By Karen Moltenbrey
Whether you are a small-, medium- or large-size facility, storage is at the heart of your workflow. Consider, for instance, the one-person shop Fin Film Company, which films and edits footage for branding and events, often on water. Then there’s Uppercut, a boutique creative/post studio where collaborative workflow is the key to pushing boundaries on commercials and other similar projects.
Let’s take a look at Uppercut’s workflow first…
Uppercut is a creative editorial boutique shop founded by Micah Scarpelli in 2015 and offering a range of post services. Based in New York and soon Atlanta, the studio employs five editors with their own suites along with an in-house Flame artist who has his own suite.
In contrast to Uppercut’s size, its storage needs are quite large, with five editors working on as many as five projects at a time. Although most of it is commercial work, some of those projects can get heavy in terms of the generated media, which is stored on-site.
So, for its storage needs, the studio employs an EditShare RAID system. “Sometimes we have multiple editors working on one large campaign, and then usually an assistant is working with an editor, so we want to make sure they have access to all the media at the same time,” says Taylor Schafer, an assistant editor at Uppercut.
Additionally, Uppercut uses a Supermicro nearline server to store some of its VFX data, as the Flame artist cannot access the EditShare system on his CentOS operating system. Furthermore, the studio uses LTO-6 archive media in a number of ways. “We use EditShare’s Ark to LTO our partitions once the editors are done with them for their projects. It’s wonderfully integrated with the whole EditShare system. Ark is easy to navigate, and it’s easy to swap LTO tapes in and out, and everything is in one location,” says Schafer.
The studio employs the EditShare Ark to archive its editors’ working files, such as Premiere and Avid projects, graphics, transcodes and so forth. Uppercut also uses BRU (Backup Restore Utility) from Tolis Group to archive larger files that only live on LaCie hard drives and not on EditShare, such as a raw grade. “Then we’re LTO’ing the project and the whole partition with all the working files at the end through Ark,” Schafer explains.
The importance of having a system like this was punctuated over the summer when Uppercut underwent a renovation and had to move into temporary office space at Light Iron, New York — without the EditShare system. As a result, the team had to work off of hard drives and Light Iron’s Avid Nexis for some limited projects. “However, due to storage limits, we mainly worked off of the hard drives, and I realized how important a file storage system that has the ability to share data in real time truly is,” Schafer recalls. “It was a pain having to copy everything onto a hard drive, hand it back to the editor to make new changes, copy it again and make sure all the files were up to date, as opposed to using a storage system like ours, where everything is instantly up to date. You don’t have to worry whether something copied over correctly or not.”
She continues: “Even with Nexis, we were limited in our ability to restore old projects, which lived on EditShare.”
When a new project comes in at Uppercut, the first thing Schafer and her colleagues do is create a partition on EditShare and copy over the working template, whether it’s for Avid or Premiere, on that partition. Then they get their various working files and start the project, copying over the transcodes they receive. As the project progresses, the artists will get graphics and update the partition size as needed. “It’s so easy to change on our end,” notes Schafer. And once the project is completed, she or another assistant will make sure all the files they would possibly need, dating back to day one of the project, are on the EditShare, and that the client files are on the various hard drives and FTP links.
“We’ll LTO the partition on EditShare through Ark onto an LTO-6 tape, and once that is complete, then generally we will take the projects or partition off the EditShare,” Schafer continues. The studio has approximately 26TB of RAID storage but, due to the large size of the projects, cannot retain everything on the EditShare long term. Nevertheless, the studio has a nearline server that hosts its masters and generics, as well as any other file the team might need to send to a client. “We don’t always need to restore. Generally the only time we try to restore is when we need to go back to the actual working files, like the Premiere or Avid project,” she adds.
Uppercut avoids keeping data locally on workstations due to the collaborative workflow.
According to Schafer, the storage setup is easy to use. Recently, Schafer finished a Reebok project she and two editors had been working on. The project initially started in Avid Media Composer, which was preferred by one of the editors. The other editor prefers Premiere but is well-versed on the Avid. After they received the transcodes and all the materials, the two editors started working in tandem using the EditShare. “It was great to use Avid on top of it, having Avid bins to open separately and not having to close out of the project and sharing through a media browser or closing out of entire projects, like you have to do with a Premiere project,” she says. “Avid is nice to work with in situations where we have multiple editors because we can all have the project open at once, as opposed to Premiere projects.”
Later, after the project was finished, the editor who prefers Premiere did a director’s cut in that software. As a result, Schafer had to re-transcode the footage, “which was more complicated because it was shot on 16mm, so it was also digitized and on one large video reel instead of many video files — on top of everything else we were doing,” she notes. She re-transcoded for Premiere and created a Premiere project from scratch, then added more storage on EditShare to make sure the files were all in place and that everything was up to date and working properly. “When we were done, the client had everything; the director had his director’s cut and everything was backed up to our nearline for easy access. Then it was LTO’d through Ark on LTO-6 tapes and taken off EditShare, as well as LTO’d on BRU for the raw and the grade. It is now done, inactive and archived.”
Without question, says Schafer, storage is important in the work she and her colleagues do. “It’s not so much about the storage itself, but the speed of the storage, how easily I’m able to access it, how collaborative it allows me to be with the other people I’m working with. Storage is great when it’s accessible and easy for pretty much anyone to use. It’s not so good when it’s slow or hard to navigate and possibly has tech issues and failures,” Schafer says. “So, when I’m looking for storage, I’m looking for something that is secure, fast and reliable, and most of all, easy to understand, no matter the person’s level of technical expertise.”
