Frame.io Camera to Cloud: From Revolution to Evolution
When it comes to spotting the newest and most significant industry tech and trends, pundits flock to NAB to report and bet on the next big thing.
The last time Frame.io had a booth at NAB was in 2019, when Camera to Cloud (C2C) hadn’t yet become an official destination on the product roadmap. In fact, I didn’t even join Frame.io until later that year, with the express purpose of extending the functionality of the Frame.io post-production workflow into pre-production and production.
When the entire world changed in early 2020, one of the first tasks we took on at Frame.io was to help those working in the industry find a safer way of shooting and collaborating on video. That hinged on stress testing C2C in the field, with actual filmmakers. And what we discovered is that the first revolutionary step forward has become evolutionary in terms of its adoption—as we’ve just observed at NAB 2022.
In the pre-pandemic summer of 2019, the MovieLabs think tank published a now-famous white paper titled “The Evolution of Movie Creation: A 10-Year Vision for the Future of Media Production, Post, and Creative Technologies.” In it, they detailed the ways in which video creation would pivot to a cloud-based workflow by the year 2030.
Even then, Frame.io was solving for many of the challenges outlined toward the achievement of that vision: ingesting assets straight to the cloud; security features that would protect identities and manage permissions; workflows designed around real-time collaboration and iteration.
I had already been developing Camera to Cloud prototypes for years before joining Frame.io. So when the world shut down in March 2020, I had a pretty clear idea of how we could help those who hadn’t been working remotely pivot quickly. We’d already put it to the test with the Zeiss team at Sundance earlier that year, and then made it available to the first Hollywood feature film to return to production with a union crew, in July 2020. The results were entirely successful, and both teams immediately saw the value in both the process and the ease of implementation.
“They were able to reap huge benefits in terms of saving time and keeping on-set crews safe.”
What was most significant to them was that they didn’t have to work much differently from the way they normally did, but they were able to reap huge benefits in terms of saving time and keeping on-set crews safe.
The new (video) world order
There’s been a lot of chatter about how the world has changed since 2020 and how, as a result, the video industry itself has changed and adapted.
The headline? Video has only become more important to every kind of business than ever before.
So much of what we were accustomed to doing in person has shifted to an online experience. Even with the recent return to business as usual, what’s usual now is different from what it was then.
Consider ecommerce. Before 2020, it was already a well-established means of acquiring everything from grocery staples to bespoke clothing, but plenty of people still enjoyed the brick-and-mortar experience. Since 2020, U.S. consumers have increased their online spending by $609 billion—more than in the two preceding years (2018 and 2019) combined.
But it’s not just online product demos or advertising that retailers from auto makers to lifestyle brands are using to attract customers. They’re also leaning into the kind of content creation that engages their customer base and creates a community of like-minded enthusiasts who interact with each other and the product through beautifully crafted videos showcasing people more than products.
You might spot a logo here or there, but mostly you’ll see examples of people living their best lives or doing something that makes someone else’s life better. They’re equal parts inspirational and aspirational.
Then there’s the video-first nature of social media. TikTok has taken over the number one spot as the world’s most-visited website, proving that video creation has become the domain of virtually anyone with a smartphone.
“It’s even more apparent that those changes can only be sustained by new ways of working.”
But when you examine how the more traditional forms of video have also changed in the past several years, it’s even more apparent that those changes can only be sustained by new ways of working.
Look, for example, at the streaming services. In the fourth quarter of 2020, Americans spent 44 percent more time streaming video than in the previous year. In 2021, more than 1800 original series were released—a 15 percent increase over 2020. Streaming and PVoD services saw a huge boost in demand during the pandemic while theater box office numbers plummeted.
There are, however, signs that theaters are back in business with the successes of Spider-Man: No Way Home, Dune, and The Batman—all sequels or remakes with built-in followings. Netflix has recently been in the news as their subscriptions have fallen precipitously—with a forecast loss of more than two million subscribers by the end of 2022. If that becomes more of a trend than a coincidence, the implication is that cost consciousness will be essential to content creators at every level going forward.
Revolution vs. evolution
Since we released C2C officially in March 2021, we’ve seen the adoption curve bend in some unexpected ways. If you’re like me, you don’t mind testing novel or unproven technology in the field, because it’s often the best way to discover what’s working, where it breaks down, and how to make it better and more reliable.
