Aspirational marketing

aspire |əˈspī(ə)r|    verb [ intrans. ]   direct one’s hopes or ambitions toward achieving something.

aspiration |ˌaspəˈrā sh ən|    noun    1 ( usu. aspirations ) a hope or ambition of achieving something.

DERIVATIVES:   aspirational |- sh ənl| adjective (in sense 1) .

I define aspirational marketing as “success by association”. You see it all the time when companies promote tie-ins with athletes, celebrities, adventurers and artists.

It’s the attempt to get you to subliminally feel that if you buy this product, you’ll somehow have the same ability, charm or success of the endorser or the achievement. Danica Patrick and GoDaddy. Daniel Craig and Omega, Leonardo DeCaprio and TAG Heuer. Omega and the first moon walk or Rolex and an ascent to the summit of Mt. Everest.

Guitar players are all too familiar with this, as nearly every manufacturer of guitars, amps and pedals has a series of signed artists who endorse the product. Many have custom deals, with signature guitars made in their name. Some feature customizations actually suggested by the artist, but sometimes these are only meant to pay homage to their style. Of course, logic tells you that using the same guitar as Stevie Ray Vaughn, Joe Satriani, Eddie Van Halen or Steve Vai won’t make you the next guitar hero. That doesn’t stop the dream factory from running overtime in our minds – the one tuned to the wavelength of aspirational marketing.

Makers of editing systems aren’t immune to this game either. Avid touts the list of the many Oscar-winning editors who use Media Composer, while Apple counters with Walter Murch, Angus Wall, Billy Fox and others. Lightworks – always a favorite of Thelma Schoonmaker – was able to join the game again this year through Tariq Anwar, film editor of The King’s Speech. I personally enjoy reading these various case studies. I’ve also enjoyed interviewing and writing the more than 30 such stories I’ve done myself. Yet, promoting a tool by saying that Joe Film Editor uses it is often a hot topic on editing forums. Many editors feel that a Hollywood blockbuster is so far removed from the world of cutting spots and corporate videos, that it has absolutely no bearing on what they do or the needs they have in an NLE.

This association comes with some danger, because many manufacturers are happy to let omission blur the lines of how their products were actually used. For instance, Adobe products were used in various aspects of Avatar and The Social Network, yet Adobe has carefully avoided promoting the actual editing system and DI system used. As a result, quite a few folks have come away with the impression that Premiere Pro was the editing tool for these films. In fact, these films were cut on Avid Media Composer and Apple Final Cut Pro respectively – with Quantel Pablo/iQ handling the DI.

I suppose aspirational marketing is like all advertising. At the purely primal level, advertising is based on the concept that using the product will make you attractive to the opposite sex, will bring you fame and fortune and will whiten your teeth. Like the guitarist analogy, I’m sure every editor knows that using Final Cut won’t impart the editing skills of Murch, Wall, Baxter or the Coens on them, but it does offer some validation. In other words, if I’m using the same product as this famous film editor, then it clearly can get the highest level job done – and by extension – I have made the right choice in using the same tool.

The truth of the matter, though, is that this may or may not be the case. Many Hollywood feature film editors are not power users of either computers or editing software. The Coens will tell interviewers point blank that they had no idea how to use a mouse when they first started with Final Cut. Many Avid film editors are quite upfront in saying that they like Media Composer precisely because they don’t have to think about how it works. They are so used to it, in fact, that little changes, like adjusting the functions of the modifiers keys or adding Smart Tool have been greeted by a surly response from long-time editors.

Most professional editors working in anonymity on spots, corporate videos and reality shows probably have a far better grasp of how to get the most out of the software than the average A-list feature film editor. These working pros probably also know what holes are left in the toolset and where they excel. Rightfully so, every time Avid or another manufacturer brings out an Oscar-winning film editor, a lot of folks simply can’t see the relevance.

