Final thoughts on Final Cut Server

I'm coming to the end of a two year contract at Astley Baker Davies where I have been working on 3 animation series. Since the start of the project, I've gone through a couple of different workflows but the one I've spent the most time with (and found the most useful/cost effective) is the Final Cut Server one I'm going to write about. I'm going to split this up in to a number of smaller posts over the next few weeks as there's quite a lot to get through. Feel free to comment or ask questions/point out my mistakes and stupidity at any point!

Let me start by giving you a look at the workflow here and what I wanted to gain out of FCServer:
• Voices recorded off site and given to us as WAV files. Around 300 files per 10 minutes episode.
• Storyboard panels drawn (5 on a page), scanned and separated in to individual panels. Again, around 300/10 minute episode.
• Cut the voices together and add spot effects.
• Cut storyboard panels on to voice cut.
• Render out to view "dailies" in the studio either on workstations or on AppleTV
• Layout and Animation teams render out either Animation or Targa codec Quicktimes. Transcode these to ProRes to cut in to the sequence. Render out dailies again.
• Repeat for a few weeks making a few cuts as the animation gets done.
• Playout to HDCamSR, Digi, Quicktime and DVD.

So, now you've got the idea in a nutshell, I'll move on.

Part of the workflow that was easily automatable was the transcoding of video from the animators' output to ProRes and from my timeline to Apple TV/MP4. I started off doing this manually in Compressor - when I look back at that, its laughable. I obviously had a lot more time on my hands than I do now!

So my first requirement was for watch folders for automated transcoding of assets.
I already had a Mac Pro with Episode Pro on which had been purchased before I joined the company with this in mind. This system worked fine but I found it to be quite a lot slower than the manual Compressor setup I'd been used to as this was configured across 3x 8-Core machines with a Qmaster cluster.
The first port of call was obviously to enquire about adding more processing power to the Episode setup. However the cost of doing this was astronomical - the render engine was going to be around £5000 excluding the extra machine to run it on.

So what other options did I consider?
I tried using OSX Folder Actions to pick up files and run Compressor droplets but, in short, Folder Actions are appalling at best and kept switching themselves off. Sorenson Squeeze also deserved a look - I'd used it before and it was quick but it lacks distributed rendering.
Enter: Final Cut Server.
Watch folders with easy and cheap distributed rendering. With the added bonus of all the other DAM and project sharing, it was kind of a no-brainer...

I just came across

I just came across SampleManager for capturing and managing lots of dialogue audio:  

Looks like it's ideal for lots of little bits of VO from multiple actors. I think it was developed for the multimedia & gaming industries.

I may pick your brain sometime about Qmaster cluster setups - I still haven't got mine to work right consistently. I've got lots of good CPUs just sitting around... not encoding anything!

Great blog, thanks for sharing your thoughts. Looks like a challenging project you've been doing.

Interesting stuff...

Thanks for the comments Allan, much appreciated!

I've never heard of SampleManager - it looks pretty interesting, and not a bad price too. I don't think we'd use it here as we get our audio in the format we want straight from the audio house and we also have a full dub and foley session at the end of the edit so for the most part, the audio is about managing the large numbers of files and building/maintaining shared asset libraries of generic words/sentences we can use again.

Feel free to brain-pick about Qmaster any time. As it turns out, I'm still doing some work for the same company I was with last year so I'll try and be a bit more proactive on the blog. I'm reinstalling the SAN at the moment so I want to write that up and then get some more screen grabs and info on the workflow here. Its all quite interesting stuff :) Feel free to follow on Twitter or RSS if you want to be notified of updates...

 That's great, Taig! Pretty

 That's great, Taig! Pretty sure I got here via JR Friesen. 

I've been using MetaSAN for the last few years, and just had lots of trouble. Part of my problem is I don't have a vendor that likes it here in Portland. So, looks like we're switching to XSAN shortly - which is fine, but I really wanted the ability to tie in Gig-E clients (instead of expen$ive fiber) which MetaLAN does cheaply.

When that happens (hopefully this quarter), I'll be looking at dialing in Qmaster once and for all! 

Ethernet & XSAN

A friend of mine uses MetaSAN with his Avids - he's not too impressed either! Lots of permissions issues, blue screens and slow database rebuilds.

You can use ethernet for clients on the XSAN - depending on how you do it, you may need a bit of extra hardware outlay server-side, but we have our edit suites and servers connected to the XSAN with fibre and a couple of light-use cutting stations, office iMacs and PCs connected with GigE to Samba shares.