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Dispatches from PyeongChang: The Edit Infrastructure of the Olympics (Part 4)

Growing up, I was always glued to the Summer or Winter Olympics. And as a young and ambitious video nerd, I wondered what went into the incredible number of visual stories being told. Luckily I crossed paths with editor Mike Api who is currently in PyeongChang, South Korea, freelancing for NBC in his second Olympic Games. Mike’s “unit” is in the “Control C/Graphics Ingest” unit — that is, the department that cuts promos, sponsorship enhancements, and a few athletic features (or in other words, packages and profiles).

Mike is sending me periodic dispatches from PyeongChang, where he's nearly two weeks into editing the Olympics. Check out part one to get started on his journey.

What's the workflow like for cutting the stuff you cut and then making it to air? What’s the overall technical workflow for ingesting everything else?

The primary source for every network is OBS (Olympic Broadcasting Service), the official host broadcaster for every Olympics. They are a branch of the IOC and provide every media outlet [who has purchased the rights] with what we call the World Feed - literally every second of every event. Any game you see on TV was shot and recorded by OBS. The scope of their production is really impressive. They have cameras all over every venue, plus action cameras like the ones that race along the track/pool/ski slope/whatever, plus a bunch of high tech spidercams, drones, lipstick cams planted throughout the playing fields, on and on and on. Plus god only knows how many microphones dotted all over every playing venue. We get the World Feed plus textless "melts" - reels of the best moments from several different angles, usually in super high speed.

We also have our own production people filming and recording a whole separate slew of ENG material - true speed, super high speed, helicopter aerials, all sorts of fun stuff - on top of all the athlete profiles and cultural features we produce. Our stuff looks really filmic and helps add some color and texture to the broadcast. I have to shout out our ENG shooters for the unbelievable work they do - high-level professionals like Samson Chan, Aaron Mendez, and John Biggins provide us with some really astounding moments.

In addition to cutting sponsor enhancements, promos, and features, we're kind of the central distribution hub for all other departments as well as other broadcasters and venues. Our media managers ingest an ungodly amount of material every day, catalog it, and distribute it to my department. Loggers and PAs watch *everything* that comes in, subclip it, name it, and check it into Avid Interplay. Each editor has a producer in their edit bay, wading through the massive stockpile of material and digging out the gems depending on what our assignments are. PAs also do a lot of digging for shots and moments and even some editing. It's not uncommon for us to be in a pinch, with everyone crashing on their own pieces, and hand a project off to a PA to be cut. After all, they are the first eyes on the material and typically know the footage better than the rest of us. It's a great opportunity for these young bucks. Editors edit, producers edit, PAs edit, everybody's got their hands in the footage.

Editing wise, we're 100% Avid/PC based. Everyone's running on MC 8.9.2 with Symphony enabled, accelerated by these gorgeous whisper-quiet Avid Artist DNxIO boxes. We have a colorist making a color pass on select material upon ingest (usually scenics and specific major features), everything else gets colored in the edit. We work entirely in full resolution since it just wouldn't be practical (or necessary) to have proxies and then uprez later. We need to see everything in high res from the start and get it out as quickly as possible. After cutting, we'll color correct and either mix it ourselves or send it to our Pro Tools mixers in Stamford, CT if it's a bigger or more complex piece. Once we get the mix we export the uncompressed finished product to our EVS servers for playback. (Beyond just the regular HD broadcast, we also do a bunch of 4K HDR, VR, mobile, and even Snapchat stuff, all with their own unique delivery paths.)


Inside the IBC.

Can you give us an idea of how vast the infrastructure is?

It's mind-boggling. I have a hard time wrapping my head around the numbers because they are so comically high:

I think we have something like 2,500 crew members working here in PyeongChang, plus another 1,000 back home in Stamford, CT, some more at 30 Rock in Manhattan, some out at CNBC in New Jersey, plus more in Denver working on Olympic Channel stuff - where most of these sports than only get seen every few years have more regular coverage. This year we're doing about 2,400 hours of coverage (120 something hours a day), around 1,800 of which is live. We deploy 150 of our own cameras and 2 helicopters to accompany OBS's massive arsenal (they had 1,000 cameras in Rio). We have 15 or 16 edit rooms here in the IBC, plus another 15 spread out amongst the venues. I heard we take up around 72,000 sq ft of space within the IBC, which sounds about right. Everything is connected via fiber but I couldn't begin to guess how much cable was used to build the infrastructure. All I know is the 6000mi transfers from PyeongChang to Stamford, CT are lightning fast. The engineering team behind the build are mad scientists, man.

