Crawford employs multi-user workflow
May 9, 2012

Crawford employs multi-user workflow

ATLANTA — In its bid to improve agility in delivering finished media, Crawford Media Services has become an early adopter of a new multiuser post production workflow in which editors and graphic artists working privately or collaboratively on different platforms can share content within a single storage pool. Established with the company’s transition to a new 80,000-square-foot facility in Atlanta, the new workflow leverages versatile edit suite configurations, a file-based environment with centralized storage, and an enormous virtual KVM matrix to provide the best combination of tools, talent, media, and space required for any project.

“We needed the technological means and capacity to perform any media-related project across multiple platforms and with maximum flexibility,” says Ron Heidt, senior editor and technical director at Crawford. “Our goal was to create a highly efficient collaborative multiplatform editing environment, and we did so by integrating systems that put content at the center of the workflow and, in turn, allowed us to optimize our media production processes.”

Any room within the new Crawford building can be equipped with any type of workstation and offer any hardware or software needed for a particular project. Seven rooms have been designed specifically as edit suites in which staff might use Avid DS or Media Composer one day and Apple Final Cut Pro or Adobe After Effects another. Two additional suites are geared toward color correction, with space and furnishings designed to accommodate staff and clients, and five workstation areas within a Digital Online Creation (DOC) center allow users to call up any additional graphics or editing application as needed. Though they typically remain dedicated to sound design and mixing, the facility’s four audio rooms boast the same flexibility.

The new workflow at Crawford takes this emphasis on flexibility a step further by providing project-based access to media from any system. A mirrored 144-TB (72 TB usable) Omneon MediaGrid active storage system from Harmonic is integrated with an MXFserver from FilmPartners to support a unique workflow in which editors can work on different platforms, share content within a single storage pool, and work on projects independently or collaboratively.

Crawford has connected 20 systems directly to the MediaGrid system, which allows the company to accept client content in virtually any format. The MediaGrid supports not only Avid, Adobe and Apple NLEs, but also Adobe After Effects, Baselight color correction, and Pro Tools systems. These media applications connect directly to the single storage pool, and users work on content in-place rather than transfer media or make local copies. The Omneon storage platform provides the bandwidth to support all systems at once — most of those using multiple streams of HD content — without dropping frames.

The MXFserver system takes advantage of the MediaGrid architecture to provide a high-performance edit workgroup environment that also serves as the central storage active-management layer for media assets, users, physical resources, and processes within the workflow. Separating production management and metadata communications from the delivery of video content, the MXFserver and MediaGrid systems offer the performance of a dedicated SAN with the simplicity of NAS running on a more cost-effective Ethernet network.

“With the MXFserver, we now work in a managed environment in which media storage is orderly and its presentation is job-based, and these are particularly valuable benefits in an organization staffed by editors, graphic artists, and other creative talent,” says Heidt. “The MXFserver forces a high level of organization without requiring a lot of work on our part, and finding media and related content now is as easy as searching by job number or client name.”

The MXFserver provides independent, project-based virtual views of available content, related assets, and metadata to each editor and presents the appropriate project file structure for each supported platform. Any authorized editor or graphics artist can log in and gain immediate access to any job without searching through a large file system on shared storage. Inline content presentation as virtual AMA volumes gives Avid editors access to all file-based material without the need for preprocessing or conversion.

Because Crawford has implemented a massive KVM matrix across its new facility, any computer in any room can access both the edit application and the media needed to work on a project. If a user starts a project on a Mac with Media Composer and needs to work on it with a PC using Avid DS, he or she can easily launch the application as if it is a new local machine.

For Gannett’s “It’s All Within Reach” national brand campaign, brought to Crawford by Scout Marketing, the company worked on a 30-second commercial about how Gannett gives businesses the opportunity to engage targeted audiences on any platform. Five hours of footage were shot and ProRes 444 QuickTime files transferred to the MediaGrid system to enable an immediate edit-in-place workflow, with media available to all members of the post-production team.

As one editor did the offline in Avid Media Composer 5.5 with AMA-linked ProRes files, a graphics artist worked on the same project using After Effects and Photoshop for logos and graphics sequences, and the sound designer worked on track selection and audio sweetening in ProTools. Once the offline was complete, the colorist used Baselight to perform color correction on the final scenes — working with ProRes 4:4:4 files selected according to the Media Composer AAF file and automatically mounted on the system.

At the same time, working with raw (un-color-corrected) source material, a compositing artist used an Avid DS conform and compositing workstation for rotoscoping, tracking, and chroma keying. Because all project material is rendered to the same project file system, the color corrected file could be used to replace the original media used on the Avid DS. With cuts approved, the sound mix finalized, the final graphics sequence tied together, and the result conformed in Avid DS, the finished file was output to the “Within Reach” project workspace, where it could be uploaded to the Web or provided as a DG deliverable.

“The biggest advantage we’ve realized with our new workflow is the ability to work collaboratively and concurrently on the same material,” says Heidt. “Media is continually updated, and our editors can work without the hassle of negotiating permissions or the need to make manual, time-consuming transfers of media among systems. At one time we ‘bicycled’ drives all over our facility, and even when we did begin moving data over a network, it was a very slow process. Now, however, with the configuration we’re using — a central storage system with very fast connections — we can work together effectively in parallel and deliver a high-quality product more quickly.”

In addition to providing creative post-production services, Crawford specializes in the digitization, archiving, and management of digital media assets. The company’s private cloud storage system and secure Web-based asset management system give clients such as Gannett easy access to all of their stored media assets, whether newly shot and edited or migrated from tape for secure storage and management within the company’s targeted tier 3 data center. Crawford customizes metadata according to schema offered by each client, thereby enabling more powerful search capabilities and more effective and profitable use of stored assets.