In only two seasons, ABC's Grey's Anatomy has attracted viewer attention like few other shows. Among its many honors, the show has earned a Golden Globe, a Screen Actors Guild award, and two NAACP Image awards, and in 2006 it was granted the highly coveted post-Super Bowl time slot. Grey's Anatomy is compelling, in part, because of the way it merges plot and rich character development with sharp editing, realistic audio, and a top-notch soundtrack. The show's producers have gone to great lengths to orchestrate these various creative elements, and they have equipped the editorial team with an array of Avid editing and networking tools that ensure fast and accurate work in a highly collaborative and extremely time-sensitive environment.
We work very quickly, says Edward Ornelas, an editor on the show. At the beginning of a season we might have 11 or 12 days for editorial, from the first cuts to locked picture, but by the end of the season we'll have less than half that time to do the same amount of work. The show's editorial configuration, which is located one floor above the show's sound stage, is centered on six Media Composer XL editing systems that are used for offline editing, plus an Avid Unity LANshare shared-media network with two terabytes of shared storage. Ornelas explains, On most mornings we'll have systems running concurrently. We might have two systems capturing dailies and another one or two dedicated to finishing work. We basically split our [Avid systems] in whatever way we want. It's very flexible.
The efficiency of Media Composer and Avid Unity is remarkable. The combined features allow me to work creatively.
Comprehensive Media Management
The Avid Unity LANshare system provides the Grey's Anatomy editors with a platform for data storage, as well as a means to connect systems. This access is particularly crucial on Grey's Anatomy becausethe editors must review and manage an enormous amount of media. They not only receive a large amount of daily footage - as all scenes are shot with two 35mm cameras - but also countless songs, sound effects, and other elements that contribute to the show's rich texture.
Susan Vaill, who is one of three editors on the show along with Ornelas and Briana London, says that the Avid Unity LANshare system helps the editorial team manage the massive amount of music that they receive. We're getting new music and effects all the time, so we created a master project in [Avid] Unity where we store and manage all of our sound files. We know where the files are and can get to them immediately from any one of our systems, she says. Not only that, but upon Vaill's cue, many editors have developed their own personal selects bins in which they track the songs they like best, keeping them only a few mouse clicks away from whatever scene or sequence that they might be editing.
In addition to music, there is an inordinate amount of visual content that is captured, managed, and ultimately edited. With the Avid Unity LANshare system, the editors can review earlier episodes for re-usable shots. Ornelas explains, Because the show is set in a hospital and our actors wear scrubs, we can often steal useful shots from old shows. We'll take close ups and inserts or whatever else we need. The creator of our show, [and one of the executive producers] Shonda Rhimes, is constantly remembering shots from old episodes.
We all work in different ways, and we all have our own settings. With keyboard mapping, any one of us can sit down at any bay and work like we're accustomed to working. It's a big time saver.
Along with the Avid Unity LANshare system, the editors rely on the Media Composer system for a broad range of tasks, including creative editing at 14:1 resolution, ADR recording and editing, and visual effects editing. With the Media Composer system's keyboard customization feature, each editor can set and retrieve his or her own personal keyboard settings to work in the way that is most convenient. The personalized settings are created in the Media Composer system and made available to the six networked systems through the Avid Unity LANshare shared-storage system. We all work in different ways, and we all have our own settings, says Vaill. With keyboard mapping, any one of us can sit down in any bay and work like we're accustomed to working. It's a big time saver.
The editors also like the Media Composer system's ability to group clips and play them back concurrently using the Multicamera feature. The Media Composer [system's] ability to play back simultaneous footage is a godsend, says London. Because we shoot on two cameras, we can play the footage from both cameras and immediately see what's working best. It saves an enormous amount of time.
With the Media Composer system's drag-and-drop timeline editors can assemble scenes and generate effects with remarkable speed and flexibility. Due to this efficiency, Ornelas says that he will often cut a scene several different ways and experiment with approaches until he finds the way that works best. I might try different performances, use more wide shots in one version, adjust the tempo, or place emphasis on a specific character. I basically explore the material in a number of different ways and find the one that is most appropriate for the scene, he says.
The Media Composer [system's] ability to play back simultaneous footage is a godsend.
Sound Layering, Effects, and ADR
The editors use the Media Composer system to manage eight tracks of audio for each episode, with tracks one through three dedicated to production; tracks four through six dedicated to sound effects; and tracks seven and eight dedicated to music. Sound is a big part of our show, and one of our biggest challenges is creating an integrated sound that incorporates everything that we've got. We're dealing with so much. There are voice-overs, dialogue, songs, sound effects - it's like weaving an intricate design, says Ornelas. It often takes a number of tries before we get an audio combination that really works.
Ornelas and his co-workers are also fond of the way that the Media Composer and Avid Unity systems can easily accommodate and incorporate ADR into the workflow. Ornelas explains, If I need to make a dialogue change I can either record it using the microphone connected to Media Composer, or add a locator and type in a description of the change and continue with whatever else I was doing. While I continue working, my assistant can access the same material and get to work on the change. By the end of the day, he's often only a few scenes behind me.
