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Lights! Camera! Academics!

Manipal University’s brand new studio.

A brand new state-of-the-art HD studio has opened its doors at Manipal University, Dubai. In an exclusive interview with BroadcastPro Middle East, the Media and Communications faculty speaks of the importance of this facility in nurturing the industry professionals of tomorrow

The Dubai campus of Manipal University completed the setup of its USD 1.5m HD studio during the summer of 2012, fresh for its eighth intake of new students beginning their studies in Media and Communications. Fitted out over one year by electronics distributor and long-standing supplier to Manipal, Oasis Enterprises, the workflow setup is fitted with JVC solutions and features full Production Control Room (PCR) support that it claims can rival any professional television channel studio in this region.

Sabir Haque, senior lecturer and television production coordinator at the university, says: “The Oasis team that set up the studio at Manipal does regular work for Al Jazeera, Dubai TV, and MBC, and they say it is on par with other professional studios.”

An impressive total of 52 LED lights within a flexible grid structure makes this one of the few studios in the GCC to be fully LED equipped. It also features a full broadcast standard live Xpression Prime 3D character generator. Joseph John, chairperson of the Media and Communications department, says Manipal University is the only academic institution in Dubai that has a full LED studio.

“This is presently the only ‘green’ studio in Dubai, and perhaps, in the region, at a university level. LED lights consume less power, thereby, keeping our air conditioning bills low.”

The studio’s high ceiling is fitted with foam acoustics right down to its raised floor. It includes three separate sets giving students live exposure in terms of television studio production.

“We have managed to build an environment wherein the students can learn every aspect of television studio production, and everything at a professional industry level,” says Haque.

The studio is home to three new JVC GY-HM790E cameras, with space to expand to five. Each camera is fitted with an SDI camera adapter. The data and power travels along the 26pin CCU cable which is fed from the PCR, and the final output goes into the mixer in 1080i SDI, creating HD broadcast quality output. These cameras have the facility to record on tape and SD cards.

The media department presently has a total of 11 cameras to share between the batch of 50 students taken on each year, and all of them support 720p.

“All of our previous JVC cameras support 720p. The new cameras provide the option to migrate up to 1080p in the future, but also give us the flexibility to shoot in 720p. The present PCR setup is already 1080p ready. Sooner or later, we will migrate, and when this happens, we won’t have to buy additional equipment because it’s already there,” says Haque.

“In addition, our students are shooting in 16:9, so their exposure to the basic technicalities of the camera is already there. Ultimately, we want to train the brain behind the camera, otherwise they will just be pushing buttons.”

The studio features three heavy duty tripod dollies from Miller. Each dolly is able to flawlessly hold the teleprompter unit, studio rig and the camera, and move with accuracy.

Installation of complete LED lighting for character lighting and backdrop lighting comes with flexibility in colour temperature ranging from 1000K to 10,000k. All of the lights are computerised and controlled by a centrally located ETC ION lighting console inside the PCR. The console supports high-resolution DVI monitors, has integral LCD for softkeys and non-intensity parameter control. It includes hard disk memory and USB compatible external storage with phone remote control.

Within the PCR, three RM-HP790 JVC camera control units control the three new cameras individually for colour temperature, chrominance, luminance and contrast of the camera signal. The Waveform/Vectroscope Compuvideo checks the input signal for luminance and chrominance, with the eight channel Talkback system providing data video for live communication with the director and crew members of the show and vice versa.

Manipal has opted for the FOR-A  HVS-300HS digital switcher, which it claims is the most powerful and compact broadcast level switcher on the market. “This switcher is designed for a wide-range of applications including studio production, event and sports coverage, news, live staging and corporate events,” explains Haque.

Other key kit in the PCR include two Datavideo HDD recorders that enable file-based video recording and support 1080i/60, 720p, 576i, and 480i.

For studio production, the system also features a chroma key recording facility in the TV studio, and a sound recording booth with high quality microphones and a Pro Tools setup. The audio mixer, a Yamaha O1V-961, is a 32-channel audio in, four channel audio out unit, with separate controls for pitch, tone, reverb, and special effect for each channel. Software Adobe Audition and Pro Tools are used in audio post production.

Sambhram Pattanayak, technical in-charge of media labs and practical sessions, says, “All audio booths are sound proof, and each student has a designated working space so they are not disturbed when they are editing.”

The post production setup at Manipal includes nine dedicated edit bays with cross platform support across Final Cut Pro, Adobe Premier Pro and Avid Media Composer.

