LIBRARY: Tutorials Reviews Interviews Editorials Features Business Authors RSS Feed

Building a Professional Machine Room

CreativeCOW presents Building a Professional Machine Room -- Adobe After Effects Techniques Tutorial


Orlando Florida USA
CreativeCOW.net. All rights reserved.


You bought a new Final Cut Pro system to go with your Avid Media Composer or your other Final Cut Pro systems. You have an After Effects system with an AJA, Blackmagic or other card in it, so you can capture video and audio on this station as well. Your neighbor in the next office has a ProTools or a Logic system, and he wants to tie into some of your machines. You're on your way to becoming exactly what you didn't want to be - a facility. Oh no!



If you'd rather call it "a suite of suites," that's fine. You still have to answer the question, what are you going to do now?

You want to take what looks like the easy way out: one deck for multiple computers. But VTRs only have one set of inputs, and one set of outputs. How do you connect every edit controller, every graphics station, and every audio workstation to a single VTR? And what if you want to send video from one edit room to another without having to go back to the VTR every single time?

The answer is one that's been proven again and again as the easiest, cheapest way to combine multiple computers with a single set of decks: a machine room.

Isn't there another way, you ask? Sure there is! You can pick up your deck, and carry it from room to room, connecting it and disconnecting it every time you want to use it. Do you know the secret to doing this for long periods of time? Free interns. Other than that, build a machine room.

Seriously, even one HDCAM or Varicam deck, or an SD DigiBeta VTR, can cost more than all of your other equipment combined. You don't want to buy two of them, much less as many as you'd need to cover every station in even a few rooms. Build a machine room.


WHAT WON'T WORK

Some people will try to tell you that all you need is central storage. It's the 21st Century way to do things. You have one capture and output station, and everyone else has their nice little editing computer, or graphics computer, connected by one skinny little fibre optic cable. What a great idea!

Well, it ain't cheap. Once you add even simple management tools to your shared storage, a two seat Apple Xsan system is going to run you about $45,000, and an Avid LanShare system will run almost as much by the time you get done.

It's also not the whole answer. If you don't run those pesky audio and video wires to each computer, the only guy who'll be able to capture and output is that one lonely edit system that's actually hooked up to the VTR.

There are some cheaper approaches for super-small set-ups that can never, ever expand. "A/B" Boxes, like the Laird One-Two Punch let two editing computers share a single VTR. But what happens when you add the next VTR? You don't.

The same for small routing switchers. You buy a nice little 8x8 routing switcher, and before you know it, you've added a DVD recorder, a client monitor, and a graphics system to go with a couple of decks. All of a sudden that little 8x8 router is useless. Can you expand it? No. Can you upgrade it? No. Put it on eBay, and hope for the best.

Build a machine room. It's expandable, and over the long haul, you'll spend less.


If you don't run those pesky audio and video wires to each computer, the only guy who'll be able to capture and output is that one lonely edit system that's actually hooked up to the VTR.
CAT 5

How reliable is a CAT 5 patch panel? You tell me. How reliable is every computer network in the world? When broadcast engineers laugh at CAT 5 patch bays, I just smile.


PATCH BAYS: THE HEART OF THE MODERN MACHINE ROOM

Discussing patch bays is an article unto itself, and maybe I'll write one of these soon. Here's the overview.

A patch bay is also sometimes called a patch panel, because that's what it is: a rack-mounted panel with cable connections.

Permanent connections from computers and decks in multiple rooms are on the back. The front has shorter cables to send signals from those permanent connections to where they're needed. It's kind of a like a simple version of those old telephone switchboards you see in the movies.

Why bother? Because a patch bay lets you buy the fewest number of decks, and use them in the most places, with the least hassle. The only way it works is to get all the cables you need, from every deck, for every kind of I/O you might need.

Let's start simple. Take the video input and output of your edit controller (the computer doing the editing), and bring it to the back of your patch bay. Do this for both your edit rooms.

Now take the input and output of your one BetaSP VTR. Bring its video input and output cables up to the same patch bay. Now, stick a patch cord in the front to connect either room in or out of your single BetaSP VTR. That wasn't so bad, was it?

