Digital Asset Symposium 2014

Various Industries Face Similar Challenges

By Debra Kaufman

The tsunami of digital assets facing the media and entertainment industry has sparked intense debate about the best ways to handle digitization, metadata, physical infrastructure, access and preservation of movies, TV shows and other digital content.

Tom Regal“The Digital Asset Symposium (DAS) was born out of the frustration I had going to digital asset management shows and only hearing manufacturers talks about products they were coming up with that weren’t real world,” says DAS program chair Tom Regal, who is also a director of the AMIA (Association of Moving Image Archivists) board, and general manager for Iron Mountain’s entertainment services. “The idea was to create a symposium that showcased real world case studies.”

DAS started off focused with the media and entertainment industry, but it became clear early on that other industries were grappling with the same issues related to digital assets. At DAS 2014, held at Linwood Dunn Theatre at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences in Hollywood, on May 15 and 16, law enforcement, religious and cultural archives and copyright attorneys were among those presenting challenges and solutions to digital asset collections.

Keynote speaker Linda Tadic, Executive Director of the Audiovisual Archive Network, talked about some of the more recent issues in the life of an asset. “Choosing the format impacts everything you do afterwards,” she said. “Whether you’re shooting ARRi or RED or XD-CAM, these are all proprietary formats. People realize they won’t be able to play them in 100 years. Should we create a flattened file Linda Tadicplus the camera original? That also impacts metadata and storage.”

The advent of 4K, 8K, variable frame rates and other technologies also impacts metadata and storage, she pointed out. With regard to metadata, she opined that “it is more critical to capture all technical attributes,” pointing out that the ability to preserve technical metadata of RAW files is in review at SMPTE.” Storage is realistically limited today to digital tape, spinning discs or some combination of the two. “The cloud also uses digital tape or spinning discs,” she noted, identifying intellectual property rights, copyright and the public’s demand for ubiquitous access as other current trends.

More than one speaker pointed out that the belief that “digital storage is getting cheaper” is a serious misrepresentation of the real state of affairs. “Infrastructure and staff is not cheap,” said Tadic. “What about server farms that require AC and electricity? Will digital preservation become political? How can we mitigate the impact on the environment?”

Debra & Tyler LeshneyLater on in the symposium, Tyler Leshney, LAC Group executive vice president of corporate strategy and development, showed statistics that the number of digital assets is increasing at a rate that far surpasses the decreased price in storage. According to several speakers, by 2020, there will be 40 zettabytes of digital assets out there. (For reference, a zettabyte is 1 billion terabytes.)

Two member of law enforcement spoke at DAS 2014: Laura Futrell, forensic consultant and DNA analyst for the Santa Clara Police Department, and Jim Hoerricks, senior forensic video analyst for the Los Angeles Police Department. Law enforcement agencies have been inundated with video, images, audio records, documents and other data that needs to be authenticated and managed within strict legal policies.

Futrell noted the “CSI Effect,” by which juries want, DA’s demand and Laura C Futrelleveryone else expects to see the forensic data shown on the TV show. “Digital evidence has become very important,” she said. “Original evidence such as fingerprints and shoe prints are now joined by photos, smart phones, video, audio and other digital media.” A digital database that began at 891 MB of data in August 2006 has grown to 1.2 TB of data, with a 40 percent annual increase. “How we store all this in a secure manner, and how we disseminate information in a cost effective, timely manner is our challenge,” she said.

Located in Silicon Valley, the Santa Clara Police Department has teamed with a start-up company, and has ten licenses of Digital Evidence Management Software that manages and keeps track of access. But old computers, poor IT support, proprietary codes – and bad guys who can out-code any police department – are just some of the challenges Futrell andEric J Schwartz other law enforcement cyber sleuths face.

Two copyright attorneys also addressed the DAS 2014 group:  Adam Grant, principal at Apert, Barr & Grant, and Eric J. Schwartz, partner at Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp. Grant focused his discussion on information gathering and privacy case law, and law currently in litigation or pending that impacts digital assets. “Do you understand your digital liability?” asked Grant, who discussed the hacking of the Sponge Bob mobile app, a recent case with Sony Gaming Networks and the fact that cyber liability insurance is a potentialAdam Grant panacea for concerned parties.

Schwartz, who is also the founding director of the National Film Preservation Foundation, talked about recent copyright developments with such high-profile cases as Aereo. But he noted the limitations of these cases. “The findings in each case may only be relevant for that case, and not applicable to moving images,” he said. Schwartz focused on recent U.S. copyright law impacting mass digitization, fair use and other preservation and access issues.

Rabbi Elkanah Shmotkin, executive director of Jewish Educational Media, with his colleagues Dekel Hamatian and Schlomo Morosow, described how they built an archive-centric digital asset management system, starting with a box of U-matic ¾-inch tapes in a basement. The archive is now staffed by 25 full-time people, has produced a weekly video program for 12 years as well as films and other AV products, all from the archives, which contains a range of formats and codecs.

