t's increasingly common for graphics, animation and visual effects creators to deal with countless files containing terabytes of data. When they're not steeped in the creative process - modeling 3D objects, removing wires, compositing multilayered scenes, or just making the incredible image seem credible - they're tracking the location, rights and attributes of their media assets.
Glyph's JK2002 is a high-speed storage solution for high definition applications. It comes packaged with host bus adapters and cabling.
In recent years, many digital asset management (DAM) solutions have come to market promising to simplify, even automate, the process of managing media files so they can be revised or repurposed and, more importantly, realize new revenue that increases their worth as "assets."
While many DAM solutions are geared to the broadcast television and entertainment industries, very few are focused on the needs of graphics, animation and visual effects professionals. To help find commercials, news clips or TV shows on servers, many DAM solutions fixate on sending streaming media to the desktop or over the Web so people can "browse" low-res proxies of the contents of a particular media database, rather than sharing files in a collaborative SAN-based workgroup common to high-end visual effects creation.
Or they track physical assets - like film cans or videotapes on a shelf, rather than the intellectual properties they contain. And very few are set up to track 3D models, shaders or other digital assets needed to create computer-generated imagery.
SGI's StudioCentral is the platform on which Rumble's RNI Workgroup runs.
DPX: A Ready Metadata Platform
"A streaming media or browser-based DAM solution is much too limited and inflexible for the high-end visual effects community. We need to track assets down to the smallest component - a single frame," explains Daniel S. Rosen, chief technology officer for Cinesite (www.cinesite.com) in Hollywood. "And we don't just need to know who owns the rights, we want to know virtually every attribute of that image: the resolution, height, width, color space, gamma, black levels, keycode and timecode numbers, temporal sampling, the device used to scan it, possibly the related audio track or tracks, and perhaps even the page/line in the script where the related dialogue can be found."
A subsidiary of Eastman Kodak, Cinesite is a full-service digital studio for visual effects and digital imaging for feature films, television and music videos.
"At Cinesite, our goal is to have maximum data fidelity at input - meaning to ingest and track the highest resolution version of a digitized image along with its complete metadata file created during scanning. This is the only version we need to track because we'll just bring that asset back 'online' into the workstation and use all the metadata to create every version, derivative or deliverable for output," says Rosen.
And rather than using a closed, proprietary database scheme, like some DAM solution vendors employ, Rosen says it's vital to adhere to industry standard metadata methods, like Dublin Core, MARC, the upcoming MPEG-7 and databases that are ODBC-compliant. And he adds that industry-standard file formats, like DPX (Digital Picture Exchange) and JPEG-2000 already provide the means for tracking ample metadata in their "headers." This metadata can be converted to XML - an increasingly important, industry-standard language being used for databasing and asset management - and vice-versa.
"If all of the fields in DPX headers are meticulously filled in during ingestion, it offers a beautiful dataset for describing each and every frame. Since all the frames of a particular scan are correlated, the non-temporal data in the header only needs to be filled in once because that metadata can then be applied automatically to all of the like-frames that follow. And once that's entered, it eliminates human error due to inconsistent file nomenclature," says Rosen.
In Cinesite's in-house R&D department, a team of five programmers are working on custom DAM solutions, such as a software fix for incomplete or incorrect metadata in file headers, and an enterprise database called "OBLIO" that will track and manage all of Cinesite's assets by using industry-standard metadata already embedded in the major image file formats they use.
"Cinesite will be using an off-the-shelf asset management solution in conjunction with OBLIO to provide some metadata indexing, cataloging and retrieval functions. In addition, Cinesite is working to assemble an industry committee to define a more robust and targeted set of metadata than is available in current standards - one which can be appended to and tracked in such a way that each frame of a finished work contains a metadata 'life story' which details everything done to the image from moment of capture to distribution," adds Rosen.
"Like most busy facilities, we currently spend 25 to 30 percent of every day doing mundane 'housekeeping' chores related to database management. That's how much time we lose searching for improperly labeled files or incomplete descriptors for the images we want to work with," says Rosen. "We believe that an intelligent, industry standard-based DAM solution would help us recover that lost productivity, resulting in a rapid return on investment."
Future-Proofing Your Investment
"To be future-proof, a DAM solution needs to be flexible and based upon standards," states Jon Schupp, VP of sales and business development for eMotion, Inc., (www.emotion.com) in Vienna, VA. "This is because the core platform we are building on today will likely not be the same one we'll have five years from now. And file formats we need to support today may not be the dominant formats of tomorrow. But people need assurance that the asset management system they are employing today will preserve their metadata and grow as their businesses grow," adds Schupp. "All of these considerations have been addressed in the architecture of our asset management solutions."