The project includes a Ross Video Xpression XPR1-0101. Built to create high-end 3D graphics and animations, XPression fully supports existing 2D workflows that use still images and rendered animation clips.

Now that all installations are in place and the studio is ready for use, Manipal University will review what solutions work for its academic curriculum and what do not.

“At this point, I believe we have invested in a state-of-the-art installation that readies our students for a professional file-based broadcast environment. We will, no doubt, have to update our equipment in a couple of years but I believe we will be able to stick to our workflow, which is primarily file-based. In our original plan, for instance, we intended to retain tape but eventually, we settled for tapeless systems.”

The new semester has just begun at Manipal with eager students enrolled on the three year under-graduate BA degree programme, and the two year post-graduate MA degree programme in Media and Communications.

John, who has a background in journalism and communications, has been involved with the Manipal programme since it launched in 2005.

“Our students spent the majority of their course learning all of the basics in media,” he says.

“We like them to be trained in everything from camera operations, to direction and editing, to anchoring and reporting, as this is the direction is which the industry is moving where one must have a knowledge of the entire workflow. There is no shying away from the camera; our students learn how to work behind it and in front of it. In their final year, the students eventually choose an area they want to specialise in.”

The course is increasingly practical as it aims to mimic a professional television production environment.

“In television production, you need more practical training than theory. It’s a hands-on experience and we have attempted to give our students that.”

Before the opening of the new studio, the teaching was limited to the classroom or to a small mobile setup and vision mixer. The new infrastructure makes the course more attractive to students.  “We have a very vibrant Electronic News Gathering (ENG) setup,” Haque says. “The students can still go out with the equipment, but now they can also stay inside the studio.”

The students have already produced a series of eight live productions of ten minutes each at the new studio.

“The students had to prepare the pre-production work; calling and fixing guests, writing the script, packaging stories, producing show titles and making their own headlines, just like any setup in the professional world. Then, the challenge was to go live, and stay within the time limitation of ten minutes, because in television production, time is everything,” adds Haque. Plenty of skills are needed to create a live production such as this, including editing, video compositing, camera work and anchoring, with a teleprompter controlled by a student in the PCR. The crew on each ten minute episode includes two directors in the PCR – one directing and the other operating the vision mixing – and a floor manager, three camera operators, lighting assistant and an anchor. One student is assigned as the bulletin producer who is responsible for keeping time and managing the run down sheet.

“Lighting is programmed and set up before hand,” explains Haque.

“It is an attempt to mimic a live television setup.”

The atmosphere at Manipal University’s Dubai campus is positive and thriving, with very enthusiastic staff supporting the students. This could be due to the personal touch that is added by the tutors and lecturers.

Dr. B. Ramjee, director of Manipal University Dubai calls the new campus “a physical testament to Manipal University’s commitment to research, student empowerment, and community outreach in the UAE.”

Haque adds that the University invests “a lot of our own personal time to nurture the students”.

“We work with the students, getting to know them, from their first day until they graduate. The fact remains, there might be the same equipment we have in other colleges, but it’s what you do with the equipment that is important. Providing basic training isn’t enough, and to use a facility – such as what we now have – to its maximum, requires a lot of engagement with the students.” John, Haque, Pattanayak and Sangram are a team dedicated to ensuring that their students have good knowledge of all areas of media, from web design, graphics, television producing, editing, journalism, anchoring, camera operating and beyond, and are ambitious in wanting to break new grounds and make their presence felt within the region’s industry. And, it seems that the reputation of Manipal’s students is already proving to be of this aspired good standard. “Our students covered the Dubai International Film Festival last year, and we have pitched to return this year.” Manipal’s Media and Communications department is always looking to take forward steps.

“We are hoping to create content for local television channels in the UAE, as well. With the infrastructure we now have, we can really create good content with our students,” adds Haque.

The programme is looking towards ways of strategically integrating with other areas of study, combining courses to give the students that extra experience.

John explains, “We create opportunities for our journalism and television production students to collaborate, as we believe this is the way ahead.”

Haque backs John up, by concluding, “Everything is moving online. Journalists are now being trained to shoot simple videos which they have to be able to upload online. So, we do realise that, sooner or later, the industry will become one combined field. Newsgathering has changed. Journalism and broadcast today means reaching out to your audiences across different platforms. We are constantly revisiting our courses and adapting them to suit the changing dynamics of the media environment. Our aim is to always stay ahead of the times.”