The Six Five On the Road at AWS re:Invent 2022. Patrick Moorhead and Daniel Newman sit down with Katrina King, Global Strategy Leader — Content Production, AWS.
Their discussion covers:
- How AWS is supporting customers in the media & entertainment
- Post-production in the cloud
- The future of the media & entertainment industry within the cloud
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Patrick Moorhead: Hi, this is Pat Moorhead and we are live at AWS re:Invent 2022. There’s so much action here. So much fun. Dan, I love being here. The show’s been great for me so far. How about you?
Daniel Newman: Yeah, you know I always love being here. The cloud, the technology, the energy, the people. We’re back baby. And the Six Five is “On the Road.” We are here at re:Invent 2022, in the wild.
Patrick Moorhead: I know.
Daniel Newman: If you can’t tell, this looks like a movie studio.
Patrick Moorhead: Pretty much.
Daniel Newman: But it’s just a news desk.
Patrick Moorhead: Yeah. Are you kind of leading us into the introduction of our guest?
Daniel Newman: Sometimes I try to find these really quippy connections to make it sound like we planned this stuff.
Patrick Moorhead: How about that? Well, let’s dive right in. Katrina, great to have you. How are you?
Katrina King: I’m great, thanks.
Patrick Moorhead: Good. We talked a little bit in the green room, stalking you on LinkedIn, looking at what you do, but you have been in the film industry for a long time. You were a producer before?
Katrina King: I used to be a producer, yes.
Patrick Moorhead: That’s amazing. So, super background, but what do you do today for AWS?
Katrina King: So, I lead strategy and business development for the film industry for AWS, specifically for content production.
Patrick Moorhead: That’s amazing. So, you’re in Hollywood a lot, Bollywood, I mean, all the woods?
Katrina King: All the woods.
Patrick Moorhead: Okay. All right. Maybe a little bit in Austin. I’m from Austin. We pretend to be an editing shop, and a couple movies are made downtown every year, but we try hard.
Katrina King: Sadly, I’ve never been to Austin.
Patrick Moorhead: Well, you should try it out. South by Southwest has a whole week of movies.
Katrina King: I know. I’ll try to make it up there.
Patrick Moorhead: Social, movies and music.
Daniel Newman: Yeah, isn’t that like South By and Con, aren’t they the same?
Patrick Moorhead: Oh yeah, they’re kind of the same.
Daniel Newman: We’re leveling.
Patrick Moorhead: Exactly.
Daniel Newman: We’re level. We both live in Austin, so we’re super proud of where we’re from. Great races, great music, good barbecue, but it’s not really a studio town.
Patrick Moorhead: It’s not.
Daniel Newman: All right, we’ll go ahead and agree with that. But we’re here at AWS re:Invent and obviously you coming over to Amazon to work in this business from being on that other side, would you say behind the camera, where you like to be? Must have been because you saw a pretty exciting opportunity. So production in the cloud, it’s kind of a big thing. It’s an emerging thing and obviously something that used to be really hard to do. So you took the role, talk about why you took the role, why you think this is a big opportunity. Where’s kind of this whole production in the cloud thing going?
Katrina King: So, I took the role because there’s so much opportunity to change the way films are made now in the cloud. And so really over the past couple years we’ve been working to expand the art of the possible and it started with an analysis of what would it take, what were the technological gaps to be able to take an entire feature film and to post produce it in the cloud. And when we started analyzing it, we looked and we saw color and finishing as being the biggest impediment. So we started working on technology in order to be able to enable that because if you can’t finish a film in the cloud, then it doesn’t make sense to ingest your camera assets initially into the cloud because the next time they’re going to be used is during the color and finishing phase.
So by unblocking color and finishing, we actually are able to now enable the entire post-production process to take place in the cloud. And perfect example is the The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power. I don’t know if you came and saw the session a couple days ago, but they basically did about the vast majority of their post-production in the AWS Cloud. And so they were really the first major production to really try to do everything in the cloud, including the color and finishing phase.
