Sound with vision
Fans of CBS shows Dynasty and Bull would have been bereft were it not for the smart work of post producer Formosa Group. The latest seasons of the shows were finished during the pandemic using remote workflows only possible with ClearView Flex.
Formosa Group, with multiple locations throughout North America and the UK, is a Streamland Media company and full-service post-production sound facility comprised of award-winning creative talent. Across its many divisions, Formosa Group engages with filmmakers and content creators to tell stories through sound offers content creators services including sound supervision and design, sound and music editorial, re-recording mixing, integration and music for film, broadcast, games and other platforms.
“We pride ourselves in accommodating client requests, one of which was the need for remote playback,” says Danial Shimiaei, director, Operations & Engineering, Formosa NoHo. “Interest in this service actually began years ago.”
Long before anyone knew of Covid-19, Formosa was exploring solutions for connecting clients remotely to its studio. They used techniques like Source-Connect or dedicated hardware solutions to operate between different studios with dedicated systems but with showrunners and EPs increasingly short of time and wanting access from whichever office, hotel room or overseas location they might be, a new solution was required. About three years ago, various streaming systems were deployed for this niche requirement.
“We played around with different tech, but they all relied on some type of dedicated server to push the material out, or were not super robust for all customers,” he says. “When the pandemic forced us to service more clients working from home with higher demands on quality, we had to come up with a different solution.”
For Shimiaei the main issue was finding a technology that enabled smooth real-time streams with very low latency.
“Whether you are doing picture or audio post, the client has to be able to interact with creative talent otherwise it’s just a totally frustrating experience. Latency was a factor on the technologies we tried to find the best quality. Also lack of a buffering mechanism with other systems results in loss of dropped frames leading to a poor experience for customers.”
Then they tried ClearView Flex.
“The buffering capability that is serviced by Sohonet through ClearView Flex provides a better experience for customers to review and approve material and conduct session notes with our creative talent in real-time environment providing a seamless process.”
Between its various divisions, Formosa Group has multiple ClearView Flex units. In LA alone between Formosa, Picture Shop and Picture Head, Streamland Media companies can draw on at least seventeen boxes as demand dictates.
“The system is very easy to administer, and the service provided by Sohonet is robust whether that’s from a sound stage, a picture suite or offsite. It is really quite simple to setup and operate.”
Formosa uses ClearView principally for dubbing sessions and final playback with Zoom open for interactive communication.
“We ingest a video signal from the final playback video file into ClearView embedded with audio being mixed on the stage. Client receives a real-time stream via a one-time use key to access their show which is superbly secure.”
“To preserve as close to the audio fidelity of our mix as possible, on recipient end we ideally don’t want them to listen with earbuds or regular laptop speakers. There are too many unknowns and variables to the quality of playback. Initially we had made specific headphone recommendations and over time, as our clients have done more work remotely, everyone has managed to find an environment with which they are comfortable. This could be using professional headphones or streaming ClearView through a home theater setup.”
CBS’ prime time episodic drama Dynasty was renewed for a fourth season in January 2020 and premiered in May 2021 following a post production pipeline that adhered to Covid-19 social distance rules. Similarly, the fourth series of legal drama Bull aired in 2020 with a fifth season now in production. Both dramas are using an audio mixing route reliant on ClearView Flex for client-artist interaction.
The all-round experience has not only proved invaluable as a temporary fix. Remote workflows will be a mainstay of post production going forward.
“Our observation is that it is going to be equal and concurrent ratio for in facility/remote workflows,” Shimiaei says. “Clients are eager to return and enjoy the stage environment as before, yet there are others who may be reluctant to do so or have discovered a new method for their busy schedules. Many are now more comfortable with the remote viewing experience. For that reason, we still need to have the ability to stream a final product out to our clients whether they are in their office, travelling, or at home.”
“I believe remote has become a natural part of our workflow. Pandora’s Box has been opened and with content platforms launching and production demand ramping up it’s not going to shut. Clients will want flexibility to review material and work with our artists live using ClearView simply because it will save them valuable time getting to the final product.”