Production company standardizes on an Adobe Creative Cloud workflow to efficiently deliver up to 28 TV episodes per week
For more than 20 years, UFA SERIAL DRAMA has produced some of the most popular serial dramas in Germany. Classic shows such as Good Times, Bad Times
(Gute Zeiten, Schlechte Zeiten
) and Among Us
) have been on the air for more than 4,000 episodes each. UFA SERIAL DRAMA currently runs five daily shows and can produce up to 28 episodes in a week; for this team efficiency is key. Post-production supervisor Marc Schwellenbach works with the post-production teams to continually refine and optimize the standard workflows to be as quick and smart as possible.
Tell us about the shows you produce through UFA SERIAL DRAMA.
We produce five unique daily serial dramas, which translates to 800 minutes of material every week. Four of our shows run in Germany. In fact, the first series that we produced back in 1992, Good Times, Bad Times (Gute Zeiten, Schlechte Zeiten)
, was the first daily serial drama made for German television. It’s still on the air; we passed the 5,000 episode mark a few years ago. Even our “newest” series has been around for eight years and nearly 2,000 episodes. Our fifth show is actually a serial drama made for Hungarian audiences. It’s been running for 16 seasons, and it’s one of the top-rated shows in Hungary.
Why are production workflows so important to you?
We work on five shows that run five days a week with almost no breaks. To get all of the shows ready for air, we may produce up to 28 episodes a week. We need a rock-solid workflow to keep up the pace without compromising quality.
We have one big advantage on our side: experience. We’ve learned over the years to take the time to think through our workflows and look for ways to improve them. We take it a step further at UFA SERIAL DRAMA by standardizing about 90% of our workflow across productions. If one team comes up with a new process that helps them work faster and better, we can easily apply their innovations to other teams.
How has your software changed over the years?
Several years ago, we switched from Avid to Final Cut Pro with the intention of becoming more flexible and speeding up workflows in post production. We worked with the Final Cut Pro workflow for a few years, but we felt that we still needed to move our editing process to the next level. By better integrating editing into the rest of the post-production workflow, we would improve turnaround speed for dailies and increase our overall speed and efficiency.
We recently started looking into Adobe Premiere Pro, and that’s when we realized the advantages that we could achieve using the integration between Adobe creative applications. With Adobe Creative Cloud, our workflow has not only gotten faster, but also tighter. We’re tying everything together into one smooth Adobe framework, which helps us get much more power and flexibility out of our daily workflows.
How important is the integration of Adobe tools to your workflows?
We had used Adobe After Effects and Adobe Photoshop before, but we had never considered how everything could work together in a bigger way. The integration among Creative Cloud applications not only changes how we work, but it encourages us to think about how all of the steps fit together to create the big picture.
Previously, our post-production artists would use After Effects to composite green screen shots and hand the finished shots over to the editors. The Dynamic Link between After Effects and Premiere Pro simplifies things so much. Even our editors who are not visual effects artists use After Effects to create their own graphics, or use templates we’ve created for graphical inserts, such as cell phone displays. They can then easily bring these effects into their Premiere Pro workflows. Edits and adjustments are practically seamless, as we no longer need to wait to export and import clips. We can be much more flexible while maintaining consistent information on the shots.
We also appreciate how Adobe software invites collaboration. We see lots of great third-party integrations, and with Adobe XMP and panel integration, we can even see ourselves leveraging metadata to develop our own integrations as we need them. The Adobe framework opens up whole new ways for us to speed up and simplify the workflow.
What steps did you take to transition to Adobe Premiere Pro?
The key to a smooth transition is planning and communication. When you’re changing a key component of your workflow, you have to make sure that you think through everything beforehand. We didn’t want to even start the move until we were sure that our editors would be able to work faster right away. We talked with editors about the changes that they wanted to see and used their input to design the new workflow. Giving them ownership of the transition helped to assure them amidst the changes.