Patrick Moorhead: Now you had said so for the neophytes, color and finishing, okay, me, why would that be a challenge? Why was it that last step? Is it the amount of data density to get up to the cloud? What is it about those two areas that’s unique and it was a challenge?
Katrina King: So color and finishing is the phase where you’re doing your final pixel. And so in order to be able to do that, you need to be able to see the full fidelity signal. And so that means you can’t compress the video, that means that you can’t encode the video. You need to be able to see that true pixel. And so traditionally, that’s been precluded by a number of factors including data rates and things like that because if you look at a 4K 4:4:4 12-bit signal, you’re looking at about seven gigabits a second. I mean, you would need dark fiber to be able to even do that. And so what we did is we actually took the AWS elemental broadcast tools that were designed to migrate broadcast playout to the cloud. And we took those tools, enhanced them with 12-bit and 4:4:4 chromosome sampling and bit depths.
And then we integrated them into applications they were never designed for specifically Baselight by FilmLight. And so what that basically does is allows us to take a reference grade monitor and connect it to an EC2 instance. We can lightly compress it using JPEG access over SMPTE Standard 2110-22. And then that allows us to be able to take that seven gigabit, compress it about 10 to one for a rough pass and all of a sudden you have a 700 megabit signal that you can actually handle.
Patrick Moorhead: Okay. Now that’s amazing. By the way, I’m going to pretend that I understood every acronym that you threw out there, but all of you video professionals out there, I know you know exactly what she’s talking about. I’m pretty sure our crew knows everything you’re saying right now, but it is fascinating. So you are compressing without losing the fidelity of the videos. Is that the net so easy to upload?
Katrina King: Okay. Yeah, so JPEG Access is an ultra-low latency Kodak that’s designed for broadcast playout. So it’s designed to move signals in and out of the cloud specifically for playout of broadcast. So it’s ultra-low latency. If it’s good enough for the Vegas bookmakers, it’s probably good enough for our artists. And so that allows us to encode it with virtually no latency. We’re seeing 0:1 frames of latency all the way from the region to the actual monitor itself. And additionally, it’s mathematically lossless, they say around three to one compression and visually lossless, which is a problematic term, but somewhere around 10 to one.
Daniel Newman: Got it. That’s really interesting. Makes me think of some of the early video conferencing Kodaks, twice the bandwidth, basically trying to get more bandwidth without using as much data at the same time and keeping people looking high def. This is a whole other level, of course, because now you’re talking about super high definition movie experiences. Because the thing about movies, especially… I know we’re kind of still in this interesting inflection point between do we watch movies at home, do we watch them on our mobile devices? Do we go into theaters, and clearly, we still like to go to theaters. That’s where this perfection really becomes a thing. I mean the TVs at home are great, the 4K, 8Ks, Amazon has a good one.
In the theaters, it has to be perfect. And I guess I’m just kind of thinking through, you’re talking to studios, you’re talking to the producers, you’re talking to directors and they’re coming to you and saying, “I see a lot of value in the cloud. It could make it simpler, make it faster.” And you want to get them out quicker. But the old way is safe. They know it works, they know it’s the no loss in fidelity. How is that transition happening? Are they buying in, are they nervous? How are you seeing that happen?
Katrina King: Well, I mean a lot of things changed in the last couple years and it was largely because for necessity, people had to start working from home and all of a sudden people were willing to take risks that they were never really willing to take before. A lot of innovation took place in the last couple years and that really kind of proved the model to people because now people don’t want to go back into the office. Companies are divesting themselves to brick-and-mortar facilities, they’re enabling their workforce to work remotely. And a lot of the innovation that took place over the past couple years in order to be able to enable that remote work is now becoming the new defacto norm.
