In this Post:
- Learn the differences between the different types of (video) File Systems and File Management.
- Learn the benefits of (video) File Management for creatives.
- Learn why video file formats make File Management more challenging.
- Learn how (video) File Management works with (video) Asset Management.
- Learn how (video) File Management is being adopted and managed in the Cloud.
Lance Hukill, Chief Commercial Officer for Acorn Cloud, by CHESA, interviewed Tom Kehn, Senior Solutions Architect at CHESA. From local file management to on-premise LANs and SANS sharing to cloud-based systems, Lance and Tom discuss how the technology of asset management and file sharing has come a long way from the early days of video production. Let’s jump into their discussion.
Media Asset Management: Equipping Remote Editors
Lance Hukill: Let’s first define what a File System is.
Tom Kehn: We use file systems to store, access, and retrieve files. They can be local, shared, and global depending on the data and the needs of the user or users. Many independent content creators and social media influencers are thriving working in the local file system. They have their digital assets and can input directly from their cameras, layer audio, graphics, and effects. They can be edited and uploaded to social media without leaving their local system. But the moment you have a team, you must find solutions that facilitate collaboration and sharing content.
Early on, shared file management systems were implemented in production studios. The creative team was on site and connected via Fibre Channel to storage area networks (SANs) or via ethernet to network-attached storage (NAS). These On-Prem solutions relied heavily on file and folder hygiene. It was best practice to plan the folder hierarchy and naming conventions early and organize assets by the project in the folders. Some companies were better than others at maintaining a clean folder hierarchy.
The pandemic accelerated the move towards remote teams, and now it is common to have team members working from locations worldwide. The Cloud is important, and Digital Asset Management and Media Asset Management systems are essential to help users find assets and share resources. Many companies have implemented cloud-first topologies and architectures, and others are actively looking into it.
The Cloud has always been great for archiving and making backups, and the Cloud allows teams to be able to access, archive, and back up assets from anywhere in the world. More and more cloud-based systems are doing more than helping creators share and collaborate; they are managing workflows and projects.
Lance Hukill: Why is File Management so important, and what are some best practices?
Tom Kehn: File management is essential to collaboration. Creative teams need to be able to have assets readily accessible. A basic shared file system organizes assets by file names and folder structure. A well-implemented folder and file system will ensure that all team members can locate the assets.
Some teams are more organized than others. Not only does poor file and folder hygiene impact the ability to search for assets, but it also can create issues with capacity management. When team members cannot find files, there is a temptation to ingest the files again. Before you know it, terabytes of redundant footage are floating around your file system.
Media Asset Management systems (MAMs) improve the ability to search for content by adding metadata. But if your assets are disorganized, moving to a MAM won’t solve all your teams’ problems accessing their files. One of the first things we have clients do when implementing a cloud-first strategy is organize their assets. File names and paths are forms of metadata, and well-organized assets are an excellent backend infrastructure that a MAM can scrape and index.
Lance Hukill: Projects are arguably more important than assets because the project is the actual finished product and has all those assets indexed inside of it.
Tom Kehn: Yes. Project files are typically the only assets that change. Your basic MAM will give you a good window into the assets themselves, the videos, photoshop files, and audio files. It will let your editors find the assets and reuse them. But the project files are the ones that change. They get versioned. They need to be managed. But most media asset systems see projects as just another object and have no insight into the contents. They can’t provide the team with valuable information like how many assets are in the project? How many different bins are in this project? How are they organized?
While MAMs and DAMs are ubiquitous, the project aspect is relatively new in the asset management world. Project \ management systems do more than help creative teams find and retrieve assets; they enhance workflows. They include powerful and flexible review & approve features that enable workflow orchestration, where the approval of a process or edit triggers the next activity in the project.
Lance Hukill: Let’s talk about how video file formats can compound the issue of file management.
Tom Kehn: There are a myriad of video file formats right from the camera to the finished project. Raw formats have the most detail and are extremely large. Codecs encode data to compress it for storing and sharing, then decode that data to decompress it for viewing and editing.
Even in the early days, digital cameras could always record raw file formats; however, these files had to be transcoded to formats small enough to fit on the camera card. The industry was always trying to strike a balance between compression as possible, so they often used MPEG coding, which is not edit-friendly.
Some production companies will have a house codec. When someone has a mezzanine or house codec, we advise setting up a method by which everything gets transcoded. You often need special decoders to transcode assets, which can be automated through a watch folder ingest in your MAM or PAM.
Other companies will accept files in whatever format it comes in. That can cause problems, especially when there is a mismatch in frame rates and you start bringing all those assets together. It gets messy quickly because the NLE has to interpolate on the fly. Generally, we advise our clients who accept different formats to ensure that the frame rate always matches.
Lance Hukill: Before we get off the subject of file formats, why don’t you talk about low-res proxies and why they are becoming more valued in the workflows today?
Tom Kehn: In the early days, there was always the concept of shooting and editing in a low-res mezzanine format because the systems really could not handle HD.
Once COVID hit, everyone went remote, and the proxy became popular again. Creative teams were editing at home, and they didn’t want to push all those assets remotely because it was too much — the data set could be a TB in size, so the low-res proxies became popular.
Editors would work in low-res proxies and send them to be conformed with the Hi-Res. The files are frame accurate, and the resolution is quite good.
Lance Hukill: How does File Management work inside Asset Management?
Tom Kehn: There are two schools with regard to file management. Each has its pluses and minuses.
Some MAMs completely take over your file system. The only way you can get your assets is through the MAM itself, either through a web-based portal or a panel in your application. Editors can’t drag assets into their timeline and are highly dependent on the MAM. The benefit to these types of systems is that assets can’t be moved, and names can’t be changed. Managing permission and access is easy. IT teams tend to love these MAMs as assets are tightly controlled. But when there are issues, editors are down. And there are challenges if you decide to migrate to another MAM.
On the flip side, you have the MAMs that give editors more flexibility. They also have their own organizational system on the backend; however, you can still access your assets as though they were in typical file and folder structures. Through permissions, you can determine if you want to allow editors to use file and folder structures. These systems still have watchers to pick up assets as they are dropped in. They still have organizational automation. The big difference is that the file and folder structures are still exposed. I think it’s the best of both worlds. Access is defined from a permissions level. There’s a bit more work to manage permissions and access, but there are ways in which you can manage it properly without adding more headaches. A systems integrator like CHESA can help with that.
Lance Hukill: What are considerations for Cloud to help with File Management?
Tom Kehn: There are also these powerful gateway solutions that go from Camera and On-Prem to Cloud. Solutions like LucidLink, Cinedeck, and Frame.io augment the functionality of MAMs and your editing and production software, allowing creative teams to take a traditional MAM or a video asset management system and extend that out into that Production Asset Management space as well as reach into other environments.
The Holy Grail will be when you edit in the Cloud without a file system. We are not there yet, but we are at a point where we can create a cloud file system now. Cinedeck and other companies are ingesting the Cloud. Keep in mind that when you’re using a device that is the camera to the Cloud, it converts that file locally on that device and copies it to the Cloud. Then once it’s finished and wrapped, you pull it down.
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