The Fourth Paradigm

In my working lifetime, I’ve seen three major workflow paradigms. First was pure film — we edited with workprint and mag film, we made visual effects with an optical printer, we mixed with mag dubbers, we cut negative and made an answer print. It was artsy-craftsy, there were lots of quirks, long experience taught you the tricks, and there was only one way to get the job done. Linear tape was next: editing with 3/4″ U-matic machines, dubbing your cut material until you could barely see an image, cleaning a list and onlining. Digital non-linear merged all those processes together: shoot film, telecine workprint, edit digitally, conform film, cut negative — a hybrid, with lots of alternatives, which we slowly figured out over a good 15 years. DI conforms eventually replaced negative cutting for most productions.

Now, with the advent of file-based cameras, we are seeing the fourth paradigm, where everything, from camera to cinema screen, is a file. No film, no videotape, no audiotape. All media is digital and it all lives on hard drives (or flash drives). Some of us have boldly jumped into this new world, but I’m not sure if the full import of the change has hit home yet. It means that in theory you can do everything that needs to be done with an ordinary desktop computer in a tiny office.

I just started a show that’s shooting on Red and Canon 5D. Red files are converted to Avid media via RedCine-X, synched in a Media Composer, and shipped to us on 1T drives. No digitizing, no tape, no decks. Conceptually, this is the simplest workflow ever, but in reality, the number of permutations has gone through the roof, there are no standards and everybody skins the cat differently. Planning is critical, but even with two weeks of daily phone calls and meetings to set up our workflow, there were surprises once the train began to roll.

This is the workflow of the future, of course. Tape and film may linger, but in the end, it’s all going to be ones and zeros. I hear myself talking now and have to laugh at all the acronyms: MXF, DNX, DPX, LTO, WAV, R3D, RMD. This is the new vocabulary of the editing room, and if you don’t know what those formats are, well, you will soon. And that only skims the surface, because the real question is what you do with those files, what software you need to manipulate them, what kind of drives will play them and how you’re going to look at the images. I’ll try to offer some hints about all this as we move forward, but for now, welcome to the brave new world of end-to-end digital production, where you can do anything in the privacy of your own editing room — and where every mistake is potentially yours alone.

Explore posts in the same categories: Avid, Workflow

6 Comments on “The Fourth Paradigm”

  1. Drive66 Says:

    That all sounds like the AE’s problem to me.


  2. mark raudonis Says:


    If you have that attitude, you’ll will be outta work faster than I can say, “Crusty old geezer unwilling to learn!”


  3. I remember when the promise of HD was the standardization of video formats. Hah!

    Editors and assistants have always had to be comfortable with technology — whether it was the chemical processes at the lab or optical house (white core mattes, anyone??) or how to repair an upright Moviola or flatbed editing machine. I’m not sure why anyone would think that that has changed.

  4. what version Avid are you using on this project? 5.x or lower, I was wondering if you’d take the native red footage or are having it transcoded to dnxHD?

  5. Steve Says:

    We’re on 5. And we’re transcoding to DNX36.

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