Patrick Moorhead: That’s incredible. Anything tangible and big has some sort of a vision and you had talked about MovieLabs 2030 Vision. What is that and what is the future all about? Can you talk us through that?
Katrina King: Sure. So the MovieLab’s 2030 Vision. MovieLabs is a consortium of the Hollywood studios. And they got together and they wrote a white paper that basically said, what do we want the state of technology to look like in the year 2030? And so there’s 10 different principles. And they’re very cloud-centric. So principle one is assets are ingested straight to the cloud. Principle two applications come to the content. So that means running all of your different workloads on elastic compute instances and accessing that content that’s centrally stored. Principle three is propagation of assets as a published function. So that means that, for instance, when our assets are moved up to simple storage service, we have a series of lamb to functions that are triggered to be able to move that to a central store. And this is exemplified with what we built at IBC this year, which was a holistic studio in the cloud that MovieLabs recognized as having achieved five of the 10 principles.
Principle six is central authentication, and then principle 10 is real-time iteration and feedback. And so in order to achieve that one, all of our different workloads were interconnected using Moxion, which is a review and approval tool. And so we had our editorial, our pre-visualization, our color and finishing, all of these different workstations were fed directly into Moxion where the director could actually see over the shoulder of every single artist on their entire production. And so MovieLabs is very much the North Star. It makes my job easy because the studios basically said, “Here’s everything we want over the next 10 years.”
Daniel Newman: So to simplify that though. What are the key benefits? So I get it technologically, it’s advancing. Is it about faster production? Is it about that apps built in the cloud are going to be more effective than your legacy tools for editing? Not editors here, haven’t done a lot of CGI work myself, but are there measurable benefits or are they just prognosticating that everything’s going to be more flexible In the cloud?
Katrina King: There’s a number of different benefits. So it starts with content security. If the assets are all in cloud, then you don’t need to worry about assets moving around. There could be dozens if not hundreds of different companies collaborating on a film. And so those assets are bouncing around all over the world. If they’re staying in the cloud, then you’re able to apply layers of security to them that it’s significantly reduced the chances of content link. It also enables a global workforce. So artists all over the world can collaborate without having to relocate, without having to move. And so it just really creates process technological efficiencies that ultimately empower artists in a way that they weren’t empowered before.
Patrick Moorhead: No, that’s cool. No, I like that. I love that. So as we’ve seen in all parts of IT, the needs of the people who are out front, dare I call them cloud-native folks, and then you have some of the laggards who are just kind of getting going. And I even remember Andy Jassy was on CNBC and I think he was saying that, “Hey, we’re only 10% of the way there.” My question is, how are you anticipating the needs of both kinds of customers? And I know there’s strata of everybody in between. How are you meeting those different needs?
Katrina King: Well, you’re not suggesting the industry is resistant to change, are you?
Patrick Moorhead: Everybody is. No, I mean we’re conservative and businesses by nature are conservative, and in IT many times, you don’t get the award for being the superstar. You get the award for not screwing up. And that’s why there’s just so much conservativeness and gosh, when you get to movie making, I mean that is the core of the business. It’s kind of like a manufacturing with ERP. This is that important and vital.
Katrina King: If you can create process efficiencies, it ultimately allows artists to put more money in front of the camera instead of behind it. And nobody wants to take anything in front of the camera and put it behind the camera. I mean, that’s producing one on one. We’ve really proven the model now over the past couple years. It started with the mandated work from home and that really proved that some of these workloads can be efficiently done in the cloud.
And again, The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power really proved that you can do an entire show in the cloud.
Patrick Moorhead: It’s amazing.
Katrina King: They refused to shut down production and they just kept on going. By the next week, they just had everybody working remotely and they ended up innovating and proving the model. And in doing so, they ultimately created a new normal for artists where they don’t necessarily need to go into the office anymore. They don’t necessarily need to relocate for a production. And so I think that we’ve seen an acceleration of this trend over the past couple years that probably organically would’ve taken another five. But now we’re really there.
