Today on the Edge of Innovation, we are talking with Brian Gravel about Media Technology.

Show Notes

GraVoc’s Website
GraVoc Video Production and Design
How a Green Screen Works
What is 4K Video?
What is B-Roll?
How To Animate a Photo: The 2.5D Effect


Paul: Today I’m meeting with Brian Gravel.

Brian: Hey, Paul. Thank you for having me here today.

“Media Technology with Brian Gravel”

Paul: Now you work at GraVoc?

Brian: Yes.

Paul: You’re one of the family members there from what I understand.

Brian: That’s true.

Paul: And it’s not like a mafia family, is it?

Brian: No. No, more of a technology family.

Paul: Alright. So GraVoc, you’re located in Peabody, Massachusetts. And you’re the vice president of creative tech. Now, what other vice presidents do you have, so we can just get a sort of holistic picture of what GraVoc is?

Brian: Yeah. So we’re a technology consulting company at heart. We have a traditional IT practice. We have the creative technology practice, which I head up. My brother heads up the information security practice, and then we have a software solutions practice, which is more like software customization, ERP system implementation, that type of thing. So it’s like a 360-degree technology approach to business consulting.

Paul: Okay. And, are all of those divisions the same age? Or are they different ages?

Brian: As far as when they started in the company? Yeah, so the creative technology group started in 2006 as a separate company that my business partner Matt and I founded. And in 2010, we merged into GraVoc.

Paul: Oh, okay. Cool.

Brian: So we’re the baby on the block as far as the longevity of each practice. The company really started kind of as a hybrid of the software solutions and IT group, by my dad back in 1993. And then information security practice, that came around kind of during the y2k time and the hysteria that came with that.

Paul: Well you’re dating yourself here. You know, you’re saying… A lot of people listening won’t have been alive during y2k, so what’s the big deal, you know? It all worked? But it was a crisis, unprecedented crisis of potential. There was all these doom and gloom stories. You know, New Year’s Day wasn’t going to happen.

Brian: That’s right. That’s right.

Paul: So you started the creative technology back in 2006?

Brian: Yeah. Correct.

Paul: Wow. So 11 years into this. This is pretty cool.

Brian: Yeah, the foundation of the company at that time, which was called Diverging Soul Media Production was film and music. And we quickly found out that there was a lot of film and music companies out there, and we really needed to expand our services. So we did. We were trying to do innovative things at the time. So we did stuff with digital signage and a whole slew of, of video-related technology products, and that eventually lead us into web development and Matt, my business partner, really took the reigns of that side of things. And then we saw the synergy, with YouTube budding and around that time as well, with video and, and web, and how we could kind of use that as a niche. And then our services have just really evolved from there.

Paul: Okay. So we’re here to talk with you about drones, but I love getting this backstory and sort of the context of what you brought you to drones. And we’ll get more into that. So, you guys must have done ColdFusion. Were you a ColdFusion shop or were you just HTML? Or what did you do? MicroSoft shop?

Brian: I’ll tell you our dirty secret. At first, it was iWeb. I don’t know if you remember that. Yeah. And then just HTML and to Dreamweaver. And then eventually, custom builds, WordPress development and all that stuff.

Paul: So that’s what you’re doing now is…? For the web segment of the creative, is it mostly WordPress stuff or custom or…?

Brian: It really depends on the situation, you know. We do have a lot of WordPress clients, great content management system, in my opinion. But we also do a lot of custom builds, depending on the situation. So Matt specifically likes to describe them as progressive web applications and products that are functioning like web, websites but really are applications as a whole.

Paul: Oh, cool. Excellent. Yeah, we’ve seen a lot of growth in that area, and you know, people wanting more functionality than just a blog, really. You know, our brochureware. And that’s really cool see.

Uh, okay. You know, I noticed at the North Shore Chamber of Commerce — so we’re here in Massachusetts, and we’re on the North Shore, north of Boston — We went to the business expo. And you guys offered to do videos of everybody, so you were going around. So that seems like that’s right in your wheelhouse, is going out and making corporate videos and all the creative that goes with that. Is that one of the things that people would call you for?

Brian: Yeah. We do a real, real mix with our video production. We do a lot of training videos, a lot of corporate video. We’ve done a lot with nonprofits in regards to kind of profile pieces and things like that. Once in a while, we get fun, kind of, Comcast 30-second spots where we’ve done some stuff with animation and just try to, when we get those opportunities, do stuff that’s a little bit outside the box.

Paul: Cool. So now can you give — I’m not asking for specifics — but can you give us an example of a project that you’ve done and how that worked out, what the client was trying to do and how you solved it? So that, you know, as people are listening, they can get an idea of both what you do and how to apply video, because everybody says video is critical for the web right now. I tend to agree with that. But I’d love to hear what you have to think.