Trainers worked with our editors to help them feel comfortable with the new software and features. The entire transition felt very collaborative with Adobe, with everyone coming together for a common goal. As a result, our transition has been very smooth. Two teams have completely switched over to Premiere Pro with more still in the final training phases. Our editors are very pleased with the ease and functionality of Premiere Pro. Other departments have also successfully made the move to Creative Cloud.
Are there any other applications in Creative Cloud that you’re excited about?
Adobe Story CC Plus looks very interesting and has definitely caught the eye of our head writer. We’re currently syncing Word documents with our scheduling system, but Story will help us leverage metadata in the scripts so that we can see exactly what we need in post production.
Adobe Prelude CC is another piece that’s bound to be very useful. We’re always talking about logging on set, and Prelude and Live Logger will provide us a way to log information on set and preserve that metadata in Prelude for the post-production process. We’re already using a digital movie slate integrated into an iPad app, so I could see us using Prelude Live Logger right away.
What is the future for UFA SERIAL DRAMA?
We started using Adobe Creative Cloud for teams, but we’re switching to Creative Cloud for enterprise as our business continues to grow and use of the software expands. We’re also talking to other businesses in the UFA family. We’ve developed powerful workflows for our fast-paced production and along the way we’ve learned a lot about working with Adobe software. We look forward to sharing our knowledge and best practices with other UFA productions.
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Award-winning host of underwater documentary series tackles the world’s first live-action planetarium film using Creative Cloud
Cinematographer Jonathan Bird is one of the lucky ones. He’s successfully combined his love for scuba diving and photography into an award-winning career. After more than a decade of delivering underwater photography and video to National Geographic
and Discovery Channel, Bird started his own series that combines humor with science in a highly educational, family-friendly format. Jonathan Bird’s Blue World
, now airing on PBS, won the CINE Golden Eagle Award, a total of eight New England Emmy Awards, and has been nominated for two National Daytime Emmy Awards. For his next project, Bird is connecting the sea and space with an innovative film made for planetarium theaters.
Tell us why you decided to create Jonathan Bird’s Blue World
I had been working both as a cinematographer and producer for years, but I still dreamed about working on a show that entertained audiences of all ages without talking down to them or losing the educational slant. No one else was making the show that I wanted to see, so I finally just decided to do it myself! It wasn’t until we got an audience on YouTube that people started paying attention to our show and we made the jump to TV. We just finished the fourth season on PBS.
Bird photographing Lemon sharks in the Bahamas, photo by Mark Tarczynski
What are some of the challenges of shooting underwater?
Even in the clearest water, you need to be very close to the subject to get an image with any kind of contrast or sharpness. We try to shoot everything from less than five feet away with wide angle lenses. When trying to film wildlife, of course, that means that we have to figure out how to get close to our subjects without frightening them away.
Color is also a big issue. Blue light has a short wavelength, which makes it the only color that penetrates water well. The deeper you go, the bluer your image becomes. In shallow water we can use filters and white balance to help bring out the colors, but at greater depths the only way to add color is to use powerful lights to illuminate everything. We can’t just add colors or clarity in post, so we have to use the right camera and techniques to get it right while we’re filming.
Bird filming on the reefs of Bonaire with Atlantis LED video lights
What is the production schedule and format of Blue World
The show is massively low budget, but we take the time to make it good. It takes about 18 months to shoot a season. Last season we produced 11 half-hour shows. The season before that contained 9 shows. It is a magazine-style program, so it isn’t all one story. We typically put between two and three different stories together, and they can be completely unrelated. This format also makes it easy for us to package content online into webisodes.
What can you tell us about your upcoming film project?
Bird: Space School
is going to be something completely different: the world’s first live-action planetarium film. Planetariums are traditionally about space, so I proposed a film that takes people into the world where space travel and underwater experiences meet: astronaut training. Astronauts train underwater in the Johnson Space Center Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory to simulate weightless conditions, and later they spend time in Aquarius, an underwater research laboratory in the Keys, to get used to living and working in cramped, isolated conditions.