Patrick Moorhead: Right.
Daniel Newman: It’s interesting to see things get sped up and, of course, we did see it with the pandemic. I’m kind of interested in when that first movie is going to be made, not an animator or anything that’s going to be like no one was physically together, yet the whole thing looks and feels… Because I’m sure we’re getting closer to that, the way we are able to insert into the graphic environments and stuff like that where people aren’t always in the physical scenes in the same ways, but what do you think about the process forward? So of course, you’ve got the innovators, you’ve got those that have been less reluctant, they’ve moved forward, they’ve gone ahead, but you’ve got tons of movie makers, tons of content, and the creator universe is growing. How do you speed up adoption? What is the AWS strategy to get more buy-in, get more studios, to get more creators to see the value in what you’re building?
Katrina King: So, we started by unblocking the key workloads that precluded holistic production in the cloud. And so now we’ve got the tech stack necessarily to be able to do this. And so our strategy is to start with smaller productions, prove the model, expand, expand, expand. So start off with smaller films that have less demanding requirements and slowly work up until we can see the biggest blockbusters in the world. And I know that that’s contrary to what I just said about Lord of the Rings, but you’re absolutely right, there is a reluctance to change in the industry. And so we start off small and we really make sure that we’re ironing out all the wrinkles in the entire process. And then we expand and expand and increase the requirements.
Patrick Moorhead: As analysts, we think everything’s easy. We wave a magic wand and this is the way it’s going to be, but what I do know is that markets move based on two things and one is risk and the other is opportunity. And I think if a studio, it would seem to me if a studio showed up and they were just radically profitable and a lot of that was the behind the camera, a portion of it, or they could take money that they didn’t have to invest in behind the camera could do in front of the camera, that it would show like, “Hey, what’s the magic of this studio? Or what’s the magic of this creator?” And I think once people start talking that says, listen, the cloud is vital, the AWS Creative Cloud, I mean, it seems like that would be something to get the ball rolling where the magic is, the cloud capabilities. Does that pass your muster at all?
Katrina King: It does. It’s really funny. I was talking to somebody yesterday and I was trying to explain all of the different ways that you can save money in the cloud and things that you wouldn’t even think about. So for instance, you’re producing a show and you have an editor, and you’re shooting in Toronto. So you fly your editor to Toronto, you put them up in a hotel, so you have to pay their travel, you have to pay their per DM, you have to pay for their accommodations. You can take all of that and put that right in front of the camera by having that editor stay at home and work remotely. So, there’s all of these little efficiencies that can be created using the cloud in order to really enable that global workforce. And at the end of the day, to really allow artists to focus on the art.
Daniel Newman: I feel like it’s orders of magnitude. As I just kind of do the math, there’s got to be some pretty significant ROI or improvements in terms of efficiency. Now again, that a hundred million-dollar studio project, you can, like you said, take it from behind and put more in front. Alternatively, you can also put more in your… Well, I’m saying make high quality content. We’ve seen with CGI what you can do. You don’t need the same sets and effects that you used to physically need now because of what can be done. Is there a business model here that you’re seeing? I mean, are studios kind of also going? Because the risk is different, box office numbers are different now. The monetizations are different with streaming and how long people are going to go pay for tickets versus… And I guess my point is this, high quality, high production that can be now done at much lower cost, that has to be a part of what they’re asking you to help them build.
Katrina King: Absolutely. And I mean virtual production is a great example. I mean, films used to shoot two, three pages a day. I’ve heard tell of production shooting 20 pages a day on virtual production volumes. And so leveraging things like our G5 instances to be able to do pre-visualization, checking those assets into Perforce, for instance, running on the AWS Cloud, that can be brought down to a virtual production volume. And then you can create all of these… You can end up shooting twice as fast and really focus on the production itself. Everything is changing so dramatically right now, not only with the way that the cloud is being leveraged, but even the production processes themselves using virtual production, pre-visualization, all of these sorts of technologies.
