Tech Blog

July 11, 2018

Creating a Workflow your Team will Actually Use pt.1


Creating exceptional video is not as easy as it looks. Those of us on the inside can commiserate about this endlessly. Or you can do something about it. The hard truth is that media production workflows have presented us problems for decades.

What is the foundation of a successful media workflow? What components need to be in place to smooth out the editing process? I want to give you a bit of a prescription that solves many of our workflow problems.

The only commercial you get is an introduction to what ProMAX is and what we do. We have been building workflow-efficiency products, if you will, in creative media since 1994. I like to say that we create the technology behind the storytellers. Our goal is to improve the creative aspects of your workflow without being hindered by some very monotonous issues, such as data management, rendering, transcoding, and asset management. You don’t necessarily want monotony but it comes with the ride.

So at ProMAX, we created what I call a workflow server, which grew out of a shared-storage server. The goal was to build something that really enabled a collaborative video team to become more efficient and focused on creativity. There’s your commercial for our company.

The following information is geared towards post-production supervisors or those who design and have influence over the workflow. If that’s you, you’re in the right spot.

 

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Hard Truths

When it comes to media creation, many people in our industry don’t really get some of the roadblocks you face, do they? They ask questions like:

  • Can’t you just knock one out?
  • How long can it take?
  • Do you work this late very often?

I’m looking at this through the lens of an IT person who says, “Why is this so tough? I can just build you one of those things.” They just don’t get some of our issues. Unless you’ve actually produced professional-level video, you don’t realize that getting the finished product up on the screen is time consuming, laborious, and difficult. Making images that people want to see requires all your creative juices and the latest technologies.

Media workflows have massive storage and processing requirements. This isn’t true with most other industries, except, perhaps, oil and gas or pursuits requiring intense number crunching. But videography? This media uses technology at the bleeding edge. You push workflows, especially in 4K and higher productions, which require DPX streams of up to 800 megabytes a second. Nobody else in the world needs that kind of technology. You push servers with high-end cores to render and transcode up to the max, right?

Is it true that if you’ve seen one workflow, you’ve only seen one workflow? Pick ten video editors at random. How many use the same workflow system? None of them does. That’s OK because that’s your company and you do it the way you do it. But when you think about how the industry gets to efficiency, there doesn’t seem to be a common formula. There’s no simple formula that says, “Just do it this way.”

One of the bigger problems that I’ve seen and one of the problems you’re trying to solve is this: You have all kinds of different pieces of technology from all kinds of different vendors—and none of them talk to each other! You end up taking stutter steps. This computer doesn’t talk to that one and this one won’t work well with that one. This is the base reality in the video industry.

 

Pressure Points

As the administrator of the workflow, you have to deal with obstacles like time pressure. You’ve got to get that video ad out by this hour on this day. You’re also tasked with creating a message that grabs attention, draws eyeballs. It has to be cool and great.

But you hit a barrier when production computers experience technological issues. In the middle of editing, the heart of your system dies. It’s doesn’t just freeze up. It dies. Or your stash of precious portable hard drives is nowhere to be found? Did the drives make it over to your new office when the company moved last year? You can feel the knot growing in your stomach.

In Computerworld, there’s never enough storage space. No matter what you do, you’re always pressed for space. You can’t find things that you need to find. There’s always cost pressure, and you don’t have the budget to do the things you need to do. So you take pieces and put them together. Unless you are one of the unique companies we work with—which are very few—you don’t have an unlimited budget.

This is all fact. This is what you deal with.

Here are a few questions:

  • Why isn’t your team adopting a better workflow? It’s up to a post-production supervisor to outline the workflow so a team moves in unison. Instead, team members pursue their own jobs without asking obvious questions.
  • “I found three different versions of that file. Which one should I use?” That’s like an emergency flare on a troubled sea. Without the clarity of clear guidelines, your crew becomes bewildered, confused, and lost.
  • Have you declared a workflow process and structure? Getting good workflow adoption requires capable technology and established processes for team members to follow. Simplicity leads to understanding, understanding leads to acceptance, and acceptance finally leads to adoption.

The opposite of all this is what you do normally. It’s mostly chaos. You get jobs done eventually but you may not be happy or satisfied with the results. There are too many steps, too much difficulty. Disaster is the result when there are too many points of failure in a process, too many pieces of technology that don’t talk to each other, or too much time spent on teaching how to use overly complicated systems. Want to increase workflow adoption among those on your team? Simplify your workflow.

Clutter

How do you clean up the clutter? Some creatives embrace a little chaos. They like it when disorder reigns and only they know where to find what they need. But others need structure and a clean desk. For myself, I don’t want any distractions. I’m ready to think when I have a clean desk and a clean sheet of paper.

What are the distractions around your workflow? Reduce this clutter so you can focus on the tasks at hand. Create a workflow process that has enough organization to reduce the clutter so you can get back to being creative. That’s the goal here. You should not be dealing with 27 things at once. 

Barriers

What are the common workflow pitfalls? Correcting these help you build a workflow that works. Here are a few key areas where organized workflow can make the difference between success and failure.

  • Storage and media.
    • Production slows dramatically when stacks of randomly organized portable hard drives,tapes or camera cards are spread all over the office. If you can’t find everything you need for a job, how can you do the job? Worst of all, you may lose the data. The solution is simple: Store all your drives, tapes, and cards in an orderly manner.
  • Labeling.
    • It’s essential that everyone on your team knows the house rules for correctly labeling projects, documents, and images. Chaos rules where there is no protocol for naming these files. Establishing the rules is very easy to do but you have to declare it. Somebody has to be in charge to say, “No, that’s not the way we do things here at our company. Label it this way.”
  • General orderliness.
    • What happens when creatives can’t find what they need or understand simple office procedures? They spend more time hunting and pecking rather than doing their jobs. This is a workflow disaster and it flusters everyone. Those who work for you need to know where to find the scissors, post-it notes, and more. They also need to understand the basics of running your copier, the coffee maker, and other office machines.
  • Limit access.
    • As companies grow, there comes a time when everyone shouldn’t have access to everything. A small company may open its database to all employees. But as it grows, the same company is likely to develop a more security-minded approach to access. The day comes when one department probably doesn’t need access to files in another department. New rules lower the potential for difficult, confusing, and costly situations.
  • Archival material.
    • In a shared-storage environment, an archive keeps assets safe and the workflow moving. When you archive data, you are freeing space for your current work while protecting your older assets. Create a logical and easy labeling system for archived items. Files may spend years in the archive until needed by you—or your successor.
  • A bad process.
    • There’s no protection against a bad process. You can only get away with a poorly organized system for so long before Murphy’s Law is invoked. “What can go wrong, will go wrong.” That’s a really bad day. Only preventative steps, such as those made in the points above, can help tilt the odds in your favor.

A Guide

In this section, I will outline the “Foundation of a Successful Media Workflow.” It’s got a few parts to it. The first one is getting organized. Do this by making sure you know three things:

 what your media organization structure is,

• what your project organization structure is,

• what your storage organization structure is.

Organizing leads to questions. Where can you put stuff so you can find it quickly and easily? How are you going to protect media, a critical piece of this? For protection, use a backup tape, backup to other drives or nearline storage. Whatever the backup is, it is part of your workflow process. How are you protected? Are you protected during ingest, when the project is just beginning? Or will it be at the end, when you need to store your project to protect it? How are you going to do this?

 

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To learn more about how to create a workflow your team will use check out parts 2 and 3 of the series:

 


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