Avid HD Offline Workflow for Television

November 30, 2011

Are full HD workflows possible? Iron Man’s offline workflow was at HD resolution. All their material was shot 24fps which was a great start. Twenty Four is the necessary frame rate for DNxHD 36, which is a great quality compression for working in HD due to it’s small file size and easy processing for Avid. If Iron Man had to deliver at 30fps, DNxHD 36 wouldn’t have been available in Avid. Also, Iron Man had enough drive space to keep two copies of the media, the highest quality HD, and lowest quality HD.

I’m currently working on a televison show where we’re shooting with the Sony PDW700, the EX3, the 7D and 5D (XDCAM disks and tapeless media). So I asked if we could get a shitload of drive space. I had permission to go up to a 32 Terabyte Unity, an assistant editor’s dream for a television show! I danced around and sang the no digitizing song. Could it be possible to copy the XDCAM disks and tapeless media to the Unity, AMA everything, work at full quality on five edit bays, consolidate to a hard drive and send it to online at the end!? No.

1. I was told by multiple people not to use AMA in a shared environment. Everyone said AMA is for quick and easy projects, such as one editor on a local station. So, our media would need to be transcoded before editing could take place, causing a lot of duplicate media or deletion of the original source media.

2. We are shooting a lot of footage at 23.98fps as well as 29.97fps. So either the 23.98 footage needs to be converted to 29.97 HD, also causing duplicate media or deletion of the original source media, or, the editors would need to work with mixed frame rates in their timeline, causing lots of rendering and possible other issues such as lag and crashes.

3. Avid does not work well with the H.264 codec of the 7D and 5D, so that media would need to be transcoded for sure, regardless of frame rate. I know this from first-hand experience, it is very very slow at processing the codec.

4. God forbid the editors have problems actually working at a full HD resolution, such as DNxHD 220.

While 32 Terabytes is a lot of space, after mirroring the drives it goes down to 16 Terabytes, and I cannot safely say that having so much duplicate HD media would fit on it. And I cannot in good conscience delete the original media after it’s been transcoded, especially if it was shot at a different frame rate. And I can’t risk having editors work at different frame rates in their sequence… at an HD resolution. Oh, I forgot to mention one thing.

5. If a second season came along, you’d be fucked. Sequences couldn’t be recaptured if they were edited with transcoded tapeless material that was blown out. Any media from the first season that was tapeless couldn’t come back online without re-transcoding, and I give it a 99% chance that it won’t relink after the transcode, so every shot would have to be re-cut into sequences and media re-grouped and re-labeled.

So… we’re digitizing the XDCAMs in real-time at low resolution… laying off the tapeless material to tape and digitizing that as well… and going with a simple 8 Terabyte Unity šŸ˜¦ Over the course of the show I will push and test Avid to see how much it can handle as far as using AMA in a shared environment, mixing resolutions, and working at DNxHD 220, to confirm or deny the advice I’ve been given, but mostly to understand the system’s capabilities better.

If you have workflow questions or post-production needs, I’m available to work. Check out my services and contact info here.

-Matt Rittorno

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