NASA's Neutral Buoyancy Lab in Houston where Bird shot for the first time with his new Gates Z100 housing equipped with a Fathom SWP44C wide angle lens and Ikelite Vega video lights
What opportunities do planetariums represent for filmmakers?
When most people think about planetariums, they tend to think about a Zeiss machine that just shines bright lights to represent the stars. But planetariums have moved way beyond that. They have banks of computers calculating huge data sets of imagery that can fly you around the solar system. With their full, domed screens, planetarium theaters offer a completely immersive environment that will work incredibly well with the underwater footage.
Astronauts Thomas Pesquet (ESA) and Mark Vande Hei (NASA) setting up a drill designed to take core samples on an asteroid
Why didn’t you just create a film for the IMAX DOME theaters?
There are 500 planetariums across the United States, compared with only about 40 IMAX DOME theaters. Almost nobody is making content for IMAX DOME theaters anymore because it is too expensive to make a 70mm IMAX film for only 40 screens, and it takes too long to make your money back. So IMAX has gone completely to flat-screen style 3D projections, which are absolutely amazing in their own right.
The reason why there aren’t more live-action films for planetariums is simply because they’re incredibly advanced. The planetarium market is all about realism, with content shot at 60 fps, which is unconventional for traditional movies. The displays are also extremely high resolution at 4,000 pixels square. You’d need an 8K resolution camera to perfectly fill the screen—and no commercial manufacturer makes 8K cameras! That’s why most of the films shown on planetariums so far have involved CG animation.
Filming NASA's NEEMO 18 mission at Aquarius Reef Base in Key Largo, Florida on the RED Dragon 6K
How did you approach making Space School
given these requirements?
When we started, RED had just come out with its 6K DRAGON camera, so we could come close to true planetarium resolution. Once we had the camera, though, we had another problem: we needed a system that could handle editing our footage. At 6K resolution and 60 fps, we were looking at an extraordinary amount of data—about 8 GB per minute—in RAW format. We did a lot of research into the subject, and we finally figured out that the only setup around that could handle the load was Adobe Premiere Pro CC running on the fastest HP Z Workstation available.
What is special about Adobe Premiere Pro CC?
Adobe Premiere Pro CC has the best playback engine of any non-linear editor on the market, even for video that is notoriously difficult to play back in real time. Premiere Pro doesn’t care where video comes from; it just plays it, no transcoding required. Being able to cut out the transcoding process is a huge time saver. And Adobe makes the transition from Final Cut Pro so easy (for those of us that have been using FCP for years). I was up editing on Premiere Pro in a couple of hours.
Bird editing underwater footage on his HP Z workstation using Adobe Premiere Pro CC
How was the switch from a Mac to a PC?
I’ve always loved working with Macs. But when we decided to move away from Final Cut Pro, we realized that we didn’t have to stick with Macs anymore. We decided to switch to the fastest computer we could find, which turned out to be the HP Z Workstation. We did a rendering test to compare the speeds, and an Adobe After Effects project that took 12 hours to render on the Mac took two hours on the HP system.
There are probably lots of people in the same boat as me—people who want the power of a PC but are uncomfortable with Windows. Creative Cloud is great because the software is exactly the same across platforms. I can even move files between the Mac and Windows environments without any problems. I also like how all of the software we use, like Premiere Pro, Photoshop, Encore, and After Effects, share similar interfaces and operations. It makes it easy to pick up new software.
What’s next for you?
We started shooting with NASA in May and we’ll be delivering it to theaters in January. We’re also continuing with Jonathan Bird’s Blue World
, and our YouTube audience continues to grow. We recently launched Shark Academy
on YouTube, which features two to three minute shark videos that kids really like. Another focus for us is to put out highlights
from some of our videos that are more shareable. Overall, we want to continue telling great stories for audiences of all ages.
Read more about Jonathan and his work here