Viacom Tech Expert David Leopold Outlines an Action Plan for Improving Post Workflow

To address efficiency in post-production, content creators must focus on the need of creatives. In fact, according to David Leopold, senior director, creative experience technologies at Viacom, efficiency isn’t exactly what’s at issue in post workflow.

”Don’t focus on efficiency,” Leopold told attendees at NAB Show New York this week. “Focus on productivity.” While acknowledging that the admonition may seem to amount to semantics, he insisted that there is a difference, because the idea of “efficiency” suggests a move toward more stringent allocation of resources.

Instead, he argued, the goal should be to “maximize resources” available to editors in order to “minimize friction” in their creative workflow. “The creative process can’t be standardized,” he said. “You can’t apply the same approach to efficiency as you normally would.”

Viacom's David Leopold speaks at NAB New York

Viacom’s David Leopold speaks at NAB New York

An Edit Is Never Finished Early

Leopold’s presentation was titled “An Edit Is Never Finished Early.” Chief among his arguments was that productivity is not about saving time. Instead, he said, it’s about reallocating the time available to a given project. If editors spend less time wrangling their cuts into good shape overall, that doesn’t mean they get to knock off early. But it allows them to dedicate more time to the fine edit, to finessing edits and transitions, or to spell-checking those pesky lower-thirds, he said.

It’s easy to recommend smart changes that benefit editors, motion graphics designers and other creative personnel, but it’s harder to put those ideas into practice. Leopold offered his own roadmap of recommended steps.

Identify the Problems

First, he said, content creators need to identify problems facing their creatives. Those typically include repetitive and often non-creative tasks that take up time and disrupt the creative process. Leopold cited the creation of lower-thirds as one such task, but said that new workflows without established best practices can also amount to productivity sinks, as can simple software tasks that simply require too many clicks to execute.

“You want to reduce the non-creative parts of their workflow,” he explained, “and keep them in a streamlined, creative state of mind as much as possible.”

Take Stock of Your Tools

Once those problems and workflow disruptions have been identified, Leopold said it’s time to take stock of your tools. He urged content creators to make a point of investigating the software they use, and making sure they understand what all of the features do, including those out-of-the-way options buried in side panels and context menus. If you’re lucky, you may find that a solution is already lurking somewhere inside your software UI. To that end, he also suggested spending a small amount of time — 15 minutes or so — clicking around the internet and reading blogs that claim to reveal hidden features or tips and tricks for using key applications.

As a real-world example of such a potential discovery, Leopold cited a menu option in Adobe Premiere Pro, hidden behind an unassuming wrench icon near the program monitor, labeled “Show Audio Time Units.” Not only does that change a sequences time ruler to audio samples, rather than frames, it also allows audio edits to be made on a finer basis — in-between frames, if necessary. Leopold said this option allows editors to make ideal audio edits, rather than resorting to fades and transitions to obscure the clunkiness of edits that are just a few milliseconds off.

Keeping up with the release notes on new software upgrades is a good idea, he said, as new capabilities can be introduced with little fanfare. Finally, he said it might pay to get to know “adjacent” apps in case those can point the way to answers. Specifically, he cited Adobe Capture, a mobile app with the ability to quickly turn cell-phone photographs into vector graphics, as a back-door for getting easily manipulable elements into programs like After Effects.

Match Problems to Solutions

With that knowledge in hand, Leopold said, content creators can begin matching problems to solutions, as well as acknowledging the gaps that still exist. At that point, they can consider developing custom solutions — Leopold cited After Effects scripting as a possibility, noting that users can learn to script effectively without a lot of dedicated knowledge.

When it becomes necessary to incorporate a new component in established workflows, Leopold suggested treading with care.  What can help is making sure the messenger who brings new workflow components to the creative team is an insider — someone who clearly understands creative challenges, rather than who is perceived as a representative of technical operations or management. That message should be short, concise, and simple to understand, Leopold said, and it shouldn’t attempt to solve more than one problem at a time.

Along the same lines, Leopold underscored that it will easier to get creatives to buy into a new process that is either simple to implement or such a game-changer that its benefits are obvious. “If it isn’t familiar or magical, put it back on the shelf,” Leopold suggested. “It’s going to be really hard to effect change with something that isn’t exciting, or that doesn’t feel natural.”