Curtin University Makes Teaching Live Production Easier With NDI®
Ask Sally Goldrick and Paul Indaimo to describe traditional video technology, and the colourful descriptions they come up with paint a vivid picture.
“Think of the battle station in a war film, where the bad guys are going to use some clunky, industrial console to blow up a city,” Ms. Goldrick will tell you.
“You feel like you’ve gone back in time… stuck in a 1970s episode of Lost Island,” Mr. Indaimo will say.
And they should know. As media industry professionals, they’ve earned their credentials across television, postproduction, audio, journalism, documentary film, and live broadcasting and are now employed through the School of Media, Creative Arts and Social Inquiry at Curtin University in Perth, Western Australia.
Goldrick, formerly with ABC Australia for nearly 20 years, is today a lecturer in Screen Arts, teaching TV studio skills to students and working primarily in the TV studio. She works with students to educate them about—among other skills—the methods for capturing raw stories in the field or interviews in the studio, then bringing them back and shaping them into a format for live television.
Indaimo is the manager of Curtin University’s Creative Production Support Unit, or CPSU; the technical team that keeps media systems running and troubleshoots student production issues. After a media career that ultimately led him to Rome, he uses his experience on the technology side to provide the right learning environment for students here in Western Australia.
Around the country and all the way around the world, for 20 years they’ve seen their fair share of outdated facilities, made up of complicated, black-box production hardware from manufacturers with roots firmly entrenched in history.
But the new generation of students entering Curtin University bring with them a lifetime of effortlessly creating media by clicking and dragging on a user-friendly interface. To them, the industry’s traditional, old-school control desks – resembling something straight out of the original Star Wars Death Star scene - fail to impress. And why should it? Even that film is twice as old as most students.
Reflect The Industry
For Goldrick and Indaimo, the equipment used in Curtin University’s television studio and control room— the main facilities used across the Screen Arts and Journalism curriculums —should focus on preparing today’s students to graduate job-ready.
“To provide the true experience and opportunity for students going into the industry,” Indaimo says, “why not have technology that’s appropriate to industry?”
After all, the School was the first tertiary institution in Western Australia to offer a course in film and television, and in fact it houses Western Australia’s largest working television studio outside of a media organization.
What’s more, major international broadcasters increasingly look to the program to tap into a talent pool that knows how to put a production together. “Live events and news are always going to happen,” says Goldrick. “We have to make sure we’re teaching relevant skills.”
So when the School approved a studio upgrade to take place in 2018, Goldrick and Indaimo had a far greater purpose than merely an equipment update from SD to HD; from old to new. They saw the opportunity to overhaul the workflow to adapt to the future; to reflect the emerging ways the media industry would continue to evolve.
The challenge was finding systems that could evolve along with it. And that’s where NewTek came in.
“Don’t get me wrong,” says Indaimo. “There are many big-name systems out there that truly have earned their reputations as industry standards over the years.”
This was important to think about. A major factor for the equipment selection team was that the kit chosen for the education environment should reflect what’s used in the industry. And that meant some of those big-name systems were up for consideration.
In fact, some well-known manufacturers were already part of the Screen Arts program’s existing production workflow, so they had already encountered some of the limitations that traditional technology imposed.
“We had a graphics system well known in the marketplace, and while there is no dispute that it was an industry standard, it’s very expensive, and it’s proprietary,” says Indaimo. “This system operated on an old XP platform, which we were locked into. Because by making upgrades to the OS, we would have needed to make additional hardware upgrades as well.”
As the team began exploring and looking at options, prices, and possibilities for the new production facilities, Indaimo says, “something very important caught my attention—and that was NDI.”
Back in 2013, the School had purchased a NewTek TriCaster® 410 which was not part of the daily production coursework. Indaimo was familiar with the system’s software-driven approach for multi-camera production switching, even though previously they hadn’t incorporated it fully into the workflow.
But then, what he saw in the new TriCaster TC1 and in NDI®—NewTek’s encoding solution for video over IP—was technology that he says is transparent: “This is a technology that doesn’t get in the way of the teaching, and it doesn’t get in the way of learning.”
Choose Your Workflow
Sally Goldrick has a confession. “At the beginning, I was a fan of sticking with the traditional equipment,” she says. “But you have to have a crew to operate it.”
That was the key factor to be considered in the new technical solution.
The Screen Arts program uses the TV studio for multiple learning tracks: a journalism presentation class, a TV production unit, and—new to the program—advanced broadcasting.
“That’s three lots of students using that control room, along with various extra groups, using the facilities differently, one right after the other,” she says.
The journalism class is focused on presentation, so in the control room is a single production operator acting as TD or technical director. Often, Goldrick herself would operate the system for projects in collaboration with journalism students, such as open day events and sports stadium projects. The production classes, however, have multiple crew positions.
“We needed a production solution that could support single operators, and we also needed to be able to have multi-crew operation. And we needed to teach both, back-to-back, with minimal setup,” says Goldrick.