I don’t discount this feeling, but I have a different outlook. I love reading these stories because they often talk about workflow or creative challenges that do relate to my own projects. Sure, the demands of a high-budget studio film are different than that of a corporate image video, but we both have the challenges of how to satisfy the director, how to get the show to time and how to deal with new technology – from RED to HDSLRs to ALEXA to Stereo3D. I’m happy to see Avid bring a line-up of feature film and television editors and mixers as speakers to NAB to share their experiences. As part of this marketing effort, Avid also hosts a very interesting set of webisodes, called The Rough Cut. Avid staffer Matt Feury hosts and produces these various episodes, which feature conversations with many working editors.

Does aspirational marketing make me want to buy the product? Probably not, but my interest goes far beyond that. On the other hand, using the same tools as a high-visibility user doesn’t hurt – IF – it still meets the needs that I have to do the best job for my client.

©2011 Oliver Peters

Markers are your friend

If you cut long-form projects, then markers in Apple Final Cut Pro or locators in Avid Media Composer are an essential tool. This is one of the subtle yet workflow-changing improvements Apple made in FCP7. The developers added the ripple feature to markers, which allows timeline markers to stay pegged with the relevant clip on the timeline as you insert of delete other clips. It’s a feature that had been in Media Composer since the beginning of locators, but was a welcome change to Final Cut.

In case you’ve never used markers in Final Cut Pro (come on, really?), you can add them to places on the timeline and add text for each marker. The text is displayed when you park on the frame where the marker was placed. You can also use difference colored markers for different purposes. Markers can also be assigned as chapter, compression or scoring markers and given a duration. A marker list can be exported as a tab delimited text document, which will open in most word processors or spreadsheet applications. This list will indicate comments, type, duration, color and timecode. Marker lists may be helpful as a reference for interviews in the absence of an actual transcript. Or they may be used to document notes for editorial changes.

I use markers a lot in unscripted projects made up of lengthy interviews. I’ll place all of a subject’s clips on a timeline and then listen to the comments. At each place where they start a new answer or train of thought, I’ll add a marker and enter text. This is usually a short synopsis, phrase or some key words for the sound bite at that point. I tend to use a single color for my timeline markers, but if the interviewee says something exceptional or profound or with more emotion than the rest, then I’ll use a different marker color. This way I can quickly scan the timeline and find the points with the preferred sound bites.

When done, I have a timeline full of markers. Right-clicking on the timeline’s timecode ruler bar brings up a contextual menu with all the marker text for that sequence. Click on any entry in this pop-up menu and you’ll jump to that location on the timeline. This menu is also a great way to quickly scan through all the comments when you start to feel that you may be leaving something important out in your refined cut.

Furthermore, the Find command (cmd-F) for the sequence lets you search by names and markers. Looking for a word you know you typed into a marker? Simply use Find in the sequence and it will take you to that spot. Of course, the more information you typed at the time, the better of a resource this becomes.

Once I’ve gone through this process, I will leave that sequence untouched. Instead, I’ll duplicate it and continue editing on that new sequence or I will copy-and-paste from that sequence to another. The point is to leave this first record intact, so that when you need to find a specific comment at a later stage in the edit, you can always refer back to this original timeline with all the markers and marker text.

©2011 Oliver Peters

Get – Dialogue Search for Final Cut Pro

AV3 Software’s Get application was one of the highlights at last year’s NAB. Based on the same Nexidia search engine as Avid’s ScriptSync, Get brings dialogue-based search capabilities to Apple Final Cut Pro and eventually other editing applications. (In fact, Avid has recently introduced PhraseFind, which is Nexidia’s implementation of the same technology within the Media Composer 5.5 application.)

Get functions as a standalone application, so its usefulness extends beyond the needs of an editor. For instance, story editors, loggers and news reporters can benefit from Get as a way to research and organize interviews and other dialogue-based media files.