The company eMotion is a synthesis of two acquisitions (in 2000): Cinebase and PNI (Picture Network International, formerly an Eastman Kodak company with a still image asset management solution). Within its product line, eMotion offers its flagship, comprehensive DAM solution, MediaPartner 4.1 Enterprise, designed for content-driven businesses. New version 4.1 adds patented annotation tools for adding comments to media files; a customizable workflow and file manager; support for industry-standard IPTC header codes along with TIFF, JPEG and Adobe Photoshop image files and the metadata they contain; and many other features.
"Graphics and animation professionals have very unique workflow requirements that frankly not many off-the-shelf products address," says Chuck Hurst, VP of engineering for eMotion. "Our product supports them from the time they ingest elements into the system through the search/browse, creative collaboration, client approval, delivery of the finished product and archive processes. The system doesn't impose any particular naming convention or any asset management style. Since there are many metadata schemes in use today, our product allows custom-configuration of metadata schemes, including Dublin Core, MARC, AAF, MXF (AAF and MXF are standards for file exchange supported by a consortium of industry players including Matrox, Discreet, Avid and the BBC), and we're moving to support DPX," says Hurst. "We also preserve the metadata in various image file formats and support the use of XML for data exchange with other applications."
A Powerful Architecture is an Asset
Six years ago, SGI introduced StudioCentral, now called StudioCentral Library 3.1, which provides enterprise-class digital asset management. StudioCentral was a powerful developer's environment, with a rich, robust API that users could leverage to extend and customize the system.
Today, through a strategic alliance with Rumble Group USA, SGI's StudioCentral has become the platform on which Rumble Group has created its new Rumble RNI Workgroup, which incorporates many value-added features. "Our goal is to provide solutions that are 85 percent 'out of the box,' while still allowing the opportunity to extend and customize the code," says CEO Lee Harrison of Rumble Group USA (www.rumblegroup.com) in Dallas.
"RNI Workgroup is a scalable, intelligent file management system that supports every aspect of the DAM process," adds Harrison. "It's powerful because it leverages SGI hardware [IRIX 6.5 or later], as well as industry standard databases, such as Oracle 8i, Informix 7.31 and 9.14, Sybase 12.5 and SGI's XFS file system. Even if the software layers of RNI Workgroup were to be removed, users are assured access to their contents and metadata because the content is stored in a standard file system and the system uses off-the-shelf databases."
While StudioCentral Library 3.1 allows many search and retrieval utilities - such as automatic cataloging and thumbnail generation for common media formats; a versioning feature that tracks changes made to your assets as they evolve; native Macintosh and Windows clients; and a plug-in facility for non-supported media file typing and thumbnail generation - RNI Workgroup adds new functionality, such as a Brand Resource Management module for tracking logos, trademarks, merchandising assets and other brand-related collateral, as well as management for e-commerce distribution.
The RNI Workgroup architecture, SGI scalable server and storage products, and IRIX OS infrastructure can handle very large individual file sizes and extremely large file systems. The product also supports most major image file formats, including Softimage, Alias and DP, as well as major video and compression formats (with plans to support MPEG-7). A new product now in development, code-named RNI Workgroup/Lite, will give medium-sized facilities an affordable scaled-down version, with compatibility and upgradeability to the enterprise-class software's architecture.
First introduced in Australia with clients such as Channel 7, the US launch tapped Complete Post, a high-end facility in Hollywood, and ReelFX, a film and commercial post house in Dallas, as "testing partners" who have had influence over product design and a positive experience implementing RNI Workgroup into their operations.
Louise Ledeen, senior marketing manager for SGI (www.sgi.com) in Mountain View, CA, says, "With the dramatic increase in the amount of digitized film coming off telecine/film scanners, and the explosion of digital film mastering, restoration and visual effects work, employing a powerful, intuitive tool for managing digital assets is becoming increasingly imperative for creative professionals."
Meet the Digital Asset Manager
In December 2001, when Documentum, Inc. acquired The Bulldog Group, the result was a stronger, multi-faceted DAM product line. While Documentum was a leading DAM provider in financial, government and corporate circles - with a well-developed Enterprise Content Manager (ECM) platform - by acquiring Bulldog, it expanded its ability to handle media-rich assets, such as converting between image file formats.