Brian: Yeah, I mean, a lot of times when we have a customer come to us, they have a vision in mind, and we’re more on the execution side. So, but you’re right. Most of the stuff is going to web, and it’s really… It could be a delivery mechanism for their message and branding. It could be for training purposes. A significant part of what we do is we’ve essentially built a training portal for a large company on the North Shore and then are producing the videos that go alongside that.

Paul: Okay. Is this for employee training or customer training?

Brian: Yeah. It’s for insurance, safety training essentially.

Paul: Oh, okay. Yeah, that’s critical because it’s compliance.

Brian: So it’s for, for policyholders of theirs. So they’ve built kind of this conduit for people to login train. Eventually they’re bringing it to an e-learning level but really just a resource library of, of safety-style videos. Yeah.

Paul: Cool. That’s cool. And then do you track like who’s completed what and they get some benefit for having done that?

Brian: Yeah. There are components of that built into the system for sure. Yeah. So that’s a good example of kind of how we hit all sides of the project. You know, we built the portal. We built the brochureware, if you will. We built in the content.

Paul: Oh, that’s awesome. So a one-stop shop in a lot of ways.

Brian: Yeah. A lot of times. And, our services kind of talk to one another, and so there’s legacy database systems that know need frontend. So, you know, our software solutions team, which may handle and maintain that legacy system, helps us write API calls to talk to a web frontend.

Paul: Very cool. Yeah, it’s hard to find people that can take all pieces of it, or all facets of something. It’s, so that might, must be nice because you can’t point the finger at anybody. And that’s a benefit to the customer is that there’s no finger pointing. “Well, it was their fault.” “Well, yeah. That’s you.” So…

Brian: No, and it’s good because we… There’s a deep understanding of the different components of it. I think what we’ve run into a lot of times and where we, we see how the value of our company shines through is that you may get someone who is heavily into one side or the other, and they don’t understand how those pieces connect. And you know, based on various projects and hurdles, we don’t work with one particular market segment either. So, you know, the challenge of a manufacturer could be applied to the challenge of an insurance company in some weird way that you would never think. But, you know, we run into these situations where it’s like, “Oh, yeah, we did that on this, and you know, we can connect the dots here.” And so, that’s the part that, for me, that’s fun. And I think that also encapsulates the company as a whole.

Paul: Cool. Now you, as far as the creative side, I think you guys have a studio. Don’t you?

Brian: We do.

Paul: So, now like these training videos, were they done in studio or were they done on location or a mix?

Brian: You know, a lot of have been done on location. A lot of OSHA style, so you need the warehouse or a, or a ladder or something along those lines. But we do have a green screen room where we do a lot of our kind of talking-head profile pieces. The stuff that the studio space, what we moved into a new space in October. And that space, ultimately, gave us the opportunity to bring clients in at lower cost for a project, more or less because we had the space for it, which was all pre-rigged, ready to go versus dragging all the gear out, location to location, you know. So, for, for us, it’s been one of those things where we’re trying to take advantage of giving customers a little bit more flexibility on their budget to get a quality, studio-quality piece.

Paul: So now, just for our listeners who may not know, a green screen is basically a wall that’s painted with a bright lime-green almost?

Brian: Yeah, it’s like it’s…

Paul: It’s an unnatural green.

Brian: That’s right. That’s a good way to describe it. Yeah.

Paul: And what you do is you, you stand in front of it, and you shoot a camera with that and, uh, so you take a video of it. It’s like, what? If you watched the weather on the news, it’s the same way. And afterwards, you can use something called Chroma Key to put a new picture behind that. And you know, it’s not always perfect. It’s getting better and better. But you can see it when maybe somebody moves and you’ll notice that they don’t wear anything green. But that allows you to, you know, effectively have somebody standing on the shore of the Atlantic without having to be at the Atlantic. And so that’s cool. So you’ve got one that’s actually built out and lit. See, the biggest things with green screen is you have to uniformally — uniformally, is that a word?

Brian: I don’t know, but it sounded right.

Paul: You have to uniformally light the green because it has to be the same color all the way throughout.

Brian: Yeah. Shadows are the biggest trip-up in that process. And then when you get to more advanced stages of it, you know, like you look at like maybe an ESPN piece where they do like the 30 for 30s or something along those lines where they have that, really like one side of the face is dark and the other is lit. Uh, that’s where, you know, skillsets really shine through is that, if you know what you’re doing or not. And yeah, that’s the tough part.

