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The DAM Tour

Oct 19 2007 Posted by in multimedia | Comments Off on The DAM Tour

I’m researching archiving solutions for my company’s digital video library. We have all sorts of video media, from VHS to HD-DVD, BetaSP masters, Quicktime, Camtasia files, RealPlayer, Windows Media and everything in-between. How should we go about filing all of this media in the digital domain so we can access it, index it, search for it, find it and use it for re-purposing in other projects?

This is not my area of expertise on a grand scale, especially the databasing, but I do have to manage shared assets, and perhaps some of my processes in that regard may still be helpful on a foundational level:

Raw footage is not worth maintaining on disc beyond a project’s lifecycle. I back up my project/session files (which contain batch capture lists, EDLs, and effects settings) together with any associated graphics and audio assets. All these are consolidated into the same working folder as the project file (don’t want to track down strays later), which will be a mirror of the archived folder I drag to a big-assed server. This is all that’s required to recreate these projects later if needed from your offline media. Of course, this assumes your camera tapes are well-labeled and without timecode breaks, which is the very first step in asset management. Each project has a tracking number, each reel (tape) has a number within that, and I preset the timecode on each tape so the Hour field corresponds to the reel number. This means every single frame of video shot has a unique number that would transcend any possible mislablings.

Similarly, multimedia projects often have hundreds of assets, and it’s worth your time to develop a standard naming convention that applies company-wide. Here’s an example:


Even if this file ends up in some stray folder, I’ll always know that it belongs to the “Dare to Delight Customers” project in the sixth module’s 21st page as the third video clip (or icon, audio, etc.). Having an architecture map document for the project that lays these assets out in flowchart/blueprint form is helpful, and a designer could also use this to communicate file settings/sizes or instructions to their peers as well.

I use the most-descriptive-yet-concise language possible when I label each shot/clip before capture. I’ll include the coverage angle, character name, and first couple words of dialogue (such as MCU Julie “youre kidding), or for b-roll, something like WS ext pan city hall, flag. Within the editing project file, the organization of my footage bins (folders) varies. If it’s a large project with several short sections, each scene may have its own bin with everything relevant tossed in loose. If a project is a single scene, I’ll often create separate bins for the sound, graphics, VO, and animation assets, and possibly for each character as well. Unfortunately, it’s near impossible to get your peers to buy in to the same organizational processes, as it’s a highly-individual thing. But as long as the media is archived the same way, the project files should take care of themselves once exhumed.

The only “videos” I archive digitally are the master files. These are Quicktime movies in whatever codec they were edited in. Speaking of, if you’re Mac-based, Flip4Mac is essential in manipulating any Windows Media content. Uncompressed storage is only helpful if your source media was uncompressed also, which is personally rare (I use it for greenscreen composites, but not often the output).

On a separate server I do archive the compressed deliverables as well. Sure, these would be easy to recreate from the masters, but it’s handy when someone simply requests a replacement file or you make changes and can’t remember what your previous output settings were, to match. In my world these are mostly FLVs, WMVs, 3GPs, M2Vs, and PNGs, requiring very little space in comparison.

As far as indexing and searching, I’m of little help there. Our database is proprietary, and it’s only project-based, not clip-based. We just name the masters logically and they’re easy enough to track down later. I cannot recommend trying to write a comprehensive DAM system yourself; it’s not an effective use of time, given the existing solutions that are out there. Some of them have auto scene detection for separating shots within a file, thumbnailing, dialogue searching, lightboxing, etc. For photo/graphic management, we do use a custom Corbis solution that warehouses our own content (not just theirs) online and allows all the metadata to be searched and dispenses files according the user’s format needs. Our ad agency provides a similar FTP archive service, including a multi-rez video dispenser.

Also, and let’s not overlook this, someone has to manage it. Preferably a dedicated person – a librarian of sorts. If you have someone who runs the dub room, this might be appropriate for them. Masters are easy to organize; raw footage is the challenge. Which is unfortunately what’s also most useful when it comes to indexed metadata. Good luck getting your editor to chip in. His problem is the same as mine: too tight a deadline for extraneous tasks that have nothing to do with making his air date. Also, you’ll need an I/O box with analog inputs and the appropriate connections (such as those made by AJA) to digitize your prehistoric media like VHS or Betacam. Unless you have the manpower, or unless your business depends upon it, I personally wouldn’t bother with these old things until that specific project need resurfaces.

Well, that was a lot of wind for a topic I don’t know much about! Ultimately, if you practice good asset management on a project level, it will make your enterprise process less painful once it’s implemented. Here are some solutions to consider that are more in line with what you’re researching:

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