But the rate at which people implemented the C2C workflow has expanded exponentially, which surprised even me. In just a year’s time, more than 2,200 productions have uploaded more than 280K unique takes to Frame.io.
What’s notable about that is the fact that at launch time we had only two hardware partners—Teradek for image files and Sound Devices for sound recorders—that connected high-end digital cinema cameras and Wi-Fi enabled recorders to the cloud.
As of NAB 2022, we now have eleven official partners that help connect hundreds of cameras and other devices to Frame.io. Pro-level cameras through third-party proxy recording tools like the Canon R5, Panasonic GH5, and Sony A7 are supported through our new partnership with Atomos. The new integration with FiLMiC Pro connects Android and iPhones. And the Viviana Cloud partnership allows sound recorders without built-in Wi-Fi to access C2C. Which means that virtually every person doing any sort of video creation can now use Frame.io to centralize their end-to-end workflow.
While we were at NAB, we heard the word “revolutionary” being tossed around. If you think about the definition of a revolution, it’s something that forces changes to the norm. And while shake-ups often pave the way for something better, they generally cause disruption and turmoil in the process.
Because Frame.io was developed by creatives who innately understood the pain points we were trying to solve, the intent was always to make it as intuitive to use as possible. Frame.io may have been considered a disruptive technology, but it was never meant to disrupt the way creatives worked.
So the question is, was what we were doing revolutionary—or evolutionary?
The adage “Fast, cheap, good—pick two” has been an industry mantra for as long as many of us can remember. And although in most cases it still holds true, for those of us who live to optimize workflows while enabling creativity, eliminating it would be the holy grail. Because why shouldn’t we be able to work quickly and cost effectively to produce great results?
It may also be vital to the health and well-being of many kinds of video content creation. With the explosive demand for more video content and the increasing competition for eyes on screens, what producer doesn’t want to save time—which translates to saving money?
Looking again at the box office blockbusters, they now occupy a rarified place in the media and entertainment space. Only an elite group of tentpole franchises can be counted on to deliver billion-dollar returns. That means it’s incumbent on productions of all sizes to find ways to reduce the time spent on set.
“They saved somewhere between six and eight hours per shoot day.”
Frame.io C2C not only allows directors to immediately view what they’ve shot, it allows editors to start assembling sequences moments after the director calls “cut” so they can demonstrate, without doubt, that everything they need is in the can, eliminating the need for additional coverage or reshoots. Our friends at CZAR in Germany used C2C on their indie film with our new FDX integration and calculated that they saved somewhere between six and eight hours per shoot day by receiving dailies without needing to transport a physical drive to a post house for transcoding.
Or what about the 24/7 demand for news and information? Our customers, the Golden State Warriors, are now able to almost instantly share newsworthy clips with their fans—like when Stephen Curry broke the all-time 3-point record and GSW had it ready for social media in three minutes.
What’s noteworthy about both of these scenarios is that no one had to sacrifice anything in order to achieve that kind of speed. The ease of use of the workflow meant that in the case of the film, the on-set DIT was able to work in other creative areas rather than being tied to a PC. And the Warriors were able to control their own presentation about Curry’s achievement with footage they captured and edited exactly the way they wanted, beating every other media outlet to the punch.
The speed of creativity
We’ve established that working faster equates to working cheaper. But what about the “good” part?
What we set out to do with C2C is to bypass all the steps in between camera capture and getting footage into post-production—eliminating the steps of backing up, shipping drives, and then delivering dailies to the cutting room.
By connecting record buttons on cameras to timelines through the cloud, Frame.io now lets you go directly from capture to edit. Yes, it’s faster. And yes, it’s more cost effective. But what it’s really about for anyone who cares about the quality of the end product is that this kind of workflow enables creativity.
How? Because creativity is enhanced through sharing ideas. And when ideas can flow freely and collaboration is unblocked, the outcome can only be better.
My team and I are not just employees of Frame.io, we are users of it—pushing our own C2C technology every day. Our writers, directors, editors, visual effects compositors, animators, colorists, and sound mixers all collaborate at the same time, and with C2C there are virtually no blockers to when we can begin working. As the former CEO of a post house, I truly wish I’d had this technology years ago.
Consumer inspires professional
When Frame.io first introduced the Camera to Cloud workflow, we talked about how Hollywood films would now be able to do what social media users do every day—shoot, edit, share. Over the last year, that picture has come into even sharper focus—and not just because we’ve seen a rise in feature film and commercials shooting on smartphones.
