From Dailies to Delivery: How Pixcom Reinvented their Workflow with Frame.io
Pixcom Productions is one of the longest operating production entities in Montreal. In business since 1987, they’ve always focused on finding innovative ways to stay ahead of their competitors when it comes to technology and workflow, and have grown to become one of the largest producers of broadcast content in Montreal.
With 24 Avid edit suites, 10 story-edit stations, three DaVinci Resolve color grading suites, and two compositing and graphics stations, they turn out award-winning programming ranging from documentaries to drama for networks like Discovery Canada and the CBC. And from dailies to delivery, Frame.io is an integral part of their workflow.
We spoke with Pixcom’s technical director, Charles Laflamme, to find out how they’ve created an ecosystem that’s optimized for productivity, speed, reliability, and security.
Dailies and coffee
Whether Pixcom is shooting in Canada or Tunisia, Frame.io is the hub for their dailies.
Typically, as soon as the day’s shoot wraps, media cards are sent over to their facility in Montreal. There, the files (usually 6K RedCodeRaw for fiction work and Canon C300 or Sony FS7 footage for documentaries) are transcoded to DNx36 in Avid ingest stations. LUTs are applied because the files are either raw or shot in log, and audio is synced so that everyone can view the transcoded files with approximate color correction and clear audio. Dailies are then transcoded to MOV proxies using their Vantage encoder.
The native files are stored locally in their recently-installed 420TB XStream EFS shared storage cluster, and on their 800TB of EFS 40NL near-line storage nodes. This massive volume of storage is managed with the Flow media asset management system.
But the transcoded files are uploaded to Frame.io at the end of the day or overnight so that the editorial crew, as Charles says, “can view the previous day’s footage while enjoying their morning coffee.”
A workflow based in Frame.io
Because they’re working with the proxies, Pixcom is able to keep all the dailies for all their shows on Frame.io. They do this with all media throughout the entire production and post process, which can range from 90 hours for a fiction program to several hundreds of hours for the largest Discovery Canada documentaries. Once they lock the cuts, they re-link to the native files for color grading in DaVinci Resolve, and final delivery in whatever resolution is specified.
There are a number of ways in which Frame.io streamlines the production, editorial, and approval processes. First, the on-set crew can view dailies on a laptop or on their mobile phones. “Everybody on the crew can make sure they are covered,” Charles says. “From the director to the set designer—sometimes it’s as many as 30 people—they can see if they need reshoots, inserts, or pickups very easily.”
Next, it’s common for shows to have more than one editor—there can be as many as 10 people working on some of the larger shows at the same time. They’ll create a folder for each day’s shoot with all the proxies in Frame.io, so every editor has easy access to whatever they need and to the comments from other key production members on the work that’s already been done.
Then there are the various other stakeholders, including producers and broadcasters, some of whom may be neither on the set nor at Pixcom’s facility. Frame.io makes it possible for them to monitor what’s going on during the shoot and to communicate any concerns or requests without having to leave their office.
Editorial generally begins while shooting continues, which is yet another way that Frame.io helps streamline Pixcom’s workflow. Frame.io allows the editorial staff to quickly access the previous day’s footage, while enabling them to share the most updated cuts with the director (and anyone else) while they’re on the set, keeping both departments moving forward—despite differences in locations or time zones.
“We also use Frame.io to communicate with the music designers and effects departments,” Charles says. It’s an efficient way to keep all the work on track, from wherever contributors may be located, and to keep everyone in sync.
Before Pixcom implemented Frame.io, they used to have to email h.264 files to stakeholders, which resulted in painfully crowded servers. With 3TB of storage in Frame.io, they can now upload whatever needs to go to anyone without worrying—which is significant when you consider that they’re dealing with programs that run from 30 to 60 minutes in duration (or even longer) and have nearly 30 projects running concurrently.
[Also check out: Deliver 8K Dailies in Minutes with this New Workflow from LumaForge]
And when you further realize that because they’re doing series work there may be anywhere from eight episodes per season for a fiction show to as many as 26 for a documentary, it’s a lot to keep organized and accessible.
Because Frame.io supports all common file formats and resolutions, when shows are completed, Pixcom frequently uses Frame.io to show finals to the broadcasters for approval.
“Basically, Frame.io helps us access media quickly, get it to key people, and get super speedy feedback,” Charles says. “We use it on almost all of our projects.”
A multitude of uses
Another aspect of Frame.io that Pixcom appreciates is the ease of use for those who may not have a technical background. “If, for example, we’re working on a show that has sensitive content, we sometimes need non-industry contributors to go through the footage so we can redact certain things for security and privacy reasons,” Charles says.
“We set them up with Frame.io and they’re able to view everything and mark up exactly what we need to remove or blur. It hardly takes them any time to start using it and makes the process very smooth for everyone involved.”
Beyond the dailies and editorial process, Pixcom has discovered that the sales group finds Frame.io to be an especially useful sales tool.
“Before Frame.io, our sales team had to bring laptops and hard drives to client presentations, trade shows, and festivals,” Charles says. “But now, all we have to do is keep a section in Frame.io for final shows, and our team just takes their mobile phones. No more bulky hardware is necessary, they just need an internet connection and they can show just about anything to potential customers. This also allows them to be more spontaneous and present other content if they think it will help the client visualize something they didn’t originally plan to present. They really love using it.”
Staying ahead of the curve
Many people assume that well-established production/post-production companies settle into a “don’t fix it if it’s not broken” approach to technology. If a workflow is functioning reliably, why risk introducing a new application or platform that could potentially interrupt operations?
“We take on large and complex projects that rely on fast turnaround and communications—like covering the Olympics for some of the European broadcasters—and we always want to be innovators,” Charles says.
After more than 30 years in business, Pixcom Productions continues to embrace technology that can improve their workflows. And, according to Charles,“Frame.io is a big part of what gives us a technical edge.”