And with the studio, for us, it gives us a lot more variables over— a lot more control over those variables. Yeah, so we’ve got a lot of lighting pre-rigged, and then we have flexible lighting on the floor that we can move around and kind of get the look and feel that we want.

Paul: And this is all, you know, you, our listeners… Having been a professional photographer myself, all of these things sound like labor and laborious and like, “Oh, man, that’s, that’s such a hassle.” But it makes the difference between things looking okay and things looking fantastic. Good lighting, good cameras, angles, lenses, all of these stuff adds up to just, you know, knock your socks off. And that’s why you can tell… This is why you go to the movies and you pay all this money — you know, $15 to sit in a sit and watch a movies — because they took all of this into account.

So, what kind of cameras do you guys use?

Brian: We use an array of cameras. I mean, I like to call them small form factor cameras. But it depends on the situation. But I’m, we’re shooting entirely 4k now, so…

Paul: Okay. All 4k. So high, high resolution. That’s four times the normal HiDef of Blue-ray. So that’s a lot of data. So, okay. So…

Brian: So I mean, the trick for us has been to find, 4k cameras that shoot at a bit rate and compress the video enough to where we’re not losing the quality but we’re not having these massive file sizes, because as a photography professional, you probably know, you get into those raw files, and all of a sudden, you know, it became…

Paul: Where do you store them?

Brian: Yeah. Exactly. Where do you store them? How do you back them up and, and that whole process? So yeah. I mean, we’ve been very cautious of that and selective in our decision making when it comes to purchases as far as new technology is concerned. And we also have to work quickly with a lot of files. You know, most of the time, we don’t have a cinematic film-like timeline and budget where you have, you can have these media bays and things like that. And you know, you have to make sure that a project size, the files are, are easy enough to work with quickly and turn out a final product.

And a lot of times, you know, we’re shooting high quality, but eventually, it’s getting down res-ed too, something that’s going to be able to play smoothly on a, on a website. So…

Paul: So you, but you still… So, I mean, that’s a great point. So you’re shooting hundreds of times better quality then is going to be rendered on the web.

Brian: Most likely.

Paul: But you’re doing it. And, and so if you were… Somebody were to come in and say, “Gee, I want a project done — X, Y, and Z,” just on average, how long does it take, start to finish? So, you know, I come in and I say, “This is what I want. I want a talking head video for my company so people can get to know me.” Is that a week? Is that 10 weeks. I know it varies by how busy you are, but let’s say you didn’t have anything else to do. Come in. How much does that take?

Brian: Yeah. No, I mean, it’s a good question. It depends, really, on a number of factors. Obviously like what’s involved with the shooting, how their location shoots… Is it in studio? How much editing is involved. If it’s a quick talking head, those can get knocked out pretty quick, but if you have a lot of B-roll that has to go along with it, the project might be staggered out, depending on when you’re doing pickups or aggregating media.

Paul: Let me interrupt you. What’s B-roll. I mean, let’s educate some of the people. So, is it rolls of bees?

Brian: Yeah, so if someone was filming our conversation right now and we were talking about cameras for example, they might show a picture of the cameras we were talking about.

Paul:: Cut away to that.

Brian: Yeah. Exactly. That cutaway footage and that footage on top of your main dialog or interview is what’s called B-roll.

Paul: Okay. And so you have to shoot that.

Brian: Shoot that, acquire it. You can purchase stock clips. You can use motion kind of effects on pictures sometimes works. We use 2.5D effect a lot of time, which I don’t know if you’re familiar with.

Paul: Well, tell me.

Brian: It kind of looks like you take a still photo and you isolate layers of it and kind of to make it… A lot of PBS-like.

Paul: Yeah. Ken Burns — did he do any of that?

Brian: It’s a little— it’s almost like Ken Burns on steroids a little bit. So it’s that motion of the Ken Burns effect of it panning into a picture or zooming into a picture. But you’re isolating different layers of, of the photo in Photoshop so you have more depth to it.

Paul: I see. So that must be a picture that you’re creating. You couldn’t take that from a…

Brian: Yeah. I mean, sometimes, sometimes media is, you know, only available in picture format, you know. Or a customer may not have a budget to go out and shoot specific things. So with that being said, I mean, every project’s a little different. And I think there’s also a degree of, you know, how much the client knows they want upfront versus, you know, how much are they involved in the creative process, and that, that can draw out a timeline too.

Paul: Cool. Well, I just want to tell our listeners, we, in the show notes, we’ll have some links to examples of the 2.5D effect. Hopefully you can give us one and, and show us that. And links to all the things we talk about as we’re going through this. And, and of course, to GraVoc.

Also published on Medium.