While there are many examples of temporary Foley and sound effects that have been laid into the show, Ornelas describes one case in which the temporary effects created on the Media Composer system were preferred to what was subsequently created by the sound team. In our Super Bowl show we had a character who had a live Bazooka shell lodged in his chest and was being kept alive with a manual respirator, as an electronic respirator would risk setting off the ammunition. So each time this manual respirator, or Ambu bag, was squeezed it made this distinctive sound that Joe Mitacek, my assistant editor, created as a temporary effect in Media Composer. When we got to mixing, it was clear that Joe's temporary Ambu sound worked better than the effect that had been created, so we went back to the original, and it worked out really well. In fact, the sound of the bag grew into a character all its own. It was a great discovery.
Cross-Team Communication and Collaboration
While the team uses visual effects features in the Media Composer system for boom microphone removal and other minor fixes, they've also found that the same tools can be used to communicate and clarify concepts to their outside visual effects team. For example, in one episode the script called for a 'blue baby,' so Vaill created the effect in the Media Composer system and passed it along to the visual effects team, thereby clarifying the specific effect that she had in mind. Similarly, the two-part Super Bowl episode called for a major explosion.
In order to communicate what Ornelas and the director had envisioned, Ornelas created a representation of the effect on the Media Composer system. He explains, I pushed the system to the max. I worked with split screens, superimpositions, AniMatte, and multiple layers. We got the producers to sign off [on the concept], and then we sent the same footage over to the effects house so they could get an immediate sense for what we wanted. Media Composer ultimately allowed us to communicate what we wanted and then send it downstream for development.
But communication doesn't end there. Just as Ornelas uses locators in the Media Composer system to type in ADR comments for his assistant to implement, the entire team uses locators to communicate with one another and organize editorial workflow. Revis Meeks, one of the show's three assistant editors, says that this method of communication enables the team to work efficiently. She notes: The great thing is that the editors don't have to verbally describe every change that they want made. They can just drop in a locator, and I can retrieve it from wherever I am on the system.
The team uses different color locators for ADR, visual effects, music, and other notes. We have so many plates spinning at one time, that color locators really help bring order to the chaos, says London. They just move with the work that we're doing.
The Finishing Touches
Grey's Anatomy uses Burbank-based Westwind Media for its sound mixing. The Media Composer system interoperates seamlessly with the Digidesign Pro Tools digital audio workstation, resulting in a streamlined, highly integrated audio/video
post-production process. Westwind uses Pro Tools, so we send them an OMF of everything we've done as a sound design reference. They assemble the production tracks from an Avid created EDL and recreate and enhance the sound design. On the mix stage, they've got our temp mix easily accessible in the OMF and occasionally we'll go back and get something that we need from it, explains Ornelas. As an additional time saver the editors print a locator list of all ADR organized by actor and show timecode for Westwind.
The total Avid workflow, based around a set of industry-standard tools, offers substantial benefits that extend well beyond the final broadcast version. Says Meeks, When the time comes to send the episodes out for DVD production, I can simply transfer the Avid bins and it's done. I don't even have to send an EDL. It's incredibly fast and easy, she says. This bin transfer is possible because the production facility, Santa Monica-based Playground, uses Avid DS Nitris finishing and mastering systems as well as Media Composer Adrenaline editing systems to produce the special edition DVDs. Because both systems are based upon the same Avid architecture, the bins transfer automatically without any need for adjustment.
With features such as keyboard customization, compositing, audio editing, and easy integration with other Avid systems, the Media Composer system provides a comprehensive toolset for offline and online editing on Grey's Anatomy. Moreover, with the added system networking and media management features of the Avid Unity LANshare shared-media network, the show has an editorial solution that is flexible enough to meet the fast pace of the show's editorial workflow. The efficiency of Media Composer and Avid Unity is remarkable, says Ornelas. The combined features allow me to work creatively and think not only as an editor, but also as a storyteller and filmmaker.
Vaill concurs, As an editor, I need to focus on the story and the characters, not the hardware and software. The Avid tools are intuitive and transparent. The system really keeps me focused on why I'm here, which is to cut a show.
* CREDITS: 2006 American Broadcasting Companies, Inc.
2007 Golden Globe Winner
- Best Television Series - Drama
ACE Eddie Nominations
- Best Edited One-Hour Series for Commercial Television
The 58th Annual Primetime and Creative Arts Emmy Award Nominee
- Outstanding Drama Series
Edit and finish an award-winning, primetime television show that incorporates a sophisticated mix of drama, music, dialogue, sound effects, and visual content under tight broadcast deadlines.
Use six Media Composer XL editing systems and the Avid Unity LANshare shared-storage solution for immediate and comprehensive access to all media assets and project files for the most efficient editing workflow.
Use a total Avid editing workflow to enable seamless interoperation with the show's postproduction partners who use Pro Tools, Avid DS Nitris, and Media Composer Adrenaline systems.