Managing Digital Assets in Non-Linear Editing

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There’s no question about it – the digital revolution has touched almost every aspect of audio and visual production. Nowhere have the changes been more dramatic, perhaps, than in the equipment, and practice, of non-linear editing.

For editors, these systems remove many traditional barriers. Never before could so many elements be arranged, rearranged, and viewed together during the editing process itself. And never before could a given piece be altered, revised, or repurposed so quickly and so easily.

On the other hand, the mere fact that changes can be made so easily has led many clients to increase the number and frequency of change requests. While this may be good for business (when billing for these changes) it also raises the question of how to preserve work-in-progress, draft work, and completed work in a way that minimizes unnecessary delays or effort.

Presently, many editors in this situation simply “wipe” the work in progress for the new job, saving only the “clip sheet” on a CD-R. When returning to the project, depending on the source, they have to re-digitize the material, re-load the material, and re-do their previous work. Any way you look at it, these steps take a lot of valuable time. Moreover, any time someone has to re-do their work, their motivation and interest suffers. Ideally, an improved storage method could quickly clear an editing setup so it could be used for a high-priority interruption, then allow the re-loading of the original project in exactly the way it was loaded before the interruption.

Dick Martin, president of Kollins Communications, was struggling with exactly this challenge. Kollins is a full-service creative and production company based in New Jersey. Typically, Kollins serves clients with a range of activities, including audio and video production, Internet development, displays, and collateral design and production.

“We pride ourselves on our ability to serve the full range of client needs,” says Martin, “but video is our core competency. To serve a range of needs, we have several editing setups, including Macintosh-based Final Cut, to Avid, and our most recent addition, a ‘Smoke’ system. I need to keep several projects going at any given time, so while I’m waiting for approval on one piece, I have to switch to another project quickly to keep my editors working.”

“I determined early on that there had to be a better way to store work in progress. At first, we looked at video formats, but the truth is, once the source files are loaded into a non-linear editing system, they aren’t really video any more – they’re data.”

This understanding led Martin to investigate data storage technologies. He reasoned that, since the editing content sat on a RAID array, it should be possible to copy, or back up, the files in a way similar to what a computer data processor would do. Once he started looking at data storage options, he found a wealth of alternatives to consider.

“Like video, I found that data storage had lots of format options. And the differences covered a range of capabilities, capacity, size, transfer speeds, and cost. Pretty quickly, though, I narrowed down the options to only a few that seemed to be the best fit with my need,” Martin said. “In the end, the choice was simple – AIT systems fit best.”

Typically, non-linear editing systems include RAID arrays in the 100 to 300 Gigabyte range. Depending on the project, only part of the array might be used, or the project might be larger, comprising several sections. Martin determined that AIT-2 format drives and tapes covered a range from 25 to 50 GB native capacity, which matched well with his own editing systems and project sizes.

“The key first step was the range of capacities, which had to match my equipment. My systems range from 120 to 320 GB hard disk array capacities. AIT-2, with 50 Gig native per tape, fit the need well, plus I can use smaller tapes, 25 or 35 Gig, if I want to. The next key was speed. With this kind of application, there is a lot of interactivity, so access times were important. AIT average access time of only 27 seconds was the fastest – less than half the access times of DLT. In terms of cost, I was surprised at the moderate cost of the AIT drive – around $3000.”

“On the Software side, we mostly use Mezzo on the stratosphere and FCP. Mezzo recognizes the AIT drives and keeps track of the content on a project-level basis. The software notes when we make changes to the timelines, and makes sure that the content files we are using are automatically saved to the tape.”

“When we need to start work again on a project, it’s a simple matter to restore the content files, timelines, and other associated files back to just where they were when we left off. Without that capability, I don’t think we could have made revisions of past projects to meet short-fuse customer requests.”

In the last several months, AIT-3 drives and media have become available. Each AIT-3 tape can hold up to 100 GB native capacity. An added bonus is that AIT-3 drives can read and write on AIT-1 and AIT-2 tapes. So, using an AIT-3 drive today lets you use tapes from 25 to 100GB native capacities.

According to Martin, “Now, we are mostly using AIT-2 drives to serve our needs. But I expect to upgrade to AIT-3 drives shortly.”

In recent times, the phrase ‘Digital Asset Management’ has caught on like wildfire. In part, this is because major media companies such as CNN, Disney, and others have focused their attention on it. They have recognized that their existing collections of content represent an enormous asset.

But managing smaller projects is just as important for independent and business production teams. And it’s good to know that leading-edge technology can be brought to bear on these everyday challenges without big budgets.

By Kevin Handerson, director of marketing for branded data storage media, Sony Electronics’ Business Systems and Solutions Company.

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