Even though there is currently no workgroup implementation in the Adobe Create Suites for sharing and working on projects concurrently, there is a workaround using Adobe Bridge, an included, very powerful file management package. More important, whether working in a shared environment or on a standalone system, Bridge is Adobe's key to advanced asset management.
I use Bridge every day in my own business for organizing and managing media, using skills I had acquired in my previous job as art director at a large broadcast station. I can't say their name, but their initials were WMUR, and I managed hundreds of thousands of files there -- QuickTime and AVI movies, After Effects projects, Autodesk 3D Studio Max projects, stills, audio, narrative scripts and all flavors of on-air elements -- on a daily basis.
My workflow on any given day might include: special opens for the five daily newscasts (Daybreak, Noon, Five and Six, and News at 11); motion graphics elements for our promotions department on a daily basis (delivered over the network as QuickTime .mov files, some with alpha, some with audio); or special opens and elements for the daily news magazine, Chronicle.
Motion graphics for WMUR, and their broadcast graphics workflow across multiple servers.
In addition to these quotidian projects, I handled longer-term, special projects for upcoming productions, such as complete graphics packages for presidential debates or graphics, as well as for news elements -- special segments on business, health, sports, etc. In other words, my plate was always full, which was just fine with me. I'd rather be extremely busy than looking for something to do.
In 2009, I started my own freelance business, essentially doing the same job as I had been doing at WMUR, but with a different distribution system. I haven't sent out a tape since leaving, and I rarely send out a DVD or a portable hard drive. Most of my work ends up on the web, although I still create a 1920 x 1080 master, so as to "future proof" my projects. I have done work for clients in England, the Central African Republic, and right down the road in New Hampshire.
The key to making largescale, asset-rich workflows actually work is organization. None of this "my stuff," "Judy's Projects," and other garbage folder names that so many people use. All the folders at WMUR were named after the various departments we delivered to, for example, News, Promotions, or Commercial. These departments constituted the backbone of the server directory/folder format. In each of these folders, the project files were arranged by project name -- Close_Up_Open, StormWatch_Redesign_2011, etc.
I also made sure that the file name of the actual project -- whether it was from After Effects, Premiere, or any other software package -- contained the actual name of the project. This is critical! If you have a file named Open_REV1.aep that accidentally gets moved out of its parent folder (easy to do when you're in a rush to make a newscast deadline), you have no idea what the "Open" is for. If you call the project "Conversation_with_the_Candidates_ OPEN.aep," you're golden, no matter where the file gets moved.
This required constant policing, since many of our graphics people were fresh out of school and didn't have the foggiest idea why you would want an intuitive, easy to use system for thousands of files, but it worked like a charm.
On my own projects, I also used Bridge's labeling system, and put an "Approved" label on the final .aep or .pproj file, which constituted the master for the project. When the project is done and delivered, I make sure that the project is "Collected" in After Effects, or "Managed" in Premiere. That way, even if the elements were moved from one place to another, everything needed for a particular project would be contained within the project folder.
KEYWORDS ARE KEY
Bridge's keywords are one of the most useful pieces of Adobe XMP, or Extensible Metadata Platform. The Metadata section you see in Bridge, AE, and Premier Pro, is all XMP. Once you understand it, you will want to use it.
Without getting too far under the hood with XMP, let me just say one word about Adobe's implementation of XMP: Open Source. (Okay, 2 words.) In a nutshell, content and descriptions of a file) to other workgroup members during the creation process, allowing real-time updates that will keep everyone on the same page.
Some examples of Adobe Bridge keywords.
The key is to adopt a simple but logical structure. I might, for example, have a project under my "Clients" folder for a client called "Hanover Insurance Company." I would create a keyword called Hanover Insurance Company, and tag all of my files for that company accordingly.
Next up are sub-keywords, which require a bit of thought. I will have, on any given project, a set of keywords such as this (and you'll find that they're similar to my folder structures in many ways): Master Elements, Logos, Audio, Design Elements, Textures, Stills, 3D Elements, and others. These will enable me to search and filter these pieces as needed in Bridge.
As the project progresses, there will also be some keyword labels, such as "Final," along with using some labels which are part of the Bridge system, like "Approved" or "Review." These can be very useful, as long as you are consistent with their creation and usage.
