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Ross Video Team Aug 11, 2020 9:05:50 AM

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Living Live Podcast: Making the Most of Graphics in Your Live Productions


On this episode of Living Live with Ross Video, host Tyler Kern was joined by Ross Director of Product Management Patrick Twomey to discuss an often-overlooked, yet extremely important piece of live production – graphics.

Graphics, Twomey said, are an integral part of providing a complete live production experience – while video and audio capabilities are critical and receive plenty of attention, graphics are a great way to provide information, clarity and more.

“One thing that’s always on the screen is the graphic,” Twomey said. “You have to make sure you know what you want to have shown and how you want it to appear.”

The key to successful graphic creation, Twomey said, is a simple one – preparation.

“The big part of what you’re trying to do is make sure that you can cleanly present information to the viewer,” he said. “If you know what type of content you want to present and how you want to present it, that’s goes a long way. If you’re not prepared, you’re going to be spitballing a lot of ideas.”

Kern and Twomey also discussed some best practices for graphics creation, including sticking to the region of interest to keep graphic file sizes down, making a full-screen reference to make it simpler for designers to create consistent pieces, and working within native rendering tools like Ross Video’s XPression tools.

AUTHOR: Tyler Kern
CONTRIBUTORS: Patrick Twomey

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Podcast Transcript

Tyler Kern:

Graphics are a vital part of any production and thinking through these elements can really be crucial when it comes to making sure that any production moves smoothly. And joining me to talk about that today is Patrick Twomey, he's the Director of Product Management for Ross XPression. Patrick, thank you so much for joining me today.

Patrick Twomey:

Thanks for having me, Tyler.

Tyler Kern:

Absolutely. So one of the things that appears to be key when it comes to graphics really is preparation. Kind of talk me through why preparation is such a crucial element to graphics.

Patrick Twomey:

Sure. The big part of what you're trying to do is make sure that you can cleanly present information to the viewer. And if you know what type of content you want to present and how you want to present it, that goes a long way. If you're not prepared, you're going to be spit balling a lot of ideas. And a lot of times what you're trying to do is make it very clear and because the way graphics are presented nowadays, one thing that's always on the screen is the graphic. You have to make sure that you know what you want to have shown and how you want it to appear. And there's a lot that goes into interacting with it to make sure that one graphic works cleanly with the next one.

Tyler Kern:

So what are some maybe principles that people should take away and maybe understand about graphics that you have found to be true over the years? Whether it's best practices of creation or what works best and what doesn't. Kind of give me some tips and tricks as far as graphics are concerned.

Patrick Twomey:

Sure. A lot of times what you find in graphics, the designers who put them together, if they're not familiar with working with tools, for example, character generators, they're working in desktop tools like Adobe Photoshop and Adobe After Effects and their concern is to make sure the content they're putting together fits properly on the screen. So they have a tendency to create, for example, a lower third or a strap where the name goes on the bottom of the screen. They might go ahead and create that as a full screen animation, for example, they're really only using a couple hundred pixels in height and maybe they're using the full width of the screen, but they'll generate a full raster of 1920 by 1080. So there's a lot of wasted space that goes on.

Patrick Twomey:

If you're preparing properly, you'll design your content so that you're basically only submitting artwork that's the region of interest. That gives you the ability to work with those files, they're a lot lighter, they're easier to manipulate in all the different real time rendering tools. And again, all of us are doing real time rendering now on the broadcast side, just to get that information on screen. So getting rid of things that you don't need, unused pixels, even though they're blank, they're still processed. Getting rid of those kinds of things makes a big difference and artists don't generally think about that.

Patrick Twomey:

I would offer up the advice that maybe you make one full screen graphic that's kind of a reference piece that your designers and your graphic operators can use as a reference to properly place content. That's something that a lot of operators don't really think about. And also a lot of what you're creating in After Effects, you might be able to create within the rendering tools. For example, the Ross Video XPression tools, you can do most, all of the different animations you're doing inside of Adobe. Why not start it there and use those same pieces? If you're going to create a solid inside of After Effects and then render it, why not create that as a geometry and materials inside of XPression and work within the native tools? Give it a try.

Tyler Kern:

Yeah, and you mentioned XPression there and I kind of was wondering if you could walk through some of the tools that you find most valuable when it comes to graphics and maybe talk through the benefits of them. So, talking through XPression and then the other tools that you think are beneficial for this process.

Patrick Twomey:

Sure. You'll find that, again, a designer is generally going to work with their most comfortable tools. And right now that's, for most designers, Adobe Photoshop and Adobe After Effects. One of the things that we've done in XPression is we've given the artists the ability to create Photoshop files with layers and layer groups. And you can now go into XPression and open those up natively.

Patrick Twomey:

So again, you're going to get those things that we've referred to, the regions of interest, you're going to get that artwork with only the pixels that are active, that you need to have in there. So it brings those down and they get the layers that are in there. So now your animator, your graphics operator, just really has to go back and manipulate those pieces that you provided. And those are a great way to go from a native tool, like a desktop software application, into the broadcast tools that you're going to wind up using. And that's really probably one of the more important parts.

Patrick Twomey:

Again, stay within the resolutions that you're playing with in and have that content, don't give them un-valuable content, make sure it's valuable. If they need a particular logo at a particular size, present it to them, ask if they need that full screener, can you give it to them in the size that it will appear in the final product?

Tyler Kern:

Talk me through a little bit more about how automation can be the friend of people that create graphics. Automation can sometimes sound scary, but how can that actually be really beneficial to this overall process?