They’ve set up their TriCaster TC1 with pre-sets that allow students to practically eliminate setup time between classes. Now they can select and store the settings they need for a certain kind of show. Then, when the class is over, the next set of students can restore their own set of preferences and views—with a simplified, menu-driven user interface to make single-user operation easy.
“As director, I’m able to give performance feedback to the talent, instead of worrying about ‘is the mic up? Is this the right camera?’” says Goldrick, “which will be good for students, because now, the journalists are actually able to concentrate on the presentations and work on their skills.”
Teach the Craft––Not The Operation
“When we teach students to produce a story, we don’t want to spend our time training them how to operate the equipment,” Goldrick says. “We want to talk about why to choose a shot, when to use cutaways, what variety of shots we can include to make it compelling. This was the side of teaching we wanted to focus on.”
In the previous setup, she was spending time teaching the students how to use the equipment—the kind of systems that were hugely popular in the market, but difficult to learn.
“Yes, students were able to create graphics or switch productions through these systems,” she says. “But they were also spending a good half a day trying to learn how to actually make it happen. We were finding the students were actually losing interest because it was so hard.”
Then there are the manufacturer requirements. “Some of these traditional broadcast systems have you go off and do a six-week course just to become qualified in operating them,” Indaimo says. “That is not our space and that is not why students come here. The whole idea is to get students excited about possibilities.”
Now, instead of spending valuable teaching time on technical setup, training, and trouble-shooting, Goldrick says that with the TriCaster TC1, time spent in the control room and the studio is much more effective than before due to the intuitive nature of the system.
“We get them to analyse news stories. Watch how an interview is cut. Think about why they’re cutting away at the times that they are. Have a look at why they’re tightening their shots when the interview gets to the nitty-gritty,” she says. “The kind of story-related topics we couldn’t teach as effectively if we were too busy teaching them how to use the equipment.”
Best of all, says Goldrick, is how engaged the students are now. “You can see that students are interested because they find those elements fascinating. They love switching programs, and they love understanding the impact of why they’re using three cameras, and how many shots you can get from three cameras. Rather than, ‘okay, we’re using three cameras—but now I’m stuck on a wipe. How do I get back to just cutting?’”
Financial Sustainability - Over The Network
Curtin University made a significant investment on updating the facilities, so it needed to ensure the equipment itself would provide value for money as well as achieve the learning outcomes they committed to provide. So, even though peripheral video components do incur capital costs, the NDI IP-video-enabling software from NewTek is free—and that caught the eye of the CPSU.
Says Indaimo, “To be pragmatic about it, the first thing NDI did was to open a window of efficiency about how we can make our investments financially sustainable, and the way we utilise resources. Which meant if we could be more efficient in one area, we’d have resources to do something else, where it makes more sense.”
Installing free NDI applications on any system connected to the network immediately makes them available as video sources to other NDI-enabled applications on the same network. It happens that one of the free NewTek tools is NDI for Adobe Creative Cloud, a plugin that makes content from Adobe’s creative tools available for real-time playback and preview in the TriCaster.
It also happens that the university has a site license with Adobe products for all students.
“Here were our students using Adobe products to create graphics all along, and yet we were stuck with this very expensive dinosaur CG system in the old traditional setup,” he says. “With NDI, all of a sudden, our graphics system can just become any computer that’s already on network.”
Besides eliminating the significant investment in a dedicated hardware system for CG, he says, it’s effortless for students to ease into the workflow. “That’s one less system they have to learn, because it’s no longer, ‘here’s the vision switcher, here’s the character generator,’” says Indaimo. “They are already using Adobe products, they’re already there.”
Workflow limitations aren’t the only barrier that NDI has eliminated – it makes system design more effortless, as well. “Versatility and a ‘no boundaries’ kind of operability make NewTek systems easy for us as integrators to propose to customers,” says Daniel Fowler of Vizcom Technologies, the Western Australian-based system designers and integrators of the Screen Arts project.
“Any changes, requests or questions that came up during the design process such as ‘can we view program output remotely on other workstations? Could we save the program output to our server? Can we stream or bring in Skype calls into productions in the future?’ could very easily be accommodated,” Fowler says.
Deliberately thinking about their students’ future careers allowed Curtin University to free itself from locked-in technology paths that Indaimo says were counterproductive, since he says “students aren’t here to learn boutique equipment. Wherever they go after this, there are going to be different types of equipment. They’re here to learn the concepts.”
It also makes teaching that much more gratifying, since instructors can get out of the equipment training business and focus on equipping students with the skills they need for a successful career.
“Every teacher gets such a thrill out of seeing their students go out in the industry, and thinks ‘Okay, I had a little bit to do with that,’” Goldrick says.
“The skills we’re teaching them here at Curtin are incredibly relevant. We’re going to be equipping these students to be professionals. They’re going to be ready to go.”
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