10 Tips for Making the Most of Collaborative Editorial Workflow

Working wisdom from: Tom Burns, Dell EMC CTO of Media and Entertainment; Matt Gyves, Adobe Director of Strategic Relations; and Simon Haywood, Dell EMC Solutions Architect, Media and Entertainment

1. Combine high-performance (more expensive) and high-density (more affordable) storage in the same namespace to create a system that makes budgetary sense for your shop. “Every creative with a blank check would like to buy all the flash storage in the world, but that’s not economically viable,” Haywood says. “We’re seeing people getting really interested in the new Isilon Generation 6 ranges, combining the top-performing F800 all-flash storage and the A2000, which is the densest storage. Combining the two together into a tiered storage solution is making tremendous sense for quite a few post-production shops.”

2. Do the math. Cost-of-ownership calculations have cloud storage growing in favor vs. tape archives. “My personal view is that LTO tape definitely has a role in offsite disaster recovery,” Haywood says. “Increasingly, it’s no longer the right answer for nearline. We see the ECS product, our object storage platform, as quite compelling if you do the cost of ownership calculation versus tape. It’s tremendously scalable and geographically dispersed.”

3. Use MAM, smart folder structures, and structured keywording to make it easier to find the files you need quickly. “You can spend half your day looking for tools to do the work and you never get the job done,” Haywood says. “Look at a professional who wears a toolbelt that keeps all of their tools easily accessible. You need to keep track of your stuff. Be very efficient about the way you work. Untitled Sequence 1 and Untitled Sequence 2 are not going to mean anything to your future self.”

4. Proxy workflow is back; make the most of it. “We’re seeing our entertainment customers using a proxy workflow in Premiere to turn 4K material into lightweight files that can be shared,” says Gyves. “And if you’re doing 8K, especially, and trying to edit on lightweight laptops, it’s hard. Rather than fight that, we implemented a proxy workflow that means you can still collaborate with people even if the assets you’re shooting are very high resolution. It’s more of a processing issue than a storage issue now, and proxies is a solution that works for the majority of users.”

5. Assess your willingness to move media around. If bandwidth is not a challenge, you don’t need to put everything in the cloud to collaborate on it. “Adobe’s Team Projects hosts the production data — the metadata about the decisions you’re making,” Gyves says. “We don’t dictate where the actual media lives. In that model, you can have lots of different workflows. You could be in a traditional post environment, with everyone attached to shared storage, so the media stays put but you collaborate with the metadata. In another workflow, you might put high-res proxies in Creative Cloud, so you’re uploading and downloading media. Maybe you have cloned drives with mirrored images of the media that get sent around. Or it could be another cloud storage service like Dropbox. If you can see it and mount it, you can use it."

6. Hire the best talent, not just the talent that happens to live close by. "You used to have to hire people who could sit in editorial suites located close to one another, but now people can start working together from wherever they happen to be located," says Gyves. In fact, he cites Adobe Stock, with its abundance of stock images, video, motion graphics templates and more, as anorther interesting and efficient way to connect creatives. "That's also a form of collaboration with others, but it's more like crowd-sourcing of assets," he says. "It taps into the larger creative community to access specific material, while you’re working on your your project. It’s incredibly efficient.”

7. Have a plan for communicating and collaborating. “Collaboration often means great distances, and those great distances can introduce natural breakdowns in communication,” Gyves warns. “Instant messaging and chat tools can be useful for on-the-fly communications, but regular shared reviews help keep remote teams on the same page.”

8. Check in your work and/or save your changes often. “Interestingly, one of the things we found in very early trials of Team Projects is that checking your work in, which means sharing your changes, is akin to saving,” Gyves says. “And some of the most experienced editors I’ve worked with hit Command-S or Control-S as second nature. You need to make sure you’re constantly capturing those changes."

9. Make sure you have an accessible history so you can undo the inevitable mistakes. “Sometimes people are going to make mistakes,” Gyves says. “Giving them the option to go back and undo is important. Make sure there is a history so that you can undo the inevitable mistakes that can happen. Team Projects has a built-in history, so you can go back in time.”

10. Know what story you’re trying to tell and how you’re going to tell it. “There are fundamentals of production that don’t change, no matter how good the tools are,” Gyves says. “You have to know the story you’re trying to tell, and you have to be clear with your collaborators about how you’re trying to tell that story. The disciplines of good post-production remain the same. You’re just doing it now across distances that weren’t previously possible. We like to say that we try to give you a set of tools so that, whenever creativity strikes, we have a canvas for you to express what you want to, in whatever way you need to. And sharing those creative ideas is so much easier now through Team Projects and the Creative Cloud.”

How Collaborative Editing
Lets You Do It Your Way: A Conversation with Adobe's Matt Gyves

File-based workflow and networked storage have utterly transformed content creation. For many decades, film and television productions were wedded to physical media like 35mm film and Betacam tapes. But as we entered the 21st century, the digital floodgates opened. Movies such as Pleasantville, O Brother, Where Art Thou? and Chicken Run were among the first to be scanned to digital files, which allowed more elaborate manipulation of the digital image than traditional lab processes. In broadcast, growing adoption of Panasonic’s P2 technology meant that footage was captured and saved as digital media, rather than recorded on videotape. There were growing pains, especially as DPs and others had to give up familiar and beloved traditional formats. But the potential for reducing costs, faster turnaround times and increased creative scope during post-production made the transformation inevitable.

