Friday, September 24, 2010

#0043 AM101: Part 2 - Understanding File Classification

Mumbai, India Good asset management begins with a well-designed file system and solid file naming conventions.  It doesn't begin with expensive off-the-shelf or expensive custom solutions –No matter how sophisticated your asset management tools are, eventually someone will need quick, direct access to an actual file and won't have time to search through a mountain of obscure folders and inconsistently named files to find it. Many companies don't even bother with a database application, they organize and maintain their assets using the file-system and good file naming. That's where a file-system based on solid principles and policies will come in handy. 
Before we look at basic principles and best practices for organizing files, let's take a moment and think about the kinds of files we typically find in a CGVFX system.

Understanding File Classification

When most people thing of file classification, they think of file type, usually denoted by the file name extension. This is just the beginning, and is not usually your most important concern. Files often need to be identified, managed, and sorted by:
  1. internal or external work
  2. client company and sometimes division or department
  3. project: film, show, series, campaign,
  4. Sub-project: TV episode, spot.
  5. edit location: film reel, act, scene, shot
  6. camera (real or virtual) in the shot
  7. non-shot data: multi-shot matte paintings, elements, sets, characters and props.
  8. Direction: scripts, storyboards, visual references, rough edits, production (shooting) camera logs, vfx shoot logs, client work orders, material transmittals, editorial line-up sheets, count sheets, vfx break downs, change orders, shot status and approval documents....
  9. asset longevity: temporary asset or long-term asset to be archived
  10. stock usage rights: public, royalty free, or per-use and client-licensed or studio-licensed
  11. tools and scripts libraries: shaders, brushes, dynamic fx, automation, methods and procedures .....
  12. Shared library assets of the company, client, project, series, season, or campaign,
  13. application and/or work unit files, for example:

    1. composite element type: script, precomps. bg plate, chroma plate, edit reference, visual reference, matte painting, 2D art, line art or illustrations, stock photos (or video or audio or other media), cg renders....
    2. cg element asset type: scene and referenced scenes, models, textures, rigs, dynamic models, hair models....
  14. group vs. private control : collaboration accessible or locked-up; internal ownership – right to edit, right to view, right to delete, right to move, collaborative control or non-collaborative
  15. and so forth.....
OK, so files can be classified in many ways, so you might ask, why do you care? Well, for starters, suppose you've produced a season of effects for a television network, and the production company calls and says they need verifiable releases on imagery used for every frame you produced. Can you quickly identify assets provided by the client, developed in house, purchased royalty-free or licensed for the project? Or suppose your working on a film, and editorial needs all shots in reel one delivered Friday? Suppose it's discovered that the elements delivered on the 23rd all are short count because handles were not added that day – can you sort out the plates that need replacement and the shots effected? 
Each dimension of classification is significant to someone. The question is, will your file system and naming conventions facilitate or hinder operations? Will users be able to quickly locate and access files? Will collaborators be able to share and access files and folders with ease, or will there be confusion and frustration? 
A solid CGFX file system must meet the needs of many different work units and departments. Despite similar needs for managing data, work units and teams may draw from different data sources with different characteristics and applications. Each team or unit may produce a unique product for other teams and ultimately the client. 
Anticipating and managing these needs begins with solid company policies. In turn, these policies arise from management consensus on basic file system principles.
Next:            Asset Management 101 – part 3: 10 Essential Rules of File Naming