Well, wait a minute. That single BetaSP machine has a composite video input, but it also has an analog component video input -- 3 more wires. It has 2 video outputs (one normal video, one monitor output with time code window), but it also has analog component video outputs. That's another 3 wires. Blackburst reference input makes 4.

So a single BetaSP machine has a minimum of TEN video wires that need to come up to your patch bays.

Firewire connections only mean a few fewer connections -- one video cable and two audio cables. Hopefully a blackburst ref and maybe RS-422. You want to share it between rooms, so you'll still need a patch bay.

What about SDI? Same deal. There's only one cable for video with embedded audio, but there are lots of times you don't want embedded audio. Maybe you'd rather use AES/ EBU audio. So it's back to multiple cables going to multiple rooms.

But once you're at the "I need SDI" level of production, chances are that you've also got decks with other connections lying around. You have analog composite video, analog component video, both SD and HD SDI, maybe analog component HD video, analog audio, AES/EBU audio, time code, and RS422 VTR control data that you have to distribute.

You get the idea: all the cables from all the I/Os from all the gear to one place. From there, you can send them where they need to be.

Once you do, though, you can share a single VTR with all your edit rooms, audio rooms, DVD and duplication stations, and graphics systems. And you only bought ONE VTR. Or at least only one VTR of each format you need to use. The savings from even one deck could easily pay for your patch bay.

Chances are, we're talking lots of patch bays. With all these wires, you quickly run out of room on a single patch bay. No matter how many you need, it's still simple.


RACKS & RACK SHELVES

Start with a rack - maybe a few racks. Racks can go from $200 - $2000 a piece. My clients (surprise!) like the $200-$300 kind, and you know what? They work just fine.

You need rack shelves, which run between $20 and $70 each. I urge you to get one shelf per VTR. When you stack VTRs, the first one to break is the one on the bottom. If they're all on one shelf, then you have to uncable all the others to get just one of them out.

You need casters, too, so you can get behind your racks later. Racks get real heavy once those tape machines are in there.

Now comes the glamour part: put your VTRs into the rack. I also allow room for a "spare" or "rental" VTR, especially for one of those expensive VTRs that you would rather be dead than go out and purchase yourself.

It's starting to look great. You have all your VTRs racked. You have your blackburst generator on a little shelf. Now, let's mess it up by adding all the cables. You've got to run cables from every VTR to these patch bays. You've got to run cables from your AJA, your Blackmagic, your Avid, your TV monitors, your audio mixer, to these patch bays.

You'll discover one thing very quickly right now - cables are expensive. More than you ever dreamed. The cost of the cables will outweigh the cost of the patch bays and racks. Really. So you have to be careful to include this cost when pricing out your machine room.

Counting cables will drive you insane. There are no shortcuts. You must have cables for every I/O that you want, for every piece of gear.

The point of a patch bay is that you'll never need to connect these cables twice - but you only have to do it once if you do it right the first time. So count 'em again.


AN EASIER WAY?

I mentioned routing switchers before, and they really are easy. Simply push a button to send audio and video signals from a VTR into your different edit rooms. But you still have to run all those wires from every room, and from every VTR into your routing switcher. Unlike the little ones I mentioned before, pro-grade routing switchers are expensive.

"That's ridiculous," you say. "I see routers in catalogs for under $3000." Ah, true, but that's only for SD analog composite video with stereo analog audio. What are you going to do about your Firewire signals, your analog and digital HD signals, your SD and HD-SDI signals, your AES audio, and RS-422 VTR control signals?

"Don't they make routers that handle all this other stuff?" you ask. Sure they do! And they cost $40K to $60K - a little more money than I think you were planning to spend.

Now, Blackmagic Design has a great router for $4999. It has 12 inputs and 24 outputs - but they're SD or HD-SDI only. So unless you only have SDI machines, or an SDIto-analog converter that will also de-embed the analog audio from the SDI digital stream, this product won't be too useful to you in a small studio environment. Don't get me wrong, it's a great product with an unbeatable price point for sending signals from digital VTRs into several digital editing rooms - but you'll often need more than SDI.

