Twenty years ago, who would have thought going to work would mean spending most of your time on a computer and running most of your applications through a web browser or a mobile app? Today, we can do everything remotely via the power of the internet—from email to gaming, from viewing our home security cameras to watching the latest and greatest movie trailers—and we all have opinions about the best browsers, too…
Along with that easy, remote access, a slew of new cloud technologies are fueling the tech we use day in and day out. To get to where we are today, the tech industry had to rethink some common understandings, especially around data storage and delivery. Gone are the days that you save a file on your laptop, then transport a copy of that file via USB drive or CD-ROM (or, dare we say, a floppy disk) so that you can keep working on it at the library or your office. And, those same common understandings are now being reckoned with in the world of film, video, and content creation.
In this post, I’ll dive into storage, specifically cloud object storage, and what it means for the future of content creation, not only for independent filmmakers and content creators, but also in post-production workflows.
The Evolution of File Management
If you are reading this blog you are probably familiar with a storage file system—think Windows Explorer, the Finder on Mac, or directory structures in Linux. You know how to create a folder, create files, move files, and delete folders. This same file structure has made its way into cloud services such as Google Drive, Box, and Dropbox. And many of these technologies have been adopted to store some of the largest content, namely media files like .mp4, .wav, or .r3d files.
But, as camera file outputs grow larger and larger and the amount of content generated by creative teams soars, folders structures get more and more complex. Why is this important?
Well, ask yourself: How much time have you spent searching for clips you know exist, but just can’t seem to find? Sure, you can use search tools to search your folder structure but as you have more and more content, that means searching for the proverbial needle in a haystack—naming conventions can only do so much, especially when you have dozens or hundreds of people adding raw footage, creating new versions, and so on.
Finding files in a complex file structure can take so much time that many of the aforementioned companies create system limits preventing long searches. In addition, they may limit uploads and downloads making it difficult to manage the terabytes of data a modern production creates. So, this all begs the question: Is a traditional file system really the best for scaling up, especially in data-heavy industries like filmmaking and video content creation? Enter: Cloud object storage.
Refresher: What is Object Storage?
You can think of object storage as simply a big pool of storage space filled with object data. In the past we’ve defined object data as “some assemblage of data with one unique identifier and an infinite amount of metadata.” The three components that comprise objects in object storage are key here. They include:
- Unique Identifier: Referred to as a universally unique identifier (UUID) or global unique identifier (GUID), this is simply a complex number identifier.
- Infinite Metadata: Data about the data with endless possibilities.
- Data: The actual data we are storing.
So what does that actually mean?
It means each object (this can be any type of file—a .jpg, .mp4, .wav, .r3d, etc.) has an automatically generated unique identifier which is just a number (e.g. 4_z6b84cf3535395) versus a folder structure path you must manually create and maintain (e.g. D:\Projects\JOB4548\Assets\RAW\A001\A001_3424OP.RDM\A001_34240KU.RDC\
It also means each object can have an infinite amount of metadata attached to it. Metadata, put simply, is a “tag” that identifies how the file is used or stored. There are several examples of metadata, but here are just a few:
- Descriptive metadata, like the title or author.
- Structural metadata, like how to order pages in a chapter.
- Administrative metadata, like when the file was created, who has permissions to it, and so on.
- Legal metadata, like who holds the copyright or if the file is in the public domain.
So, when you’re saying an image file is 400×400 pixels and in .jpg format, you’ve just identified two pieces of metadata about the file. In filmmaking, metadata can include things like reel numbers or descriptions. And, as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning tools continue to evolve, the amount of metadata about a given piece of footage or image only continues to grow. AI tools can add data around scene details, facial recognition, and other identifiers, and since those are coded as metadata, you will be able to store and search files using terms like “scenes with Bugs Bunny” or “scenes that are in a field of wildflowers”—and that means that you’ll spend less time trying to find the footage you need when you’re editing.
When you put it all together, you have one gigantic content pool that can grow infinitely. It uses no manually created complex folder structure and naming conventions. And it can hold an infinite amount of data about your data (metadata), making your files more discoverable.
Let’s Talk About Object Storage for Content Creation
You might be wondering: What does this have to do with the content I’m creating?
Consider this: When you’re editing a project, how much of your time is spent searching for files? A recent study by GISTICS found that the average creative person searches for media 83 times a week. Maybe you’re searching your local hard drive first, then your NAS, then those USB drives in your closet. Or, maybe you are restoring content off an LTO tape to search for that one clip you need. Or, maybe you moved some of your content to the cloud—is it in your Google Drive or in your Dropbox account? If so, which folder is it in? Or was it the corporate Box account? Do you have permissions to that folder? All of that complexity means that the average creative person fails to find the media they are looking for 35% of the time. But you probably don’t need a study to tell you we all spent huge amounts of time searching for content.