I also use Bridge's "Favorites" feature, which enables me to put the folder I'm working on where I can instantly access it. If you have a large collection of video clips, stills, or other elements, you might also want to look at Bridge's "Collection" feature, which allows you to take disparate elements from different folders and drives, and organize them into one place without actually moving those files. I use this feature to keep track of the many frequently-used art elements which are not restricted to any particular client.
MANAGE YOUR WORKFLOW
By using the "Collect Files" feature in After Effects, and the "Manage Project" feature in Premiere on our networks at WMUR, we could share an entire project seamlessly using Bridge, and I still use Bridge for this every day in my own business.
I don't know why the Collect Files and Manage Projects features have different names - probably a throwback to pre-CS days, but what I know is that they give you powerful capability to put all of the files from any given project in one set of folders and sub-folders, which can be sent anywhere on the network for workgroup usage, minus the file-sharing features of other systems.
With Premiere Pro, you have the option to either "collect" all the project files, which will take a lot of space, or "trim" the files you've actually used in the timelines, and get rid of unused files, which will pare down your project size considerably. I regularly use the "Collect files and copy to a new location." It's a great backup tool for "template" projects I may have to use again.
The After Effects "Collect Files" feature works more or less the same, without the "trim" capability, which is an NLE feature.
An owner, animator/writer/producer/editor/salesman, and housekeeper, my current workflow is more client- and project-based. I rarely have more than one project going at once, which gives me time to organize, create, manage, and back up my projects.
My folder structure is now based on a root folder called CLIENTS, and then the Client Name/Project Name/ and what phase of the project, or specific element I'm working on. As an example, I might have CLIENTS/DigiNovations/E-Ink as one of my client project folders, and within that, folders such as Logos, Audio, Master Elements, Approvals, etc. -- anything to keep it all organized and easy to find.
I still use the alpha-numeric system that I had developed at WMUR to manage my After Effects, Premiere Pro, 3D Studio Max -- and other -- projects. Working in Bridge, I can put my hands on any project, at any time, and know just which one was the latest I worked on, which was approved, and which one created the final delivery version.
To further reduce the clutter in active projects, I also manage an Archive folder just above the "Client" folder structure. When a project is finished, I collect (AE) or manage (Premiere) the projects; delete the files I no longer need once I'm sure I won't re-use or re-purpose them; and move the whole Project folder into the Archives folder -- which is also organized by Client.
I also use this system for archival purposes in addition to workflow. When I need a project back a year later, I just grab that project folder from the server, knowing full well that I would have no "missing files" messages when I opened it.
I must say that this entire process is working quite well.
A PREMIERE PRO PRO
An article on managing broadcast production workflow wouldn't make much sense without an NLE in the picture. Premiere Pro has come to be my NLE of choice, partly because of its killer integration with the Creative Suite, but mostly because it's just a really good NLE.
WMUR didn't arrive at Premiere Pro either easily or quickly. I was Art Director for 14 years, and we got to Premiere Pro by way of CMX controlled A/B roll systems using ¾ inch and 1 inch decks. From there to Discreet Logic's wonderful, but orphaned, edit* (we had four of them on the network), and then Avid NewsCutters. We finally reached the breaking point as our previous systems were slowing productivity, and went with a "test" NLE using Premiere Pro CS3 as the guinea pig. It ran circles around anything else, at least partly due to the integration with After Effects and Photoshop.
So, in the final tally, we never "settled" for Premiere Pro. Once we showed, through our "test" NLE seat, that Premiere Pro was as good as, and in many ways, superior to workflow we had experienced with edit* and NewsCutter, changes began to be made. Our parent company, which had made us (editors, producers, graphic artists) work with what they gave us, finally realized that we could do more with the Adobe tools, and do it more quickly as well.
Although I no longer work there, I am in touch with my colleagues, and all phases of production, in almost all departments, are now fully based around the Adobe Creative Suite of products.
While still working full-time as Art Director at WMUR, I organized my freelance business around the Creative Suite, and the light went on as my editing chores became more frequent, and more involved.
Once Bridge was put into the equation, the organizational systems that I had developed during my time at WMUR-TV made perfect sense when using Premiere to edit together the combinations of motion graphics, Camtasia captures, and video clips which I regularly use on any given project.
I'm glad to have had the experience on the other NLEs, but I'm equally glad where they led me: to a workflow which uses Premiere Pro as my main editing tool. I still consider myself more of an art director than an "editor" with a capital "E," but I certainly get a lot of editing done, quickly, and seamlessly, using Premiere Pro and the other tools of the Creative Suite, with Bridge as my center of organization.