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

Thursday, September 23, 2010

#0042 Back in the Hot Seat

The monsoons in Mumbai creates waterlogging in...
Image via Wikipedia
Monsoon rains sometimes flood Mumbai
wet and warm

MUMBAI, INDIA–   I  flew to Mumbai in early August, right in monsoon season, and have spent the last six weeks getting settled into my bachelor pad, Mumbai life and the new job.  Mumbai is great, see my post on my VFX Supervisor site.  Later I'll probably say a few words about working in India.  The best I can say is patience and graciousness are rewarded with good relationships and overwhelming good-will and hospitality.

Since my June post, I've been swamped with activity.  Most of June and July was spent preparing for the new job.  I spent a good deal of time reviewing and brushing up on some applications, like Maya hair, NUKE, and FCP. 

Palmdale, looking east toward the Antelope Val...
Image via Wikipedia
My high-desert valley. 
I live somewhere in the hazy green
area in mid-picture.

Many days were spent idly enjoying the summer heat in Palmdale, California -and one wet monsoon-kind of afternoon (perhaps a little bit of Mumbai weather) with horizontal rain, floods and seven lightning fires in the nearby hills.  Personal time was a priority, with many afternoons spent beating the heat in the cool and shaded waters of Big Rock Creek with friends and family before the day of  travel and long separation arrived.

In my new position as DFX and CG Supervisor at GEON Studios, I'm once again living daily the pressure of simultaneously re-organizing and strengthening a department while working with clients and artists to get shots designed, revised and delivered.  The simple joy of sharing methods and techniques, which this column does not embrace, is once again an often-felt daily occurrence.  It's a great company, and unlike my last position, where I was also the CGFX Producer and IT Manager, I'm backed up with a solid production and IT team and a really terrific crew of artists, animators and compositors.  Plus we're doing some interesting stuff.

Part of my hiatus from writing is that the Pipeline series, that is yet to be completed, hit a spot where it became a bit less interesting for me.   We're at the point of discussing how to actually design and build a production pipeline.  Oddly  enough, this is the part of the process I prefer doing, and not talking.  I find myself constantly looking at and making small adjustments and occasionally large ones in how the pipeline works.  I'm not talking about GEON, I'm talking about all my past assignments.  I just sort of see stuff that needs fixing, and I like to dive in and get it done.

While I imagine many or most of my readers may look at pipeline design and management the same way, a big point and commitment of this column is to help all of us look at, talk about, and construct more efficient and effective pipelines.

First, for a little while here I intend to digress and talk about some topics of asset management and will then get back to the pipeline stuff.  I also am anxious to talk about leadership and how the CG-VFX-DFX-Supervisor/Producer can better work with and guide their teams. 

For now, enjoy asset management 101, and please write me about your wishes, questions and interests.  Best success to you all!

Speaking of leaders -- 13 more professionals joined the CG Supervisor's Group on LinkedIn today.  We're up to 177 members from around the globe -- all connected to CG-VFX leadership.

#0041 Asset management 101 – part 1: introduction

Mumbai, India – When it comes to managing your digital media assets, an elaborate database with asset access and revision control, cross referencing, robust search capabilities, linkage to command and control approval systems, solid pipeline integration and automatic mirroring is a wonderful thing. But, no matter how great the asset management system, quite often you'll find someone needs to access and locate data without using the database system. And, despite the mythology that these systems are a panacea, asset management database systems are expensive to deploy and maintain. So much so that few if any small and medium size shops have these tools. Asset management databases are the jet set luxury item of the super-rich vfx houses.

a logo for Adobe BridgeImage via Wikipedia
Case in point, consider Adobe Bridge, a marvelous application. The basic application comes with most or all Adobe Creative Suite products. This great little application allows the user to quickly categorize digital media assets, with a focus on stills and movies. Give it a folder or hard drive to examine, and it will return all the media in those folders it recognizes with a thumbnail, and the rest with an icon. The user can then tag the images with meta-data like the names of people in the shots, location, and so forth. The user, functioning as a librarian, can set-up a classification system and categorize images and movies by any criteria – completely independent of file location on the hard drive. Media can be viewed and edit applications launched. It's a great thing, and a short investment in time can organize the library.

But there's a catch – it only works in single user mode. Only one user can load and edit the library catalog at a time. It also is, by default, tied to a user account, although I'm sure the data can be made accessible to others, one at a time. As a collaboration tool, it is very limited, unless you want to invest in the server edition, which is relatively inexpensive but less easy to sell to management than the need for a CS bundle.

Even if you do get an app like Bridge approved, the next hurdle is its limited range of formats. Despite Adobe's support of many formats in its product line, Bridge may not generate thumbnails for some of these file types. Whether it's Bridge or some other application, you may be compelled to customize the application with plug-ins and file readers, or learn to accept that it cannot display the files.

Good asset management requires a solid system, and even a small project needs good asset management. The key to good asset management doesn't begin with expensive off-the-shelf or expensive custom solutions – it begins with a well-designed file system and solid file naming conventions. 
Next: Asset management 101 – part 2 - Understanding File Classification