Images & Sound automate ingest and delivery with ContentAgent

Based in Auckland, Images & Sound is New Zealand’s longest established full-service post house with an extremely impressive portfolio. The company’s clients range from small independent filmmakers to large international studios and while long form documentaries and drama make up the majority of work, TV commercials and web content add an important contribution to the mix. All deliverables benefit from Images & Sound’s combination of experience and creative talent underpinned by a range of leading edge technologies employed in 4K HDR workflows, Dolby Atmos Home Theatre mixing, high-end VFX and grading. Collaborative working, essential to provide speedy throughput, is facilitated by the deployment of Avid NEXIS to serve the edit suites.

Until fairly recently, workflow automation had not been a priority for the facility as the tapeless environment was slower to take off in New Zealand. As the technology took hold however, it became apparent that an enterprise transcoding tool would be essential to more productive working by eliminating bottlenecks and providing consistency.

Images & Sound Online Editor and Workflow Specialist Tristan Simpson takes up the story. “We visited NAB in 2017 to evaluate potential systems – initially we were looking for a robust and reliable tool to create broadcast deliverables and DVD/Blu-ray. We thought the choice of Vantage was a foregone conclusion and we had the system in on trial. At the show we had a demonstration of ContentAgent which greatly impressed. After we’d had some time with the system we significantly preferred ContentAgent’s more human interface and considered it a better solution for our operators.”

Prior to acquiring ContentAgent, Images & Sound used a variety of different software for encoding, depending on the operators’ preference. And while the new system helped to unify and automate that aspect, Tristan soon began to appreciate how ContentAgent could benefit a much wider range of processes in the facility including approval encodes and offline Avid MXF encoding.

“ContentAgent has really shone on several feature documentaries,” explains Tristan. “A good example would be ‘Capital in the Twenty-First Century.’”

The film, directed by Justin Pemberton, is based on the best-selling book by Thomas Piketty which charts the course of wealth and inequality in Europe and the United States over the past 400 years. Originally scheduled for release in mid-2020, the documentary mixes pop-art references with expert opinion, archive footage and clips from feature films including ‘Wall Street’ and ‘The Grapes of Wrath.’

“We had to work with a massive range of source material from dozens of sources in myriad formats.” Tristan continues. “With multiple frame rates and sizes and a prodigious volume of footage, the task might have been intimidating but for ContentAgent. I was able to create a complex workflow and have all aspects of the process repeated identically and automatically from file analysis, decisions based on analysis, encoding parameters and metadata handling – through to automated QC.

“Once the workflow is built I don’t need to worry about it again. The Media Operators can just drop a bunch of clips into ContentAgent and, before you know it, the Avid MXFs are automatically encoded to the NEXIS alongside a collection of AAFs ready to be ingested by editorial. As offline editorial on projects like these can last for a couple of years, knowing that all encoding and metadata handing is consistent from the first archive clip to the last is really a blessing.”

‘The Luminaries’ a six part miniseries from Working Title for BBC, is a 19th century epic tale of love, murder and revenge, set on the west coast of New Zealand’s South Island at the height of the 1860’s gold rush. The show is due to air mid-2020. For this project, ContentAgent’s ability to automate the generation and QC of AS-11 UK DPP files proved invaluable.

“There’s not much call for the creation of AS-11 DPP deliverables in New Zealand,” explains Tristan. “ContentAgent demystifies the process and makes it easy to create complete transmission-ready programmes with associated metadata. We knew that the system was one of the first to have been ratified by the DPP which was reassuring. Integrated within the workflow, the file-based QC from Vidchecker is managed through ContentAgent’s friendly user interface ensuring accuracy and saving further time.

“ContentAgent’s workflow automation has been a revelation,” Tristan concludes. “I just need to spend a bit of time at the start of the project then, once the workflow’s complete, it becomes a very convenient and fluid process. I can cue up material and let the system work overnight if necessary, confident that the resultant encoding will be accurate and consistent.”

The ContentAgent configuration at Images & Sound incudes CardAgent, a simplified user interface enabling staff to initiate predetermined automated workflows for camera card ingest. Other options installed include AVC/XAVC, Avid MXF & Turbo, ProRes and automated QC mangement.

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