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Feeding the Beast, Part 2: Production Workflow

The next key element of feeding the beast and maintaining high-volume video output is workflow; the choices that you make for your workflow are important for everything that you do, from studio space to production, post, syndication, and archiving.

When I started at Morningstar, I didn’t have a dedicated production space; I had two cameras, a couple of microphones, and a light kit. We had to constantly set up and tear down around the office or on location, and it was exhausting. I almost got to the point where I decided “I can’t do this anymore,” because we were trying to respond to breaking news and produce video in a professional and timely manner in this office environment, but people were walking by, phones were ringing, conversations were happening, I was getting kicked out of rooms--it just wasn’t conducive to being productive.

Fortunately, we moved to a new office shortly thereafter, and I was able to stake out my domain and build a dedicated studio space in that new office. For us,350-400 square feet is probably the minimum; the space shown in Figure 5 is 25 by 15. I’d prefer it to be more than 20 by 20 so I could have a little bit more depth. We’re fortunate enough to have a proper lighting grid but certainly you could do without. Sound isolation is important; it doesn’t need to be recording studio sound isolation, but the ability to close a door and have decent isolation between you and what might be happening in the hallway or the room next door is essential to producing effective video.

We have a separate control room as well. You can have your equipment in the room where you shoot--as we’ve done in several other offices where we retrofitted conference rooms for video use--but you have to pay attention to fan noise and other sound from your editing gear that may interfere with your video. If you already have an existing drop ceiling, you can get clamps to hang lights off of it. There’s definitely a lot you can do with an existing room as you work towards a more dedicated space in the future.

Studio Setup

Figures 1 and 2 (below) show our studio. In Figure 1, you can see the main studio space behind the glass. This is the setup used in the segment in the first video clip where we did a three-camera shoot for a one-on-one interview with a simple backdrog. One of the cameras was on a slider. In Figure 1, you can see in the control room that we’re doing a live edit to disk.

Figures 1 and 2. The dedicated video studio space at Morningstar. Click on the images to see them at full size.

Figure 3 (below) shows the monitor wall. We experimented with a lot of different backdrops. It can be tough, especially with online video, to create a traditional set like you might see in broadcast. Typically, if you’re watching the Today show, they have a much larger stage; there’s a lot more depth between the subject and the background. If I were to add bookshelves and fake plants and the like in our small space, it would look really cheesy. It would be in focus, most likely, making it more obvious that we’re shooting in a small room. So what we’ve done is blacked out the room and--because Morningstar red is part of our core branding--added accents of red around. We’ve got simple printed pop-up banners that you might have at a conference, which is great because we can take them with us; we can bring them on location and still maintain that branding. Finally, we added three 55-inch LCD displays. These are so inexpensive now that it’s a great way to create a dynamic backdrop. We’re able to change out these graphics as we produce the different shows that we do, and change the look of a set really quickly.

Figure 3. The monitor wall. Click the image to see it at full size.

Figure 4 (below) shows some of the lighting grid. It’s basically just an open ceiling with unistrut coming down. We’ve got a three-pipe grid going in one direction, and we we’ve added some aluminum-pipe crossbeams. We’ve connected with cheeseboroughs, a type of clamp that allows us the flexibility to swivel the pipes around. Certainly, if you have a bigger set, like in a newsroom, you’ll have more sophisticated lighting rigs, but for a small room, a 25x15 room, having this much flexibility is nice. It leaves the floor clear of lighting stands, which gives you more flexibility to place your cameras. It gives you an added layer of safety so people aren’t tripping over stands or cables and that sort of thing.

Figure 4. The flexible lighting grid. Click the image to see it at full size.

Figure 5 (below) shows the control room, where we’ve got our main workstation. On the left is the NewTek TriCaster control and display. On the right is our Mac Pro running Final Cut Pro 7, which we capture to live.

Figure 5. The control room--TriCaster on the left, Mac Pro on the right.

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