Fin Film Company
People can count themselves fortunate when they can mix business with pleasure and integrate their beloved hobby with their work. Such is the case for solo producer/director/editor Chris Aguilar of Fin Film Company in Southern California, which he founded a decade ago. As Aguilar says, he does it all, as does Fin Film, which produces everything from conferences to music videos and commercial/branded content. But his real passion involves outdoor adventure paddle sports, from stand-up paddleboarding to pro paddleboarding.
“That’s been pretty much my niche,” says Aguilar, who got his start doing in-house production (photography, video and so forth) for a paddleboard company. Since then, he has been able to turn his passion and adventures into full-time freelance work. “When someone wants an event video done, especially one involving paddleboard races, I get the phone call and go!”
Like many videographers and editors, Aguilar got his start filming weddings. Always into surfing himself, he would shoot surfing videos of friends “and just have fun with it,” he says of augmenting that work. Eventually, this allowed him to move into areas he is more passionate about, such as surfing events and outdoor sports. Now, Aguilar finds that a lot of his time is spent filming paddleboard events around the globe.
Today, there are many one-person studios with solo producers, directors and editors. And as Aguilar points out, their storage needs might not be on the level of feature filmmakers or even independent TV cinematographers, but that doesn’t negate their need for storage. “I have some pretty wide-ranging storage needs, and it has definitely increased over the years,” he says.
In his work, Aguilar has to avoid cumbersome and heavy equipment, such as Atomos recorders, because of their weight on board the watercraft he uses to film paddleboard events. “I’m usually on a small boat and don’t have a lot of room to haul a bunch of gear around,” he says. Rather, Aguilar uses Panasonic’s AG-CX350 as well as Panasonic’s EVA1 and GH5, and on a typical two-day shoot (the event and interviews), he will fill five to six 64GB cards.
“Because most paddleboard races are long-distance, we’re usually on the water for about five to eight hours,” says Aguilar. “Although I am not rolling cameras the whole time, the weight still adds up pretty quickly.”
As for storage, Aguilar offloads his video onto SSD drives or other kinds of external media. “I call it my ‘working drive for editing and that kind of thing,’” he says. “Once I am done with the edit and other tasks, I have all those source files somewhere.” He calls on the G-Technology G-Drive Mobile SSD 1TB for in the field and some editing and their Ev Raw portable raw drive for back ups and some editing. He also calls on Gylph’s Atom SSD for the field.
For years, that “somewhere” has been a cabinet that was filled with archived files. Indeed, that cabinet is currently holding, in Aguilar’s estimate, 30TB of data, if not more. “That’s just the archives. I have 10 or 11 years of archives sitting there. It’s pretty intense,” he adds. But, as soon as he gets an opportunity, those will be ported to the same cloud backup solution he is using for all his current work.
Yes, he still uses the source cards, but for a typical project involving an end-to-end shoot, Aguilar will use at least a 1TB drive to house all the source cards and all the subsequent work files. “Things have changed. Back in the day, I used hard drives – you should see the cabinet in my office with all these hard drives in it. Thank God for SSDs and other options out there. It’s changed our lives. I can get [some brands of] 1TB SSD for $99 or a little more right now. My workflow has me throwing all the source cards onto something like that that’s dedicated to all those cards, and that becomes my little archive,” explains Aguilar.
He usually uploads the content as fast as possible to keep the data secure. “That’s always the concern, losing it, and that’s where Backblaze comes in,” Aguilar says. Backblaze is a cloud backup solution that is easily deployed across desktops and laptops and managed centrally — a solution Aguilar recently began employing. He also uses Iconik Solutions’ digital management system, which eases the task of looking up video files or pulling archived files from Backblaze. The digital management system sits on top of Backblaze and creates little offline proxies of the larger content, allowing Aguilar to view the entire 10-year archive online in one interface.
According to Aguilar, his archived files are an important aspect of his work. Since he works so many paddleboard events, he often receives requests for clips from specific racers or races, some dating back years. Prior to using Backblaze, if someone requested footage, it was a challenge to locate it because he’d have to pull that particular hard drive and plug it into the computer, “and if I had been organized that year, I’ll know where that piece of content is because I can find it. If I wasn’t organized that year, I’d be in trouble,” he explains. “At best, though, it would be an hour and a half or more of looking around. Now I can locate and send it in 15 minutes.”
Aguilar says the Iconik digital management system allows him to pull up the content on the interface and drill down to the year of the race, click on it, download it and send it off or share it directly through his interface to the person requesting the footage.
Aguilar went live with this new Backblaze and digital management system storage workflow this year and has been fully on board with it for just the past two to three months. He is still uncovering all the available features and the power underneath the hood. “Even for a guy who’s got a technical background, I’m still finding things I didn’t know I could do,” and as such, Aguilar is still fine-tuning his workflow. “The neat thing with Iconik is that it could actually support online editing straight up, and that’s the next phase of my workflow, to accommodate that.”
Fortunately or unfortunately, at this time Aguilar is just starting to come off his busy season, so now he can step back and explore the new system. And transfer onto the new system all the material on the old source cards in that cabinet of his.
“[The new solution] is more efficient and has reduced costs since I am not buying all these drives anymore. I can reuse them now. But mostly, it has given me peace of mind that I know the data is secure,” says Aguilar. “I have been lucky in my career to be present for a lot of cool moments in the sport of paddling. It’s a small community and a very close-knit group. The peace of mind knowing that this history is preserved, well, that’s something I greatly appreciate. And I know my fellow paddlers also appreciate it.”
Karen Moltenbrey is a veteran writer, covering visual effects and post production.