Patrick Moorhead: This conversation has gone in a different direction. It’s funny, I was thinking that you were going to drive the snowplow-
Daniel Newman: Snell.
Patrick Moorhead: The one semi that you drive, it’s so much data that you drive-
Katrina King: Snowmobile.
Patrick Moorhead: Snowmobile. I was envisioning, okay, this is the way, and then you pull out this magic coder process. I know it’s more complex than that, but you pull that out because that is the major piece. Now I’m asking myself, “Where does Local Zones fit in?” Because I know I think the first Local Zone was in Los Angeles. If you’ve found the magic way to encode all this stuff, I mean latency doesn’t become an issue. Is that correct?
Katrina King: True. So two-part answer. With regards to the Snow family, I think we’re past shipping things around now. We have partners like PacketFabric and Sohonet that allow us to be able to enable stages with high amounts of bandwidth. So rather than having to ship a device across the world now, you can just release 10 gigabits a second for run of show on a sound stage, and you can ingest all your assets straight to the cloud. With regards to Local Zones, Local Zones enable single-digit millisecond latency for artists experience. And they’re strategically placed in places like LA where you have a lot of median entertainment workloads. And that allows artists to have virtually the same experience that they would have with a cheese grater sitting under the desk.
Patrick Moorhead: Okay. Sure. Lovely.
Daniel Newman: Obviously know what the cheese grater is.
Patrick Moorhead: That’s great.
Katrina King: That’s trash can now, actually.
Patrick Moorhead: Yes.
Daniel Newman: Well, in the end, the technology is going to revolutionize this business for sure. And as a movie connoisseur, Patrick knows me, I like to quote movies all the time.
Patrick Moorhead: We’re sending memes back and forth just based on movies and shows.
Daniel Newman: We legitimately do business with memes.
Patrick Moorhead: Ridiculous. Yes.
Daniel Newman: Some of our favorite shows like Succession, we just love it always. Billy’s always at fault to come from a movie, but it is really a way that the world connects through entertainment. I mean, you have that background. It’s interesting to see this intersection. It used to be about big avid booths and lots of hardware and technology and very specialized equipment. And now you’re seeing just like every other industry… Pretty soon, we already know the creator. They just use a mobile phone and a little gyro and they’re creating. And sometimes you’re really impressed. But I’m saying the volume, the veracity, the intensity of this industry is going to get big. And the fact is everybody kind of becomes a creator. And what you’re building now is new studios will come out of the woodwork disruptively just like we saw with new production through Netflix.
Patrick Moorhead: That’s right.
Daniel Newman: And it used to be only studios and all of a sudden Netflix, now they’re making content and now everybody followed suit.
Katrina King: I like to call it the democratization of post-production. I mean really if you look traditionally, the amount of investment that you would have to make-
Daniel Newman: She said that faster.
Katrina King: In order to build out a post-facility, you need to invest in so much hardware. And that ends up creating barriers to entry for new entrants into the marketplace. And by leveraging the cloud, you can use the resources that you need when you need them, then you can spin them down, stopping for them. And it allows smaller players to enter and really start competing with the bigger players in the marketplace.
Patrick Moorhead: Katrina, this has been a great conversation. It took a lot of twists and turns, which I love and the audience loves because it just makes great content and great stories. So, thank you so much for coming on the Six Five. We really appreciate that.
Katrina King: Thanks for having me.
Patrick Moorhead: Absolutely.
Daniel Newman: All right everybody, there you have it. We’re here at re:Invent 2022. This is the Six Five “On the Road” for Patrick, for myself. We appreciate you tuning in. Hit that subscribe button, watch all those other episodes from here. And of course, all our episodes because they’re all good.
Patrick Moorhead: They pretty much are.
Daniel Newman: Yeah, we are. And have a great week. We’ll see you all there. Bye now.