So, what’s new?
Having said all of the above, I can hear graphics teams saying, “Well, you’ve just described the current state-of-play in my graphics design world. So, what’s new?”
What’s new is that advances in processing power and richer automation interfaces have now combined to offer the ability to create near real-time graphics with pre-rendered workflows. These powerful workflows provide new approaches to creation, versioning and verification, and they greatly simplify the playout step as well.
Moreover, this approach provides graphics teams with a richer creation toolset to work with. Artists are no longer restricted to graphics creation tools that accompany, for example, a character generator because, for many types of graphics, popular graphic design tools can be used for the entire creation step. This opens new possibilities for new branding ideas and implementations.
Specifically, this is about a type of a workflow that involves controlling a non-real-time graphics engine like Adobe After Effects to manufacture clips for multiple versions. This change provides access to the full range of visual effects and layering, all presented within a creation environment that already has a well-established, global user and support base. At the very least (and this makes station managers and financial directors happy), training costs and creation times are kept to a minimum because graphic artists get to work with a tool that they already know and love.
In terms of versioning, the availability of the information that needs to be presented, whether from the traffic or automation system, is a key step. The contents for a snipe, such as the name of an upcoming show, can now be easily extracted from the automation or traffic system with an integrated approach. It is that sort of ability that is crucial to a more efficient workflow.
This data is used in a couple of ways. First, it provides the ability to automate the creation steps for all versions of the snipe with high accuracy and efficiency. Second, the data can be used as the driver of the media management system to determine which elements are required, as well as which can be expired from the playout devices. Any changes to schedule data are important events that need to trigger workflows to make the appropriate changes to the graphics. The timeliness of those changes — days, hours, minutes or even seconds ahead of the event — drives many decisions in choosing the final workflow. Last-second changes will drive the tendency towards a real-time workflow, but even a few minutes grace can provide enough of a window for a pre-rendered workflow.
With an integrated workflow, rendered clips can be verified completely, rather than as a component of a templated graphic, because they contain the entire event as it will be played out. Web-based verification tools provide access to the full set of clips to ensure every version is correct, which provides a high degree of confidence.
The beauty of such an approach for media management is that only a single clip needs to be transferred to the playout device, rather than a collection of elements to be stitched together in real-time. Again, this is a huge time saver and a fundamental boost to overall efficiency. So, it begs the question: Do we really need a fully-featured graphics device to play out clips?
The answer is sometimes. We can’t forget that branding graphics devices fulfill other roles, including EAS insertion (a function often possible in a master control switcher), information crawls and tickers, and social media insertion. So, there are certain types of graphics that require a real-time rendering system, and for which a pre-rendered model is admittedly not ideal.
However, clip playback is progressively becoming the staple of many graphics solutions. Branding clips can be rendered elsewhere, previewed, manipulated as a whole and played back with confidence.
By integrating the individual systems typically required to prepare, version, verify and play out these graphics, it makes the previously painstaking process a whole lot easier, while at the same time unleashing substantial improvements in what can be created and played out. All of this leads to retaining viewers by more easily providing them with highly attractive guideposts leading straight to your content — the content they want to see. What’s not to like about that?
—Eugene Plawutsky is product manager, Workflow and Playout, Miranda Technologies.