Refining the Video Village to Capture More Metadata Than Ever

Producer Bernie Laramie is no stranger to the many pitfalls in pushing a production through to completion. As a producer and/or editor, he’s worked on a slew of top TV and film projects, from the breakthrough Max Headroom to, more recently, Aliens of the Deep and CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. But Laramie wears another hat. As CEO of MOS Sync, he has been exploring the uses of metadata in production ‘ and he’s been working on a solution for digital dailies, which he unveiled this year at the HPA Technology Retreat.

Originally dubbed “Project Head-of-the-Nile,” Laramie’s digital dailies solution takes a different approach. “There was all the talk of metadata and workflow,” he says. “But everyone seemed to attack it one or two steps too late.” Laramie believed that digital dailies start with the shoot, and that they are inextricably tied to the ancillary metadata that is a critical part of production. “I began to realize that call sheets, camera reports, sound reports-all of these production documents are all handwritten,” he says. “And I thought, this has got to change.”

This was a pretty abstract concept. His first goal was to replace the video village – what he calls a “growing morass of gear” – with a single, streamlined space. The result, Monster, is one small rack containing what is essentially a server on location. When Laramie produced Threat Matrix, a VFX-heavy TV show, the visual-effects personnel were forced to recreate a lot of data in post. “So that’s where we decided to start,” he says. Visual-effects companies almost always send someone to the set to record as much information as possible. But their job would be made much easier if it were possible for them to have access to the position, focus and range of movement for every recording device and peripheral on the set.

MDR is the metadata recorder at the heart of Monster. Linked to electronic cameras by SMPTE’s UMID (universal media identifier) or timecode, the MDR records and stores every smidgen of information related to the camera and, via serial data, peripheral devices including lenses, camera mounts and so on. The video/audio recorder at the heart of Monster is SpectSoft’s Rave, an uncompressed HD disk recorder. “It wasn’t exactly designed with Monster in mind, but they fit together so well that it was as if we’d been working together for several seasons,” says Laramie.

And it works. “On any given frame, we can tell the exact lens, focal length, height of the dolly, f-stop-you name it,” says Laramie. “It doesn’t matter whether it’s synchronous, such as a video camera, or asynchronous, such as a lens or lighting panel. MDR records both, and will track both kinds of data simultaneously.” Lens manufacturers have been incorporating serial data in their lenses for years to assist technicians while calibrating the lenses. The camera operator may adjust a lens between 28 and 85 mm, but inside the lens, the information on its position ranges from 0 to 65,535. “The ring spits out tons of information. We pull that number out for each frame,” says Laramie. “And our system translates that number to meaningful information like millimeters, distance to subject, and zoom position.”

While information that the MDR database records, on a frame-by-frame basis, includes lens iris, lens focal length and distance in mm, it also includes pan, tilt, and Dutch tilt, as well as longitude, latitude and altitude from a GPS receiver, which comes in handy for handheld and Steadicam shots. Currently, MOS Sync’s crew is working on interfaces with the cMotion camera support system, as well as several camera mount systems. “If it’s on set and generating data other than the pictures and sounds, we want to track it,” says Laramie.

The second piece of Monster is TranScript, a box created in partnership with Nonlinear Technologies. NL Technologies had previously worked on a system that enabled sports/news broadcasters to directly ingest footage from the camera into the editing system. “TranScript allows me to ingest to an Avid format file while shooting,” says Laramie, who notes that TranScript is “very rugged” for on-location use. “It will translate to Avid’s DV25 compression and converts 24 fps to 30 fps. Now I can be ready to edit immediately after shooting. The TranScript pulls the take information from the Monster so when the material is dragged and dropped into the Avid, it contains all the metadata we picked up on the set and puts it in custom fields in the Avid. And it does all that from a hard drive instead of a tape source so the ingest time is minutes instead of hours.”

The third piece that forms Monster is Minutes -instantly available dailies. “This is what we wanted to do in the beginning,” says Laramie, who partnered with UVU (, a streaming multimedia company in downtown Los Angeles, for the tremendous capacity required to stream video. Minutes digital dailies streams either to a computer or a TV receiver, equipped with a set-top box and an Ethernet or even a wifi connection to the Internet. UVU’s throughput is impressive: 192 strands of fiber means the contents of the Library of Congress could be transmitted in a millisecond. Rich media files are slower, but not by much. “One hour of dailies will move from Point A to Point B in less than five seconds, if you use the full bandwidth,” says Laramie. “The real trick is to get the production companies at the end of that pipeline to see the advantages of having all their dailies available securely online.”

But is instant dailies a good idea? “Not always,” replies Laramie. “It’s not unusual for a director to change his mind before he leaves the set,” says Laramie. “We’ve added a new feature called Publish to the Monster system, so the director can cut, review the selections and then publish, which sends it to the data center. The central idea is to make sure that the information from the set gets to the right people as quickly as possible, and Minutes is designed to do just that.”

What will make Monster work, says Laramie, is price. It costs about $18 to put an hour of DVD-quality dailies on an executive’s desk, he estimates. “You have anywhere from 15 to 25 people needing dailies every day,” he says. “We can make that task happen in a fraction of the time, at a fraction of the cost.”

Laramie says creating this system was a highly collaborative effort with many friends in the industry, including engineer Paul Klamer, who had formerly worked at the Warner Bros. Digital Center, Ramona Howard of SpectSoft, and Mark Heninger of UVU. The Monster system is rented by Wexler Video and Plus8.