In Mexico there lives a master of video effects, whose specialty is water. If a studio or ad agency needs to alter a scene, he can make realistic reflections on an ocean, river, or lake, or create textures on waves so real that nobody would know they’re digitally altered. But for some filmmakers it has been hard to use him. He lived too far away.
Yet things are changing in the world of remote work and dispersed workforces. As the office moved home over the last two years, it wasn’t just Zoom or Teams or Slack that enabled companies to remain successful. Even in the data-intensive work of producing videos based on digital files of vast size, new collaborative technologies have begun to catch on that make remote distributed work possible and even efficient. Now one major studio is regularly using that Mexican water animator, for example, by taking advantage of a supremely clever new online tool called LucidLink.
Most video production houses are big customers of Fedex. “People ship drives overnight, editors receive them, do their work, then ship them back,” says LucidLink CEO Peter Thompson. But a video production is a collaboration, with many editors and producers often working on the same footage. And LucidLink has come up with secret sauce for the cloud-centric, Covid-driven-remote-work era. Its software lets multiple collaborators easily edit a video any way they want, even if they’re doing so at the same time, wherever they are. “We’re not transferring the file,” says Thompson, “just using bits of it as we need it. But we offer true read and write access, which enables a distributed team to collaborate on a single source of truth which remains always in the cloud.”
A key LucidLink partner is Adobe, since so many professional video projects edit with Adobe Premiere Pro. Dave Helmly oversees strategic development for Adobe’s cloud projects, and is always looking for new tools. So he was delighted, even a little astonished, to discover LucidLink just around when many Adobe clients were sending editors home in 2020, panicked about getting projects done with everyone dispersed. He started recommending it because it enabled a kind of collaboration that had not previously been possible. “I loved how a creative could just drag and drop things as if they were on a local network,” explains Helmly. “You’re essentially just streaming down these micro blocks.”
Meanwhile, IBM and Adobe were talking about ways of working together in media and entertainment. They already had deep partnerships in many areas, including integrating IBM’s Finance Cloud (for financial services companies) with Adobe’s Marketing Cloud, which customers use for content and campaign management. “Adobe is such a major force in the media industry,” says Greg Pizzuti, director of global media and entertainment for IBM. “So it was a great time to come together with a solution that was needed in the industry, with more people working remotely, and creating lots of different types of video content, whether for movies or TV or advertising.”
So IBM launched a new partnership with Adobe, with LucidLink’s software at the center. The three companies came up with a program that enables a video producer using Premiere on LucidLink to take advantage of special pricing as well as unique security and other services on IBM’s cloud service. LucidLink now enables video clients to sign up, through them, for a simple service for doing remote collaborative video editing. Says LucidLink co-founder and CTO George Dochev: “We offer the intelligence between the application and the ultimate repository in the cloud–in this case on IBM.”
IBM has been aggressively differentiating its cloud offerings, developed after many decades of building and managing some of the world’s largest IT systems. So to make it especially attractive to media and entertainment clients, the LucidLink/IBM bundle makes so-called “egress fees” predictable and as much as 60% less than the standard rate. Those costs come every time a customer removes data from most cloud services. When video is being edited, big chunks of data flow in and out–sometimes, in large collaborative projects, to many editors’ and producers’ machines. Says Adobe’s Helmly: “It’s hard for customers to run their budgets knowing there are these variable egress charges they cannot either predict or understand, and they don’t have any control over.”
Pricing for most cloud services is opaque and often confusing, apparently deliberately so in many cases. “Nobody really understands cloud pricing,” says LucidLink’s Dochev, himself a network engineer. “When you get your bill it’s five pages long with esoteric stuff even we don’t understand–API calls per million in category one, two, and three; egress; ingress; cross-region connections…You almost need a college degree to read a bill from AWS.” LucidLink by contrast simply charges a flat fee based upon the amount of data a customer stores in the system, plus a set fee for each user. And thanks to IBM’s major reduction in egress fees, along with the LucidLink service, client fees and costs are much more predictable.
In the media industry, security is paramount. So both LucidLink and IBM bring critical security to this new way of remotely editing video. “Certain movies, during production, are guarded more closely than military secrets,” says Dochev. Every LucidLink file only gets unencrypted on the local device when an editor is working. It is re-encrypted when it leaves that device, while it’s in transit, and while stored in the cloud—a process known as end-to-end encryption. And security is also a special focus for IBM. For one thing, data in its cloud services are stored with unique security—files are broken up into multiple pieces in multiple data centers, and only come together again when accessed by customers. “Nobody could ever hack into an IBM cloud service and steal a video, because it’s dispersed,” explains Pizzuti.
Until they see the system in action, many customers have a hard time believing LucidLink can truly allow multiple collaborators to work on the same piece of video at the same time. “We did something that just about everyone told us was impossible,” says Thompson, who like Dochev is a network systems veteran, not a video expert per se. Elaborates Dochev: “The crux of the complexity is creating a seamless user experience over an unreliable network; also, working with users who may be widely distributed geographically, with different latencies and response times. It’s a classic distributed network problem.” Adds Thompson: “Part of the secret was making it disappear. We’re dealing with people on a creative platform. The last thing they want to think about is how to connect to a tool. We make it seem like they’re using local storage, without having to think about anything else.”
This system works, too, for other giant digital files than video. Digital advertising agencies can use LucidLink when working on big files in Adobe Photoshop or InDesign. And LucidLink already has customers working in medical imaging, CAD/CAM geospatial modeling for oil and gas, and life sciences and pharmaceuticals.
It’s one of many technological leaps forward the world has experienced in the era of Covid. Says Adobe’s Helmly: “In media and entertainment companies information always has to be guarded, and for any kind of remote workflow the answer from IT has always been ‘No.’ But with Covid, everybody just had to switch gears as fast as they could.”
On Wednesday, Jan. 26 at 1 PM ET, author Kirkpatrick moderates a discussion with IBM’s Pizzuti, Adobe’s Helmly, and Thompson of LucidLink about the new realities or remote work for creative industries. Register below and learn more here.