Here's what's not a gamble: everything dies. Count on it. Here's what is a gamble with routing switchers: if yours dies, your entire facility shuts down. Most professional studios run everything to patch bays, and then run those connections into a router. That way, they have the convenience of using a router, but if the router dies, they don't go out of business. They can still use the patch bays. Patch bays aren't just simple, cheap and expandable. They're also reliable.


FINISHING TOUCHES

So what else goes into the machine room? Well, the most important thing is your central blackburst generator. Something like a little Horita BSG-50 box will tie together everything in your rooms.

Some people - actually a lot of people - put their computers and disk drives in the machine room, and run KVM extenders (keyboard, mouse, video monitor extenders) from there to the edit rooms.

In fact, most computers aimed at pro users are rack-mountable for exactly this reason. Everything is quieter, and the cable runs are now short between the edit controller computers and the patch bays. Companies like Gefen make KVM extenders, but you can find others, also.

The machine room is the ideal place for gear you don't want in your edit rooms. Gear like VHS duplication machines, that old 3/4" VTR that you use once a year, a DVD-R recorder, etc.

There's more to it, of course. We didn't discuss power requirements, air conditioning, electrical distribution, and proper distribution of black signals (if those 6 outputs on the Horita aren't enough).

All of this might seem complicated and expensive. Maybe you've even decided that you'd rather not grow your business than have to deal with this stuff. Don't worry. Machine rooms are a proven way to manage your growth with minimal pain. They'll actually make it easier for you to grow, and growing your business is why you come to The COW.


Bob Zelin's MONEY-SAVING TIPS SOME PROS WILL LAUGH AT, BUT THEY WORK...

RACKS: I always use Middle Atlantic Slim 5 series racks, or Raxxess Skeleton series racks. $200-$300 each, which is about as cheap as you get for full height industry-standard racks.

When you assemble them, they're flimsy enough that you might say "This piece of junk is going to fall apart!" But screwing in some rack shelves helps, and once you start racking your gear, they're solid. I have machine rooms with 5 heavy Sony DigiBeta VTR's in one Middle Atlantic Slim 5 series rack (all sitting on Middle Atlantic SD-5A rack shelves), stable as can be.

PLUGS: Up until 2006, I was terrified of using 1/4" "musician grade" plugin patch bays. How could these be any good, compared to $1000 ADC or Switchcraft professional patch bays? But a client didn't want to spend any money, so I tried the Neutrik NYS series 1/4" patch bay for $89, it worked. I then took a bigger chance and switched to the even cheaper Behringer PX-3000 for $50 each. It worked great also.

But you need to make sure the cables don't get yanked out. It's no fun getting 50 plugs back in place because somebody trips or decides to yank a power cord. The solution is a simple metal rod called a lacing bar. Middle Atlantic and others sell them. Use plastic ties to secure the cables to the lacing bar to make sure that no one can unplug the cables by accident.

RS-422: CAT 5 Ethernet stuff is cheap, perfect for routing RS422 signals around your facility. But how do you get the CAT 5 wires hooked up to the Sony 9-pin remote connector on your VTRs? Use CAT 5 RJ45 to 9-pin adaptors that can be ordered from companies like Milestek. How reliable is a CAT 5 patch panel? You tell me. How reliable is every computer network in the world? When broadcast engineers laugh at CAT 5 patch bays, I just smile.

CABLES: No tips here. Cable costs a fortune. Even if you roll your own, a spool of Belden HD cable runs almost $300. If you find a place to buy cables cheap, let me know.



Find more great Creative COW Magazine articles by signing up for the complimentary Creative COW Magazine.



Related Articles / Tutorials:
Adobe After Effects Techniques
After Effects: Animated Guitar Strings with Plexus

After Effects: Animated Guitar Strings with Plexus
  Play Video
Using Rowbyte Plexus (the 3D particle system plugin for Adobe After Effects) and Trapcode SoundKeys in After Effects, Gardy Raymond demonstrates how to create animated guitar strings that distort in time with the music.

