Final thoughts on Final Cut Server
I'm coming to the end of a two year contract at Astley Baker Davies where I have been working on 3 animation series. Since the start of the project, I've gone through a couple of different workflows but the one I've spent the most time with (and found the most useful/cost effective) is the Final Cut Server one I'm going to write about. I'm going to split this up in to a number of smaller posts over the next few weeks as there's quite a lot to get through. Feel free to comment or ask questions/point out my mistakes and stupidity at any point!
Let me start by giving you a look at the workflow here and what I wanted to gain out of FCServer:
• Voices recorded off site and given to us as WAV files. Around 300 files per 10 minutes episode.
• Storyboard panels drawn (5 on a page), scanned and separated in to individual panels. Again, around 300/10 minute episode.
• Cut the voices together and add spot effects.
• Cut storyboard panels on to voice cut.
• Render out to view "dailies" in the studio either on workstations or on AppleTV
• Layout and Animation teams render out either Animation or Targa codec Quicktimes. Transcode these to ProRes to cut in to the sequence. Render out dailies again.
• Repeat for a few weeks making a few cuts as the animation gets done.
• Playout to HDCamSR, Digi, Quicktime and DVD.
So, now you've got the idea in a nutshell, I'll move on.
Part of the workflow that was easily automatable was the transcoding of video from the animators' output to ProRes and from my timeline to Apple TV/MP4. I started off doing this manually in Compressor - when I look back at that, its laughable. I obviously had a lot more time on my hands than I do now!
So my first requirement was for watch folders for automated transcoding of assets.
I already had a Mac Pro with Episode Pro on which had been purchased before I joined the company with this in mind. This system worked fine but I found it to be quite a lot slower than the manual Compressor setup I'd been used to as this was configured across 3x 8-Core machines with a Qmaster cluster.
The first port of call was obviously to enquire about adding more processing power to the Episode setup. However the cost of doing this was astronomical - the render engine was going to be around £5000 excluding the extra machine to run it on.
So what other options did I consider?
I tried using OSX Folder Actions to pick up files and run Compressor droplets but, in short, Folder Actions are appalling at best and kept switching themselves off. Sorenson Squeeze also deserved a look - I'd used it before and it was quick but it lacks distributed rendering.
Enter: Final Cut Server.
Watch folders with easy and cheap distributed rendering. With the added bonus of all the other DAM and project sharing, it was kind of a no-brainer...