- The media and entertainment industry switched from analog to digital nearly 25 years ago, but its workflows remain siloed.
- The pandemic presented a compelling argument for working in the cloud, improving collaboration on set and in postproduction.
- Camera-to-cloud technology, the new frontier for TV and film, disrupts the industry by transforming workflows, streamlining production, and attracting a global workforce.
The film industry has refashioned itself many times over its storied history: from silent to talkie; black-and-white to color; and, most recently, analog to digital. But despite these transitions, media and entertainment (M&E) can be change-averse, leaning heavily into old production models and institutional knowledge. Sounds a lot like an industry that’s ripe for disruption—and venturing further into digital opens up whole new ecosystems that will be a boon to creative collaboration.
As the increasing demand for high-quality content continues, it has created a sense of urgency in the M&E world. Production companies are contending with challenging deadlines, tight budgets, and a shortage of people. Delivering the number of movies and shows that consumers want is not an easy task, especially using established, inefficient workflows.
This has set the stage for an industry-wide disruption: cloud-powered production. The first step in this evolution of filmmaking is camera-to-cloud technology, which makes footage available in a common ecosystem almost immediately after cameras stop rolling. With assets and data centralized in one ecosystem, film and television professionals can focus on the narrative elements and struggle less with the logistics of siloed workflows. Connected data flows between teams and tools, creating a thread from script to screen, making production faster and more efficient.
The cloud is not new to the media industry. Netflix, Apple TV+, and every other streaming service store and deliver their digital libraries virtually. But now the cloud is disrupting the industry behind the scenes and is on course to revolutionize how shows and movies are made.
Cloud-Powered Production Catches On
Anyone watching the credits of any movie or show can see that each one requires the talents of hundreds (sometimes thousands) of people. But each team works on its own piece of the puzzle, with its own set of digital tools. Collaboration has often required manually piecing together workflows and data, like transporting hard drives to the postproduction facility for people to upload footage into the edit system. In an industry designed to entertain, these workflows hamper creative momentum.
The industry transitioned from analog to digital almost 25 years ago, but while a lot has changed, some of the foundational workflows have been slow to evolve, leading to silos and inefficiencies. The cloud was, until a few years ago, a long-range plan. Then, the pandemic hit, and production shut down for months. When it started up again, only skeleton crews were on set, and companies had to find another way to facilitate creative collaboration among directors, producers, set designers, wardrobe, cinematographers, and everyone in between. Camera-to-cloud technology such as Autodesk Moxion offered a way for the industry to get back to work and proved that there was another way to make movies.
There were outliers to this cloud-reluctant culture. Visual effects (VFX) companies Jellyfish Pictures and Misc Studios dived headfirst into cloud capabilities. And there are newer companies that have only ever worked in the cloud. Untold Studios is a TV, film, and VFX company that started creating workflows in the cloud from the moment it opened shop in 2018. With tools such as Autodesk ShotGrid, Untold Studios hit the ground running and scaled quickly as its project and client roster grew. Cloud-based workflows also allowed the company to hire talent from around the world, overcoming any work shortages at home.
What started as a temporary fix has become the way forward. MovieLabs, a nonprofit joint venture between the major Hollywood studios, has published 2030 Vision, a call for filmmakers to embrace new technology so that “all assets are created or ingested straight into the cloud.”
Camera-to-Cloud Is Shaping the Future of Production
Camera-to-cloud is the first wave of change in this new connected way of working. Traditionally, dailies—the raw footage shot each day on a production—are not available for review until the following day. But with camera-to-cloud technology, dailies become “immediates” for the simple fact that footage is available for playback soon after the director yells, “Cut!” This is where the disruption happens: making data available in real time across the production life cycle.
Having visuals available so quickly gives directors the ability to make creative decisions on set—a huge win for efficiency. In the past, directors had to wait to see what was “in the can” and approve it or risk expensive reshoots, so they typically waited. With camera-to-cloud, the director and production team can review the immediates, saving a lot of time in the process.
Immediates also allow for asynchronous review—people can watch footage where they want, when they want, from any device. Editors and VFX supervisors can track what’s happening on a shoot and give input that makes it easier in postproduction. Lighting can be adjusted or movements choreographed remotely.
A director can even maintain creative control without physically being on set. A second unit filming in another locale can get the director’s real-time input—for example, requesting an actor change his sweater—to avoid reshooting or having to fix it in post. A film relies on continuity, and the cloud aligns stakeholders on different teams to seamlessly piece the narrative together, working off the same information.
Then, there’s the metadata. With camera-to-cloud tools, every asset is encoded with customizable notes and details (such as camera settings) to help teams organize information. The logistics are hammered out digitally, which frees filmmakers to be more innovative during the creative process rather than looking for information in a physical production binder.
The incredible results of what this new production world could look like are starting to trickle in. Just watch Amazon Studios’ The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, a massive endeavor that leveraged camera-to-cloud technology to connect people and data in real time and facilitate easier collaboration among thousands of people and teams, including 20 VFX houses, to deliver this epic series.
Goodbye Silos, Hello Connected Pipeline
Traditional production life cycles resemble a relay race where one team completes its work before handing the project to the next team. It works, but there’s a better way. Building a fully connected pipeline is all about working from the same centralized set of data and dismantling the silos of linear workflows to make way for parallel workflows. And just as postproduction teams can access immediates now, in the future, they will also be able to use an open ecosystem—such as Autodesk Flow, the industry cloud Autodesk is building for media and entertainment—to share its cuts with the director to get immediate feedback.
From preproduction through post, teams can pull the information they need when they need it, which boosts efficiency in different parts of the pipeline. For example, editors want access to data much earlier in the process, rather than just inheriting it when production wraps. In this cloud-powered world, they can start to cut the footage together while cameras are still rolling on set. It also gives postproduction a seat at the production table. Disney’s Mulan leveraged a connected environment to loop in the VFX team during filming. The ability to see immediates allowed teams to give the producers a more accurate cost for animation work at the end of each day based on what was shot—a first in the filmmaking world.
As M&E projects become bigger and workflows become more complex, cloud architecture is more than capable of handling data at scale. I’m talking about petabytes of data. A single petabyte is equal to 1,000 terabytes or 900 billion pages of text. And with higher-resolution images and visual effects that require massive rendering power, productions are becoming more complex. In 2009, Avatar took one petabyte of data storage. Avatar: The Way of Water, released in 2022, used 18.5 petabytes.
However, camera-to-cloud is just the beginning of the disruption. As M&E professionals begin to connect data and streamline workflows in the cloud, there will be more applications of interoperability with open standards. For example, universal scene descriptions (USD) will facilitate 3D data exchanges no matter what system they were created on, allowing artists to use the tools they want to work with rather than having to pivot between software for each project.
Camera-to-cloud technology lets artists focus on telling stories by removing all the noise that interrupts their creative flow. This new way of working supports the creative collective of filmmaking, enables continuity, and makes the entire production life cycle more efficient. Get the popcorn ready—the future of filmmaking is here.