November 26, 2015

An Unforgettable Experience In a TV Series Production

Game Development

Sam Garner

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TV Series Production

This piece is for all those video producers lacking an adequate budget, the necessary assets, and a place to work and … yet the thirst to create a beautiful masterpiece is the force driving their efforts.

In my work, I had everything: A magnificent studio, a green-screen studio, a very creative producing team and literally everything and anything a producer manager could dream of. However, all good things come to an end, and especially in such good days one should always be ready to face harsh working conditions, or else you will witness your own fall.

In a very intense working period when I had to address a number of projects while preparing a TV program, the studio was suddenly allocated for a special event taking place on that very day and I was left empty-handed. The green screen studio was placed under a very tight schedule and through the entire day, I only had two hours of shooting time.

My production team was reduced from 10 to 2, with one of these individuals working part time for me, and the rest of his hours were dedicated to another production.

I said, all right, I can provide that day’s production piece.

I was getting everything together after this blow when I was suddenly called for a meeting and placed a 12-part TV serial, each part being 45 minutes, on my shoulders. This serial needed to have a certain quality and I realized that the future of this TV station relied on the broadcasting of this very tight-scheduled TV program. Everyone understands how quickly a TV station can fall and how hard one has to work to prevent it.

I told myself, work harder, burn the midnight oil, place more working hours into it and … However, I was just beginning to realize all the problems. The virtual device in the studio was out of order and we no longer had a virtual studio. What could be done? No live studio, no virtual background, and working with a fixed camera would render very low-quality work.

The classic and academic working methods were no longer of any use. I had to be creative and move forward, setting aside all the old habits.

In such a condition there are two ways in front of you and your future is pending of the decision you make.

  1. You break under such pressure and you quit.
  2. You stay and face a hard time with innovation and creativity.

What did I do?

I chose the latter, and decide to break through the impasse. How?

  • Regrouping my team (or what was left of it)
  • Using the right software
  • Inspiring my people

The Basics:

I told my one producer to lay out the basics, including the following:

  1. The program logo
  2. Intro & Openings
  3. Sidebars
  4. Video Frames
  5. Inserts Logos
  6. Video footage casting

And there were some things I did myself, such as the following:

  1. Designing the TV Host virtual studio
  2. Designing the interviewee background
  3. Selecting the proper music theme for the serial and then selecting the right songs
  4. Sequencing each part of the serial program
  5. Further detailing the production of each of the 12 parts
  6. Dividing the work and preparing the necessary folders

I had one part-time man whom I had to take care of the following:

  1. Finding adequate footage based on the script and all the supplies needed for each part
  2. Finding the necessary photo images

Launching production, managing the work and using various software

The most fundamental subject in the serial program was the anchorman. I neither had any live background, nor the time needed in a green-screen studio. And of course, it has to be a high-quality program (such as using fixed angles and a background without any movement). I wanted the background footage to be similar to a live studio environment, and the camera to have movement parallel to that of a studio. The scene needed to be alive. The studio should not seem empty, people had to be present and …

Production & management

I said to myself if I became stuck on the anchorman or any problem about the studio, it would mean the entire project would be a failure. Therefore, I divided the work in my team by taking the script of the first two parts from the scenario writer. I checked the piece and began my work. This means I didn’t wait until the entire 12 sections were written and sent for review.

Since I needed to save time I gave the scenario to the person in charge of finding the right footage. He began his work by preparing the right folders and agreeing on the names of the video clips with the producers to provide easy and quick access to the resources.

When the work to find the necessary footage began, I placed the responsibility of producing each sequence to two members of the team. The reason was that the heaviest part of the project, with quality summarized in this section, was the production of these very sequences. Of course, we had prepared the basics of this part beforehand.

However, the only remaining problem that needed to be resolved was the studio and resolving the technical glitches, especially due to the quality that we needed to deliver.

How we technically solved this dilemma

In a meeting with the team members that reached a certain conclusion, we decided we should no longer view graphic assets and software in separate terms. In fact, we need to take advantage of the pros and compatibility in these software’s, use them together and further expand their use in order to overcome our shortcomings in the real world. As a result, I used a 3D design program such as 3D Max or Cinema 4D (I used 3D Max) to fully design a 3D studio. After placing the final touches for its lighting, I rendered the entire studio scene using render-to-texture. Why? Professional lighting using V-ray in Max bakes the objects in a way that wherever these objects were used it would deliver with the same lighting quality used in Max.

Up to this phase, I was creating a virtual studio, and the main problem solved was using a studio without a virtual device. The groundbreaking solution that we reached under all the pressures was to use After Effects equipped with the Element plugin (version 1.6 at the time).

After all the footage was shot using the green-screen studio with fixed-frame, (due to the lack of shooting time, which I will also get into on how we resolved the camera movement) we inserted the host footage into After Effects and transformed the layer into a 3D layer. The reason why we used After Effects and Element was in this very exact phase, meaning integrating the 3D studio with the 2D host footage. From this point forward when I began to learn the nuts and bolts of this method, more and more creative methods came to me as I moved forward in each part of the serial. For example:

– Adding After Effects special effects, such as hologram images and 3D Lens Flares to fill the scene adjacent to the host.

– Simulating crane camera movement and moving the host to different sections of the studio, without any limitation and with unbelievable flexibility

– Designing large studios with full decor without any limitations

– Using numerous plasmas and allocating a composition in After Effect for each plasma using Element. We were able to show anything we wished through the plasmas, all enjoying full effects support provided in After Effects.

– Inserting 3D objects and animating them in the studio to create special effects

– Creating 3D movement for subjects in the studio, made possible by using OBJ Sequence found in Element.

For example, I used the ‘population’ tool found in 3DMax and created a path at the end part of the studio for people to walk in. Then I inserted this into Element, in a way for the viewer to see people walking at the end part of the studio.

– Using Cinema 4D working with Element is very easy and you will actually have even more assets at your disposal due to Element’s full support of Cinema 4D. Element actually allows Cinema 4D animation and project to be inserted, one can impose any changes in the studio using Cinema 4D, and all this is imposed in Element and …

– Playing footages in 3D studio plasmas. This is another tool found in Element, allowing you to choose custom layer for the material of an object, name a footage in the composition as a custom layer, and play it through the plasma.

The key for realizing all this was using the Element 3D plugin.

Fortunately, more and more users are now realizing the powerful tool in this plugin and in its new version, Element3D v.2.2 has resolved the problem in reflection seen in previous versions.

The next step in this production was placing the host in the studio, and I produced it separately for each sequence. I finally went on with the final edit of each produced sequence and the host related to each sequence.

As I said, this project was finished with two other individuals, and myself being the third. One of the most important aspects was a correct management of the team members and each phase of the project that they conducted. To make it simple:

– Two team members dedicated to sequence production

– One member to produce the host footage (placing the host in the studio) and finalize the edit of each segment (since the host production was far less work, host production and final edit was given to one team member).

– The script writer and man in charge of finding the adequate footage were individuals outside of our production team

– The next very important issue was that all members of the team had to be able to fill each other’s gaps, meaning being completely at ease, coordinated and knowing each other’s methods at work. This provided us the mobility to help any section of the project when needed, meaning no individual would only work on one field of the program production.

I finished this project on time. It was all over and all the mess winded down afterward. However, I gained enormous and unprecedented experience that I will never forget because I believe we created something out of nothing. Literally. We relied on our effort, the correct use of our skills and all the possibilities of our computer software.

I hope I was able to share my experience with those who are willing to stop, and are yearning to overcome all odds.

image from news.creativecow.net

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