And there was the promise of something else, too — if all the media files for a project were kept on the same, centrally located storage system, multiple users could access those files, sharing the workload on a given project. Sure, there were obstacles in the way. But the possibility of a truly collaborative editorial workflow, where the rigidity of the post-production timeline gave way to more flexible and creative ways of working, was enticing.

For software vendors, helping post-production veterans come to terms with the enormity of the changes, and how they serve the needs of creatives, is a big part of the development process. Adobe’s Director of Strategic Relations Matt Gyves says change can come slowly as people’s mindsets catch up with technology. “We know people working in post today the same way they worked five or even 10 years ago,” he says. “It's human to cling to what you know but, for most workflows, there are more efficient approaches available to content creators today.”

Adobe recently added a powerful Team Projects feature for collaboration in Creative Cloud software.

Adobe recently added a powerful Team Projects feature for collaboration in Creative Cloud software.

“Collaborative editing takes many forms,” he says. “It can be sharing out different tasks or different disciplines. You can be sharing different sections of an episode. Or maybe I’m doing one episode in a series and you’re doing another episode. We might share the previously-ons, or we might share our assets for the title sequence. Where collaborative workflows have not worked well in the past is when they’re too rigid. We see so many users who want to do it in slightly different ways. So we want to create a framework for collaboration.”

Premiere Pro's Lumetri Color Panel leverages Team Projects to apply color decisions to a collaborative editing project immediately.

Premiere Pro's Lumetri Color Panel leverages Team Projects to apply color decisions to a collaborative editing project immediately.

In Adobe’s vision, the NLE becomes the hub of a consistent, flexible and seamless collaborative workflow where all the other tools talk to Premiere Pro. “With Team Projects, you have your project metadata hosted in Creative Cloud, and invited collaborators can work on the same project, checking in changes as they go,” Gyves explains. “Now that you’ve got powerful color tools with the Lumetri Color Panel in Premiere Pro, a colorist can apply the grade and, by sharing those changes back into Team Projects, the color decisions are applied to your edit.

"And, because Team Projects now supports a Dynamic Link workflow with After Effects, VFX and motion-graphics artists can do their work on their own workstations, wherever they're located — and when you get those changes, you will see all of that work reflected in your timeline.”

Work completed by an artist composing VFX or graphics elements on another workstation running After Effects updates to the editorial timeline via Adobe's dynamic link workflow.

Work completed by an artist composing VFX or graphics elements on another workstation running After Effects updates to the editorial timeline via Adobe's dynamic link workflow.

Collaborative editing does not mean simultaneous editing by different people on the same timeline. According to Gyves, the breakneck pace of pro editorial is way too fast for that kind of methodology to make sense.

“Imagine that I’m about to make an edit, but someone else on my team makes one just before I do and it pulls all the clips to the left 12 frames, and all of a sudden I’m in the wrong place. That's not going to work. But what does work is having different collaborators checking in their own changes, for example for sound or color or assembly edits. Team Projects has built-in version controls and conflict resolution that make it easy to keep track and even retrieve interesting ideas from different versions.”

The biggest change that comes with collaborative editorial is the move from a serial workflow, where each part of the process — edit, color, VFX, audio — must be completed before the next one can begin, to a parallel workflow where different aspects of the project are being updated at the same time. For example, some directors may be ready to explore the ways color-grading can help tell their story as soon as shooting begins.

“That has not always been easy,” says Gyves. “If you’re sitting in an editing environment and you’re looking at something that’s badly white-balanced or slightly overexposed shots, that can be distracting. And if that viewer is your investor, it can sidetrack the storytelling aspect of what you’re trying to create. So we’re trying to give you the opportunity to use color and light whenever you need to in your workflow, whether that’s before you go and shoot or at the end as a final color pass.” The same goes for new Adobe Premiere Pro features like Motion Graphics templates and the Essential Graphics panel, which bring motion-design tasks that formerly demanded the skills of a dedicated After Effects artist into the editing application.

Likewise, some creators want to finish a piece and head for the dubbing stage at the very end of the process, while others want to be developing and experimenting with their audio as they go along. Gyves says that sort of question reflects an ongoing cultural change on the part of Adobe’s users. “When I started making TV programs, it was very clear — you had a camera operator, a sound recordist, a director, a producer, an editor, a colorist, a dubbing mixer,” he recalls. “It was very segmented. That still exists, but the boundaries between the different specializations are much less pronounced, and most professionals need at least basic proficiency in a broader range of post-production tasks. Some of it is forced upon them, but mostly it's because the tools make it so much easier and people are choosing to do more of these jobs themselves.”

For the next generation of storytellers, collaborative editorial tools provide a dynamic creative environment that makes shared production workflows efficient and lays a broader foundation for creative and professional growth. Gyves cites Gareth Edwards as an example — Edwards wrote, directed, shot, and did VFX work and finishing on his feature debut, Monsters, an across-the-board immersion in process that gained him the chops he needed to sit in the director’s chair for Godzilla and Rogue One.

“Every workflow is different, but we’re seeing more and more people who want to blur those disciplines,” Gyves says. “We try to give you a set of tools so that when you're ready to work, all the tools are ready at hand. People who are coming into the industry today are people who have been born with these tools in their hands. They all learn After Effects. They all learn editing. And they all learn sound. It’s quite incredible to see a new generation who are masters of all these disciplines.”

For more on collaborative editorial workflow, be sure to read the first installment of this two-part feature: How Collaborative Editing Makes Creatives More Creative

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