One of the least considered functions at many studios is Digital Asset Management (DAM). More attention needs to be spent on this mostly under-used asset. Many files are created and then unceremoniously dumped into outer space, never to be seen again. However, it doesn't have to be that way; once created, digital assets become a goldmine that just keep giving.
The better DAM systems keep tabs on all sorts of things. They organize everything into a single interface and keep track of clips, project files, scripts (as in copy!) and even monitor available storage. Comprised of both content (or "essence" -- the actual clip) and metadata (a description of the content, which includes the title, author, creation date, description and other things, such as the standards used, like the format or bit rate), the handling of an original clip can be a formidable task. Taking an original from the server, sharing it among a few workstations (capable of altering the original in an undestructible fashion) creates a new number of assets (as many as was shared) to be tracked; the more artists with their hands on the clip, the more assets to catalog.
"The key to DAM systems is the understanding that 'media' has been disentangled from a 'medium' in the modern production environment," explains Karim Miteff, Sales Account Manager at Niche Video Products
. "This is especially significant in an age where primary acquisition storage is reused and overwritten, unlike traditional tape which was, once transferred, usually consigned to a shelf along with a shot list or some other description of its contents. Today, most audio visual material is acquired and then transferred, usually to a form which is unsuited for long-term storage or retrieval. A DAM system is designed to act and is most useful when it is deployed as a central clearing house for all acquired assets for a production. The assets are allied to projects via metadata tags with the ability to link them as deemed necessary, making them eminently searchable and often providing thumbnails and persistent audio-visual playback whether an asset is 'online' or in deep archive."
News organizations experience reuse of digital assets, as well as consumers. Although archiving assets, many in different formats with their varying metadata, is a Herculean chore, it is made easy by today's equipment and know-how. Much raw footage is shot for news stories and ends-up unused -- the final cut being shown and then forgotten. The unused footage becomes fodder for future use by the newsroom or others, for varying purposes. These are the assets that must be kept track of and stored properly. Today, modern DAM includes its handling from its raw stages to its many incarnations, and even to its finished form(s). "This is where Digital Asset Management (DAM) systems provide the crucial, often missing component in otherwise technically sophisticated organizations," says Miteff.
In the past, I have walked into edit suites and watched an editor label footage without any thinking involved. For example, I've seen a video file labeled, "crap.mov." I've even seen a "more crap.mov" on the same timeline. REALLY?
Come on, guys! This is what we do for a living and it is totally unprofessional; absolute attention to detail should be paid. Many projects that studios manage can have assets into the millions of dollars. Those assets are the lifeblood of a studio because the dollars they ultimately bring are cashed-in by production hours.
Here is what we do at our facility:
1. All files need to be labeled the Job number. Example: ABCD1234 (Revised jobs would be like this: ABCD1234R1, etc..)
2. When projects are checked into the asset management system, metadata is entered to follow that. In most cases, we don't even have time to handle entering lots of metadata. As long as that job number is there, you're in pretty good shape. However, metadata helps so much -- especially when it doesn't involve a job number. A good example is that I can go into our DAM right now and type "Altima Red." I then get results for red Nissan Altima cars! Too cool!
Many assets are in different formats, making their management even trickier. Luckily, there are many companies and technologies that exist today to handle these problems. Sharing digital assets between different media platforms is easier, thanks mainly to the multitude of software available to perform this feat. There are even ways of integral DAM offsite, but still allowing instant access and use of your content. And many companies that do this.
One such company is Crossroads and their Linear Tape File System
-like answer called Strongbox. With the ability to support up to five billion files, Strongbox calls itself "vendor-neutral" with its non-proprietary handling that uses an open SQL database to store and retrieve each file's metadata, allowing multiple copies for data protection. This online-based solution uses the power of the cloud to provide full data mobility and accessibility for all of your media assets. This is one organization that can bring the power of full DAM without the cost and expense of buying and maintaining the equipment and software.
CatDV for DAM
is another product used for DAM. According to its website, it is "the award-winning asset management tool at the heart of your workflow, managing all aspects of a complete production." It is a logging tool, a transcoding tool and a powerful database "that meets the needs of everyone from individuals to studios and large production houses."
"At Niche Video Products, we tend to lead with Squarebox's CatDV Enterprise Server
product for DAM," says Miteff. "Its unique history and longevity in the market gives it a number of impressive strengths. Since it grew from the ground-up from a field and personal media asset logging tool, many of its features promote ease of use and the ability to incorporate it into various hardware and software environments. During the years, the product has naturally added features to support its growing user base, whose libraries and workflows also continued to grow and evolve."
This is an ever-changing industry. "What remains a relative constant in many companies in these markets," states Miteff, "is the continual generation of assets, traditionally referred to as 'media,' the workflows that evolve around their creation and ultimately how these assets are stored and handled."
Managing a digital asset management system is "a little" more work in the beginning and during jobs, but the payoff is well worth it! It is EXTREMELY
important that, when managing these types of assets, that specific client footage is notated as to ownership. In some cases, footage is obviously considered "running footage." That footage is typically distributed by auto manufacturers and is mostly unrestricted. In other cases, a client pays big money for a shoot and they own the rights to that media. BE VERY
careful on how you catalog those items. Imagine the consequences of using copyrighted/owned footage for another client! You could get sued. In fact, it's possible that the client for whom you used the footage also gets sued by your original client.
"DAM systems that are dedicated to assisting media production workflows recognize that the basic demands among all these organizations is similar, yet the implementation can be extremely varied, not only in terms of the software and hardware used, but in the manner in which the DAM can be tailored to suit specific requirements," Miteff further states. "Flexibility and customization is the key to many of these products, but at some point there needs to be an adherence to the methodology employed by the particular DAM package."
Knowing what content you have, being able to preserve it and recalling it for reuse is essential in Digital Asset Management. Purchasing the hardware and software yourself is one option, while subscribing to a company that provides a cloud-based online approach is another. The name of the game is being able to do the job at the most minimal of costs. Whichever process is right for your studio depends on many factors. But most certainly, the right person with the correct knowledge, skill and expertise to determine the method and make it happen is invaluable.