This year has marked quite a few major changes, accomplishments, and challenges for Dawnrunner. Most people who interact with us are surprised to find out just how small our crew really is. We pride ourselves on our passion, agility, and ingenuity – because frankly, without an abundance of each, there’s just not enough hours in the day to get our work done. From programming custom scripts and programs, to building our own equipment custom-made for specific tasks, we do whatever it takes to get the jobs done. on time and on budget. That last part is always a thorn in my side, budgets, if only there was more of it.
Dawnrunner was invited to participate in the Dell & NVidia Professional Editing Advisory Program early in the year. With the changes to FCP having a major effect on our overall pipeline, we were forced to explore other options, and dubious does not even begin to explain my emotional state. Dell sent us a system to test drive as part of the program, a Dell Precision T5500, with an NVidia Quadro 5000. We have been a mixed platform shop for quite some time, but most of our workflow was Mac-centered. I frankly found myself expecting very little from a Windows based editing system….
…What happened when we put it through the paces – frankly – astounded me.
First and foremost, the machine was not much to look at. When you un-box a Mac Professional level machine, you typically get “Ooo’s” and “Ahhhs!” about the look of the thing. There was none of that with the Dell T5500 – it looked quite a bit like a gaming computer I had back in 1997. The keyboard and mouse were dull plastic jobs that were unimpressive utlitarian at best, and were quickly replaced with our fancy solar powered peripheral devices, and custom edit specific equipment. We popped open the side of the case, because it’s good to see what’s under the hood. The insides were the typical cluttered mess you begin to expect from a PC. We did note how massive the Nvidia Quadro card was, and that wet the appetite for more. Time to give it a go.
Having just wrapped our first in-house produced feature film, “THE DARKEST MATTER” which was insanely post and vfx heavy, we had a lot to play with in regards to computer intensive post production elements. I will not go into technical details in this post, but will say that we were absolutely blown out of our chairs with the results. We spent several more hours just drooling over what was possible . That following day, I came into the office to find Geoff Peck, Dawnrunners Post Production Supervisor, working on something from THE DARKEST MATTER. When I walked in – he turned around to me and said, “Remember that simulation we wanted to do for the main ship destruction?” I thought about it a moment, still worried as to why he was at work so early, “Yes? We couldn’t do it because it took too much time. What about it?” He grinned and said “Come watch it!” With a few extra hours in the morning, and a bit of prep work the night before, he had redone a simulation that we had to cut from our film because of lack of resources. THE DARKEST MATTER was something that really stretched our abilities to the limits just to get done, and sacrifices had to be made along the way. I stared wide eyed at the screen for several loops of the simulation and finally said, “We should re do a lot of what we did before.” A huge smile was the only response.
As a business owner and operator, when you’re faced with something as game-changing as this Dell T5500 with the NVidia Quadro 5000, you find your mind exploding with possibilities. We found that not only did it allow for things which were previously not available to us, but it had an overall speeding up effect on our workflow. This meant that we were now able to do better (more sophisticated) things, and have it take less man-hours. An overall positive impact in our entire production workflow, which allows for an increase in projects through the pipeline.
A lot of the work we do is visual effects heavy. We love green screens and After Effects, and 3D graphics. Over the next several weeks we saw an dramatic increase in our overall workflow, which lead to increased project bandwidth, and the ability to bring in more work. From one single computer.
I know what you’re thinking, because I thought it myself during this initial process, “You must have had some pretty awful equipment to let one computer change the game that dramatically.” Wrong. Our computers were custom built, for the sole purpose of digital filmmaking and graphics production. They were good, powerful, top-shelf processing monsters. They were not cheap. The Mac workstations we were using were top of the line, the best available to us. This Dell became nicknamed throughout our office as “The Beast.” It ate all our other machines for breakfast, without breaking a sweat. I spend a lot of time in the San Francisco Bay Area, discussing with other small production shops or individual filmmakers, my thoughts on the direction of the industry – and sharing whatever tricks I have come up with to survive a rapidly changing business. I will not tell you to run out and buy a bunch of Dell or NVidia products – but I will say that I have completely rewritten my budget for next year and included more of these machines. If you’re in the post business, and you’re suffering from the recent changes to your workflow like we have, take a good long look at what we’ve experienced – or post a comment and I will be happy to answer candidly.
My first impressions of the Dell T5500 are very inspiring. We have another feature film and several more graphics intensive projects on the horizon, and I am excited to let The Beast, off it’s leash.