UK HPA Tech Retreat Report - Day 2

Yesterday’s 2017 HPA Tech Retreat in Oxford, UK, was all about VR and 360, and on Wednesday, they moved to the thorny issue of the versioning explosion. As broadcasters seek wider audiences over different platforms, localisation has become a big issue. Making hundreds of versions of a single film is not unheard of and keeping control and logs can be a nightmare.

Eric Pearson, of Pixar Animation Studios, discussed in detail their workflows, citing forty-one language versions for block buster films. For Pixar, localisation is more than just different languages as their aim is for all viewers around the world to have the same immersive experience.

Visual Versioning

Localisation leads to some interesting challenges as visual words are also versioned. Pearson demonstrated the example of their latest Cars animation with a character reading a newspaper clipping. In their final productions, each version will have the newspaper writing in the localised language of each country being represented.

The logging and planning behind visual versioning is logistically challenging, each scene must be logged and then sent to teams across the world so they can provide the correct words and written text. Pixar are very sensitive to cultural diversity and spend a great deal of time reviewing localised content for accuracy and meaning.

With each audio versioning requiring 7.1, 5.1, stereo and mono mixes, the number of versions required soon balloons. Pearson advised on average, 1700 additional frames of versioning are required for each film, or an additional one hour and ten minutes of material.

ID Hierarchy

To coordinate these versions, Pixar have developed their own ID based hierarchy software solution using the Entertainment Identity Registry (EIDR) system. This provides tracking and versioning control for their international teams.

BBC’s Planet Earth 2 production team gave an interesting insight to the five-year long production, recording and editing cycle. Digitally recording footage in some of the most remote and hostile parts of the country can prove extremely challenging, especially when considering battery charging and creating backups. Dailies were backed to hard disk drives and generators had to be brought in to charge cameras and laptops.

The footage shown in the HDR cinema was breath taking. Slo-mo, high frame rate and HDR were all combined to give a truly 4K immersive experience.


Andrew Cotton, BBC R&D, went on to discuss why the BBC had chosen Hybrid Log Gamma (HLG) and not Perceptual Quantizer (PQ) for the High Dynamic Range (HDR) representation. Specifically, he cited the BBC’s preference to scene referred process, as per existing BBC broadcast systems, and that HLG didn’t need any meta data, so the BBC could use their existing editing and transmission workflows without further modification to their systems.

Controversially, Cotton went on to say PQ needed meta data to work correctly, but this was later refuted by Andy Beale of BT Sport, who advised the delegates that his productions did not use meta data for PQ, and using meta data would not necessarily improve picture quality for his application.

The technical argument around the different applications of PQ and HLG is indeed complex and requires a great deal of understanding of the different systems to appreciate the subtle differences between the two systems. This debate will continue to rumble as the uptake of HDR continues.

Live 360-VR

Andy Beale, Chief Engineer of BT Sport, gave an impressive demonstration of UEFA Champions League Final workflows for their HDR live stream and fully curated live multi-cam 360-VR stream, alongside their standard HD workflows. Viewers can decide which camera they watch, or select an auto mode to provide a 360-degree production with commentary and graphics.

Broadcast RF’s Nick Fuller and Chris Brandrick gave an in-depth technical review of their single camera live solution for Woody Harrelson’s production “Lost in London”. The ambitious production followed Woody, the protagonist, as he meandered his way through the West End of London on a cold winters night, telling his misadventure in Soho that landed him in prison. The whole movie was made on the fly, shot in real time in a single take, and streamed to live cinemas across the world.

Fuller gave a very informative presentation detailing how to follow a single camera with multiple RF receive points all over the west of London, without any break in transmission. The whole project was conceived, planned, rigged and broadcast in just over a month.


A passionate panel discussion advocating greater diversity in all disciplines in media was chaired by Jay Sakallioglu. Commissioned reports demonstrated the business opportunities available to companies who embrace diversity such as gender, age, geography and technical know-how.

Geoffrey Okol, ITN Productions, provided an interesting anecdote identifying one area where diversity can be more inclusive. Whilst working on a production, the writers had referred to a man asking for “the ketchup”. Okol, who’s background bore a strong affinity with the characters in the scene, told us his father would never ask for ketchup, he would always ask for the “hot sauce”. Identifying and being sensitive to such cultural sensitivities is a winner for all.

The panel discussion ended with multi-camera director Abigail Dankwa challenging those delegates who wanted to make a difference to do something, and report back to next year’s UK HPA Tech Retreat with their results, advising there are many mentors in the industry who would be willing to help.

Film Lives On

In an interesting twist to the digital world, panellists from “Exploding the archive” shared their experiences of film restoration. With the proliferation of digital cinema projection, film projection is becoming a thing of the past, and all archive footage must be transferred to digits.

Passion for film continues to live on, with Adrian Bull from Cinelabs proclaiming HD, HDR and WCG have been in the film industry for many years. He went on to suggest that film is the ultimate storage system as it is human readable and can last for five hundred years, although one delegate pointed out he clearly wasn’t referring to the nitrate film stock.

The day finished with sponsored drinks, a dinner in the ballroom, and yet more sponsored drinks, with delegates arguing and debating the finer details of the days talks with great enthusiasm until the early hours of the morning. Another fantastic quality day at HPA Tech Retreat – UK. 

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