It’s been a harrowing year and a half for the video production world. Producers froze development, sets became ghost towns and the post production world faced the challenge of being separated from their SANs, fiber channel networks, and fast, redundant shared storage solutions.
In many ways, this year vaulted post-production forward. It accelerated changes that were in progress but slow to gain traction. The coronavirus pandemic functioned as an accelerator to changes in post that were bound to happen.
NLEs and remote collaboration software
We’re coming at this from the perspective of independent, small teams. So this is squarely outside of the AVID ecosystem. We’ll take a look at Adobe, Resolve, Frame.io, and Hedge’s Postlab Drive for Final Cut Pro. You might be asking “Why can’t I just sync files with Google Drive?” This was the first thing our team tried, and we quickly learned that it just doesn’t work. Video files are just too large and it is painful trying to make it work. MASV provides a tool for getting big files up there if you are stuck with Google. But we wanted a better workflow.
Adobe Team Projects
Adobe’s solution for post-production collaboration is Team Projects. Adobe has also introduced a feature to help wrangle large projects called Productions. Our team uses After Effects, but not Premier.
Another solution for remote collaboration on Premier is Hedge’s Postlab Drive. We’ll dive into this a bit more in the section on Final Cut Pro below. However, it is worth noting here that Postlab’s approach to project and media management can definitely handle the demands of large projects, as long as you have a good strategy for at least one workstation equipped with speedy internet upload speeds that handles proxy creation.
I’ve always loved the fact that Resolve’s file management was built on database technology. This made Resolve early to the collaboration game. Over the years, I keep checking on their collaboration offerings, but while they seem to be killing the local collaboration game if your team has shared storage, I’ve yet to hear about remote teams with multiple editors deploying it.
While researching this article I came across a great YouTube video on Resolve collaboration.
At 18:13 the host describes a team collaboration setup with a complex diagram and says “…when you are at that level, you obviously have someone who will help you.” That sums up the Resolve remote collaboration story. You’re going to need professional assistance because it is still quite specialized to deploy as a cloud-based remote collaboration editing solution.
Final Cut Pro
Apple’s NLE offers very good media management since it gets much of its DNA from the ill-fated Final Cut Server. In the pre-pandemic days, we hooked our workstations up via fiber to a multi-volume shared storage. One volume was optimized to host FCP project files (called Libraries) and the others were optimized for media files. Editors could open a library from the share and access shared media. That library file would be locked while the editor was using it.
We wanted to see if we could replicate this kind of workflow in the cloud. We reached out to the team at Hedge who makes Postlab. Postlab had been hailed by workflow architect Patrick Southern as the best way for FCP editors to work together. So I knew that it could get our FCP Libraries into the cloud and make them available to multiple editors.
Our team learned that Postlab had a new feature on the way called Postlab Drive. This allows for media to go up to the cloud, get stored at a reasonable cost, and stream down to editors for local caching. The team at Hedge has done an amazing job. Postlab has provided a solution to our FCP that is actually more efficient than our local SAN.
Postlab isn’t designed to stream 8K original media down to editors. But you can create proxies at a location that has sufficient upload speeds, and put those on Postlab drive. We did a feature-length documentary and dozens of smaller projects. Postlab drive even works with Premier. So it gets my vote as the best remote collaboration tool.
We’ve used Frame.io for review and approval for a long time. In the remote world, we use Frame.io at every step of the way. One surprising benefit is that it has actually improved my ability to supervise the post-production workflow. It used to be that if an editor and director worked together in a room for the day, that you really didn’t have much of a window into the back and forth. Now, an editor posts a cut, the director annotates changes, and the producer can actually have a better view of the process. Of course, there are still phone calls and Zoom chats. But Frame.io gives better visibility to a project’s life in post than before.
Frame.io Camera to Cloud
Frame.io recently launched their Camera to Cloud platform which leverages the Teradek Cube 655 encoder to create timecode and filename matched proxies, while uploading them right to the cloud. That’s pretty cool and it is definitely the future. Personally, I have some concerns about whether or not it will actually complicate setups on set, but I’m also looking forward to a day where that functionality is built right into cameras. So I’m anxious to try it out.
Jellyfish Remote Access
As the pandemic began rapidly sending entire workforces home across the globe, the Jellyfish team had to find a way for their community of editors and post production professionals to stay connected and able to continue working remotely off their servers. The team reprioritized software schedules and developed their Jellyfish Remote Access solution to launch within a month of their users adjusting to a work-from-home lifestyle. Now that people are slowly starting to come back into the office, the focus is more on providing a seamless experience for teams hoping to have a hybrid collaboration with some team members editing at the office and some at home.
At the end of 2020, the Jellyfish team also released a couple of software tools to help with media management and transcoding, Kyno for Jellyfish and Jellyfish Media Engine, to specifically help with these hybrid workflows.
Although these have been trying times for so many in our industry, it is also a time of great innovation. I’m looking forward to seeing remote collaboration tools continue to improve.