Getting workflow clarity at Smoke and Mirrors

Telestream - Smoke and Mirrors
Neal Romanek
Post Production
March 7th 2017 at 1:36PM : By Neal Romanek

We talked with Adam Jakubowksi, technical operations manager at Smoke’s London HQ

Smoke and Mirrors, with centres in London, New York, Sao Paolo, Shanghai, Chennai and soon to launch Amsterdam, is one of the largest post-production companies operating in the short-form market. It specialises in producing commercials, promos, and trailers for the TV and movie markets, and in localising these for world-wide distribution.

We talked with Adam Jakubowksi, technical operations manager at Smoke’s London HQ, to learn how they are adapting to a changing market with the aid of Telestream’s Vantage platform.

“Our biggest technical challenge is managing the growing number of versions required for international distribution,” comments Adam Jakubowksi. “Our versioning process has to adapt content for local markets and delivery platforms. This requires both creative and technical changes to the content.” Currently, Smoke & Mirrors is supplying finished localised content to up to 100+ different markets via multiple delivery partners.

To support this challenge, the company relies on several key software solutions working in harmony.

  • Telestream Vantage Transcode Pro
  • Telestream Post Producer
  • Third party MAM and Workflow Orchestration Platform
  • Third party Auto QC
  • Micro-services written by their own development team

Smoke & Mirrors operates Vantage systems in London and Chennai, with two nodes of Transcode Pro and Post Producer running on Telestream Lightspeed Servers for maximum processing efficiency. The Vantage solution was supplied and commissioned by Boxer Systems, Telestream’s leading enterprise reseller in the UK.

A single ad or promo often has to be delivered in dozens of versions for local market adaptation. These versions can differ both creatively and technically from the master, and have to accommodate local language, cultural, legal, and regulatory requirements.

While creative talent is an important part of the value that Smoke & Mirrors offers its clients, process automation is essential for productivity and profitability in a demanding and competitive market. Smoke & Mirrors started using Telestream Vantage Transcode Pro in 2016 as the successor to existing stand alone transcoders that had been in use for several years, but have now reached end-of-life. Vantage Transcoders offered significant process- and quality-improvements as well as the ability to scale to meet growing volumes of work, but they answered only a part of the automation challenge.

Telestream Post Producer added template-driven production automation for a one-to-many iterative workflow, which results in increased content value with faster turnaround and lower costs. At Smoke & Mirrors, Post Producer adds automated assembly of final deliverable packages, with all of the required layouts and metadata. This potentially complex task was initially simplified by use of the Vantage “work order” submission method, which allows all of the required instructions, metadata, clock information, etc. to be submitted in a spreadsheet.

Since its initial implementation with “automation by spreadsheet”, Smoke & Mirrors searched for even more efficient and reliable process automation of the Post Producer and Vantage workflows. The first step was in-house development of micro-services which manage the data required to specify all of the technical requirements of each deliverable asset, and then programmatically composes the information to Post Producer in its native CML (Composition Markup Language) format. Post Producer and Vantage, working on Lightspeed Servers, allow Smoke & Mirrors to automate all of the technical aspects of creating localized content for the 100+ advertising markets they serve, and empowers their editing talent to focus their valuable time on the creative changes required.