CAMPAIGN CRAFT: TECHNIQUE; The production studio that can even save money

Because it saves time and costs, Drums also boosts creativity, says Emma Hall

Because it saves time and costs, Drums also boosts creativity, says

Emma Hall



Drums is billed as ‘the world’s first virtual production studio’. People

can collaborate on projects simultaneously, without being in the same

building, let alone the same continent.



There is still a long way to go to achieve a true global production

community, but for now, Drums is the best there is.



Scott Gaff, the technical director of Lamb and Company, a Minneapolis-

based post-production company which specialises in animation, has been

using Drums since it was first available in the US. Lamb and Company is

much in demand by the big advertising agencies in New York and Los

Angeles. Until recently, collaboration has cost agencies a lot of

valuable time, not to mention the hotel bills and airline tickets.



Video-conferences can be of help, but when dealing with tiny details, it

is almost impossible to describe what you want and be sure you have been

understood.



With Drums, you can watch a film being played on one section of the

screen, then pull off a single frame, which can then be placed on the

‘whiteboard’ area of the screen. There, everyone can scribble all over

it, making precise suggestions and comments rather than hoping to be

understood.



Another section of the screen has a video-conferencing set-up, so

participants can see one another as they discuss each other’s work.

Buzz Warren, the senior vice-president of Grey Advertising in New York,

says: ‘A creative post-production team can present its work in real

time, and plead its case looking the director in the eye.’



Gaff worked on a computer-animated commercial for the board game,

Monopoly, with Grey Advertising in New York. The project was carried out

remotely, with daily link-ups to monitor progress.



The ad centres on a plastic family in a Monopoly house. Gaff said:

‘Because we were creating the characters from scratch, the process was

very lengthy. The dimensions of the mother’s beehive took ages to get to

the stage where everyone was happy with it. It was pasted up on the

whiteboard and doodled on for hours.’



The advanced level of remote collaboration now available, particularly

on equipment that is so easy to use, can end up hindering progress,

because so many more people have a say in what happens. Before long,

advertisers will be connected to Drums, or something similar, bringing

in yet more cooks to spoil the broth.



Gaff says: ‘People used to be able to get away with not letting their

clients know what they had done until it was too late to change

anything. Post-production was a mystery that was perceived almost as

magic by the client.’



Advertising agencies can also be guilty of this. ‘They want to present

their clients with a beautiful finished product,’ Gaff says.



Increased involvement from all parties has a lot of benefits when the

client and the supplier are at a considerable distance from each other.

Gaff says: ‘You go down fewer blind alleys because you get approval

earlier on, before you have done too much work.’



Warren says: ‘Saving on air fares and hotel bills is only part of the

equation. Keeping people in the office means they can work on different

projects at the same time, rather than running up expenses on one

exclusive project.’



Drums launches here this month, and the hope is it will help other

countries to make use of our animation, post-production, and technical

talent, by linking British operators with US clients.



But John Clive, a director and an expert in computer graphics, 3D

animation and special effects at Park Village, says: ‘Real-time

collaboration is the way forward, but Drums will be replaced by cheaper,

more flexible versions that can be installed domestically.’



Clive, famous for creating the Anchor cows, directed an ad for Shell

Mastercard called ‘Card gymnastics’ for the Texas-based agency,

Promotional Campaigns. It secured Clive’s talents through Internet link-

ups, and the director, who would have turned down the job if it meant a

long stay in the US, enjoyed working in this way.



Downloading three minutes of film from the computer can take an hour or

more, making the Internet route much slower than Drums and ruling out

real-time collaboration. But the Internet is much more flexible, as

Clive found when he checked on the progress of the ad while away in

France.



The Shell ad shows an animated credit card performing Olympic-standard

gymnastics, in front of an appreciative audience of petrol containers,

in a giant stadium.



First Clive wrote letters to everyone involved, giving all advance

warning that there would be cock-ups, and reassuring them they would

work it out between them.



A precise animation, with timings and angles, was worked out in a face-

to-face meeting beforehand, so that everybody involved knew exactly what

to aim for.



Once technical incompatibilities were ironed out, Clive found it a very

productive way of working, and benefited from operating in an isolated

environment. ‘I could work when I felt like it, then send comments over,

so it was ready for the US clients to look at when they got in to work

in the morning.



‘I didn’t have animators sitting around waiting for me to be

spontaneous. Everyone was concentrating, and it made me more ruthless

because I didn’t have to confront anyone directly.’



Post-production went well, as frames can be singled out for alteration,

and the director talked to the operators every day. However, Clive

concedes, while it is fine for a 30-second animated ad, collaborating

via the Internet would not work for live-action film.



Drums has the edge, but comes up against limitations because of the

smallness of the computer screen, on which the different Drums

facilities have to fight for space. ‘You still only get postage stamp-

sized videos, which are not of the best quality,’ Clive says.



He predicts there will be cable modems that run on optical fibre or even

ordinary telephone lines, making real-time link-ups more accessible in

terms of pricing and availability. Clive says: ‘Drums is fine for big

agencies and dedicated post-production houses, and it’s the best thing

available, but it’s not that incredible.’



Profile



Drums is a multimedia package that enables individuals in different

locations to collaborate in the production and post-production processes

as though they are in the same room.



It was introduced in the US in May 1995, and is designed so that anyone

used to working on a personal computer can learn how to operate Drums

with less than an hour’s training.



Buzz Warren, the senior vice-president of Grey Advertising in New York

(below, right), assisted in its development, ensuring its features are

useful to advertising agencies, production and post-production houses.



Facilities available include a U-matic quality video playback facility,

desktop video-conferencing, quality audio, online stock video searches,

directories of fellow-users, and a whiteboard where images, even 3D

ones, can be pulled off the film and marked up with notations and

comments by parties at both ends of the link-up. Either party can take

control of the playback feature.



Users are connected via the installation of a dedicated line, which is

set up by telecommunications companies in partnership with the Drums

manufacturers.



In the US, where there are 70 customers, it costs about dollars 3,300

a month to subscribe to Drums. UK prices are still under wraps.



Drums is being brought to the UK by Global One, a link-up between

Deutsche Telekom, France Telecom and Sprint.



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