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A trunk call from KwaZulu Natal

How do you get a pair of African elephants, a Slovakian orchestra and a Parisian co-producer into an Australian edit suite all at once?

This was the challenge facing Adelaide filmmaker Mario Andreacchio as he brought together the diverse and far-flung components of his latest film, Elephant Tales.

The story of two young orphaned elephant brothers on a quest to find a new family was shot in KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa, but collaborators in the project were scattered across 4 continents. Always an early adopter of new technology, Mario was keen to use a system that could eliminate one of filmmaking’s biggest constraints: distance.

“I wanted to set Elephant Tales up as a virtual studio,” said Mario. “When you consider there were two companies in L.A. that were involved in the project, a company in Paris, one company in London… I had my editor in Sydney, my composer in Melbourne, and I was here in Adelaide… and I thought, right, how can we in all these disparate areas, make it seem as though were are working in one studio?”

Cinenet was the key to creating that virtual studio, allowing Mario to work as though the various production offices were in the same building, not half a world away.

“I applied cine.net in a number of different ways – one was during the shoot process, where we had a production office in South Africa, we had co-producers in Paris, and a production office here in Adelaide.”

The Adelaide and Sydney production and editorial offices were linked to one of Cinenet’s secure centralised file servers, dedicated just to Elephant Tales, while South Africa and Paris could access the same facility via locally supplied satellite and DSL services.

“We were able to link the production offices together: it was like this virtual seamless connection between all three.”

The film involved over 100 digital effects shots, which required test composites and survey data to be sent back to the same secure server in Australia from the set.

“During the shoot, we had CGI people from Rising Sun Pictures in South Africa, we had CGI people here in Adelaide; so we had data running backward and forwards from South Africa to here.”

Then came the editing process, and rather than remove his editor from a home and family in Sydney, Mario turned to cineSync, a software tool that allows multiple users to review digital media simultaneously from separate locations.

“So we established one edit room in Sydney, one here in Adelaide, and we used cineSync as a way of connecting the two editing rooms together. Then I would invite my French partner to the virtual edit room, and he’d be in Paris. We’d be watching edits of the film together, me in Adelaide and him in Paris.”

“During that process, we were having CGI files created at Rising Sun, and phoom! They were being shunted down the tube straight into the edit room, and going straight into the edit, so it seemed as if everybody was just down the corridor.”

With the cut locked down, Cinenet’s gigabit fibre optic network was used to transfer the finished high-resolution CGI shots from Rising Sun Pictures to the production facility Kojo, where they were integrated into the final digital master and colour graded.

“Then we progressed into the sound editing, and we had the sound editing being done at one facility while we were still recording the voices that needed to be accessed from the edit room. So we were connecting the sound facility to the edit room through cine.net.”

And still, that wasn’t the limit of Cinenet’s uses. When it came to the film’s orchestral score, timing and distance threatened to throw a spanner in the works.

“We wanted to record it in January, but there was no orchestra available in Australia. So we found the Bratislava Symphony Orchestra available, and we thought, we can’t afford to go over there, so how do we set this up? This is where cine.net became important as well, because it gave us the opportunity, through a combination of cine.net and ISDN, to have the composer in Melbourne and me in Adelaide: the conductor from London had gone to Bratislava, along with an engineer from Munich, and all of us were able to communicate together.

“We were shunting files around at the rate of knots, we were having to send up new time-coded edits of the reels, because the reels weren’t actually locked off, and the conductor needed click tracks, and so we had huge image files that were being shunted around the world. It was amazing.”

Mario says the ability to put cine.net to work saved time and money – an earlier feature, Paradise Found, had seen him travel to Europe nine times in eleven months: on Elephant Tales, he only had to make the trip once, and overseas collaborators were quick to warm to the system.

“The reaction has always gone from initial reticence, to complete mind-blown-away, in terms of how easy it can be.”

“Suddenly, the opportunities all open up…. you’re operating in an environment where distance does not matter – that’s the whole idea of a virtual studio – that you can have different departments and different sections, but they don’t all need to be physically located together, and that’s what Cinenet’s about.”