How Get differs

To properly understand Get, you have to first understand how the Avid and Adobe technologies work. Both Get and Avid ScriptSync are based on Nexidia’s patented phonetic search engine. In a simplified explanation, the Nexidia engine analyzes the waveform of phonetic syllables and compares these to its library of known phonetics for specific languages. Because it is based on phonetics, an exact spelling match isn’t critical as long as the misspelled word sounds the same. If you spell “cool” as “kool”, the result will be the same.

Avid ScriptSync requires the editor to first import a written script or transcript. Ingested dailies are then analyzed for sound and matched against sections of the script. The software matches key words and interpolates the in-between sections, when it can’t make an exact word match. Through this process, it is possible to click on a word in the written script (within the Avid bin) and locate the corresponding portion of the media file. ScriptSync does not work on media files outside of the Avid Media Composer project.

Adobe’s speech-to-text translation uses exactly the opposite process. It is based on speech recognition technology and attempts to properly interpret spoken words and correctly translate those into written text. Since it doesn’t start with an existing script and there’s no interpolation of words from a known reference, it falls to the analysis engine to correctly translate spoken words into text from the audio track. This frequently leads to a high degree of error, because of the “guesses” the software is making. These must later be manually reconciled or adjusted. In addition, Adobe stores the translated text as part of the media file’s metadata, as it travels through Premiere Pro and/or Soundbooth.

It’s like Spotlight for words

Get operates as a standalone application and is therefore independent of any written script or transcript. Think of it as a Spotlight-style search tool that is optimized for speech. Get can be installed for various languages and currently supports US English, UK English and Latin American Spanish. For now, Final Cut Pro is the only supported NLE, although Get can be used without FCP, as well.

Once the application has been installed, the first step is to index the media files that are to be analyzed in any Get dialogue search. This can be one or more folders or drives containing QuickTime-wrapped media files. For example, if you are using it to work on a single documentary project, then you might only choose to index that project’s media folder within the FCP Capture Scratch location.

On the other hand, if you’d like indexing across multiple projects, you might opt to index a complete media drive or array. Search locations can be established as Watched Folders, so newly added media is automatically indexed. Content already added to an FCP project can also be indexed. In my testing, several hours of media files only required a few minutes to index, so that step is quite fast. During this process, Get analyzes the dialogue within the audio tracks of these media files and stores a look-up table used for subsequent searches.

Performing searches

After the initial indexing is completed, the rest of it is pretty simple. Typically you perform searches within Get’s user interface. Results will be grouped using various criteria, but normally Get will group search results according to a confidence indication. Search results that are listed as Very Confident will generally always match the search word or phrase, whereas Less Confident might not. One way to dial in search results is to use the Score Threshold pulldown menu. For example, if you search for a term and select a Score > 95 value, Get will return far fewer successful results than if you use a value of Score > 55. Lowering the score will achieve more total results, but also less accuracy.

Targeting the search correctly will improve results. For example, “1900” is the same as “nineteen hundred”, not “one thousand nine hundred”. Acronyms, like “RCA”, need to be spelled with capital letters. To receive more refined results, you can combine searches by adding fields for Boolean-style searches. For instance, a search for media files that contain the terms “family” AND “fortified”. Furthermore, additional attributes can be selected, which may be Finder-level metadata, like creation dates – or from an FCP project, like master comments. This becomes very useful in news and reality TV productions.

Get includes a media player, so any matching files displayed in the results pane can be played directly from within Get. The player displays the file attributes, plus timecode and timeline markers that indicate the location of each dialogue match. If there are multiple matches within a single media file, then there will be a marker for each spot within the file where the word or phrase was spoken. This lets an editor or producer easily preview and save search results without engaging any other software. Since a search will typically return numerous media files, it becomes a quick way to compare several similar shots.

