CatDV Proves a Perfectly Agile and Acrobatic Performer for Cirque Du Soleil

Canadian entertainment company Cirque Du Soleil is the largest theatrical producer in the world. Since its founding by two street performers in 1984, the company’s spectacular shows, blending circus-style performances with character-driven narratives, have played in 350 cities on every continent, except Antarctica, drawing audiences approaching 150million people worldwide. The company’s revered creations have received numerous prizes and distinctions too, including four Primetime Emmy’s and a star on Hollywood’s Walk Of Fame.

CatDV media asset management systems play a pivotal role in assisting the company’s busy multi-media department to manage an ever-expanding library of media assets, plus historic materials, enabling producers and creative collaborators to develop new shows, and supporting the marketing team with a range of in-house and outbound corporate communications.

“Basically, every day we shoot, ingest, log and tag a lot of important creative, historic and business material that is originated in Montreal, from our shows and also from our partners around the world,” says Michaël Roy, team leader of multi-media services at Cirque Du Soleil.

“The footage arrives from many sources, in many different camera formats, with H.264 and ProRes 422 as our workhorses. We need to have a streamlined system to track, manage, archive and repurpose these assets for a variety of creative and corporate uses. CatDV has proven a perfectly agile and acrobatic performer for us.”

Working with JB&A, the Cirque Du Soleil team harnessed the systems integration and technical support expertise of Montreal reseller Ordigraphe and CatDV systems were successfully installed and populated with metadata and materials soon after.

The Materials: Creative, Historic and Corporate Video Footage From Sources Worldwide
Around 1,500 people are employed at Cirque Du Soleil’s Montreal headquarters, whilst the shows themselves employ around 4,000 people from over 40 countries. The company’s HQ has a copious number of studio and rehearsal spaces, with one large enough to hold a complete touring show, as well as over 70 meeting rooms. Around half of these areas are equipped with Panasonic or Sony cameras, along with AV equipment, for artists and their choreographic coaches to record and review the evolution of new performances, as well as to capture full dress rehearsals.

The creation of costumes, accessories and sets in the many workshops at Cirque Du Soleil is continually documented on video. Interviews with performing artists, heads of department, executives and the company founder and president, Guy Laliberté, are recorded for internal communications purposes, as well as being made available for outside sources such as local and international news agencies.

Being in constant search of new talents, Cirque Du Soleil also has a 60-strong team of freelance collaborators around the world who record video auditions. Added to this, every show Cirque Du Soleil is multi-cam recorded and edited in HD, and more recently 4K, before it is retired, whilst POV recordings are made of each touring and resident every night, using consumer HD cameras.

Further to this formidable volume of incoming footage, Cirque Du Soleil has undertaken a side-project to protect an array of historic video materials stretching across its 30 years of operation, and recently completed the ingest, logging, tagging and archive of materials dating between 1984-94.

“Overall, we are creating a huge amount of material, and that’s why we need solid media asset management capability,” says Roy.

The Challenge: Migrating to a Video-Oriented MAM in Support of a Tapeless HD Workflow
Prior to 2009, Cirque Du Soleil operated a small AV department, with minimal tasks beyond ensuring the operation of in-house SD production and viewing equipment. However, it was decided to completely overhaul and extend the remit of the department – to establish a completely tapeless HD production, post production, asset management and archive workflow.

“We started with Final Cut Server and an Xsan from Apple, with Final Cut for editorial, plus hard-disc storage and a Quantum LTO library system for the archives,” Roy explains. “But in 2010, Apple dropped Final Cut Server, and the challenge was on to find an alternative MAM system. At that time we also wanted to develop additional editing and management tools for in-house clients – to help them view and select materials, do small assemblies of clips, and transfer these automatically to Final Cut Pro for editorial.

“So we evaluated a bunch of media asset management systems. At one end of the spectrum these had either not evolved with enough dedicated features to meet our needs, or they were overly-complex, oriented to TV broadcast and very expensive.”

At NAB 2011, however, Roy and Cirque Du Soleil team met with North US CatDV distributor JB&A, who in turn introduced them to Square Box Systems and the CatDV MAM system.

“When we saw CatDV we immediately realized it had very good integrated video management tools, with a similar GUI to Final Cut Server that was also easy to use and customise,” he says. “We could see that CatDV would slot neatly into our planned production and post workflow, and wanted to get our hands on it as fast as possible.”

The Solution: CatDV Enterprise Server With Worker Node, Plus Multiple CatDV Professional and WebClient Licenses
Today Cirque Du Soleil’s multi-media department uses a CatDV Enterprise Server, networked to five CatDV Professional licenses and ten WebClients, all running on Mac. One of the CatDV Professional workstations is dedicated to ingest, proxy generation, logging and tagging, although these tasks are sometimes shared across other workstations depending on the workload. A CatDV Worker Node is also used to make copies and proxies of the ingested footage, and the proxies and native footage reside on the 88TB Xsan. The Cirque Du Soleil team also writes scripts for the CatDV Worker Node to copy and deliver materials to archive using Archiware PresStore and Quantum systems. So far, over 5,000 assets have been ingested, logged and tagged into CatDV.

On a daily basis Cirque Du Soleil producers, creative directors, choreographers, marketing executives and freelance collaborators use CatDV to find and browse assets, to research old performances, plan new shows, and prepare materials for corporate communications. All of the footage, including the historic archive materials from 1984-94, is tagged with a range of labels including the show names and abbreviations, year, location, director, producers, designer, performing artists and their type of act, such as high-wire or trapeze.

“Of course, using CatDV we can develop new ways of documenting by adding and modifying metadata. The beauty of CatDV is that different clients can input metadata by filling-in a CatDV record, and we can add keywords as required, and associate the data to that footage,” he says.

“In the past, to make their selections, our clients would have traditionally reviewed material that we would have compressed and copied for them on to tapes or DVDs with burnt-in timecodes. Editorial would hen have had to match those clips manually when they came to edit. But now, we can quickly ingest, log and tag clips using CatDV Professional, and using CatDV WebClient clients can easily perform searches, make playlists, create mini-assemblies and export these to Final Cut, or send us an XML for us to start the editorial. These are among the best features of CatDV. The GUI, especially in the WebClient, is very simple with a few search fields, and a YouTube-style look. But they can easily use CatDV Professional if they need to do deeper searches.”

From a technical point of view, as the CatDV WebClient is browser based, Roy says his technical team don’t need to spend time installing CatDV on separate machines.

“Overall it’s now a much easier and more efficient way to work, that is saving lots of time too. For example, if a producer wants to create a new act, they can search on “trampoline” and CatDV will provide all footage that contains trampoline performances or performers. Or a costume designer planning new wardrobes can easily find and old show, look at the costumes and research what changes need to be made.”

Would Roy recommend CatDV? “We have been asked this quite a few times over the years,” he says. “The answer is that CatDV has become the de facto standard for managing our video assets, in fact it excels at that. Most people and not good with IT and need simple tools. CatDV gives them that. We can see that CatDV 11 is even more slick and visually appealing. The hover and scrub capability and the workflow tab to ingest, browse and advance through clips and great ways to see and work.”

As for the future, he says there are talks about extending Cirque Du Soleil’s private network, to develop a mirror system so that more people inside the company can access assets via the corporate Intranet. “Of course, Square Box and CatDV will be our first port of call.”