From Camera to the Clouds: the very real story of Hedge and Postlab

Note: I want to explain how our current workflow for editing remotely. I am always testing new tools and methods, so workflows change all the time. This is a snapshot in time of what we are trying now. So far it works.

Hedge

We use Hedge to copy camera cards to multiple drives on set (or after a shoot if on location) and then we use Hedge once more to copy one of these drives to the office shared storage (Apple’s Xsan).

Why use Hedge? A nice simple app which hides its complexity well. Hedge has an easy interface to copy multiple sources (camera cards, usually) to multiple destinations (two external drives, or two SAN locations etc), and it does it well. It verifies, and double checks its work and leaves receipts. What was copied when. This is very nice and very useful for troubleshooting. It also has an API which made it easy to build an app that configures Hedge for its current task, and AppleScript support for extending automations after specified actions.

Kyno and Postlab

We are using two other tools in our remote ingest workflow currently: Kyno from Lesspain software for rewrapping and converting camera footage and Postlab, the remote collaboration tool for Final Cut Pro (and Premiere Pro). Testing with other tools is always ongoing and during a recent test of the workflow we also tried EditReady from Divergent Media.

The Workflow (so far)

While we are exploring various workflow automations we are currently doing the following steps manually.

  1. Hedge to copy camera cards two external drives on set, and then Hedge copy the drive to Xsan
  2. Making re-wrapped in MOV files from the original camera MXF files using Kyno and then
  3. Making H264 MOV 4K proxies in Kyno
  4. Uploading finished proxies to Postlab drive using Hedge
  5. Set up FCPX production and new FCPX library from template connected to proxies in Postlab drive

Hedge and Postlab

Hedge is super useful. Two times good. Hedge and Postlab are best friends. And the UI on both shows the simple aesthetic shared by the developers. Three panes. Source / Start to Destination / Projects. Whether you are copying Proxies to Postlab Drive or accessing your editing projects in Postlab the apps will guide you through.

Copying the Proxies with Hedge to Postlab Drive.

Details. Rewrap and Proxies

Workflows will depend on your goals, and your available tools. In this case we are using a Canon camera and ingesting MXF files. In order to edit with small Proxies in FCPX but also be able relink to original (and larger) files easily we need to in our case re-wrap the original MXF to QuickTime MOV container.

Right click on a clip in Kyno to rewrap to Mov.

Originals. Not Proxies.

And to be clear we are treating these in FCPX as “new” originals not as actual FCPX proxies. With the rewrapped MOV files we make transcoded H264 files which are swapped 1 for 1 with the original. When we need to export a final 4K version we can relink to the original 4K source and export easily.

Proxies. Not originals

The transocded H264 4K proxies we made in Kyno were 15x smaller than the original re-wrapped Mov files. We had almost 600GB in originals and 37GB for the 4K H264 proxies!!

Postlab Pro Tips

Working with Postlab pro tip #1 –> keep those FCPX libraries light. Keep all media and cache files out of the library. We knew that and we had Storage Locations set to outside of the library but one new issue came up when the libraries grew really big and we realized the editors were making multiple sequences, not backups, but versions. Now we are trying to work around this habit with Postlab itself. You can check in a version of the library and duplicate library for an alternate version. Modifications of old habits are always tough but technical reasons may force a change in habits here. We will see. Postlab pro tip #2 –> Keep your cache large and fast. By default the Postlab cache is your local drive and only 20GB. If you have a fast SSD or an external drive then move that cache and increase the size. It will help. Trust me.

Kyno vs EditReady

Another small issue we encountered in testing was that we could make the rewrapped Mov files in Kyno or in EditReady and both were fine. The only objection the editors had was that in Kyno we could keep the folder structure of the original camera cards and they felt that this lent some confidence to being able to track the files to the camera card folders if any media was missing or misplaced. The EditReady files kept the original names but they were all in one folder. As the tech I see no issue with FCPX handling these files since we’d be ingesting all the finished proxy files and all the files were named by the camera. Editors should be able to tell which reel the clips were from by the clip name and that’s all you need technically, but you can’t win every argument with an editor. As the tech you need to test alternative tools and methods and see what works technically but also see what can be accepted to work in the way the editors want to work. Changes to workflow are some of the hardest to make, making a system that is used, actually used, by the editors is the goal.