Export to FCP

Get’s Export routine is used to bring clips into a Final Cut Pro project. Individual clips or a group of clips can be exported from the Get interface into any existing FCP project. Get has the ability to access the project, so either clips can be sent directly into existing bins or new FCP project bins containing these search results can be created and exported right from within Get. When you return to the FCP project, the appropriate folder and clips will have been added. Each clip will also contain markers to identify the location of the search term. In addition, Get lets you export only markers, in the case where you are analyzing clips already in FCP.

I performed testing with an existing series of corporate videos produced about a family-owned Australian winery. The original audio was recorded on a Canon EOS 5D Mark II. Some audio was rather low and, of course, everyone spoke with an Australian accent. Get delivered good results using the US English installation, in spite of these challenges. Even specific Australian words, like less-common town names, were easily found. Without question, I’d have to say Get definitely works as advertised.

One unconventional way to use Get’s capabilities is to sync multi-camera shots, in the absence of slates or matching timecode. I hadn’t even considered this until the folks at AV3 Software mentioned that some of their clients were using Get in this manner. A dialogue search would place markers at matching words, based on each camera’s audio track. Once inside Final Cut, these markers would then provide the basis for synchronizing the media files from the different cameras against each other, using matching dialogue as the common reference point.

Whether or not AV3 Software’s Get is the right tool for you depends on your project. It doesn’t replace the need for creating transcripts and it won’t edit a production for you. On the other hand, if you need to quickly locate the places a speaker uttered certain words or phrases within hours of interview footage or news coverage, then there simply is no faster tool available to the Final Cut Pro editor.

Last but not least, Get is available on a rental basis, too. So if you need these features for just a single documentary project, you’re covered!

Written for Videography magazine (NewBay Media LLC).

©2011 Oliver Peters

Edit Suite Design 2011

It’s time to revisit an old subject for a new year – configuring a post production suite. Poke through these past articles and you’ll get plenty of ideas about how to build the room and what to put in it. Another great source for inspiration is just to scan through the “Rig of the Day” photos at FinalCutters. In this post, I’m going to concentrate on the system numbers based on early 2011 prices and options. This spreadsheet is the basis for my estimates (download here). Since I’ve covered construction and peripheral gear in the previous posts, I have limited the spreadsheet to only those items directly involved in the workstation. No furniture, no racks and no VTRs.

I’ve organized this as a cost comparison for people building a system for use with Avid Media Composer, Apple Final Cut Pro/Studio, Adobe Premiere Pro, Blackmagic Design DaVinci Resolve or Avid Pro Tools. This covers the options from editing to mixing to color grading. The rooms are designed to be purpose-driven, not one-size-fits all; therefore, the DaVinci configuration will have different items than the edit suites or the Pro Tools set-up. As before, this estimate is Mac-centric. Swapping out the Mac Pro numbers for a comparable HP (or similar) workstation is fine and really only an issue of personal preference (assuming that the application is PC-compatible). No tax, shipping, assembly or configuration costs have been included.

The Base System

Click on any of these summaries for an enlarged view

For a base system that will work with all of these rooms, I have selected a mid-speed 8-core Mac Pro from the Apple Store online. Quad, hex or 12-core systems are fine, too. I’ve populated it with 12GB of RAM and four internal 1TB drives. You can certainly get RAM and drives a bit cheaper through other suppliers, but in the end, it’s only a few hundred dollars. For ease, I’ve left this as an Apple, built-to-order product, including the upgraded graphics card.

I like dual monitor set-ups, but Apple now only sells 27” displays. Too big – hence, the dual 23” Dells. My personal preference is for 20” or 22” displays, but most folks are comfortable with 23” or 24” models. I’ve included a small audio monitoring set-up with near-field M-Audio speakers, an Avid Mbox Mini (for audio i/o) and a small Mackie mixer. The latter is mainly used for easy volume control, but also provides a place to plug in the occasional audio peripheral device.

The biggest single investment in this package is a CalDigit 16TB RAID storage array. There are plenty of suppliers and storage is cheaper than ever, so feel free to change it. This product will hold a lot of media and is well worth the investment for an active facility. Of course, you need power back-up systems (UPS), so I’ve plugged in two, just so the storage can run on its own.

