While he’s hesitant to refer to their workflows as inventions, Lewis Smithingham knows that many of the projects that he and his team encounter will require a brand new technological “recipe”.
Smithingham — president and partner at the digital entertainment company 30 Ninjas — is responsible for creating the right mix of technological ingredients to bring unprecedented virtual reality and interactive content experiences to life. And that’s exactly what he and his team did while shooting Conan O’Brien’s “Conan 360 live at Comic-Con 2016”.
“It’s less that we invented things. It’s that we put existing things together
in just the right way,” Smithingham says. “What we try to do is build workflows and build techniques, and use gear that basically links everything together.”
The 30 Ninjas team was able to film the Conan episodes live in 360-degree VR through a Head Mounted Display for the first time in prime time TV history. However, as Smithingham will tell you, an unprecedented production such as the Conan shoot wouldn’t have been possible without the right ingredients.
Getting the Right Mix
There are many parts in Smithingham’s original recipes, but he admits that storage is one of the key ingredients that hold a production together. After all, without the proper storage, not only would shooting be essentially impossible, but storing the data safely would be an extremely risky proposition.
That’s why Smithingham turns to MacSales.com for his OWC solutions. In fact, the award-winning filmmaker has long been a believer in OWC because equally important to the techniques used to back up data is the device used to store it. After all, any creative professional will attest that all hard drives eventually fail.
“I’m a diver, so I assume everything’s going to break,” Smithingham explains. “In my training they say everything will break … and anything that will kill you if it breaks, you should have three of. [MacSales.com] prices make it easy for me to do that.”
The affordable backup drive Smithingham affectionately refers to is the OWC ThunderBay 4, which 30 Ninjas relies on heavily in its productions such as Conan 360 or Invisible (the first major scripted series specifically for 360-degree VR).
The production team counts on ThunderBay 4 for its Thunderbolt 2 performance, its capacity of up to 40TB, as well as its unique SoftRAID engine.
“The ThunderBay 4 is rad,” Smithingham says. “On the Conan production we used them to back up everything. The RAID versions are super affordable, they’re powerful, they’re easy to deal with. It’s so much storage, such a nice little package that fits perfectly in the bottom of my backpack. I’m on a plane right now, and I carried on 24TB in a ThunderBay 4 as well as a ThunderBay 4 mini RAID!”
You’ll notice budget comes up often in conversations with Smithingham, and it’s always at top of mind for 30 Ninjas. But the storage can’t just be affordable. It also has to be able to keep up with the hectic production schedules. During production on Conan at Comic-Con 2016, the team also used eighteen OWC Mercury Extreme 6G SSDs configured for the best performance so the camera was able to record RAW and “live-stitched”.
“[OWC SSDs] were hugely important, we needed a huge amount of SSDs and we needed them to be fast, reliable and affordable. Speed is essential to our productions. Often times the slowest part of the process is the hard drive, so having a fast and reliable solution is crucial.”
Smooth Data Transitions
There’s no doubt that data security and performance are crucial in high profile productions. However, another piece of the workflow involves transferring that data. For this, 30 Ninjas turns to the OWC Drive Dock with Thunderbolt 2 technology, which gives creators constant access to multiple bare SATA, drives. Editors can simply drop in SSDs, record and walk away.
“We used everyday between 12 and 18 1TB SSDs and then those were used with data transfer with the Drive Dock. Which in my opinion is one of [OWC’s] best products. I have used almost every single drive dock on Amazon and nothing compares. I get great speeds, it functions, it has a good power cable, it’s fast and it’s safe.” Smithingham said.
Recipe for Originality
Making 360-degree productions takes a special effort, but in the end it’s about telling a story and giving the audience a unique, immersive experience. And sometimes it takes an original concoction of the right ingredients to make that happen.
The 30 Ninjas team’s specialty is crafting workflows to create something that is greater than sum of its parts. And as Smithingham says, “Without the right technology, the right storage… it wouldn’t be possible.”