Errata

Errors. If you get them, how do you know? This was one area where I could comment on both Kyno and EditReady. I am spoiled by Hedge and it’s nice reports when it is done copying. And Postlab which has a Help menu :collect logs for support button, very nice. If your software tool is going to process a lot of files (rewrapping then transcoding) I want to know if there were errors. EditReady popped up a window to what had succeeded or failed and Divergent Media support told me to look in the logs for any issues encountered. Not great. While Kyno has a separate jobs window which shows jobs done or failed. But still no report. I would like a receipt or report or log at the end with files converted or failed to convert. It would help troubleshooting any issues when they arise. Tech support for both companies is great and responsive. Thanks again. And I’ll keep sending in feature requests.

Testing. More Testing. And Teamwork.

We are testing this workflow in production with a real project and getting feedback from the team. So far the proxies have proven to be easy to make, quick to upload to Postlab drive, simple to use in FCPX in Postlab. Assembling the cut and editing are going well. We will find out about the colour process when we get to that stage and relink to the originals. Stay tuned.

Thanks!

Thanks to Felipe Baez / cr8ivebeast for his assistance on this part of the workflow. We were having trouble relinking to the original MXF and he gave us the excellent tip to rewrap then in Kyno then make the smaller proxies. Works like a charm. Thank you Felipe! Here’s a link to a video Felipe made showing a similar procedure using Compressor to transcode and then relink in FCPX and it goes to show you that there are lot of ways to do things and to keep trying, and experimenting. You might learn a thing or two.

Compressor Tips and Tricks

 

Issue: Stuck job in Apple’s Compressor app.

Resolution: Remove the historical jobs in your local home folder.

~/Library/Application Support/Compressor/History/V4

Compressor-History2

Note: to get to your home folder hold down the OPTION key and select the Go menu in the Finder.

Compressor is the best sidekick to Apple’s Final Cut Pro X and it gets used a lot. But occasionally something goes awry. It’s software running on a computer. So we troubleshoot. What looked like a stuck running job was mostly leftover evidence of an old job. The Apple support document I found didn’t mention this tip but instead talked about zipping up your settings folder which has all your custom compressor settings for things like YouTube outputs or anything custom. Didn’t seem useful to me to remove but this historical stuff, don’t need it and POOF this solved the issues. It’s not always this easy but something you just take the win and go with it.

Reference:

Resolve an issue in Compressor: Learn how to isolate, troubleshoot, and fix issues in Compressor.

https://support.apple.com/en-ca/HT203476

Screen recording and other tricks

QuickTime has a neat little trick that some may not know about, it can record your screen.

QT-ScreenRecord

Use it to record a how-to video how to navigate System Preferences, or how to use Final Cut Pro, or record a MacDevOps:YVR talk.

The first two MacDevOps:YVR conferences needed to be converted to a suitable format for YouTube and using QuickTime screen recording + Soundflower is the way I chose to do it.

Note: Soundflower is needed to redirect the audio to QuickTime. Screenrecording with QuickTime does not capture the audio without Soundflower.

MacDevOps Screen recording steps

  1. Install Soundflower (Soundflower-2.0b2.dmg)

https://github.com/mattingalls/Soundflower/releases/tag/2.0b2

  1. Set audio output to SoundFlower 2chSoundFlower
  2. Set QT screen recording to Soundflower audio QT-ScreenRecord-SoundFlower-2ch
  3. Start screen recording (select screen area)
  4. Play website audio / video (Safari / Other )
  5. Stop both. Edit and trim QT video as needed
  6. Upload to YouTube
  7. Tag video (mdoyvr, yvr, MacDevOps, MacAdmin, MacIT), put in proper playlist
  8. Publish

Addendum:

I own Rogue Amoeba’s excellent Audio Hijack application and have used this app for audio capture (podcast interviews, etc), but I couldn’t get it to work in this case. It might have also required their Rogue Amoeba’s Loopback app which I did not own. Since I’ve used Soundflower previously I used it here in this case.

 

Camera Archives

For editing clients with a proper SAN this is the setup I like to use a watch folder on the SAN that sends to tape the camera archives automatically on a timed interval.

This requires

  1. proper SAN
  2. a watch folder setup with Archiware P5 archive
  3. camera archives, created in FCP X from the camera cards

Note: you can also use Adobe Prelude, Shotput or Resolve to create verified copies of camera cards. Use what you trust and works for you. The idea is not to copy by hand and avoid the perils of corrupt files.

Bonus: multiple drives to enable multi-streaming and parallelizing of your data. Why not makes cloned tapes copies and stream lots of data to all four (yes, four !) drives. See the illustration below.