On the media side, it's equally as bonkers. Beyond ingesting the World Feed, our media managers also get about 3-5TB of new ENG material plus another few hundred GB of helicopter stuff every day. There's hundreds of GB of graphics, hundreds of TB of specialty promo footage, and as of today (Day 9) our projects drive is already about 600GB full. That's a lot of metadata! We also have a massive archive of all of our footage from past Olympic games. Storage-wise, we have somewhere in the neighborhood of 2.2PB (or 2,200TB). Like I said, mind-boggling.

When you are working on location, do you have much interaction with the locals? How do you try to experience life through their eyes?

Absolutely! Every Olympics has a local crew of staff and volunteers that work all the events, direct people where to go, assist with translations, man all the security stations, handle all the food, act as local concierges, everything. Getting to know the locals is one of my favorite parts of the job. I mean, why travel around the world if you're not going to meet new people and experience different cultures? My team and I do as much traveling in the country as we can, exploring nearby towns, eating where the locals eat, visiting cultural landmarks, just trying to immerse ourselves in the local life.


A day off in Seoul makes for good Instagrams.

Another great way to meet people is Olympic pin trading. Olympic pins date back to the very first Summer Games in 1896 and are a whole world unto themselves. Broadcasters all have their own unique sets of pins, as do equipment vendors, sponsors, specific venues, host cities, everybody. I've got some from NBC, BBC, Avid, Anton Bauer, CBC, and some classic ones from the 80s. All you have to do is ask for one (typically best to do in the very beginning, as supplies quickly evaporate once more broadcasters arrive at the Games). The local volunteers are here every day with us, so they're essentially our co-workers. Trading pins with them is a really easy way to forge a bond and make someone's day. I've had some really rough days turn around because a local kid was excited that I gave them a cool pin. For us, we go to Olympics every few years so we amass a pretty sweet collection of keepsakes, but for the locals working around us, this may be the only opportunity they have to get some.


Mike's pin collection so far.

[Below is an exchange from Rio that I'll never forget. My friend Karl (on the right) and I were coming into work one day at about 2am, about halfway through the Games. We were both exhausted and really struggling to maintain our energy. On our way in that day, this stoic security guard - who hadn't said two words to us the entire time - stopped us and gently pointed to the pins on Karl's lanyard, asking to trade. In a matter of seconds this guy went from stone-faced serious business to ear-to-ear smiles (as did Karl). He was proud of the Olympics being in his homeland and just wanted as many pins that said Rio on them as he could get. We made his day, he made ours, and believe it or not it gave us a little boost to get through the last week of the grind. All because of a little pin.]



Which past Olympics would you have liked to work?

I really wish I could have worked the Sydney, Barcelona, Torino, London, and Vancouver Games because they're all places I either love or have always wanted to visit. From a historical standpoint, of course I would have loved to have seen the Los Angeles '84 Games and the Miracle on Ice in Lake Placid '80. Honestly, I'm still in disbelief that I get to work any of them.

NEXT: Read Part Five!


Posted by: Kylee Peña on Feb 22, 2018 at 5:43:33 am olympics, post production, editing, avid

Dispatches from PyeongChang: Editing the Olympics (Part 3)

Growing up, I was always glued to the Summer or Winter Olympics. And as a young and ambitious video nerd, I wondered what went into the incredible number of visual stories being told. Luckily I crossed paths with editor Mike Api who is currently in PyeongChang, South Korea, freelancing for NBC in his second Olympic Games. Mike’s “unit” is in the “Control C/Graphics Ingest” unit — that is, the department that cuts promos, sponsorship enhancements, and a few athletic features (or in other words, packages and profiles).

Mike is sending me periodic dispatches from PyeongChang, where the athletic highlights and stunning stories continue to pour out. Check out part one to get started on his journey.