Tutorial, Video Tutorial
Gardner Raymond
Adobe After Effects Techniques
IK Character Animation: Walk to the Beat 2: The Walk Cycle

IK Character Animation: Walk to the Beat 2: The Walk Cycle
  Play Video
In this second tutorial on animating an IK character Andrew Devis shows us how to create and refine a walk cycle with our IK controlled character such that it walks in time with the music we had set up in the previous tutorial.

Tutorial, Video Tutorial
Andrew Devis
Adobe After Effects Techniques
Character Design and Animation in AE: Part Two

Character Design and Animation in AE: Part Two
  Play Video
In part 2, Rob Mize presents the After Effects work flow he uses to bring to life the character created in part 1. By keyframing shape paths, Rob demonstrates how we can not only animate the character's features, but her speech as well.

Tutorial, Video Tutorial
Rob Mize
Adobe After Effects Techniques
The Beauty of AE Shapes: Top 10 Features Countdown

The Beauty of AE Shapes: Top 10 Features Countdown
  Play Video
Rob Mize offers his Top 10 Countdown of the features that make AE shapes such a versatile compositing tool. Rob highlights the functionality of these features and demonstrates just how practical shapes can be in your production efforts.

Tutorial, Video Tutorial
Rob Mize
Motion Graphics
Neat Video: Removing Noise and Grain from your Footage

Neat Video: Removing Noise and Grain from your Footage
  Play Video
In this video tutorial you will learn how to use the Neat Video plug-in for multiple applications. Although demonstrated in After Effects, the work-flow is essentially the same for all these applications: After Effects, Premiere Pro, Final Cut Pro, Motion, Nuke, Fusion, Vegas Pro, etc. This powerful but simple to use plug-in can clean up noisy footage by applying a sophisticated and advanced algorithm to work out what's noise and what's details in your footage and then remove just the noise. This is done by profiling the noise properties in an area of a video frame without visible features. Once the noise has been profiled, Neat Video is guided by this profile to reduce and eliminate noise while not touching the video details. Although mostly automatic, Neat Video still leaves you with total control over the amount of filtering you apply and even offers optional sharpening (without sharpening the noise) should you wish it.

Tutorial, Video Tutorial
Andrew Devis
Motion Graphics
The Modern Guide to Nonlinear Editing and Living

The Modern Guide to Nonlinear Editing and Living

In this article from the Creative COW Magazine, Tim Wilson discusses nonlinear editing and our ability to create meaning from our experiences that changes everything.

Editorial
Tim Wilson
Motion Graphics
A Non-Linear Career

A Non-Linear Career

An FX veteran's unexpected, non-linear career path, from puppetry to painting, to ILM and beyond, offers insights into the art and business of film creativity - and a killer reel.

Feature, People / Interview
Tony Hudson
Adobe After Effects Techniques
Creating Interactive Games - Cine Bingo

Creating Interactive Games - Cine Bingo

The team at Psychic Bunny worked on whatever interested them - perfect preparation for a job that even the client couldn't describe. In this Creative COW Magazine article Rick Castañeda gives you a behind the scenes tour of how they made cine bingo and teaches a few tips on interactive game making.

Editorial, Feature
Rick CastaƱeda
Adobe After Effects Techniques
Media Management Nightmares? Game On!

Media Management Nightmares? Game On!

Here's how one team turns 14 hours of raw footage on the latest games into a 30-minute TV show every week, 40 times a season. In this Creative COW Magazine article Dustin Lau discusses some tricks for high end digital media management.

Editorial
Dustin Lau
Adobe After Effects Techniques
Improvising Visual Effects

Improvising Visual Effects

On-set circumstances changing fast? Improvise! In this Creative COW Magazine article Mark Allen discusses how he overcame the complications in a recent short film production by improvising the visual effects.

Feature, People / Interview
Mark Allen
MORE
© 2016 CreativeCOW.net All Rights Reserved
[TOP]