 

 

Screen Shot 2016-08-03 at 10.35.40 AM

Best of 2015: VidiXplore

This is another great product of 2015 and  when I found it, I thought VidiXplore proves that Media Asset Management could be done better and simpler. At the end of December 2015 they released version 1.0 with new some tricks, including some changes to make a migration from Final Cut Server a reality. Time to move some clients!!

To sum up VidiXplore, I’ll quote my tweet from Dec 21, 2015:

Finally the perfect solution for simple asset management! Keep proxies in the cloud, originals local. Search + share!

Working with video editors, animation and visual effects studios, I’ve come to realize that media asset management (MAM) systems can be complicated and painful. Changing workflow, oh no! Building a better pipeline is not easy, nor is it always welcome. Well, hello from the other side, we found the solution, or at least part of it.

With VidiXplore you have 3 steps:

Step 1. Manage your videos by keeping all the originals local. Use your own storage. Use your folder structure. Use your vids as you would normally. Don’t pay for cloud storage.

Step 2. Proxies (thumbnail vids) go into the cloud to be viewed by you and your team.

Step 3. Organize your videos and photos into collections, batch edit by adding tags to add metadata, search for particular assets and share them with colleagues and external clients.

That’s it. You’re already ahead of the game. We skipped right over step 4 which was “have a lot of meetings to debate proper metadata” and step 5 which was “convince everyone at the company to adopt a different workflow.”

With VidiXplore you switch to a monthly payment model, that is true. You don’t own the cloud platform, but what you gain is that you don’t pay a lot of money upfront to set up a large server (or many large server), nor do you need render farm for video transcoding nor for the databases you need to keep track of it all. Pay monthly. That’s the way for a lot of smaller companies. Lower up front starting cost. No extreme capital outlay in the beginning.

Honestly, VidiXplore is a refreshing and easy way for so many people to use asset management now, so why not try it? Harder to say that with a large system setup that costs a lot of money to set up, only to find that no one wants to use it. That’s not what anyone wants.

And now for something completely different…

Let’s take a quick look at VidiXplore. If you’ve installed the VidiXploreAgent-1.0 agent then you’ll have a nice “V” icon in your menu bar (Mac) or system tray (Windows). Use this to open the VidiXplore agent.

Vx Menu agent Open

In the VidiXplore menu you can access the settings where can you set whether certain file types get a Cloud Copy uploaded by default or how many concurrent jobs can run at once.

Vx agent prefs settings cloud copy

When the agent is open you’ll see folders you’ve configured for media, and an option to go the website of your particular instance of VidiXplore.

Agent

For the first web login you’ll see an intro screen which allows you to upload additional media to VidiXplore (that is, in addition to any particular media folders you’ve configured in the agent) and the option to connect cloud storage such as S3, Azure or Dropbox. Lastly, there are also the installers for the agent.

Welcome Screen Shot 2016-01-29 at 11.43.20 AM

Once logged into your website you see a basic layout with options to sort by files or collections, to specify all files or particular types, sort by location and bulk actions.

Collections Screen Shot

If we want we can sort the results and see only collections:

Sort collections

Or we can sort by files which have a cloud copy:

Sort cloud copy images

So many options to sort, search and find what we’re looking for. Of course, we want to also edit the metadata but not so much that we require weekly meetings to decide on the 500 important and required metadata fields. Just use tags. Of course, meetings are good, and so is process, but it is so quick to select bulk actions and add a tag to a group of objects. Done!

 

add tags bulk action MacDevOps

“Finally the perfect solution for simple asset management! Keep proxies in the cloud, originals local. Search + share!” 

There’s so much more you can do with VidiXplore, and I’ll go into more detail in another blog post, but this was just a highlight for my best of 2015.

Check out their website for more information:

VidiXplore.com

Best of 2015: Archiware P5 Archive app

Announced late in 2015 the Archiware P5 Archive app is a revolution for editors who want to control the archive and restore process. No longer the job of the IT Admin, editors can select files or folders on their SAN volume (or anywhere) and send them to the tape archive.

The Archive app is a brilliantly simple app that allows the right-click services action in OS X, or in another words a it’s a GUI app that presents a contextual menu that knows to how to the talk to your P5 Archive server. When the files are safely on tape the original files on the filesystems are replaced with stub files that can be used to start the restore process.

Requirements: Archiware P5 server with the Archive module setup with an Archive plan. Add to that the P5 Archive App which is installed on the clients.

