Finding Data

finding-dataContributed by James McKenna, Vice President, Facilis

It’s often said that 30% of time taken in the edit suite is spent searching for things.

Editors, assistants, loggers, and directors all need to find that elusive video clip they know was shot, and in the shortest amount of time possible. So, at its core, finding the right clip amongst multiple similar files is job number one.

To that end, there are many different types of asset management systems, each one built to solve specific organizational issues when dealing with large volumes of digital files:

  • MAM – Media Asset Management is targeted primarily to organize finished media assets. A broadcaster or production company would typically have a MAM system to organize the numerous revisions of programs and commercials to be aired, and also manage that content all the way through deep archive. MAM systems can even manage the eventual dissemination of finished content, and help owners monetize their assets for years to come.
  • PAM – Production Asset Management systems are built to track and organize the essential elements involved in creating the delivered product. With so much material to be managed in modern productions, these systems are becoming essential for networks and long-form production houses. PAM systems concentrate on the “here and now” – what you need today to get a show delivered.
  • PAT – Production Asset Trackers are subsets of the above systems, as tracking assets is at the core of any management layer. Both MAM and PAM also include a method for searching a central database. Smaller production facilities, contract editorial services, and corporate media departments often can’t justify the cost and complexity of the traditional PAM and MAM systems, but still want a more efficient workflow.

Why Track the Assets? Can’t I search with Window’s Explorer or Apple’s Spotlight? 

While Explorer and Spotlight may work in some cases, frequently search results are only by filename, and most metadata is not indexed or searchable. Modern file-based cameras store a multitude of data along with the shot that can be useful when searching in the future. It’s nearly impossible to search by descriptive metadata with OS level search tools. There is simply too much data that operating systems don’t know how to handle. If an intern painstakingly logs the action happening in a shot, it’s imperative to be able to search for those keywords in the comment, location, or subject tags. For collaborative workflows, it’s also important that as users continue to view and comment on files, the entire team benefits from this growing descriptive data. Once a file is found, the ability to easily access that media to see a high-resolution image is severely limited in a standard OS search, and for many file types isn’t supported at all.

Many media companies are driven into some type of asset tracking by the desire to better reuse the legacy assets they have. When a shot from last season is required for continuity in the story, editors and assistants don’t want to waste time restoring an entire project from archive and manually searching for a filename. Equally burdensome would be loading the previous season into an editing system just to locate one or two shots.

Beware of the mothballed asset management system that nobody will use

Selecting an asset management system can also mean enforcing new rules on how media is ingested and catalogued. It’s important that organizations not over-burden themselves with process, only to lose the very gains they were seeking in workflow efficiency.

When I was managing facilities in NY fifteen years ago, we were one of the first to use Avid’s Media Manager. This was the precursor to the Interplay product. We never had a show successfully deploy the solution because it radically changed the way the editors worked, with little benefit to the creative workflow. The Media Manager was meant to help administrators control and secure project data from deletion or change, and also provide visibility into the project data from a browser interface. However, this meant that searching and deleting of clips all had to be done through a separate interface, adding to the time it took editors to do their job. Also, there was a lengthy check-in process for clips and timelines that was never maintained properly after the first few days.

Likewise, some very expensive, modern asset management systems have been completely mothballed due to the added complexity they brought to an already time-sensitive, overstretched post production crew. In many cases, the change in workflow was too invasive, and administrators found themselves arguing with staff more than they were helping them. The old adage holds true – it’s easier to change technology than people.

Finding the right balance for media tracking, search, and access

As an organization works to define their asset tracking needs, it’s important to find the right balance between managing content and minimizing the impact that management can cause to users who are under a deadline to get things done. The correct balance doesn’t interfere with workflow, has minimum policies for data entry, but still provides the efficiencies of powerful search and access to the media needed.

Access and preview is just as important as search

Tracking, searching, and finding are important aspects, but what happens once the asset is found?  How can you be sure it’s the right one?

Viewing a digital media file directly is required to be sure you have the asset you’re looking for. With all the myriad file formats in use, it’s important to ensure the asset tracking you choose will support any format that might come in the door. These include camera master MXF and MTS files, MP4 and MOV files in Pro Res and DNxHD codecs. What about auditioning sound effects in wav format, or stringing thousands of DPX or Targa files together into a playable clip? Depending on the type of job, these hurdles can break a workflow.

Some asset tracking systems create low-res proxy files of original source media for users to see the image once they find a clip, but these systems either must be told to create the proxies by some type of action, such as a “check in” or other synchronization step, or will simply proxy everything, wasting time and space to re-encode files that may already be at a low bitrate and compatible format. The generation of these proxies can take hours depending on the amount and type of files. An asset tracking system built for post production workflows should be able to play original files directly from storage by default without any need to generate intermediate proxies. This instant gratification can be the difference between getting started with work immediately upon ingesting the camera media or having to wait for the proxy generation to catch up.

What about archived assets that are no longer on the attached storage? For offline assets that have been archived, whether to LTO tape or the cloud, it’s important that an asset management system be able to track the new location of the file, either by directly indexing in the new location (cloud) or by tagging the clips with the new location (tape). Being able to browse through images of the clip becomes very important when the high-res media is no longer available.

Joining Asset Tracking to the Creative Process

Once the asset has been found, viewed, and deemed to be useful, how is it brought into the editing application?

Editors and assistants want a tool that’s always open and part of the creative process rather than simply a card catalog or database. A system that requires multiple steps to bring the found media into the editing application wastes valuable time and frustrates the editors. The easiest, most intuitive way to get media into a project is to simply drag the asset(s) from the tracker interface directly into the editing application of choice for instant access.  The file will then link to the location of the asset on disk, and that project referencing the shared location is now usable on every attached workstation.

When it’s time to output files for approval or review, an asset tracking product can be useful as a way to deliver a file record to a producer in the facility, who then can play the file and comment.

Getting your feet wet

For facilities wanting to get started with tracking and managing their ever growing library of media assets, it’s important to find a lower-cost solution that doesn’t threaten workflows and will still grow as the facility’s asset management needs scale in the future.

At Facilis, we built the FastTracker application with the needs of post production shared storage workflows in mind. We designed it to be non-invasive to existing work styles while providing the efficiencies that everyone needs to find media quickly. It provides a simple approach to management, search, and access. Asset tracking with FastTracker offers the same sort of global search of other MAM/PAM systems, but without the complexity involved.

With FastTracker, the focus is to get things in and out as quickly as possible, so staff can spend more time on creative endeavors, and less time on searching, managing and syncing to an external database.


About Jim McKenna

jimheadshot12Jim is the Chief Product Evangelist for Facilis.   Prior to coming to the Facilis startup in 2004, he was Director of Engineering at Postworks NY and Product Designer for Workgroups at Avid Technology. His background is a mixture of artist, technologist and marketer focused on the process of making television and film.  Jim has extensive experience as an editor on multiple television productions, broadcast promo and long-form documentaries. As a facility chief engineer, he maintained and enhanced the revenue generating systems of post-production. As a hands-on marketing professional, he now consults with customers and provides the infrastructure that helps then grow their business.

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