Here is where object storage can help. With object storage, you simply have buckets (object storage containers) where all your data can live, and you can access it from wherever you’re working. That means all of the data stored on those shuttle drives sitting around your office, your closet of LTO tapes, and even a replica of your online NAS are in a central, easily accessible location. You’re also working from the most recent file.
Once it’s in the cloud, it’s safe from the types of disasters that affect on-premises storage systems, and it’s easy to secure your files, create backups, and so on. It’s also readily available when you need it, and much easier to share with other team members. It’s no wonder many of the apps you use today take advantage of object storage as their primary storage mechanism.
The Benefits of Object Storage for Media Workflows
Object storage offers a number of benefits for creative teams when it comes to streamlining workflows, including:
- Instant access
- Workflow interoperability
- Easy distribution
- Off-site back up and archive
With cloud object storage, content is ready when you need it. You know inspiration can strike at any time. You could be knee deep in editing a project, in the middle of binge watching the latest limited series, or out for a walk. Whenever the inspiration decides to strike, having instant access to your library of content is a game changer. And that’s the great thing about object storage in the cloud: you gain access to massive amounts of data with a few clicks.
Object storage is a key component of many of the content production tools in use today. For example, iconik is a cloud-native media asset management (MAM) tool that can gather and organize media from any storage location. You can point iconik to your Backblaze B2 Bucket and use its advanced search functions as well as its metadata tagging.
What if you don’t want to use iconik, specifically? What’s great about using cloud storage as a centralized repository is that no matter what application you use, your data is in a single place. Think of it like your external hard drive or NAS—you just connect that drive with a new tool, and you don’t have to worry about downloading everything to move to the latest and greatest. In essence, you are bringing your own storage (BYOS!).
Here’s an example: CuttingRoom is a cloud native video editing and collaboration tool. It runs entirely in your web browser and lets you create unique stories that can instantly be published to your destination of choice. What’s great about CuttingRoom is its ability to read an object storage bucket as a source. By simply pointing CuttingRoom to a Backblaze B2 Bucket, it has immediate access to the media source files and you can get to editing. On the other hand, if you prefer using a MAM, that same bucket can be indexed by a tool like iconik.
Now that your edit is done, it’s time to distribute your content to the world. Or, perhaps you are working with other teams to perfect your color and sound, and it’s time to share your picture lock version. Cloud storage is ready for you to distribute your files to the next team or an end user.
Here’s a recent, real-world example: If you have been following the behind-the-scenes articles about creating Avatar: The Way of Water, you know that not only was its creation the spark of new technology like the Sony Venice camera with removable sensors, but the distribution featured a cloud centric flow. Footage (the film) was placed in an object store (read: a cloud storage database), processed into different formats, languages were added with 3D captions, and then footage was distributed directly from a central location.
And, while not all of us have Jon Landau as our producer, a huge budget, and a decade to create our product, this same flexibility exists today with object storage—with the added bonus that it’s usually budget-friendly as well.
Off-Site Back Up and Archive
And last but certainly not least, let’s talk back up and archive. Once a project is done, you need space for the next project, but no one wants to risk losing the old project. Who out there is completely comfortable hitting the delete key as well as saying yes to the scary prompt, “Are you sure you want to delete?”
Well, that’s what you would have to do in the past. These days, object storage is a great place to store your terabytes and terabytes of archived footage without cluttering your home, office, or set with additional hardware. Compared with on-premises storage, cloud storage lets you add more capacity as you need it—just make sure you understand cloud storage pricing models so that you’re getting the best bang for your buck.
If you’re using a NAS device in your media workflow, you’ll find you need to free up your on-prem storage. Many NAS devices, like Synology and QNAP, have cloud storage integrations that allow you to automatically sync and archive data from your device to the cloud. In fact, you could start taking advantage of this today.
No delete key here—just a friendly archive button.
Getting Started With Object Storage for Media Workflows
Migrating to the cloud may seem daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. Especially with the acceleration of hybrid workflows in the film industry recently, cloud-based workflows are becoming more common and better integrated with the tools we use every day. You can test this out with Backblaze using your free 10GB that you get just for signing up for Backblaze B2. Sure, that may not seem like much when a single .r3d file is 4GB. But with that 10GB, you can test upload speeds and download speeds, try out integrations with your preferred workflow tools, and experiment with AI metadata. If your team is remote, you could try an integration with LucidLink. Or if you’re looking to power a video on-demand site, you could integrate with one of our content delivery network (CDN) partners to test out content distribution, like Backblaze customer Kanopy, a streaming service that delivers 25,000 videos to libraries worldwide.