Lastly, I’ve added “catch-all” line items for office and production software and cables. This is to cover you for extra goodies like iWork, MS Office and your favorite effects plug-ins. Not to mention the various cables and connectors that you’ll need to run out and get from Radio Shack or Guitar Center before it’s all said and done.

Edit Bays

The spreadsheet lays out three separate configurations – Avid Media Composer, Apple Final Cut Pro and Adobe Premiere Pro. These three applications don’t support the exact same combo of i/o cards and control surfaces. Since Avid Media Composer 5.5 now supports the AJA Io Express, I plugged that in rather than Avid’s own hardware, due to cost considerations. Since it’s only a digital product, I have augmented it with Blackmagic Design mini-converters for analog sources or analog output. The objective is to have a room that is ready for VTR ingest and output, should you need to do that. Plus, this has to be in formats from Beta-SP up to HD.

In order to keep functionality the same between these rooms, I have not included some of the optional software available to Avid editors. Specifically this means the ScriptSync and PhraseFind add-ons, which are extra cost options. These tools appeal to feature film, TV show and documentary editors. As such, some people swear by these tools and others never touch them. If that’s something you can’t live without, then dive into the production software allowance to cover those bases.

Apple Final Cut Studio supports more card options than Avid, so my configuration includes the full-featured AJA Kona 3G card with the K3 breakout box. FCP/FCS can also support all of the Avid Artist control surfaces, so Artist Color has been added here, but not in the Media Composer package. On the other hand, Adobe Premiere Pro can’t, so those panels have been left out of the Premiere Pro configuration.

One item worth noting is the graphics card choice. Premiere Pro benefits from the CUDA technology used in NVIDIA’s cards, such as the Quadro 4000. ATI/AMD cards are just fine, but certain Premiere Pro effects are accelerated by the CUDA hardware. Apple no longer sells workstations with NVIDIA cards pre-installed. This means that if you are going to buy a workstation from the Apple Store and want an NVIDIA card, select the ATI 5770 (an approximate $200 cost reduction from my base configuration) display card and plan on replacing it with the NVIDIA when you build up your workstation.

For these three rooms, I have specified a Panasonic professional 17” LCD for the editor and a larger 42” plasma for client viewing. And again, there’s another line item for last minute cable and connector needs.

Color Grading

You could build a room based on Apple Color or DaVinci Resolve, but the hardware configuration is more specific with Resolve. It’s also got the “buzz”. I frequently see the online interest from editors very interested in building a color grading room around this “name” product. Resolve takes advantage of multiple GPUs for accelerated, real-time processing performance. Therefore, this system uses BOTH the ATI (only for displays) and the NVIDIA card (GPU processing). It can actually use multiple GPUs, but you’d run out of slots, unless you want to expand the budget by adding a CUBIX expansion chassis. In this configuration all cards will fit, if you don’t use the Decklink’s HDMI bridge adapter.

Since it’s a grading room, I have beefed up the monitor selections and added a Blackmagic Design Ultrascope, which requires a separate host PC. In order to easily share one of the two Dell monitors between the Apple and HP computers, I have also included a KVM switch. Resolve works well with a single display screen, so in this configuration one display would be used for the Ultrascope patterns and the other the Resolve interface.

Resolve can use the Tangent Devices Wave, JL Cooper Eclipse CX or the Blackmagic Design panels. If you are on a modest budget, then Wave is going to be it. Have an extra $29K? Then splurge for the Blackmagic colorist panel.

Audio Editing/Mixing

Rounding out our spreadsheet is an audio post room based on Avid Pro Tools 9. This is a software-based version and not a Pro Tools HD system. Pro Tools 9 is full featured, so unless you have tons and tons of tracks, virtual instruments or plug-ins running, this configuration will work fine for general audio production and post.

