Guildford-based Imagineer Systems is bravely entering the world of complete post production systems with Mogul.
Mogul will be based around an open platform that connects all the tools in a facility, tracks workflow and reports on the progress of projects.
Imagineer will develop individual products as part of Mogul but, because it is an open architecture, it will be possible to plug existing tools from other manufacturers into the platform and add them to the workflow.
Mogul will be made available on a monthly subscription basis only.
Broadcast spoke to Allan Jaenicke from Imagineer Systems who explained more about the background to Mogul, how the subscription pricing model will work and why he believes that other manufacturers have taken their eye off the visual effects market.
Describe the Mogul concept.
"One of things that we set out to achieve from day one was to come out with not only exciting creative tools but also a workflow between them. For me one of the key things about Mogul is the focus on workflow and fusion with the creative tool.
"There are lots of good creative tools out there. And there are lots of attempts at solving workflow as well. These, admittedly, are mainly facilities in-house trying to write something that makes it all sing and dance.
"By developing both the workflow and the tools we believe we can achieve something that is seamlessly integrated where workflow is in the background and it doesn't interfere with the creative process. [It will] allow artists to be more creative and work together as teams. That is one of our key mantras. It's about teams working together and how can we achieve that in a seamless way that doesn't involve sending out emails."
What is the configuration of Mogul?
"The Mogel architecture is modelled on roles in the facility. There is nothing hugely surprisingly about how we have defined the product family. What it leads to is a great deal of flexibility. That is one of the key aspects. It's an open flexible architecture that is open to other third party tools. It can be customised to large or small facilities."
So, you can plug in any products you like?
"If you look at the way it's going to be done, it will support any application that reads and saves files. There is no limitation there. That could be anything from telecine to an output device. There is nothing proprietary about the way you access things. There is going to be a level of difference between integration of our own tools and the integration of third party tools. But that will be a difference that is because of technical limitations no because of policy."
Why is there a need for an open architecture?
"People prefer to use specific applications or hardware that they have in place. You need to be open to that. It would be hugely inflexible if were to force facilities to throw away all the equipment they'd invested in so far and use ours."
With Mogel it looks like you are directly competing against some big companies such as Quantel and Autodesk which already produce post production systems. Is that deliberate?
"If you go back two years. We were at a Discreet user group meeting. I met with a customer who was saying ‘my artists are forcing me to buy an Flame and I really don't want to, I wish there was an alternative. We sat down and had dinner and the customer was trying to convince me that Imagineer was 80% of the way there so why don't we go for it [and create a whole system] cos we need something here."
What happened next?
"After NAB I phoned up a few customers and essentially asked them what their plans were for the next two or three years in terms of buying systems.
"Consistently, simplified admittedly, the answers were ‘we don't like the relationship we have with Autodesk, Quantel are not very focussed on visual effects - they have the hardware but their software really lacks - and Avid are not developing their DS anymore so we don't have any choice. It's time for something new' There are some big players out there but customers are craving something else.”
What do you think Autodesk and Quantel will make of Mogul?
“They should really be worried. We are coming out with something that is a significant new offering for customers. Looking at the high-end vfx places, who caters for them? Who speaks their language?”
Mogul will only be available by subscription. What is the thinking behind that?
"It boils down to helping customers by delivering products based on a pricing model that more mirrors how they actually earn their revenue. It also solves some really fundamental and thorny issues that have come up between customers and manufacturers.
"If you're a facility and you have to buy something that costs you, say, 200k in whatever currency you want to work in. That's a really big decision. You have to take into account all sorts of things that may or may not happen in the future. In today's post production market, with things like writers strikes and customers not being turned away at the door because you're overly busy, it's a very big decision to make an investment like that.
"What we're doing with the subs model is offering customers ways to pay for the system on a monthly basis so that consideration doesn't have to be made. We're a ready source of finance for the company."
What about upgrades? Are those included?
"When you sell a system to a customer if you have to sell an upgrade it means that obviously some customers decide to upgrade and some don't. This then leads to some problems in that in the same facility you may be using different versions of the system or the software. This leads to incompatibilities. And certainly between different companies there could be incompatibilities.
"Facilities are regularly faced with a decision whether or not to upgrade. Or the manufacturer says that this software no longer supports the hardware you invested in so you've got to spend thousands on new hardware as well.
"All of these surprises and these conflicts are something we can solve. [With the subscription model] everybody is always up to the latest version of the software and everybody has the same version of the hardware because we're also building in hardware upgrades. It greatly simplifies things.
"It allows them to focus on being creative rather than having teams of engineers worrying about software upgrades."
How do you work out the cost?
"Essentially the way we calculate the pricing is by looking at what is the cost of ownership over, say, three years of an equivalent system.
"Let's say you want to buy a system for doing a review. You buy a workstation, you buy some disks, you install the software and so on and so forth. Then you have to pay for the software maintenance over a number of years and you have to pay for hardware upgrades. If you look at the cost of all of that you arrive at a number. If you divide that number by 36 months you arrive at a fair subscription price which is the equivalent of the cost of the ownership you would've had otherwise.”
Does this work better for Imagineer too?
"For us in many ways it is better to get the money up front. But we believe we are going to catch a wider market by essentially working with the customer. It's more of a partnership. It also reduces the risk for the customer."
As a facility owner, can I charge a client more by installing Mogul?
"Some of the things are more needs based. What people have told us is that on any given project overhead accounts for about 30%. If you can bring that down to say 10 or 20% by making sure that expensive artists don't spend their time looking for files they've deleted or looking for the latest version or trying to pull out an archive where it was so badly organised that nobody could find the version they were working on. If you can reduce that overhead it translates into a saving.
"The other part, like the Mogul master system which is intended to be for client attended sessions, you would charge out in a similar way in which you would, say, a flame. So there is a mix."
Mogul will be unveiled at NAB next week (11-17 April 2008)*
Allan Jaenicke is a co-founder of Imagineer Systems. After a number of years as an IT entrepreneur in Denmark, Jaenicke moved to the UK and obtained a BEng in Information Systems Engineering from Imperial College. During the course he was awarded a bursary from the Nuffield Foundation to work with Dr Philip McLauchlan on a novel image mosaicing algorithm, which eventually led to the creation of Imagineer and the Mokey product. Jaenicke and McLauchlan established Imagineer Systems in June 2000.
*Mogul/serve, Mogul/browse and Mogul/review will be available at NAB. Other products expected to be rolled out over the next 18 months.