Sam Richards at Sony Pictures Imageworks has been working away hard on coding and producing something so simple it is hard to believe we need it as an industry, and yet as most artists know, it is a vital part of production that is often lost: accurate on-set camera notes.

You might expect fxguide to be publishing a story about a new fancy app or automated system of passing complex data into the meta stream of say a Codex, but sadly as a industry we are far away from that right now. As Rob Bredow, the Chair of the VES Technology Committee and Imageworks CTO, had to explain to a group of understandably perplexed DOPs at the ASC, basic camera information rarely - in fact, almost never - makes it to post production at all. At an ASC event outlining the VES approach, and outlining how it is different from camera notes that the camera department might make, several DOPs were stunned to hear that for the 10 or so VFX companies involved in putting this new proposal together, none of them ever received reliable camera sheets and metadata.

The basic problem is two-fold. Firstly, camera footage with valuable metadata gets transcoded and in the process the metadata is lost, and second, there is no standard for non-encoded metadata. Not even a standard printed form - until today.

Laptop entry screen for VES camera report.
Laptop entry screen for VES camera report. Click to see a larger version of this image.

The VES has published a new file format for camera sheets - which is open to all and extremely flexible. The VES team, thanks to the hard work of people like Sam Richards, have even published a free Filemaker Pro doc to allow you to use this, either from paper, a laptop or an iPad.

The logic is simple. If we could all agree on a format and a standard set of facts we wanted from on-set (with the flexibility to add to it depending on your production) then people could exchange information easily, we would all know what was wanted and equipment suppliers could integrate it. This is exactly what is starting to happen. Already two key companies has become involved, Shotgun Software and 5thKind. These two companies, which work in the area of project, data and asset management, have been liaising with the group for over a year, as have some of the biggest VFX houses in the industry.

The project has been helped greatly by people at Weta Digital (Pete Wellington), Disney Feature Animation (Joel Eden), Rodeo FX (Jordan Soles) and people such as Charlie Clavadetscher. The initial system was built on a similar system developed at Rhythm & Hues (Bill Murphy and Gotham Krishnamurti).

Stage one is as simple as agreeing on this text, human readable, tab delimited file format. Once this csv file is adopted, then so much is possible. The key is just having a common base. The VES wants this open sourced and anyone is free to write a commercial iPad app or Android tool. There are no fees or restrictions. While it is from the VES, it is not limited to members and it is a full open source initiative.

A section of a sample PDF output.
A section of a sample PDF output.

Looking down the road, once a simple system like this is adopted there are a huge range of great possibilities for advanced features, using the GPS of an iPhone or wifi timecode sync. But in reality today the aim is to move beyond someone jotting down some random lens info on a sheet of blank paper and seeing if anyone still has a fax machine to send it to the production office - where it will never be used!

"They are freely distributed with a permissive open source license... I'm optimistic this standard will take off--saving everyone a lot of time from day 1." commented Rob Bredow SPI CTO.

For more information or to get free forms, software or download the full specs visit the VES camera reports site.

VES Technology Committee

Mission Statement:
The Visual Effects Society Technology Committee exists to establish industry best practices to enable VFX clients and vendors to collaborate more efficiently. The Technology Committee works on several projects at a time and selects projects that are outward facing, increase the visibility of the VES, and items we can accomplish in roughly a 12 month time-frame.

Rob Bredow

Sam Richards, Dan Candela, Gautham Krishnamurti, Ray Feeney, Jordan Soles, Nick Cannon, Steve May, Andy Hendrickson, Sebastian Sylwan, Jean-Francois Morissette and Michele Sciolette.

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