Note: At the moment all archiving goes over the LAN by default, so if you have a fast SAN then you set up the P5 Archive app client settings as “localhost” instead of their actual client name. That means that when it goes to archive the file, the server knows that the files exist on the SAN at a known path (which is the same on the client and the server).

And now for some detailed steps and screenshots.

  1. Archiving completed projects

Choose the completed project folder and right-click. Select “Archive to P5”.

Note 1: If you want to restore files choose the folder that was archived and right-click. Choose “Restore from P5”.

Note 2: Restoring individual files that have been archived is possible by double-clicking the files with the “.p5a” extension, but it will be much faster to select an entire folder to restore than many individual files.

Note 3: For either archive or restore to work the P5 Archive app needs to be installed.

Note 4: To avoid having a services sub menu keep the contextual-menu items to four.

Right-click folder to archive

2. Archiving app status

When you are archiving or restoring files the Archive app will show you the status of your request. It will also show you the status of other jobs running on the P5 server. This is to let you know why perhaps your archive or restore is taking a long time (it’s possibly waiting for access to the tape drive and it currently busy backing up or archiving something else).

P5 Archive app Running jobs status

The P5 Archive app offers you three operations “cancel job”, “list items” and “get report”. The last two are great when you want to examine a completed job, for example. If you want to find out what files were archived in the particular job choose “list items”.

3. Restoring files

Archived files will have either one of or both of, 1) a”.p5a” file extension and 2) a P5 Archive app icon.

Folders and FCP X project bundles (which are folders) do not get the “.p5a” extension, but FCP X projects have the the icon.

p5a-icon.png

Note 1: Files can also be restored by the admin through the P5 web interface. They can be restored in place or to any other location that is required.

Note 2: On the P5 server jobs that are sent to archive or restored from tape show up as “cli job” with the tapes in use.  Actual files or folders involved need to be noted from the P5 Archive app not the P5 web admin console. Otherwise checking the P5 web restore tab will files actually archived (that can be restored).

That’s enough for the quick overview of this great new app. One of the best things in 2015.

For more information on Archiware’s new P5 Archive app check out their website:

P5 Archive app

2015 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog, but nobody wants to read no stinkin’ reports so let me just sum it all up: Xsan, Munki, Thunderbolt, Archives. Or is that all one word? Thunderbolt Xsan Munki Archives! That’s better.

Here’s an excerpt from the report that no one will read:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 20,000 times in 2015. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 7 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Surprisingly, or not, that opera would be about Xsan. Yes, Apple’s Xsan is still alive, and Apple even added new features with OS X 10.11 El Capitan. I’m still building Xsan shared storage SANs and upgrading old ones to new versions. That was one of the good news stories of 2015 for me.

You can build an Xsan with one or two Mac Minis and add your storage of choice. That used to mean more often than not the fibre channel storage from Promise. A great choice for larger deployments, the x30 Vtraks are solid.

But the real shocker for me in 2015 was stumbling upon the Accusys Thunderbolt SAN RAID, the A16T2-Share. For more than half off the price of a similar fibre channel storage RAID here’s a magical box powered by unicorns that has four (4) Thunderbolt connections. Plug one Thunderbolt cable into that Mac Mini, format the raid, setup Apple’s Xsan, and then plug the other three (3) Thunderbolt cables into iMacs, Mac Pro, MacBook Pros or any Xsan clients. Wow. Awesome.

Suddenly we have a game changer. An affordable SAN storage RAID for real block-level storage. Now more than ever we can afford to have true collaborative workflows for video editors and anyone in the creative. If you need to work together with fast connections to a shared pool then building an Xsan got much more attractive.

Disclaimer: I got a chance to test the Accusys A16T2-Share. And I would be crazy to recommend something without testing it thoroughly. This was used for several weeks by video editors in production. It was much faster than our 4GB fibre channel storage, of course, but it was also faster than our 8GB FC storage. Speed tests showed we got close to 1GB/sec, and even when it was 97% full we got 700MB/sec. Sa-weet.

I look forward to seeing what Accusys bring to NAB in 2016. What new box will they show up with? I hope for more than 4 client ports and faster Thunderbolt 3. Only 82 more sleeps till we all find out.

Apple’s Xsan and Accusys Thunderbolt storage A16T2-Share were big stars of 2015, but what else stood out? The two other bright shiny lights were Archiware’s new P5 Archive app, and Vidispine’s VidiXplore cloud based MAM. More on those in posts to follow. Both of these products have transformed workflows for editors. Stay tuned!