Mike's Olympic 'stache next to the Olympic flame.

What's a typical day like for you now that the games are in full swing?

We work twelve hour shifts and I'm on a 2pm-2am workday this time around. My producer and I have to cut two new pieces every day for a primetime show on NBC affiliates - a show open and a highlight "lookback," which is like a highlight montage of the best moments or stories from that day. Beyond that we'll help out with other deliverables as needed, cutting promos, finishing pieces the day shift didn't have time for, and crashing* on new pieces that may pop up on the spur of the moment (which happened just this week after the men's skiathlon).

* - "Crashing" is an informal term for quickly cutting a new piece from scratch, usually because of some unexpected development or breaking news. In our case, we were asked to crash on a piece telling the story of Norwegian cross-country skiier Simen Hegstad Krueger's... in the men's skiathlon. (He crashed and broke a pole at the start of the 30km race, fell to dead last and made a miraculous comeback to win gold, passing all 63 skiiers in the process.) The whole thing was done with announcer calls from the race, so it was basically us digging through the hour-15 behemoth for little bits and pieces to tell the story coherently. There's more I would like to do with it, but I think it came out pretty cool nonetheless.

[Watch Mike's crash piece on Krueger's comeback on NBC's website -- it's really good.]

Do you get to actually watch anything, on TV or in person?

Yes on both accounts! We're surrounded by TVs with feeds from all the Comcast Olympic stations as well as direct feeds from the venues so we can see literally everything! I got to attend about ten or twelve events down in Rio but I was also on a 2am-2pm shift, so by the time my day was done there was a ton of things I could go see.

Here in PyeongChang it's a little different since I'm out at 2am and my window is a bit more limited. I'd like to see some luge, bobsled, snowboarding, ski jumping, and alpine downhill if I can swing it. Also, Japanese broadcaster NHK has a special Super High Vision* theater set up in the IBC, broadcasting events both taped and live in stunning 8K/22.2 surround sound. They're testing and preparing for Tokyo 2020 (and have been for years). I saw figure skating yesterday and it looked and sounded like I was sitting in the arena, it was incredible.

[Editor's note for the nerds: NHK's SHV is 7680x4320 10/12 bit 16:9 at frame rates of 59.94, 60, or 120. New to the Super High Vision for this Olympics is the addition of HDR for all events.]


Outside the Super High Vision Theater

Are there any special circumstances you have to watch out for in South Korea?

Nothing too crazy aside from the bitter cold and brutal wind. I've talked to a lot of Olympic long-timers who say this is by far the coldest Games they can remember, which is bonkers considering we're not that high up (around 2300ft) and we're about even with San Francisco latitudinally. I'm lucky enough to be in an edit bay all day. I can't imagine what the camera ops, mixers, photographers, and other production personnel are dealing with out their in the deep freeze.

What's been the best moment of the Olympics so far?

The best moment I've seen so far has been that crazy skiathlon comeback I mentioned earlier, but there are new amazing moments happening every hour. Take your pick: seventeen year old American Red Gerard winning Gold in slopestyle snowboarding (the USA's first medal); figure skater Mirai Nagasu's gravity-defying triple axel; Canada's Philippe Marquis qualifying eighth in moguls with a torn ACL, which is like the most insane thing I've ever heard. Literally every hour of every day some new record is set or a new compelling story develops. And it's still only Day 3!

What has been a personal highlight so far?

My personal highlight so far was getting the opportunity to cut a piece for the Opening Ceremony called Meet Team USA. It was a short stat-heavy feature that aired right before Team USA entered the stadium for the parade of nations. We worked on it in our down time for about 4 or 5 days and I'm really proud of the result. (I'm always my own worst critic and never feel like anything I work on is really ever 'done,' so this was a first for me.)


MEET TEAM USA from Mike Api on Vimeo.



Basically we started with a long script that was essentially a ton of numbers and names. We knew just yelling figures at people would get tired after a while, so we recorded a scratch VO, picked some music, and went to town pacing it out how we thought it should sound. From there we added some nat sound pops and announcer calls where we felt we needed a little break from the narration. (IMO, this is pretty standard documentary process - lay down your sound first and then elevate it with good visuals to tell the story.)