There’s an actual paradigm shift taking place that owes to the development of the smartphone itself. Consider that when the iPhone was first introduced, it was regarded as a handheld computer that also had a camera. What that meant over time was that you could easily share what you’d shot because you had a computer that connected you to the internet.
High-end cameras, however, have relied on outboard solutions to get their image files to a place where they can be shared. We solved that problem by partnering with third-party manufacturers like Teradek and Atomos that allow the camera to connect to the cloud—at least enough to transmit high-quality proxy files in nearly real time.
“In the not-too-distant future no one will shoot to a physical medium at all.”
But think about it: in much the same way that no one shoots on a tape medium anymore, in the not-too-distant future no one will shoot to a physical medium at all anymore. No more hard drives. No more SD cards.
In the not-too distant future, even high-end cameras will connect directly to the cloud. In the way that Sound Devices has enabled their newest audio recorders with Wi-Fi connectivity, camera manufacturers will do the same. At that point, whether you’re using a cinema camera from Panavision or an iPhone, the choice becomes more about which camera suits your vision.
It’s part of what we talk about at Frame.io all the time. We want to make sure that the tools are always in service of the creative. We, along with many of our hardware and software partners, believe that the best technology is invisible. It’s there to enhance how you work, not to dictate it. The tools you use should feel completely natural—like an extension of yourself—in the way, for example, that swim fins help propel you through water. They remove resistance and make you more comfortable in your environment.
“The choice becomes more about which camera suits your vision.”
Frame.io as a platform is built on that concept. With new integrations, partnerships, and features, it’s designed to smooth your workflow, eliminating friction and allowing you to focus on the flow of ideas.
Speeding toward 2030
Which brings us to today, in 2022, with cloud workflow solutions front and center at NAB, and with Frame.io already presenting a viable end-to-end cloud-native platform for the entire video creation process from camera capture to final color grading and mastering.
The limitations that currently exist—moving large, camera-original files via the internet, are also on the way to becoming a non-issue. And as the internet itself becomes more robust with increased bandwidth and a widening array of wireless networking solutions, the era of physical media will become as obsolete as videotape is today.
Then there’s what the MovieLabs paper describes as “mundane or repetitive” tasks that will be handled through machine learning or AI. Our parent company, Adobe, sits at the forefront of AI-enabled tooling for creative tasks including smart tracking and object identification in applications like Photoshop, color correction in Premiere Pro, and asset organization in Adobe Experience Manager.
And then there’s the metaverse and the creative avenues that will open for content, advertising, live events, medical use, education, communication, and so much more.
The MovieLabs 2019 paper describes some of this as “fantasy,” but even in the three short years since publication, so much of what was outlined then has been not just prototyped but has found its way into mainstream usage.
If there’s anything we’ve learned in the last hundred-plus years of motion picture history, it’s that necessity is the mother of invention and that cataclysmic events have propelled us into new ways of working.
Which brings us back to the question of revolution vs. evolution.
Given our ability to so rapidly integrate the very newest developments in hardware and software into our ways of working, it’s a signal that what was considered disruptive technology has become the new normal. And in the way that consumer technology has begun to influence how professionals work, it’s also become rapidly democratized.
When you consider that the same Frame.io workflow that’s available to major motion picture producers is now available to smartphone users—and to everyone in between—it’s probably safe to say that we’re firmly in the midst of a great evolution.
That evolution includes giving any creator the ability to easily access a set of powerful, easy-to-use tools that will increasingly enable their creative vision while giving them more bang for their buck.
In realistic terms, there are still some obstacles to overcome to fully achieve the 2030 vision: improved bandwidth for moving large files, more partnerships participating in the cloud ecosystem, marrying metadata with hero assets, and getting the skeptics to embrace the newest technology are necessary to complete it.
But even today we’re much further along than we could have imagined in 2019. We at Frame.io rely on you to help us get there. Your input—what you want to do, what tools you want to use, what new workflows you dream up—will help us all evolve.
In a recent panel with the Hollywood Professional Association, I sat beside HPA President Seth Hallen who eloquently said, “There are those who predict the future, and those who provoke it.”
We’re at a time when we’ve learned the role technology plays in keeping creatives connected. And that technology, now more than ever, enables people to tell great stories.