comprehensive as ours. We've developed it as an end-to-end product from the ground up. We have no legacy business model that we've got to change or shed before launching such a new paradigm, and others who may want to move in this direction because it's where the industry is headed, have huge product lines in which they've invested a lot of money.
For example, storage companies?
Mark Overington: Yes, and all of the asset management guys, too. They have to be cautious about moving in this direction without cannibalizing their current business. We feel that the industry is really ready to move in a major way to the next transformation period.
DP: What also makes us different is we've built a private cloud, so we're using all of our own equipment and it's all in multiple locations. With this US expansion, we'll have a cloud running in New York and Los Angeles as well as London, where we started. So if you're NBC or MTV you could look me in the eye and I can tell you exactly where your files are, and I can also tell you that were the worst to happen, they are mirrored 500 miles apart from each other.
What's unique about the interface?
DP: For starters, you can come in with an existing login from Facebook, Twitter, Google, LinkedIn or OpenID. Freelancers, especially, don't want to be bothered with creating a new password every time they join something new, so we've made it easier for them. Once in the UI, you've got a dashboard that is as much a productivity tool as it is a video site. If you're a producer or director, you'll see all the projects that are going on at once and it tells you everything that's happening with the footage, from comments, theme suggestions, edit marks. When you look at it, though, you'll notice that it doesn't look at all like a traditional asset management system and looks more like Facebook. That's deliberate because again, so many people are so busy that they don't want everything to be complicated. They need simplicity so they can focus on what they really need to do. When you come on for the first time, you select who you want to share your files with, which we call your teammates, exactly how you'd add friends on Facebook. We've got 3,500 freelancers signed up for Aframe already, but if you're working with a new project and your executive producer isn't on Aframe yet, you can invite them to join with an email. Then you just upload your footage—that's it. What we also do once your media has been uploaded is take all your related clips and package them up on a timeline, as if you were in the edit suite. Aframe then will play them sequentially. So you don't have to spend the money to go into an expensive edit suite just to view the footage. You can do it on your laptop through your Web browser.
What about managing security after a freelancer's contract is over?
DP: As it is to add people it's just as easy to manage who gets access to your media when the project is done. One click, really.
Are there any file limitations?
DP: We handle every major file format and we guarantee that we will store that file and we also guarantee that we won't compress it or screw around with it but keep it in its original form. We run on the same base hardware that Amazon does with its cloud computing services. The real secret sauce is our software and user interface, which we built from the ground up. The largest show that's already gone through Aframe had 6,400 hours of raw footage shot in a variety of HD formats, so we're already handling huge, data-heavy shows.
Is your service affordable for freelance shooters to use?
DP: We have a basic free account that will let freelancers store their showreel and any other documents, like scripts and contacts, up to 5 GB. But in addition, they are connected with every other producer and shooter on Aframe and can start working with them at the touch of a button. With our Enterprise account ($249.99 per seat/month), at the other end of the scale, you've got a lot bigger storage (up to 3 TB) and a host of other features like live video tagging to get the job done. Another nice thing we do is that every document you upload, even PDF files, we make searchable within the document. And all those documents are always connected to the footage files. You don't have to mess around in email looking for a related script or other document that someone sent along separately. There is some fun stuff we'll be doing later on with search, both in documents and if you've tagged your video, to help you make some money.
MO: One of the key things that Aframe did was solve a lot of the pieces of the pie, from access points, to the community element, the storage issues, the transcoding issues, the ability for people to download files quickly and edit. There are a lot of companies out there who are solving pieces of this workflow but Aframe was the first to put it all together. We're also working with a number of dealers now to create packages where when you rent a camera, you'll get a three-month higher-level subscription to Aframe.
DP: This also solves a big problem for the dealers. Since the customer has already backed it up on Aframe, they don't have to wipe media from so many cameras when the camera comes back after the rental period.
How are you dealing with metadata?
MO: Aframe has a different paradigm. What the metadata specialists of the world are trying to do is establish all the fields you could possibly want and then you fill in those fields. What we're basically saying is you don't need the fields. Put it any information you want—then it's all searchable. Why create the data structure when you just want to get the data? We capture all kinds of metadata, because we're not making proxies locally but are making the exact replication of the original content, including the file formats and all the metadata that comes off the camera with those formats. No one else is doing that right now.
And you are transcoding and tagging the footage as a service?
DP: Yes, but you can also tag it yourself with our timecode tagging tool.
Beyond collaboration, how else are your current customers using Aframe?
MO: Some of them are already using it to distribute their content. We're not targeting that group yet, but we have a new customer here in New York, Veria Living, which has 600 hours of wellness programming on Aframe. They use Aframe for two things: to cut promos for global distribution but also also use it as a digital storefront for their customers who come in and license content from them. With our system, we can send you an email with a link to a particular piece of footage on Aframe and you can just click on it and play it; you don't have to be logged into the system. If you're trying to sell your content, it's a great tool.
DP: MTV used it to share content from the MTV Music Awards. They had 200 broadcasters from around the world log in to get the clips they wanted right after the clips aired on the show. It was a tremendously effecient and easy way to get their content highlighted in so many parallel markets at once.