File-Based Basics

I recently finished a TV movie that was shot on Red and Canon 5D, cut in Media Composer 5, conformed in Smoke, and timed from the original raw R3D files in Lustre. None of that is particularly unusual these days (though timing from the R3Ds is still rare in television). But there seem to be a whole lot of people who are confused about these processes. If you’re among them, then maybe the following will help you make sense of it.

First, the epiphany. You’re shooting with a file-based camera. Okay, that’s not unusual. You’ve been working with film and/or tape for years, going through all kinds of gyrations — is this really so different? But then it hits you. The camera generates files on disk. And from then on, everything is a file. Everything. All you’re going to do is create files, copy files, move files, archive files. That’s terrific, you think, that simplifies everything. But then it hits you — there are way too many file types! And no standards. The list of acronyms is bewildering: r3d, rmd, mxf, omf, mov, dpx, log, linear, log c, aaf, avb, dng, psd, wav, xml, prores, tiff. Soon you begin talking about these things — and people around you start looking at you funny.

The beauty of a file-based workflow is that you can manage most of it with off-the-shelf computer gear. But that’s a curse, too, because now you have a raft of choices to make. Do you do as much as possible in the ‘offline’ editing room? Or do you get adult supervision from a post house? Or both? There’s a massive decision tree to navigate, and every choice influences every other choice.

So let me start with a couple of caveats: First, leave time to figure this stuff out. Don’t wait till production begins. Start early and go through the various permutations, talk to everybody you can, learn as much as you can. Second, remember that nobody knows everything. This has always been true, but in the wild-west science experiment we’re all now engaged in, where things are changing daily, it’s a certainty.

So what are all these choices you’ll have to make? They break down roughly as follows:

  1. Production
    Which camera(s) are you using? Which audio recorder?
    What kinds of files are you creating?
    What frame rate, sample rate, timecode rate, raster size are you recording?
  2. Dailies
    Who’s doing them? What do you need for editing, review and conforming?
    Who syncs and how will they do it? Who backs up and when?
    How are drives being moved around; where are they stored?
  3. Editing
    What system will you use? What kind of drives/raid?
    How will you output cut material for review?
    What are you turning over to sound and music?
  4. Conforming
    Will you roll your own or have a post house do it?
    How do you handle visual effects created in your editing room?
    And those created by the vfx team?
    What kinds of files will you use for color correction?
    And for television, a crucial question — when do you convert to HD?

There are some simplifications in this list, to be sure, but it should give you a basic overview of the terrain. Yes, it can seem overwhelming. You aren’t going to come up with a perfect solution, just one that satisfies the needs of your particular production. The more questions you can answer before you roll, the happier you’ll be.

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Explore posts in the same categories: Avid, Workflow

One Comment on “File-Based Basics”


  1. […] File-Based Basics (c/o Splice Here) November 19, 2010 robgwilson Leave a comment Go to comments The ever-brilliant Splice Here blog (soon to be Splice Now) by Steve Cohen lays out the perfect list of questions that every production should answer before they shoot one frame.  If you or someone on your production team can’t answer this question before you start shooting, STOP! and get it answered.  Not knowing the answer can get you in to trouble.  Original link: File-Based Basics « Splice Here. […]


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