Move over El Capitan, hello Yosemite!

With all this talk about El Capitan, Apple’s as of yet unreleased version 10.11 of OS X, and its wondrous new features in Xsan, I think it might be time to upgrade to last year’s breakthrough version of OS X, Yosemite. Sure, you might be excited by the press releases for the built-in DLC in El Capitan but seriously sane folks stay 1-year behind the bleeding nose upgrades provided by Apple. So if OS X 10.11 is all the rage before its released it must be time to seriously consider upgrading that working Xsan running OS X 10.8 or OS X 10.9.

In my case, I upgraded a working Xsan running on Mac Minis and OS X 10.8.5. Here are some screenshots from the process. As always think worked better than I could have expected, and it is a much easier process that one expects. But stay sharp kids, danger lurks when you wake the dreamer…. Upgrading a SAN is serious business and doing anything like this without proper backups is taking your life in your own hands. In my case, full disk backups on Promise Pegasus RAIDs and full tape backups using Archiware P5.

Download the Yosemite installer form the App Store. Install. Download the new Server.app from the App Store. Install. Now upgrade your Xsan. That’s it. You’re done. No surprises, aren’t you happy? Ha ha. I’m kidding. The fun is just getting started.

If you’re actually following along, this isn’t a step by step recipe. Go to Apple’s site and read this Kbase and check out the migration guide.

Restore Xsan

Restore Xsan

Step 1 is to launch the new Server.app, find Xsan Admin. Just kidding, it isn’t there. Enable Xsan, and choose to Restore a previous SAN configuration. That wasn’t hard. High five! Actually, we’re not done yet. Set up OD now. Go!

Step 2. Set up your Xsan controller as an Open Directory (OD) master. Does’t matter if it’s joined to another domain, Xsan keeps itself organized in OD, so you need it.

Set up OD

Set up OD

Step 3. Admire your upgraded SAN, “how lovely the flowers do smell…. life is good.”

XSAN LIST

Xsan list

Step 4. Where did my Xsan admin go? Where do I add clients? Where are my clients? Huh? What? Why did I upgrade a perfectly working SAN to this version? Ha ha.

Take it all in, take a good look at what you’ve done to your Xsan. What? Just so the editors could have the latest version of Final Cut Pro (v.10.2.1) which is only compatible with OS X 10.10.4. I see what you’ve done Apple, very clever indeed. Hmm…

Click on the “Save configuration profile” button and download the profile somewhere. Use this to set up the SAN on your clients. Distribute via Profile Manager or install it manually. Up to you. I haven’t gotten it to work with Munki quite yet. Installing it requires the admin password for the Xsan controller. How convenient.

When you client is configured you’ll see a Profile in System Preferences. Remove it and your client is un-configured. No more Xsan.prefpane to list volumes and mount or unmount them. Nope. That would be too easy. Learn to love “xsanctl”, as in “xsanctl mount Xsan”. Read some xsanctl tips in this Kbase

Step 5. Set up a backup Xsan controller. You have one of those, right? In my case, I had a client which I wanted to promote to be a controller.  But first what to do about its status a client of the Xsan?

backup cannot be client

backup cannot be client

Open Server.app, enable Xsan, join current Xsan as a backup controller and set up a replica OD. Confirm, confirm, confirm. Think about what you’re doing, then do it!

confirm OD replica

confirm

Apple wizards are the best wizards, uh, i mean Setup Assistants. No wizards here…. So, you’ve setup a backup Xsan controller, and OD replica, and now look in Server.app. How amazing is that… wait, what? Where’d my Xsan volumes go? Huh? Where are the controllers? Weird. Very strange. Not comforting at all.

Xsan 4 no SAN list crop 122815

The Xsan window eventually shows the volumes and controllers, bur geez, almost gave me a heart attack. It’s not like I never seen Xsan go bad before. Xsan 1 nightmare still haunt me. They do. Backups. Need more backups. Archiware P5 Backups, do it now!

OK, you’ve survived the uncertainty of Xsan upgrades…. But wait more minute… cat the fsnameservers (no, it’s not the name of a band, it’s a command). Check it out. Holy smokes, batman. Xsan 4 by default will set your metatadata network to the public LAN, something that’d would be laughed at years ago, but they do it now by default. Of course, upgrading our SAN kept out metadata network the same. But strangely the Xsan backup controller is set to use the public for metadata when the primary controller is not. WTF.

Change your metadata network. Read the Kbase, and once again wield xsanctl like a boss.