60 Minutes

First news magazine to broadcast in HD

The advent of HD has been like a ticking time clock. Television broadcasters everywhere have been up against a deadline, forced to reevaluate their workflows and find efficient and cost-effective ways to incorporate HD into their production and post environments. The venerable 60 Minutes – the longest running primetime show in television history – is no exception. For its 2008-2009 season, the CBS News magazine made the move toward a file-based HD workflow, not only to eliminate time-consuming and cumbersome tape transfers, but to create shows with even richer visual quality in full 5.1 surround sound.

The newly retrofitted workflow includes a fully integrated HD broadcast solution from Avid and Digidesign, a part of Avid, offering a seamless digital audio, video, and media networking solution. Now, everyone from camera operators to editors to re-recording mixers uses HD-capable tools. The result is a streamlined workflow that enables the 60 Minutes team to spend more time producing top-quality content under weekly deadline pressure and less time wrestling with the technical aspects of the post process.

Clear, Compelling Content

For an award-winning news magazine that prides itself on precise reporting, the show’s crisp, HD sound and images underscore the fact-based storytelling that lies at the heart of every show. Field and studio crews typically shoot in 30p using Sony XDCAM and Sony HDC-1500L cameras, supplying HD footage to the editorial department for cutting the 12-minute news segments, correspondent lead-ins, and Andy Rooney editorial that comprise each show.

 
 The show’s crisp HD sound and images underscore the fact-based storytelling that lies at the heart of every show.

With editing and audio suites in two locations - in Control Room 33 at the CBS Broadcast Center and across the street in the 60 Minutes production and editorial offices - all sound and picture editors have access to a 50-terabyte Avid Unity ISIS shared-storage system, which is designed as a hub for digital file transfers among the various functional areas, including ingest, editing, color correction, audio mixing, and playout.

Fifteen offline editors in New York work with the Avid DNxHD 145 codec to creatively cut and screen the show’s HD content using Avid Media Composer Nitris DX systems connected to the ISIS system. Because of the small bandwidth rate of the DNxHD format, the production crew is able to seamlessly exchange media and screen programs on-the-fly in true HD quality directly from the Avid systems, which dramatically cuts the time and budget associated with HD production.

Offline picture editors also share cuts-in-progress with the re-recording mixer who simultaneously mixes audio for each segment using a Pro Tools|HD workstation with a 24-fader ICON D-Command mixing console. The show typically accommodates up to 10 tracks of audio, including narration, correspondent dialogue, guest dialogue, and various stereo inputs from the camera for each finished segment. Completed mix stems are sent via the ISIS system to the show mixer for final assembly and finishing.

 

Documentary-Style Sights and Sounds

There has been a huge leap in the complexity of the show’s soundtrack this year with the newly upgraded digital audio workflow, which is connected to the ISIS system for instantaneous file sharing and transfer. Up until this season, re-recording mixer Roy Halee, Jr. had been producing shows in mono, recording and outputting all of his pieces to tape. Now he has the tools to create mini-documentary soundtracks for each piece in full 5.1 surround sound. The more streamlined digital workflow also frees more of his time to focus on the creative aspects of the audio track. For example, a recent profile of University of Southern California (USC) football coach Pete Carroll included the sounds of the 125-piece USC marching band and a stadium filled with cheering fans all in 5.1

 
 Everyone from camera operators to editors to re-recording mixers uses HD-capable tools.

Halee begins work on each segment by importing a digital AAF file, sent from the offline picture editors via the ISIS server, directly into a Pro Tools session. To save time, he uses a prepared 5.1 template (designed by Digidesign product specialist Robert Miller) that contains all the basic automation used to edit and mix each show. Using the ICON console he has deep, tactile control of the Pro Tools workstation to craft the audio for each segment. He particularly relies on easy-to-use plug-ins, such as X-Noise for ambient noise reduction and Down Compression/Expansion to fit narration between two pieces of sound.

While Halee refines the audio, he has full access to cuts-in-progress through a Media Composer satellite station in his suite, which offers a virtual video display to anyone on the ISIS network. This real-time HD video reference is fully synchronized to his Pro Tools session so he can see any sequence, cut, or fade as soon as it is completed, eliminating the formerly time-consuming task of preparing and sharing video tape references. Last-minute changes, such as a change in narration, can be shared and re-worked instantly for a faster workflow. Final segments are mixed to seven channels, published back on the ISIS server as AAF files, and sent electronically to the online team.

Edited segments and final audio mixes are supplied to two online editors and a show mixer in Control Room 33. They use Media Composer Nitris DX systems and a Pro Tools system for assembly, compositing, and finishing each one-hour show. The ISIS shared-storage system is used heavily by the online team as they handle last-minute changes while pushing media out to the colorist, show mixer, and the control room staff, often simultaneously, as they prepare the final show master for distribution in various HD, SD, Web, and mobile formats.

Senior post-production editor M. Scott Cole and his team handle finishing tasks using the Avid DNxHD 145 formatted media supplied by the offline team. The compressed HD format is used to handle even the finest effects and technical fixes in exacting detail, such as the selective defocus effects used to hide the faces of on-camera subjects. At the same time, mixer Mike Ruschak begins work immediately on the mixed stems provided by Halee as Pro Tools sessions, streamlining the process for any final changes in narration or other audio content. Ruschak also uses a Pro Tools setup to record studio leads and mix top-of-show teases, Andrew Rooney segments, and other elements with AAF files provided to him from the offline editors.

 

Wide Integration, Comprehensive Reporting

Throughout the offline and online process, the Avid Unity ISIS shared-storage system not only acts as the storage repository and shared networking system for various Avid workstations, it interfaces easily with third-party products so projects and media can be shared in the most far-reaching ways. This enables the 60 Minutes team to combine components from various manufacturers into one unified digital workflow that provides best-in-class tools for the show’s optimal working environment.

For example, Control Room 33 contains 14 EVS server channels on three XT2 servers (six channels for studio recording and eight for playback), each of which directly interfaces with the Avid Unity ISIS system by streaming media in native Avid DNxHD 145 format for real-time editing and in-studio playback. Similarly, a Digital Vision Nucoda color-correction system imports and exports Avid DNxHD files via the ISIS system for sharing with the Media Composer Nitris DX editing stations. This real-time sharing of files is especially useful during the time-sensitive finishing stage when late-breaking news often requires a re-working of the show’s content.

While this fully integrated digital broadcast technology is impressive, it remains a mere means to an end. The star of each show is the award-winning storytelling that has become 60 Minutes’ trademark. With its newly updated HD workflow, the show now has one more tool in its considerable reporting arsenal – the ability to provide the most revealing details possible with more visual and audio clarity and richness than ever before.