HPA Tech Retreat: Universal Unveils New Production Workflow

Like any movie franchise installment, Universal Pictures’ “Fast & Furious 8” (also known as “The Fate of the Furious”) relied on footage and data from the sequels that were produced before it. This movie was the proof of concept for Production 3.0, a new platform enabling quick access to assets like 3D VFX models for use in sequels, as well as theme park and AR/VR experiences.“Our production asset archive isn’t organized enough and doesn’t hold all production assets,” said Universal VP of creative technologies Annie Chang, who headed the team that developed it.

Chang noted the other pressures that added more incentive to develop Production 3.0. “We never get more time to make our movies,” she said. “Tax incentives drive us around the globe, which increases need for remote collaboration and ways to bring data back to home base. We’re also more data-driven but we can’t relate it or access it easily.” Production 1.0 was the workflow designed for film-acquired movies, she continued, and Production 2.0 was tailored for digital productions, but continued the “old siloed film ways.”

“Production 3.0 is updating the live-action production process,” she said. “We want to take advantage of the fact that the production process is largely digital native. We cannot silo data between pre, production, post and VFX. Instead, we need to connect systems and databases for assets/metadata to each other and to the script. We need to find and deliver assets easily to internal and external partners and enable analytics.”

Production 3.0 is also aimed at working towards “common production/post workflows and archiving in the cloud to increase efficiency, security and remote collaboration.” “We want to abstract technology from filmmakers, allowing them to focus on creativity,” she added.

The heart of Production 3.0 is the production database that tracks the life cycle of a shot, relating all the assets and metadata back to the script. “It’s a workflow choreographer, incorporating backups, dailies, VFX pulls, transfers, and so on,” she said. “It orchestrates the assets, without changing how filmmakers work. They’ll use the same tools and databases and asset management systems.”

In the near-term, said Chang, the system will use on-premise services, “but the workflow choreographer does all the heavy lifting.” “Once the movie is done, the idea is that all that contextual information in the database becomes the archive from the production,” she explained. “We add the archivists who have all that contextual info and also backed up all the data to the cloud, so everything has been tracked all the time. That’s the next-gen archive.”

The future will include a cloud-based workflow, but “this will take a while to get to,” she added. The proof of concept for “Fast & Furious 8” related the assets, enabling a VFX pull (reference material from the set to help VFX people) to be done in seconds, rather than half a day. “We tested it on-prem and in a public cloud and showed it to VFX executives. They said they’ve been waiting for this for ten years!”