Bulldog, which was poised to release Version 3.0, also benefited from the acquisition because it gained Documentum's expertise in workflow management and cross platform networking. Bulldog's media intelligent functionality is now part of two key Documentum (www.documentum.com) products: Documentum Media Services and the Digital Asset Management (DAM) Edition.
"In our Media Services product, we took 80 percent of Bulldog's capabilities - that appealed to the broadest range of users - and migrated that to our ECM platform, so it would better handle, recognize and convert between media files of different formats," says Mark Arbour, director of product management and marketing, in the Toronto office of Documentum, which is headquartered in Pleasanton, CA. However, he adds, "The DAM Edition was developed for media organizations that produce and distribute broadcast-quality digital assets and offers a complete set of tools for managing high-end media assets."
Documentum's DAM Edition includes the Universal Media Server to store, retrieve, secure and interact with media assets and the Digital Asset Manager, which enables management and tracking of time-based media, such as video and audio, and manages the complex relationships between clips and sub-clips. There are also modules for video ingestion and physical media tracking.
"Documentum Media Services gives users the ability to handle most major image file formats out of the box; but we are also going to be offering an SDK so customers can extend our media support architecture for all their needs.
Getting Organized with WebWare MAMBO
Regardless of where users are, the size of their files and repositories, or the type of media rich files they want to handle, WebWare MAMBO can track and manage all of their digital assets. Designed for a Web and Browser environment, WebWare MAMBO is a scalable, open-architectured DAM solution that can be installed in-house as a user-configured, standalone application or outsourced off-site through a Web-based subscription service that provides DAM capabilities without a huge up-front technology and maintenance investment.
Thanks to its alliance with Right Hemisphere, WebWare MAMBO users have the ability to view any 3D model in 3D.
"WebWare MAMBO offers a browser interface, but it's equally at home in a SAN workgroup or in a wide area network where people need to browse and access files from remote locations," explains Lauren Flanagan, chairman/CEO/co-founder of WebWare Corp. (www.webwarecorp.com) in Sausalito, CA. "Our mission is to create a secure repository where users can store and find assets. While the repository can contain the highest resolution version of a particular asset, the user can browse low-res proxies that represent the original assets and provide a cross reference to their location."
WebWare MAMBO users include The Scripps Network (namely Food TV, Fine Living, Do-It-Yourself Network and HGTV cable channels), Electronic Arts, a leading videogame developer, and Martha Stewart.
In May 2002, WebWare formed a strategic alliance with Auckland, New Zealand's Right Hemisphere (www.righthemisphere. com), which offers several 3D graphic production solutions that increase productivity and lower costs for 3D professionals. (Right Hemisphere's Deep Paint 3D was used to create special effects for Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, this year's Oscar winner in the visual effects category.)
As a result of this alliance, WebWare MAMBO users "will now have the ability to view any 3D model in 3D, as well as thumbnail viewing and translation of a wide variety of professional 2D, still, video and film formats within their DAM solution, improving their overall workflow," says Michael Lynch, Right Hemisphere's CEO, based in the Burbank, CA, office.
Protecting Digital Assets
When installing DAM solutions, many facilities envision that all of their departments -production, marketing, accounting, management - would now have access to the central database, rich with metadata, to search for information and assets for business, like generating bids, bills and reports.
But at Glyph Technologies, a provider of SAN-ready storage solutions, VP of marketing Larry Berger says, "We advise our clients to protect the media assets on their high volume storage in the most financially sound and reliable manner. If departments other than production have direct access to the media files, there's a chance they'll introduce a virus into that otherwise closed SAN [storage area network] environment since office PCs have regular email and Internet contact. Even keeping applications or interactive videogames on the same SAN where media files reside can potentially corrupt valuable media files."
Based in Ithaca, NY, Glyph (www.glyphtech.com) provides customizable, high-performance RAID or JBOD storage packaged with host bus adapters and cabling. Because these SAN systems are scalable up to terabytes of data, Berger says DAM solutions are critical for managing this massive data volume.
"The primary objective of DAM solutions is to protect the wealth of assets on their SAN," adds Berger. "Those files are essentially their 'digital inventory' and as such they are critical to fueling their business operations and profitability."
Also, Michael Piper, Glyph's VP of technology and business development, sums up the importance of digital asset management solutions this way: "Asset management and large volume storage go hand in hand. A DAM solution should be integrated into the storage and networking fabric, tracking digital files wherever they are, whether it's on a local device, back-up tape, videotape or central storage, such as a SAN. It should also be integrated into the workflow so content creators and managers always know the location of a file, all of its versions, who owns the rights and how it can be used, and a complete knowledge bank of how and where the content has been used."