As my fantastic producer Scott and I mined for better and better shots, the Graphics department built us some cool full screens and animated titles, and hosts Katie Couric and Mike Tirico recorded the voiceover. As always, things kept popping up last minute (in this case athletes dropping out of the Games due to injuries), which meant new graphics as well as new voiceover - not the easiest thing to coordinate when you're hours away from the Opening Ceremony. Once we locked our cut we sent it off to [the NBC Sports home base in] Stamford, CT to be mixed, dropped in the final mix and exported to our playback server about 2 hours before the start of Opening Ceremony.


Mike's Media Composer timeline for Meet Team USA.

How does the constraint of time and deadline work for you in this environment?

In all of these cases, I find myself thriving off the high pressure and time constraints. It forces you to be more decisive and quickly recognize what you like or dislike. You do a lot of relying on your gut instincts since you just don't have the time to second guess yourself or flounder around in "well, I don't know" land.

You have to be creative off the top of your head, trust your teammates, brainstorm new ideas, collaborate, and try things out. Like I've mentioned in previous posts, SOMETHING has to air, so you need to get image and sound on a timeline one way or the other. Personally, I love working like that because at the end of a shift, it's on the air, out of my head, and I'm onto the next thing with a fresh mindset.


Navigation in the buildings.

NEXT: Read Part Four!


Posted by: Kylee Peña on Feb 17, 2018 at 6:07:11 pm olympics, post production, mike api, editing

Dispatches from PyeongChang: Preparing to Edit the Olympics (Part 2)

Growing up, I was always glued to the Summer or Winter Olympics. And as a young and ambitious video nerd, I wondered what went into the incredible number of visual stories being told. Luckily I crossed paths with editor Mike Api who is currently in PyeongChang, South Korea, freelancing for NBC in his second Olympic Games. Mike’s “unit” is in the “Control C/Graphics Ingest” unit — that is, the department that cuts promos, sponsorship enhancements, and a few athletic features (or in other words, packages and profiles).

Mike is sending me periodic dispatches from balmy PyeongChang, where it is currently mid-afternoon on a Sunday and 20 degrees Fahrenheit, on track to be one of the coldest Games in recent memory. Check out part one to get started on his journey.


Mike with the Winter Olympics mascot Soohorang (수호랑) and Winter Paralympics mascot Bandabi (반다비).

When does the Olympics actually start? Why are you there so early?

The Opening Ceremony is Friday, February 9th, but technically the Winter Games start on the 7th. There are usually some events that take place before the OC because there's such a huge number to get through and scheduling & broadcasting them all means there has to be some crafty logistical maneuvering. There will never be any medals presented before the OC, but some early round robins/preliminary events get the early go. (In this case it's biathlon, luge, alpine skiing, and ski jumping.)

We get here almost two weeks before the opening because there's a lot of work to do! On the editing side, we have a ton of promos, sponsored content, and all sorts of different elements to create beforehand. There are also pieces that were cut in Stamford, CT that will need to be either finished, upgraded*, voiced, or totally recut depending on late-breaking developments (e.g. - if someone gets injured before the Games or if a shoe-in athlete we've been producing a feature on doesn't end up making the Olympics, which always happens). The studio and engineering crews have been here for much longer, building and testing all the studios and technical infrastructure. None of this was here a few months ago!


The International Broadcast Center being pieced together.

This year is especially complicated because it happens to be NBC's turn to broadcast the Super Bowl (in the same week no less!), so a good portion of the crew is still working on that.

Beyond that, we're still shooting new pieces that will need to be cut, colored, voiced, mixed, and ready to go later this week! (To be clear, this isn't due to a lack of planning - some things just aren't possible to do way ahead of time, especially any pieces that involve the athletes physically being in Korea. And again, things always come up.)

* - "upgraded" refers to upgrading the footage. The standards for visuals are very high, so we're always tweaking until we're happy with every shot in a piece. For instance, we may cut with "dirty" (texted) placeholder footage from an old race until we get our hands on better angles or better quality replacements. "Specialty" shoots are where we get the really pretty, really stylized b-roll and scenics that sports tv is known for.