Patrick Twomey:

Sure. When you think about automation, you look at it from two different schools of thought. There's either a circumstance where you think about it and you assume that what's going on is a business side or an accounting side. And that may or may not be the case. When you go into automation, one of the things you're trying to do is take something that's successful and make it repeatable. And with automation, you're literally doing that. You're doing the process of making things reproducible and you're giving the opportunity to put the input.

Patrick Twomey:

In other words, if I'm a graphics operator in a control room in 1990, I have somebody coming into the control room with a post-it note with some information. For example, if I was going to be having my show produce and interview with you and you're on camera, I'm going to have somebody write down Tyler Kern and your company underneath, that's what you would call a drop line or second line, and they hand it to the graphics operator who then goes in and re-types it. And if you or the producer would decide that maybe there's a change in the title, or maybe there's a misspelling, you have to run back into the control room and ask for those kinds of things.

Patrick Twomey:

With automation and MOS work posing, and MOS's Media Object Server, and it's a process that's been around since the early 2000s for a lot of broadcasters. You have the opportunity to let the journalists basically fill up what's in the equivalent of a web form to submit their content and they can always go back and modify what they put in. So the onus for getting the spelling correct really is on the back of the journalist. And in most cases, those are the folks that spent the most time in, hate to say it, sitting in their English classes, sitting in their journalism classes, they should be focused on details. The hard part for them is because there's automation, there's sometimes a lot of things that they're doing, and they may not be focused on one task where a graphics operator is. But they're the originator of the material and the source. So if they're able to put that in, they're going to have the most accurate input.

Patrick Twomey:

And then what winds up happening in the control room or the gallery, the operator is really focused on the play out of things. They're worried about making sure things get to air. A lot of stations have been multitasking people in cross training them so they can perform different tasks throughout the day. And they don't get to dedicate 100% of what they're doing all day to that function. Automation really removes a lot of that confusion that can happen if it's not your full time task, if you're just reaching in sometimes to help out with the process. Whether it's playing back graphics or video, things automatically get lined up for you, the way that the producers have a stack the show or the way they want things to appear is put together, if it's done properly, in order. And then the operators are literally playing back through a list of things that are there. So it reduces, again, opportunity for error and puts a clean product out for your viewers.

Tyler Kern:

Yeah, absolutely. Now in the past, you've told me about something called the bar exam, which is something that you've used as a bit of a test for graphics. There's only if you could walk through that example and just kind of explain why it was so beneficial.

Patrick Twomey:

Sure. I worked for a particular cable network channel where what they would do if you walk through the city of New York and you look into restaurants and bars, you'll see they have TVs on, and there's generally not a lot of chance to hear what's going on. So what would happen is they would say, you're going to have a chance to demo your graphics in a live situation. We're going to put it on and we're going to tell you, it's going to be on from two o'clock to three o'clock in the afternoon. And we're going to sneak it in as kind of a topical graphic for the day. And we're going to go walk around and look in bars and restaurants and if we can watch the program ... again, obviously the sound isn't something we can access or hear. But if I can walk into a crowded bar and I can look up on the screen and I can understand what the topic of the program is, you pass what we call the bar exam.

Patrick Twomey:

So it really gives you that opportunity ... and again, this is what happens in a lot of places. People aren't really focusing anymore, a lot of people will be watching TV, ordering things on their tablet devices, or their iPhones or whatever the case may be. They're not 100% focused, so giving them the opportunity to look up and see what the program content is about and capturing their interest is really important. And the bar exam lets you know that you've done that because if I can see across a crowded bar with the sound turned down and understand what's there, not only does it possibly pique my interest as a viewer. But it lets me know that I've succeeded in getting the point across and getting the viewer to understand what I'm trying to talk about.

Tyler Kern:

Patrick, in your time in the industry, how have you seen graphics really change and move from one place to another? And where do you see it moving in the future as you continue working in this room?

Patrick Twomey:

I'll start first with data. I can remember sitting for a particular broadcast cable channel where during a commercial break, they would bring into me a sheet with 30 line items. And what that was about, that would be, we used to call stacking the DAO. The DAO index is basically made up of 30 different companies and in that two minute commercial break, you would have to call up a blank screen, type in the name of the company, the index, their current stock price, and the change from the opening day of the market. We would manually type it at the beginning of the day. Nowadays, you would find that kind of data coming into you from various sources online, it's something that your broadcaster may have subscribed to. But it's automated sources, you can put those kinds of things together to automate the input of data and really control that and give most information to your viewers.

Patrick Twomey:

That's probably been one of the bigger things. I do find automation as a big thing, I also find that the resolution and the complexity of graphics has changed dramatically. Interestingly enough, as we become more complex with our capabilities, you're noticing a trend right now where graphics are generally very flat and very simple. Interestingly enough, a lot of people think that that needs to be done to accommodate mobile devices. Ironically, while the screens on a mobile device are usually very small, the resolutions on those are actually better than what you find on your television in your living room. And it's a personal device, in your hand you probably have a better vision of that than you do a 75 inch television in your family room.

Patrick Twomey:

But that's kind of pushed the trend to very flat, very simple, that used to be customized, big, chunky 3D content. And we moved to our demonstration content for Ross Video has gone to a very flat look graphic so that we emulate what people are looking for. And I actually had a customer come up to me last year at a trade show and ask if we could do 3D rendering. So we've made sure that ... for us, for example, we make sure that we can do all of those things and import tools from 3D software packages and things like that to be able to show that we can do it. We definitely can and again, that's one of the spots where designers have a comfort level where they may have started what they're working on. It's coming into a real time rendering tool, but these are things that people couldn't have imagined years ago. Templating in real time rendering have really changed the game.

Tyler Kern:

Absolutely Patrick Twomey, He's the Director of Product Management for Ross XPression. Patrick, thank you so much for joining me today.

Patrick Twomey:

Thank you.

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