I have upgraded some of the items again, like speakers and the mixer in order to be better suited for an audio room. There are two sets of speakers for critical listening and evaluation, but it’s a stereo room. If you need to build a room specifically designed for surround mixing, then that takes a bit more gear and specific room design. I have also not specifically included any Dolby metering, which might be critical for delivery to certain networks.

Avid Pro Tools is qualified to use Blackmagic Design Decklink cards to playback video. Most mixers I know these days are working with QuickTime movies for picture reference, so there’s little need to support specific Avid video formats in this room. There is also one client display – a 42” plasma.

This studio is intended to be a post production mixing studio and not a music tracking room, so I haven’t included specific recording gear. Of course, some recording, such as voice-overs, is going to take place from time to time. To cover those needs, I’ve added a modest allowance for basic tools, like microphones, mic stands, wind screens and headphones.


As you can see, each of these rooms falls into a similar price spread – from the upper $20K to the lower $30K range. Of course, add to this tax, shipping, design and integration costs. Plus room construction, décor and furnishings. My intent here is to provide an update on the real-world cost of an average 2011 post production bay that can deliver a professional product and won’t embarrass you with a client. You can always add more if you have the budget, but be careful where you shave if you need to cut corners. After all, you are a professional. Right?

© 2011 Oliver Peters

Big SAN in a small pond

Workflows for the post boutique

Storage costs have come down as the industry transitions to file-based production, post and delivery. This has created a happy confluence where once out-of-reach shared storage solutions are now within the budget range of most small production companies, broadcasters and post facilities.

Shared storage networks for film and video editing originally came to market in the ‘90s through Avid MediaShare. This evolved into Avid Unity MediaNet and more recently Avid ISIS. The beauty of the system is complete collaboration among a group of editors, where all can be working within the exact same open project. To this day few NLEs has been able to achieve this, although there are effective FCP workflow solutions, as well as EditShare’s approach to Media Composer, Final Cut and Lightworks project sharing. The Avid Media Composer/NewsCutter+Unity/ISIS+Interplay combination is still the gold standard for editorial collaboration and media asset management.

On the small-shop side, Avid has aggressively lowered the price of their solutions, such as the cost-effective ISIS 5000 solution. They have also opened their storage to connect with Final Cut “client” workstations. Many small shops are FCP-centric and are looking at what the broader market has to offer. This frequently takes a “roll-your-own” approach with varying degrees of success. I’m going to focus my comments on Final Cut Pro-based facilities, since those are the ones doing the most experimentation with different collaborative network topologies.

Storage Area Network (SAN) types

Shared storage solutions are designed to permit multiple rooms (edit suites, audio studios, graphics, etc.) to connect to a common media network in order to access files from any room. The two basic types are file-level and volume-level systems.

As the name implies, in a file-level system, permission to read/write files is granular down to the individual file level. Storage is partitioned and organized as a single volume (a single virtual hard drive mounted on the desktop), to which all connected users have read/write access. The SAN administrative software functions as the “traffic cop” to prevent one user from accidentally overwriting another user’s files.

In a volume-level system, storage is divided into numerous volumes or partitions (organized by room or by project). Various read-only or read/write profiles are established in the controlling SAN software. Typically a user will have write authority in one room for only a single volume, but can mount the other storage volumes with read-only permission. Of course, various profiles can be established based on project needs, so a user can be assigned write authority to additional volumes when not in use by another editor.

SANs typically use Fibre Channel or 10 Gigabit Ethernet (10-Gig-E) for fast media data rates, but a SAN can also be built upon standard Gigabit Ethernet (Gig-E), especially when large data rates aren’t required. If you have over six rooms – or you need to work with multiple streams of online-quality media – then Fibre Channel is the best option. On the other hand, a shop with a handful of bays cutting with a low bandwidth resolution like OfflineRT or DV25 will probably be happy with a Gig-E system.