Seoul, South Korea.

In the days leading up to the beginning of the games, what kinds of things are you doing or preparing, in general?

You name it. We're prepping a bunch of pieces we can't actually edit until we get competition footage, cutting a big preview show, cutting all those new late-breaking pieces I mentioned earlier, cutting dozens of sponsorship enhancements* (branded content that act as in-broadcast highlight reels while also serving as ad time), all sorts of jazz.

Right now I'm cutting a special Meet Team USA piece that's going to air directly before the USA walks into the Opening Ceremony! (No pressure at all, right?)

[*An example of sponsorship enhancements would be if Creative COW sponsors the Games and buys 12 sponsorship enhancements with a focus on "teamwork." So as the Games go on, we'll have to deliver 12 mini highlight reels with an emphasis on the best team moments - teammates picking each other up, passing the baton during a relay, celebrating together, etc. People often dog the Olympics for being too ad-heavy, but the fact is without sponsors like Coca-Cola (who is not paying me to say this), we wouldn't be able to broadcast the Games across the world. It's also how they manage to keep the courses, fields, and rinks clear of any advertising.]


Home for the month.

What have you learned is important to bring with you when you work on location in a foreign country?

Copies of your passport are crucial because it can take a really long time to replace a lost passport. Scan it, email it to yourself, and email it to someone else. Prepare a list of emergency contacts in your phone and also keep a physical copy on you. If you wear contacts - bring extras! It sounds obvious but I've gotten burned a few times when a lens popped out or ripped at the beginning of my trip and I had no backups.

It should go without saying but you also need to bring a respectful attitude and be mindful that you are, in fact, representing your entire country abroad. *This is especially important for younger people.* Sometimes you're excited to travel abroad and let loose, but you have to understand that the image you're putting out there is representative of (in our case) the United States and the NBC network. This isn't your home. It's someone else's. You can get plastered and be loud on the LIRR [Long Island Rail Road] and get a few stares but do that in another country while wearing your company logo and that's the image people will associate with the United States. It's not a very good look. 


Sight-seeing in Seoul.

How do you prepare emotionally for such a high intensity job that lasts for so long?

Finding a good rhythm and taking care of yourself is essential on these long hauls. The Olympics is definitely a grind; we're pulling 12-hr days 7 days a week for a month straight. If you're staying up late all the time or not eating properly and not getting enough rest it'll catch up to you, your body will shut down, and you won't be productive.

Psychologically, you really need to focus in on the task at hand, forget about social media or any other distractions. and operate on a Left-to-Right mentality. (That's a reference to putting things down on a timeline from left to right, getting ideas onto a sequence rather than wondering IF an idea is going to work.) Just try it and then adjust - after all, something is going to have to air. This is an approach I take to any project, no matter the pressure. Then go back and make it pretty when you have the time. This is not to say there isn't time to think and be creative, but you need to be efficient and focused.

What are you doing in your downtime?

(What is this "downtime" you speak of?!) I try to relax after work, get a good meal in and alternate between doing nothing and doing...something. And it almost always involves food (naturally). In Rio I did a lot of wandering around the Olympic Park checking out different events, and a bunch of days were spent exploring nearby towns. Here in PyeongChang, I happen to be at a hotel smack dab in the Mountain Cluster where nordic combined, ski jumping, and snowboarding is going down.



I have eaten my weight in Korean fried chicken, barbecue, kimchi, and all sorts of fun treats. We're also pretty close to the slide centre so I definitely want to catch some bobsled and luge. We're also pretty close to the high speed train that takes us to the Coastal Cluster where hockey, speed skating (!!), figure skating, and a host of other events are happening. We got an unexpected day off on Friday and took the train to Seoul, which was pretty amazing. Once we really get into the thick of it, I'm sure there will be days where I don't want to do anything but eat dinner and relax. It's a delicate balance of exploring while being mindful of how much rest you're getting.



[Editor's Note: Mike also got a scary warning text this weekend. It turned out to be warning of the impending cold wave. Which is also scary, but not in the way he was probably imagining.]



NEXT: Read Part Three!





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