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Illuminate Hollywood on Managing Modern Data Loads


With a project portfolio as rich as its history, Illuminate Hollywood has provided production, post, and technology services to major Hollywood studios, TV networks, digital platforms, and indie producers and distributors for nearly three decades. Since the boutique shop opened its doors in 1995, it has done scanning, editorial, color correction, digital intermediate, VFX, 2K/4K distribution, audio conform and layback work for episodic and feature film productions spanning “Sons of Anarchy” to “Gone Girl.” As production and post processes have grown more complex with growing adoption of high resolution, high dynamic range workflows, CEO Jim Hardy and President Sandy Crawford have evolved the studio’s workflow to keep pace, adopting new technology like AJA Diskover Media Edition data curation and management software to manage an ever-increasing volume of data.

“We’re a small company competing against organizations with massive technological and staffing backbones, so we try to stand out for our innovation and top-notch service. That means we’re continuously evaluating and adopting emerging technology like AJA Diskover Media Edition, while also developing proprietary tools,” shared Crawford.

Hardy added, “We’re a technology-first company, which has led us to develop some cool in-house tech that gives us an edge over other vendors. All our work is also done in-house, which is key to maintaining quality control.”

Building proprietary solutions to manage a heavy project load

Many clients come to Illuminate to remaster television shows from uncut negatives, which means the team must ensure they have all the correct physical film assets from the client. Using its proprietary technology iConform®, Illuminate is able to take uncut dailies negatives and scan them in 4K 16-bit DPX files across multiple projects.

“We have to replicate exactly what was done with the original broadcast master, so there’s no cutting corners for us. It’s part of the reason we’re working with petabytes of data,” explained Crawford. “The volume of work that we go through on a weekly basis to meet the deadlines is astounding. A project passes through 12 different departments from film scanning to color correction and final creation of the master file that’s going to be reused for all the platforms. Our tech is essential for enabling us to produce six 60-minute shows a week.”

In addition to iConform, Illuminate has also developed SmartREzIT+™, a solution that combines proprietary software and techniques with other third-party software to upres SD masters to HD, 2K and 4K. It extracts more detail and resolution than traditional methods, which makes for superior image quality with little to no artifacts. The company envisioned the technology while working on older TV shows shot on uncut film negative.

“We knew we might encounter missing film, which meant we needed a process to replicate the quality so that it didn’t impact the viewing experience,” Hardy explained. “Our conversion solution isn’t real-time, which helps us create an end-result that looks as if the image originated in HD, 2K, or 4K.”

Keeping projects on track with smarter data management

Across projects, Illuminate manages a massive load of data stored across its Aberdeen and XStor storage systems, which requires well organized files and data, and an easy way to access them. To streamline this work across departments, it adopted AJA Diskover Media Edition. Data operators leverage the software to gauge how many files the facility has across all of its volumes and servers. They can type a keyword into the search and see all the information in the user interface. On the administrative side, Hardy and Crawford use Diskover to get a holistic view into Illuminate’s data; if a client wants to know what they have in house for a file or title, they can pull it up, versus having to check with operations first. The technology has also reduced file clean up, as they can flag files for removal if the client no longer needs them.

AJA Diskover Media Edition has also enhanced the studio’s quality control (QC) pipeline. Using the CineSys CineViewer Player Plug-in, the Illuminate team can review rejected or questionable files flagged by the QC operator, instead of having to visit a bay or separate facility to review. “We can look at it ourselves, take a screenshot, and send it to each other, which saves us a lot of time, versus having to visit a QC or color bay,” Crawford noted.

With direct and timely insight into any issues, the Illuminate team can share more information with clients. They’re also able to easily put in work orders if they need the operator to work from a specific file because the file path is more accessible with Diskover. And, they can easily confirm the file and aspect ratios available, as long as they’re properly identified, which Crawford said has saved the team hours. “Without AJA Diskover Media Edition, our team would have to search through volumes of data and could easily get lost. The software makes our work so much easier and efficient,” she noted.

Hardy added, “It’s great that we no longer have to ask and wait. We can search and find what we need. It helps for asset management and keeping track of files we may not need anymore.”

AJA Diskover Media Edition also allows Illuminate to grant team members unique access permissions and see the file sizes on a moment’s notice, ensuring they only see the files they need to see in a timely manner, without jeopardizing their integrity, which Hardy explained is paramount. “It’s so helpful,” he explained. “And, I love that we can see how many copies of the same files we have parked on different servers; we can better determine what needs to be purged. We’ve already seen such a boost to our workflow and we haven’t even begun to explore the full feature set, so we’re looking forward to diving in deeper soon.”

Commenting on his experience with AJA Diskover Media Edition and its support team, Hardy shared, “To put it into perspective, when we work with clients, they want to know we’re giving them the best attention they can get, and when we work with the AJA Diskover crew, that’s what we get. They listen to us and genuinely want to and are willing to help, and that goes a long way. When working with some of the large tech companies, your concerns sometimes get lost, but that’s not the case with the AJA Diskover Media Edition team. They’re very receptive to our perspective, what we’re interested in, and how they can help us achieve our goals.”

In addition to leveraging AJA Diskover Media Edition, Illuminate uses AJA gear across its facility, including analog to digital and digital to analog Mini-Converters, Ki Pro recording devices, and audio embedder/disembedders. For more information about the studio, visit: www.illuminatehollywood.com.

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