There’s a third approach made possible by Apple File-sharing Protocol, in which Ethernet can be used to access another machine’s local storage over a standard local area network (LAN). Although no SAN software is used in this configuration, AFP is robust enough to prevent disastrous media results. In its simplest form, such as two edit rooms working in tandem, one computer would have a locally-connected array. That could be accessed by the second system over the LAN. The danger is that if one system crashes, there’s no protection for the other, however that’s relatively low risk. This is actually a pretty easy and simple way for a film editor and assistant to collaborate on a low-budget feature film.

System configurations

In more advanced installations –  all SANs or any AFP configuration with more than two computers – the hardware units will consist of the local workstations, a central server, storage attached to the server, a Fibre Channel or Ethernet hardware switch, Fibre Channel or Ethernet cards installed in the client systems and cabling (copper or fiber optic). Gig-E systems would likely utilize the Ethernet connections already designed into the computer.

The largest, most advanced SANs for FCP environments commonly use Apple’s Xsan networking software. This would be used to establish a file-level system, capable of connecting a large number of users. For maximum robustness, installations have historically employed Apple Xserve computers running OS X Server as the system’s metadata controller (the “traffic cop”). Although OS X Server can also run on a Mac Pro or a Mac Mini, most enterprise customers have sought better alternatives for the discontinued Xserve.

One such answer might be Active Storage’s newly-announced ActiveSAN. It runs on the Linux OS in an “appliance” design. As an appliance, the server is designed around a single function – in this case, storage and running an Xsan system – instead of other possible server functions, like e-mail or website hosting. Unfortunately Xsan implementations have proven to be relatively “IT-intensive” and not well-suited for small facilities that don’t have access to knowledgeable local tech support. However, if you are a large enterprise connecting 100 Final Cut editors to 100TB of shared storage, few if any other systems are up to the task. An Xsan system is also appropriate for other large Mac-based enterprises, like a magazine publisher’s creative team.

At the other end of the spectrum are the AFP/Gig-E systems. These are a good match for small shops with a handful of connected systems, who want the least amount of future maintenance issues. A Mac Pro running standard OS X (not the Server version) functions as the “server”. The upside of this is that no SAN software license is involved, so there’s no additional cost for another client seat when a new system is added to the storage network. The downside is that you have to dedicate a workstation to the system as the de facto server to host the storage. It shouldn’t be used for editing or anything else, if you want the system to stay stable.

In between are the so-called SAN-in-a-can systems, which tend to offer the best approach for small editing boutiques. Examples include Avid ISIS 5000. Facilis Technology TerraBlock, iStorage Pro, Small Tree GraniteSTOR, CalDigit SuperShare, etc. Most units consist of a single chassis holding both the storage array and a self-contained server. The latter would be an “appliance”, consisting of a motherboard with an embedded OS, like Linux. It’s a “headless” server, so no monitor or OS controls to access, except possibly some front panel system controls. There’s no server to launch or OS to enter in the usual sense. SAN software, like Command Soft’s FibreJet, would be installed to partition volumes, manage the configuration and establish user profiles for mount/read/write configurations.

As a volume-level system, it’s easy to maintain and also easy when an administrator needs to organize the storage access around particular clients or projects. The increased cost of Fibre Channel hardware is offset by not needing a separate computer as the server/metadata controller. (Note: Some of these systems – like Avid ISIS – are based on Ethernet and not Fibre Channel.) However, as you add systems, you will have to pay for extra SAN licenses and Fibre Channel cards. This sets up a trade-off in cost versus the number of rooms when you compare a SAN-in-a-can system to an AFP deployment.

In actual practice

One approach that offers many benefits is to augment a volume-level SAN with an installation of Final Cut Server. This Apple software is an asset management solution that competes with CatDV and Avid Interplay. If you want the best asset management solution for FCP, then CatDV is it. Avid Interplay excels in a broadcast environment with Avid NLEs. Final Cut Server’s strength is with small shops that need both asset management and a robust database to track clip metadata. It not only makes media files searchable, but also provides a way to control media across multiple FCP projects.

