A conversation with Estelle McGechie, Chief Executive Officer of ATOMOS
Estelle McGechie was named to the position of Chief Executive Officer of ATOMOS on September 22, 2021. She has returned to Melbourne, Australia with her family after a successful career in the United States at The Walt Disney Company, Apple, Logitech, Apple and Frame.io.
Jon Fauer: Please tell us how you started in this amazing business?
Estelle McGechie: It was a combination of factors. My father was very technical and a lot of that rubbed off, but ever since I can remember, I’ve always been interested in storytelling. When I entered the industry, computers were becoming commonplace and changing the creative landscape. I started volunteering on film sets and edited anything I could lay my hands on. That experience led to becoming a showrunner on my own series in Australia and working with a team of editors.
You were working in both technical and creative areas?
Yes, both the creative and technical aspects of storytelling just made sense to me. I swayed between creative editing and technical consulting, working with some of the largest companies in the world.
Where did you first meet Jeromy Young?
We met at one of the Apple Final Cut Pro events after the Apple ProRes codec was first launched in 2006.
I always wondered where the spark came from at ATOMOS to engineer products capable of recording ProRes RAW. It seemed that ATOMOS was one of the few companies to take the ball and run with it, while also doing a great job working with other camera manufacturers to implement ProRes RAW.
Jeromy and the engineering team at ATOMOS were tenacious and quickly recognized the potential. They believed in supporting the development of ProRes. Adopting ProRes RAW was the next obvious step.
Apple ProRes RAW is an elegant engineering achievement with excellent performance and quality. Apple also invests a lot of time and effort to ensure their hardware enhances the creative process. It is evident with every hardware launch, from the Mac Pro and the ProRes accelerator card, Afterburner, to the M1 chip—each announcement introduces an acceleration in performance.
Do you see ATOMOS foremost as a hardware company?
ATOMOS has a great reputation when it comes to hardware. When it comes to filming on-set, we recognize that the point of capture is critically important. We take that role seriously and so we make products that are robust and perform under pressure.
When I think of our NINJA V and NINJA V+, that one compact device is able to support many functions. It’s great for on-set recording and provides access to a range of codecs—from Avid DNxHD to H.265 to ProRes to ProRes RAW. That is extraordinary development by any measure. But you can also preview your content with incredible clarity on our bright 1000 cd/m² AtomHDR monitor, play back on-set, mark favorites, save metadata and have all that extra info flow directly into your creative edit.
When you add the AtomX CAST to your NINJA V — now you have a Ninja CAST and you’ve transformed your on-set recorder into a 4 x HDMI input multi-stream switching power machine. With the 4-up display, you can see yourself as you stream. The large, easy-to-switch buttons make it easy to control, and support for high frame rate makes it ideal for gamers.
That we can do all of that, deliver all of that functionality, in such a tiny footprint is quite radical and we’re driving the technology that makes it possible, to make this powerful, versatile mini-computers. These devices change what’s possible for our customers. Recently I was looking at our Instagram channel and I came across one of our customers holding a Panasonic LUMIX GH1 with a NINJA V with a caption, “You just extended the life of my camera.”
ATOMOS not only extends the functions of a camera, we turn it into a multi-codec, high quality, capture assistant — I say assistant because we have all sorts of features that help you capture content with more confidence. We’ve built in the features our customers require including onscreen exposure analysis, framing, anamorphic de-squeeze, focus assist tools and more.
Because we capture data directly from the camera sensor, our products have the ability to transform what has been classified as a prosumer camera into a system that holds its own against high-end professional cameras. Creatives invest a lot of money in their rig. It’s rarely only a camera. It’s an investment in an entire system that includes lenses, accessories, cages, and controls. Speak with anyone who works with cameras, and you’ll understand that there’s an emotional investment too. Familiarity with the camera system itself is an investment — an investment in time. Being able to enhance its capabilities and truly turn your camera into something that it wasn’t intended to be, to extend its life and develop new functions, is an excellent fit with our central message — to democratize filmmaking and all forms of content creation.
In relation to software? You’ll have to watch this space.
Please expand on democratization, something I’m interested in.
The key to democratization is access. That can be both in terms of cost and ease-of-use. ATOMOS makes high quality, professional, cost effective products to democratize filmmaking, game streaming, and all other forms of content creation. ATOMOS has evolved the core product line to develop next-generation, adaptable, multi-function devices. Our products help our creative customers access the same high-quality options that are required by Hollywood blockbuster productions. For example, our SUMO 19 device has been used on the sets of key studio franchises such as Mission Impossible or Star Wars and we’re very proud that we can compete in that space. It confirms that our products provide the right features, quality and performance. We know, and our customers know, that they can trust our technology to support their creative vision. That we can make that technology affordable and put it in the hands of every filmmaker is very important to our vision of democratization.
Do you listen to customers and complainers?
Absolutely. If we don’t hear all types of feedback, then we limit our opportunity to improve. I’ve heard and read a lot of feedback; I’m absorbing all of it and our recent AtomOS firmware updates are a testament to our actions to the feedback we received. Some examples are advanced fan controls on the NINJA V/V+, which allow creatives to manually reduce the fan speed while recording to run quieter and then boost it between takes keep the system cool. Another example is support For Sony FS series camera RAW and Panasonic BS1H. We also added program record with graphics and PIP for AtomX CAST, audio delay and more. All these features have been made available as free updates and were frequently requested by creatives.
Somebody mentioned that ATOMOS acquired Timecode Systems. How does that fit in?
ATOMOS acquired Timecode Systems back in 2019 — it’s extraordinary tech that synchronizes multiple sources of sound and video wirelessly or wired using timecode. It works across all multicamera formats using any combination of cameras and audio — from pro broadcast cameras, audio recorders to mirrorless/DSLR and smartphones. We’ve already built the Timecode Systems tech into our products, and we have customers using these features today.
You said earlier that your mantra is to democratize the process. Does that mean continued work on both the high-end as well as the entry/affordable level?
Yes. We’ve always bridged both high and entry level creative functionality. When you think about making a product equally approachable and functional for both an experienced and new creative, it goes back to developing a product with great UI/UX with progressive disclosure; it’s approachable for a new creative with advanced features and functions for a pro. Just because someone is technically proficient doesn’t mean they want to be embroiled in an overly-technical process. We are constantly challenging ourselves to improve.
ATOMOS headquarters is in Melbourne?
Yes, our headquarters is in Melbourne, but we’re a worldwide company with teams in Japan, Germany, UK, France, India, China, the US and more.
Is UI (User Interface) programming done all around the world as well?
All around the world. I don’t sleep. That’s why I’m wearing glasses on this Zoom call, so you can’t see the dark circles.
Same with me. I’m eternally jetlagged. Thanks for an illuminating discussion.