AMV Designs EVS-Cinedeck Live Workflow for 'Earth Live'

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National Geographic aired a two-hour live program titled ‘Earth Live’ in early July to feature the work of cinematographers who specialise in documenting wildlife and the natural world. ‘Earth Live’ required nearly 50 recording channels, many starting days before the broadcast, to cover live feeds transmitting from 28 locations in 17 countries. The complex live production required resourceful coordination to broadcast worldwide, simultaneously on National Geographic and Nat Geo Wild in 171 countries and 45 languages.

All Mobile Video live event producers designed the workflow and built the studio set. Planning and coordination for the production pulled together the show’s executives, the post-team and AMV’s engineering group. AMV finds that because almost every production they undertake now is file-based, the discussion about production workflow starts with post and how data flows between the two departments.

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The ingest side of the live broadcast consisted of 50 inbound signals split between EVS XT3 playout servers and Cinedeck systems. The 18 tier one signals, which would need instant playback or slow motion replay, were recorded to EVS, while everything else was routed to Cinedeck ZXs for straight recording. Organising this split was what made the production both authentic and economically feasible.

SVP AMV Lenny Laxer said, “Because animals in their natural environment are unpredictable, regardless of cost, it didn’t make sense to limit what could be recorded. The producers really appreciated the ability to record every inbound signal without having to choose between them. to make this affordable, our engineering team proposed Cinedeck to handle the bulk of recording during the live show and pre-show records for editorial. This workflow kept the per-channel cost of recording 50 channels within the customer’s budget.”

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Although ‘Earth Live’ was broadcast live, recording and creating b-roll packages on Avid for playback started several days earlier with Cinedecks writing files in the DNx145 codec across 29 channels. On the ZX recorders, each channel could be set to automatically segment every five minutes and record directly to Small Tree TZ5+ 15TB shared NAS storage systems.

The director of acquisition at AMV Pat Pamornsut said, “We actually had 40 available channels of record and playback across ten Cinedeck ZX45s. When a producer saw something they liked, they would ask us to send the clip to edit or push the clip to a shared folder on the Small Tree for playback. We were able to create clips on demand and push them to wherever they needed to go without dropping any frames.”

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To manage and direct the large amounts of incoming data, the Main Transmission Room was custom-built for ‘Earth Live’ at AMV’s 57th Street Studio. Called ‘the Matrix’, it housed all the receivers, routers, EVS and Cinedecks with a team of operators to manage the ingest, edit and playback workflow for the entire show.

“When you have 50 inbound signals for live broadcast, you have to manage each one in detail. The likelihood of a signal scrambling or disappearing is high and we had to make sure that the incoming signals used during the live show were spotless. This room allowed us to monitor and direct all the channels," director of engineering Lee Blanco said.

To document the team's efforts, two of the show segments were broadcast from the Matrix to give viewers some insight behind-the-scenes on how the live show came together. Following the success of ‘Earth Live’, AMV is looking ahead to the potential for designing other hybrid workflows that include Cinedeck and EVS for recording and playout to help lower costs.

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Franklin Holmes has been a Cinedeck operator at All Mobile Video since the RX was initially released, and commented on the continuous developments for multi-camera projects. "For ‘Earth Live’ we were using the Multi-Channel Control App, updated now so that you can break a clip and close a file by pushing one button from a single user interface," he said. "That becomes a major advantage when managing multiple channels of recording across several decks. Cinedeck is more sophisticated than the single channel recorders out there, but its sophistication is what makes it flexible.”

Pat and Lee described some other types of projects they have used Cinedeck for. “A recent 4K project in Miami required 15 channels of UHD recording. Because editing in native 4K can be challenging the client wanted to edit in HD for file mobility and performance. With Cinedeck, we recorded UHD ProRes 444 masters and DNx 36 as the HD proxy codec,” Lee said. Instead of configuring two sets of AJA KiPros, for example, for each channel, both UHD and HD were recorded on one ZX45, which simplified the processing. It also resulted in identical timecode between master and proxy for frame matching and conform once the proxy edit was complete.