Rabbi SmotkinTo build the archive, the team visited archivists at ESPN, CNN, Major League Baseball and many other venues to learn about the pitfalls. “We knew from the beginning we’d have to think about access,” said Shmotkin, who reported that MLB’s Diamond metadata engine was “the best system we saw.” “We have a finite amount of material but our metadata needs are much deeper.”

No commercial system met their metadata needs so Hamatian, an archivist from Israel, built the system from scratch. Already backed up on LTO, the spinning hard drive-based system cost $16,000 initially and is used with Avid Unity. (They recently completed a restoration and storage of 10,000 hours of video at a cost of $10 million, over a seven-year period.)  Metadata was designed in a hierarchical system, in layers, based on time not content of assets.

“As democratization of the archives has continued, the archivist’s job has changed from guardian to facilitator,” said Schmotkin. “Now it can be used from everyone’s laptop. We’re working on a system that can create subtitles and deliver rough cuts to directors from the archive without a nonlinear editing system, as well as a new user interface.”

Media and entertainment companies also presented at DAS 2014. Bandito Brothers’ Jacob Rosenberg and FotoKem’s Tom Vice described the data-centric storytelling system they’ve created and evolved since the 2005 Dust to Glory and through Act of Valor and the current Need for Speed. “Data-centric storytelling is a fearless belief that the tools can solve the problems,” said Rosenberg.

The crux of the workflow, revealed the duo, is to compress the movie’s many formats to wavelet compression CineForm. “We had noBandito Bros storage for Cineon or DPX,” said Rosenberg. “We had one desktop computer with all the footage compressed, and we found 1920×1080 resolution was very forgiving. If we got the movie on the desktop where we wanted it, it could look great on the big screen.”

Early post production took place at Laser Pacific, but when Vice moved to FotoKem, the Bandito Brothers projects moved with him.  Act of Valor was a particularly “creatively affirming experience,” said Rosenberg. “We put Panavision glass on numerous small DSLR cameras,” he said. “We were at a cliff with data management, and understood what could lead to its entire destruction, which was terrifying.” They created multiple drives of everything recorded, and created a range of naming conventions, but Rosenberg admits it “was the Dark Ages” with regard to media management. “Two or three people knew exactly where everything was,” he said.

Vice reported how FotoKem’s nextLAB was used to support the production in remote locations, and hired a software engineer to sync picture and sound and archive to LTO. “At the heart of nextLAB is a database that let’s you track everything,” Vice said. “Clips were auto-named and very precise.” A single day of shooting resulted in 1.3 TB.

The elephant in the room, said Rosenberg, is long-term storage. “The amount of data it would take for our storage would be astronomical,” he said. “We’re exploring, and at the same time, we’re getting closer to a solid state environment. But digital is a force multiplier, and long-term storage is critical. Ten years from now, we don’t know how we’ll be viewing images.”

Eyal GoldsteinMiramax vice president of IT Denise Evans and FilmTrack vice president Eyal Goldstein talked about how Miramax implemented FilmTrack’s IP Management platform. Miramax re-purchased a library of 700 titles and 700 projects-in-development from Disney in 2010. “I was lucky when I went to Miramax because it was like a start-up company with no infrastructure in place,” said Evans. Tired of worrying about hardware and IT issues, Evans looked for a cloud solution and found FilmTrack to handle 789,730 legal, advertising and publicity documents, which Disney had already scanned.

Within 30 days, a remote team of 25 legal consultants scrubbed, interpreted and ingested the documents into the FilmTrack system. “With FilmTrack, we have a bible or what we call our single source of truth,” said Evans.  Everything is backed up on LTO, but the cloud-based solution has helped maximize monetization. “With entertainment, you need to know rights, territories and titles,” she said. “The system analyzes what we have rights to, what we’ve already sold and what’s left, and we can get the answers easily.”

Clients who buy assets can also readily access information, but only see what they’ve purchased; there are 13,951 licensor/licensee contracts. “I have no complaints,” said Evans. “FilmTrack gives us a very small IT footprint, supports all aspects of the sales cycle, is available via Internet, doesn’t require local clients, is fully searchable by key terms and metadata and support our new development.”

DAS 2015 will take place in New York. Dates and program are still under development.

Debra Kaufman has covered entertainment and technology for 25 years, for publications including International Cinematographer, CineMontage, HD Video Pro, Film & Video, The Hollywood Reporter, Variety and American Cinematographer among others. She was most recently Associate Editor at Creative COW. She has organized and moderated panels at the HPA Tech Retreat, NAB, CES, NATPE, SIGGRAPH, Produced By, Editor’s Lounge and many other industry trade shows and events. She taught a course on digital visual effects at UCLA Extension for five years, and edited a series on CGI/animation for Focal Press. Her work has also appeared in Wired, The Los Angeles Times, Reuters and The New York Times.
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