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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.

Production Equipment

For cameras we use Panasonic HPX170s. I grew up a Panasonic guy, starting with a DVX100, then an HVX200, and then the HPX170. I like the HPX170 because it’s small, lightweight, and relatively inexpensive, and it has HD-SDI output. The three HPX170s are being fed to and recorded within a TriCaster 455; the program out is also being recorded to our Mac Pro running Final Cut Pro 7.

For audio we use Sanken COS-11 mics; these lavalieres are, in my opinion, some of the best available, with the caveat that they’re difficult to hide if that’s important to you. For us it’s acceptable to see the lav because we’re not doing reality TV or anything that requires the suspension of disbelief. Plus the sound quality is amazing.

The COS-11s are fed to a Yamaha digital mixer, and then into the TriCaster. We use a 7-inch Marshall for our reference monitor. We have a JK Audio Innkeeper for telephone interviews as well.

Typically, when we’re shooting, this is a two-person operation. You can do it with one person as well, which we do often, but usually I’m in the studio running cameras and operating the slider while my associate switches live and mixes audio back in the control room.

Figure 6 (below) shows our rack. The Yamaha LS9 is on top. This digital mixer has fantastic routing capabilities and great onboard dynamics; it lets you have delays on every output, so if you’ve doing a live stream, you can have different delays for various outputs.

Figure 6. The Morningstar rack. Click to see the image at full size.

But the key element for us is the Dan Dugan auto-mixer. If you’re ever doing a live recording of a panel discussion, or doing any kind of event shoot where you’ve worked with more than one microphone open, and you’ve got three faders up and you never know who’s going to talk next, you know the challenge of mixing live. The Dan Dugan auto-mixer takes care of all that for you. It uses a constant output, which means there’s a fixed amount of gain available in the system, and it’s constantly monitoring who’s talking. As soon as somebody talks, it raises their level and drops everybody else and it does it lightning-quick. They use the same system for presidential debates. You’ve got Barack Obama and Mitt Romney and the moderator, you never know who’s going to talk next, and so they actually use a Dugan auto-mixer there as well. There is an outboard unit if you already have a mixer. You can plug in your Mackie mixer. There’ a physical card that goes into our Yamaha mixer.

One switcher we’ve had for a long time is the Panasonic HS400; we had it before the TriCaster. We’re not really using it a whole lot anymore, since we acquired the TriCaster 455 about six months ago. I was kind of hesitant to go the TriCaster route because it means relying so heavily on one box, but it’s been really stable for us and I’ve been really impressed.

Below the TriCaster is the Mac Mini; we use that to run live graphics sometimes, or if we need to do live demos of the website or different tools.

We capture into the Mac Pro using an AJA IoHD, a FireWire 800 device. It’s a little bit older than some of our other gear but it still works really well. Rounding out the rack are a G-Tech 8 TB RAID and the Mac Pro running Final Cut Pro 7 in Episode. We’re still using Final Cut Pro 7 because I think it’s awesome, and there’s no reason for us to change right now. Among other things, Final Cut Pro 7 still takes advantage of QuickTime reference movies, and so the export process is much faster because it’s referencing the media and not creating a self-contained movie every time.

Taking it On the Road

On location we try to keep the workflow as similar as possible to what we do in the studio, which is how we can shoot 50-60 interviews in 2 1/2 days. Figure 7 (below) shows what we travel with. We have a switcher, we have live capture, and we bring the banners shown in Figure 3 to maintain the look and feel and branding we get in our studio shoots. We also use a Blackmagic Design television studio, a powerful one-rack-unit switcher that looks like a piece of metal with ports attached to it. I usually bring my MacBook Air to plug into that back to the control surface. We run a MacBook Pro with a USB 3 hard drive for capture; then we’ll use the Blackmagic UltraStudio Mini Recorder, which retails for $149 and captures HDMI or HD-SDI straight into your recorder. Finally, we bring our Marshall 7-inch monitor to act as a multiview.

Figure 7. Our traveling kit. Click the image to see it at full size.

All of that gear literally can fit in a backpack. Beyond that you bring some cameras and lights and you can set up in any room and have this kind of mobile studio.

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