How to Maximize Software-Defined Workflows with a Media Integration Platform
By Julián Fernández-Campón
In August 2019, Movielabs and Hollywood Studios published a whitepaper envisioning the “Evolution of Media Creation”, which provided a ten-year vision for the future of media production, post and creative technologies. Since then, the world has changed considerably, however many of the aspects within the whitepaper are still extremely important for global media production.
Key to this are software-defined workflows, which as the whitepaper explains, use a highly configurable set of tools and processes to support creative tasks by connecting them through software-mediated collaboration and automation.
There are a number of important elements that together lead to success including: workflows that are automated (as much as possible); workflows that are simple and easy to design, maintain and evolve; practicality – software-defined workflows make it practical to develop reusable components and to automate aspects of the workflow that are currently manual.
To maximize their capabilities this view should be aligned with the ten General Principles of Media Creation suggested by Movielabs in the whitepaper. These include:
- All assets are created or ingested straight into the cloud and do not need to be moved.
- Applications come to the media.
- Propagation and distribution of assets is a “publish” function.
- Archives are deep libraries with access policies matching speed, availability and security to the economics of the cloud.
- Preservation of digital assets includes the future means to access and edit them.
- Every individual on a project is identified and verified, and their access permissions are efficiently and consistently managed.
- All media creation happens in a highly secure environment that adapts rapidly to changing threats.
- Individual media elements are referenced, accessed, tracked and interrelated using a universal linking system.
- Media workflows are non-destructive and dynamically created using common interfaces, underlying data formats and metadata.
- Workflows are designed around real-time iteration and feedback.
Participants, Tasks, Assets, and Context
It’s important that workflows are adapted to the needs of the creatives, and not the opposite. The basic objects of the MovieLabs Production Ontology are: Participants, Tasks, Assets, and Context.
Software-defined workflows abandon the notion that interoperability is limited to applications that are designed specifically to work together. Instead, it adopts the model that applications can interoperate with any other as long as they follow a set of interoperability rules and security policies, either natively or with adapters.
Seen from a more general and abstract position, workflows pivot from orchestration, which is a very rigid, bot-like workflow coordination to choreography, where workflows can be seen as the art of designing sequences of tasks that efficiently integrate all the participants into a process that focus on the creativity of people to produce the final content.
This concept comes from the idea that the production process is a combination of manual and automated processes. Although it has some predefined tasks, in essence, the number of steps is unpredictable and will depend on the artistic decisions and must obey the creative process.
The final goal is to support human creativity by connecting all the tasks in the different scenarios and content production workflows (shots selection, editing, color correction, VXF, audio production) into a software-mediated integration and automation.
It’s important to minimize, as much as possible, the human interaction for those repetitive tasks and more importantly be able to provide the flexibility and freedom needed in these processes. This is a revolution in the production process, as it makes it agile and adaptative.
Enter the Media Integration Platform
Based on these concepts, a Media Integration Platform is key to achieving a framework that offers a simple and standard way to access all the applications that are part of the process. And at the same time allows the communication between all of them, which is not point-to-point, but uses the Media Integration Platform as the broker with each application integrated with it having N integrations instead of NxN.
This leverages the concept of interoperability where all the tools that are part of the platform are integrated offering visibility, collaboration, cost analysis and calculation, dashboards and all the related tasks running under the hood, such as media asset movement, systems integration, transformation between the different application’s datamodel, etc.
Software-defined workflows are then built using the core components mentioned before (Participants, Tasks, Assets, and Context) as part of the Media Integration Platform.
This provides users (participants) with specific roles and permissions, and applications that are integrated. Users will focus on the human creative tasks whereas applications will be used to implement them, in some cases with a human operating it, a video editor for example, and in other cases with automated tasks operating in background such as media analysis, transformation, movement, etc.
All steps in a workflow, that can be human or automated provides the task component. This will depend on what participant is executing it: human or a machine.
The next component assets relates to all the objects used and generated in the production process, typically video, audio, subtitles, images, etc. but also any other documents needed in the process.
Context of the workflow is defined by a common workspace where all the related elements are efficiently organized and where all the information needed to execute the workflow resides.
Architecturally, there is a rich collection of methods that must be addressed. The following are some areas being considered by MovieLabs for common definition:
- Identification – assets, tasks, participants, services, and other components of the system must be identified (possibly by a variety of methods).
- Object retrieval – Given the identity of an asset, task, or service, there must be a means to locate and then retrieve it.
- Non-destruction – One of the sub-principles of software-defined workflows is that assets, once created, are not modified (i.e., workflows are non-destructive).
- Persistent metadata – must describe an asset’s persistent, possibly evolving properties.
- Active metadata (e.g., approvals, comments, etc.)
- Workflow management and orchestration:
- Resource management – Resources to monitor and manage both human and technical (storage, computational) resources.
- Notification – Communication of events between entities.
- Security management – Tools to control access and monitor integrity.
- Disposition/approval management – Managing the status of workflow elements based on policy and approvals.
It’s important that a practical implementation of a Media Integration Platform is able to define and execute software-defined workflows needed to address these main points.
These include the identification and modelling of the main participants, by having tenants with specific users that can be managed independently and applications that integrate, control and automate all the third-party systems involved in the workflows.
The platform must also provide out-of-the-box building blocks as operational workflows that can be used to quickly implement the most common tasks in M&E workflows, such as video file ingest, audio tracks aggregation, Quality Control, etc., divided into a set of categories for easy and simple management.
LowCode/NoCode tools that are easy to configure and evolve software-defined workflows are essential. These offer a high-level toolset that allow users, without a deep knowledge in programming but with a deep knowledge in the operation and business, to define processes with simple drag-and-drop functionality.
Last but not least, intelligent BPM (iBPM) provides advanced features and a step up on traditional BPMs in terms of automation and workflow definition to allow the specific needs in content production.
- Movilabs. Supporting the Creative Process with Software-Defined Workflows. https://movielabs.com/production-technology/sdw/
- Movilabs. The Evolution of Production Security. https://movielabs.com/news/new-whitepaper-future-of-security-for-production-workflows/