Feature

The Insider's Guide to Production: Owning the moving image

Post-production houses have the expertise to bring quality to the new digital video formats.

From the moment we wake, our senses are bombarded with a variety of media that try to inform us or sell to us as we go about our daily lives.

Today, broadcast-quality messages are found everywhere you look. In what was traditionally the printed domain, full-motion video is now steadily taking over. Digital screens are being installed in and on buses, in bus shelters, on Tube and train platforms, station escalators, in stores and window displays, on the sides of buildings, and above us on the high street. Complete with dizzying sound and interactive possibilities, their messages reach out to the consumer, wherever he or she is.

And, as bandwidth increases, we accept messages, news, sports match highlights, videos, TV shows and film on our laptops, mobiles, handheld devices and even embedded in games. Online, as internet protocol TV and video-on-demand begin to change the way we use the web, live action is playing a leading role, as any YouTube or TV Links fan will tell you.

Never did I think that I'd turn into one of those cronies in the pub talking about the good old days of the industry, but the format explosion is enough to make me feel a little nostalgic for days gone by, when the standard definition TV format was enough.

And yet, there is a buzz of excitement as I realise that the broadcast- quality commercial is further from extinction today than it was a couple of years ago, when doom merchants proclaimed its imminent death.

As I'm exposed to an increasing number of sophisticated channels, the more aware I become of their value as storytelling media and I have to ask who else, apart from people in our industry, is producing their imagery? And, more importantly, who should be involved in its production?

It may come as no surprise for a post-production house to champion its own creative industry as a natural guardian of the moving image across platforms and channels, but when pitted against graphic designers, Flash animators and interactive designers and their teams, why choose the traditional production and post-production route?

I think the answer lies in our storytelling skills, technical expertise and our vast experience of creating content that catches and engages an audience.

We have spent many years honing our communication skills, and can combine live action, graphics and visual effects to create emotional and memorable experiences that convey a world of thoughts and impressions in just seconds.

Also, moving imagery these days consists of many technical elements that demand our expertise, including 2D and 3D animation, rotoscoping, keying and compositing, as well as editing, colour correction and other specialist digital intermediate techniques.

Our knowledge of what works and what doesn't can save clients from compromising a strong campaign in favour of novelty, avoiding the potential pitfall of doing something just because technology lets us. If more took this approach, it would relieve me of headaches on the escalator as I try to follow a moving campaign that ends up confusing and distracting rather than reinforcing a brand message.

While it is relatively easy to argue that we should dominate the production of live-action content for large digital screens, it may be more difficult to convince clients of our right to create messages for the web or handheld devices.

But I believe that, as these rapidly evolving digital platforms and channels mature and converge, making content-sharing as simple as we'd like it to be, format size will become increasingly irrelevant. It will be the case for the simple reason that, while a banner or MPU may be too small for fine detail on a laptop screen, once that laptop is plugged into the 40-inch LCD screen at home, that same online ad becomes big enough to require higher production values.

Up until now, advertisers haven't had to compete with much video content on the internet as the majority of it appears to be created by kids with little skill base or experience, and they, therefore, have not had to raise their visual standards.

But production values and budgets will have to improve because, although we can forgive poor image quality as we watch streamed videos, films or TV shows online, the same won't stand up to scrutiny at higher resolution or on bigger screens.

Again, this is where the post-production industry can contribute its experience. Our narrative and craft skills, combined with our technological expertise, make us ideally placed to provide advice and solve problems of budgets, deadlines and delivery, plus image quality and integrity across formats and versions. The savvy post- production partner should be an invaluable source to agencies, managers and brand owners in flagging up issues, overcoming potential problems and controlling assets to prevent problems further down the line.

As we head towards true convergence at what feels like breakneck speed and the distinction between leisure and task-driven platforms is blurring, so - as Apple TV proves - audiences will crave broadcast quality. That means the opportunities for our sector are huge.

I believe the future of commercial post-production must include all broadcast-quality media formats. And, because crossovers regularly occur and will continue to do so, it makes sense for a client that a campaign is managed by one team that can maintain consistent branding messages, ensuring efficient production and delivery. But, even as I write this, print and digital specialists are making moves to claim ownership of these new formats by expanding their knowledge and even setting up their own video departments

I'm not suggesting that we become digital or interactive specialists, but where live action narrative is a dominant feature of a campaign, I think that clients should know that our expertise is more than relevant - it is an essential ingredient for success.

It is time that the post sector stakes its claim and invests in the expertise and technology that will secure our involvement in a future that is putting the moving image at the heart of its marketing.

That's what I'm doing.

- Dan Coster is the managing director at Locomotion.