Handling and Protecting Media

Once the industry entered the file-based era, we realized that dealing with and properly archiving audio and video files could make or break a production company. No more videotapes on the shelf to pull footage from. Unfortunately many companies, producers, clients, and editors simply solved this with a hodgepodge of small, portable drives – Firewire, USB, Thunderbolt, whatever. That’s no longer practical. A typical 10-day, 4K shoot with a handful of formats can easily generate 8-10TB of original footage. That’s if the production is structured. Make that a 2-3 weeklong documentary or reality-style production and you’ll have closer to 20-30TB. Not exactly something you want to deal with in post using a bunch of orange LaCie drives!

The road to safeguarding your files

At the day job, we were able to invest in a LumaForge Jellyfish shared storage network (NAS). It’s 480TB, which sounds like a lot, but after RAID protection the available net capacity is 316TB. And you only want to use up to 80%-90% of that for the most efficient operation. While it still sounds like a lot of storage, it is a finite amount. This means that you need to develop a strategy for archiving older projects and the associated media, but yet easily find and restore it later for revisions.

Cloud storage remains a pipe dream at these quantities. LTO data tape back-up is also impractical, because of its linear read/write nature. It is only intended for deep storage archiving. Facilities who have attempted to use LTO as a type of near-line storage – with frequent restores, updates, and subsequent re-archiving – have worn out their LTO tapes long before the rated life.

Efficient media handling starts when a project or production is first originated. In our case, every new project gets a folder on the Jellyfish and inside that folder is a standard group of subfolders for the corresponding project files, graphics, exports, and source footage. We assign all projects a job number for billing and that number is part of the top level folder name, as well as in any project file name. This default, template starting point is generated for each new production using the Post Haste application.

The location crew

On location all media is copied daily (with verification using the Hedge application) to both master and back-up drives. Depending on the size of the crew, this is the responsibility of the DIT, assistant cameraman, or the director of photography. On large productions, the cost of these drives is built into the budget and they later end up being stored on the shelf for safe keeping. On smaller jobs (or some fast turnaround jobs) temporary, fast SSDs are used, which will later be reused on other projects.

Post starts here

The next step back at the shop is to copy all of this material from the location drives onto the Jellyfish into that project’s Source Media or Dailies subfolder. Once copied, I will proceed to clean up and reorganize all media into subfolders according to this hierarchy:

DATE / CAMERA / REEL

For example: 092819/A-CAMERA_ALEXA/A001

Or outside of the US, maybe: 28SEPT19/A-CAMERA_ALEXA/A001

If a camera file is buried several folders deep – due to the camera card structure or an error made by the crew member on location – I will move those files to the top level within the REEL subfolder without any other levels in between. Camera folders, like DCIM, CLIP, etc are thus orphaned, and so, deleted from Jellyfish. Remember that I still have the original master drive from the location, which will sit on the shelf. If I ever need to get back to the file in its original container, I have that option.

I discussed relinking strategies in the previous post and that comes into play here. Files from semi-pro and non-pro cameras, like DSLRs, GoPros, iPhones, etc will have a prefix appended to the file name using the Better Rename application. The name is typically a short 8-10 character alphanumeric to indicate a job name reference, date, camera letter, and reel.

For instance, a file from the B-camera’s reel 7 for a production done for project ABC on September 28th would get the prefix “ABC0928B07_”. The camera-generated clip name would follow the underscore in that name. The point of doing this is to guarantee unique file names, especially when multiple cameras and filming days are involved. I also apply this process to sound files, even if the clip name reflects the scene and take number.

The last step is to transcode and rate-convert all non-pro media. If my base rate is 23.98fps (23.976), then files like GoPro 59.94fps media get turned into ProRes at 23.98 (slomo). In that case, I will have a subfolder with the original media and a second subfolder with the transcoded media, both with proper file names. I usually apply the “_PR2398” suffix to these transcoded files. I have found that DaVinci Resolve is the best and fastest tool for this transcoding process and large batches can be run overnight as needed.

Archiving your files

If the crew used temporary drives on location, then before these are reformatted and recycled, they are copied to inexpensive portables, like Seagate or Western Digital USB drives. These are then parked on the shelf for safe keeping. The objectives is to end up with at least two copies of the source media – the unaltered, camera original files and the new, master files on the Jellyfish.

Once editing has been completed and approved and the client files have been delivered, we move into the archiving stage. For nearly every project, we try to make sure that a ProRes master and a textless ProRes master have been generated by the editor. In addition, the mixer or the editor will generate a mixed audio file and audio stems for dialogue, SFX, and music (as separate files). Many times, you end up making future changes or versions using these files without going back to the original project file.

The entire project folder with all of the associated media is now copied to a raw, removable hard drive. These are enterprise-grade drives. All of our workstations are equipped with docking stations for such drives. To date, we are up to 200 drives, ranging in size from 2TB to 8TB. They are indexed using the simple DiskCatalogMaker application, which generates a searchable index file of all of these archive drives. (Note – I would recommend spinning up these archive drives every few months.)

Let me mention that while this can be done at the end, I will often split this archival step into two phases. I will first copy only the Dailies media right after I have organized it on Jellyfish (before any editing), leaving the other project subfolders blank. The reason is that once location production is done, there won’t be anything else added to Dailies. In addition, it gives me three copies of the camera files – the location drive (or its back-up), Jellyfish, and the archive drive. Once the project is finished, I only need to copy the rest of the material from the other subfolders.

The last step is to move the project folder from the PROJECTS master folder on Jellyfish to the BACKED UP master folder. As long as we have space on Jellyfish, the project is never deleted. Often changes are required. When that happens, the affected project folder is moved from BACKED UP to PROJECTS again. The changes are made and client files delivered. Then the archive drive for that project is updated and re-indexed to the DiskCatalogMaker catalog file. The project file is finally returned to the BACKED UP folder. As we need space on Jellyfish, the oldest projects that haven’t been touched in a long while are deleted.

Redundancy is the key

There are two additional protection steps taken. All active project files (usually Premiere Pro) are copied to the company’s DropBox by every editor at the end of each day. In the event of a catastrophic NAS failure – before the completion of that project – we can at least get to the project file in the cloud (DropBox) and the media that is stored on hard drive in order to restore the edit. (Note that if you do this with FCPX Libraries, they must first be “zipped,” because DropBox and FCPX Libraries do not play well together.)

The second item is that we have an additional folder on Jellyfish for all completed masters. When an editor generates ProRes master and/or textless files, those files are also copied to this masters folder. That give us quick access to all final versions, should the client require an extra web file or some other type of deliverable. It’s easy to simply encode new files from these ProRes masters, without needing to search out the original project folder.

These steps may sound complex and daunting if you aren’t currently doing them. I have covered some of this in past posts, but I do update my processes over time. Once you get into a routine of doing these steps, the benefits pay off immensely. Your media is better protected, it’s easier to find in the future, and relinking is a no-brainer.

©2019 Oliver Peters

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