I frequently work at one such facility and here is how it works. The network layout was designed by area systems integrator, PEI Graphic Technology. There are four edit suites running Final Cut Studio, which are all linked to a 32TB PEI SAN-Storm chassis (based on the iStorage Pro hardware). This includes a self-contained metadata controller/server appliance. The unit connects to a Fibre Channel switch, which is turn connects to the edit suite workstations. Command Soft FibreJet is installed as the SAN management software.

Apple Final Cut Server is installed on a separate Apple Xserve computer running OS X Server, which is also a connected as a Fibre Channel “client” to the SAN. Each edit suite is assigned its own 2TB “local” volume with read/write permission for working space on the SAN. The Xserve is assigned the largest portion of the SAN, which is used by Final Cut Server as its permanent location for writing files.

Day 1

When an editor start a session for the first time, a new FCP project is created locally on one of the workstations. Media is ingested via import, Log & Capture or Log & Transfer and ends up on the local volume of the SAN, which is assigned to that station. At the end of Day 1, the FCP project is uploaded to Final Cut Server (launched through a client applet installed on the workstation). Based on profiles established when Final Cut Server is initially configured, all media that appears within the FCP project is also automatically moved into Final Cut Server.

This consists of several processes. Media (such as ProRes HQ) is copied from the local volume to the Final Cut Server-controlled volume. A lower-resolution edit proxy file (such as ProRes Proxy), a low-resolution viewing proxy (H.264) and a thumbnail are created. You can set up a profile to delete the original file after the copying is complete, but it’s safer not to do that. This temporarily leaves two sets of media on the local and server volumes until you elect to delete the local media. The upload process can be done overnight.

You will typically edit with the high-res files. Low-res edit proxy files are created in case you want to export media in a lightweight format for off-site rough-cut editing. The H.264 files are used for media searches, previews and client reviews via the web.

Day 2

On Day 2 and each of the subsequent editing days, the editor starts by checking-out the FCP project from Final Cut Server. The check-out step copies the FCP project file from Final Cut Server to a local destination, such as the editing workstation’s desktop. Assuming all media files were successfully uploaded to Server the night before, all clips in the FCP browser are now linked to the media that’s on the Final Cut Server volume and not the local volume any more. Any new media added during the course of the day stays local during that day.

At the end of each editing day, the FCP project is checked back into Final Cut Server. As this stage, the editor can optionally add versioning information that becomes part of the asset information for the FCP project. Additionally, all FCP comments and descriptions made by the editor for master clips within FCP become part of the data assets of FC Server. Any media files that have been added to the project on these subsequent edit days are also uploaded to Final Cut Server as part of the check-in process.

Archiving can still be an issue with modern SAN systems, but Final Cut Server adds a level of control. You can move media to external storage, like raw eSATA drives or LTO tapes and then subsequently identify on-line and near-line media files. Proxy files stay of the system for review and searches and Final Cut Server will prompt editors to reload the high-res media from an archive, should a requested clip have been archived off of the Server volume.

Since this is a shared storage solution, all workstations can access the same high-res media files resident on Server volume (as well as the mounted partitions). Files located in a Final Cut Server search can be dragged-and-dropped into any open FCP project and used in that edit. When the project is uploaded or checked-in, Final Cut Server will know which files are already within its managed system and won’t duplicate those media files.

Although such a system isn’t for every facility, it does provide a level of automated media control that can turn basic FCP editing stations into a broader, enterprise-level system. The beauty of a solution like this is that Final Cut Server aggregates all project media into a single location, complete with asset management and search capability. This combines many of the benefits of an Xsan system, Avid Unity and Avid Interplay. Robust storage and a database at a price point lower than ever before.

© 2011 Oliver Peters