Archive for: March, 2009

Recommended Software for your Avid

This is just a list of the software that I install on any Mac that I’m working on, Avids included.

  • Alfred: easy keyboard-based application and macro access. I used to use Quicksilver but development on it stalled
  • Growl: provides nice, discreet notifications for software running in the background (email checkers, FTP clients, my [intlink id=”35″ type=”post”]Automator backup script[/intlink])
  • jEdit: full-featured free text editor, since TextEdit is a joke. jEdit also supports regular expression search/replace, which has saved me countless hours over the years. bbEdit, TextMate, or similar are also good options.
  • Chrome : I like Chrome for my browser, but FYI Avid’s manual doesn’t work in it, so sometimes I have to open Safari.
  • Quicktime Pro : Probably being phased out, but still useful if you have the choice.
  • DVD Studio Pro: Easy and full-featured DVD creation, but not available for purchase any longer. Hope you bought Final Cut Studio before FCPX came out.
  • Name Mangler, or similar file renaming software. This lets you rename a batch of files according to [intlink id=”171″ type=”post”]regular expressions[/intlink], numeric sequences, and other conditions.
  • Dropbox : Great for putting your Avid project into if you’re a one-man show. On bigger shows with multiple Editorial locations I use it to pass individual bins back and forth between myself and other assistant editors

First-time Avid Setup

Whenever I’m first setting up a Mac Avid, whether it’s a rental for a show I’m working on or my own desktop or laptop, there are a bunch of things I like to do before getting down to work.

  • Connect your Avid to the Internet and/or internal network
  • Go through this list of good Avid practices. I’m not sure if there’s one for Leopard yet, but the gist is to turn off any features that could interfere with your interaction with the Avid application or slow down the performance of your system in genera. In particular make sure to turn off Software Update.
  • Install necessary software
  • Import your User Profile, as well as that of any other person who may need to use your Avid (other editors and assistant editors)

Why you should connect your Avid to the Internet

I’ve heard from many an assistant editor and rental company that Internet-connected Avids are a bad idea, but I believe that if you’re careful and professional (i.e. don’t use your Avid as a BitTorrent client), the advantages of connecting your Avid to the Internet far outweigh any disadvantages.  Connecting your Avid to the Internet has the same amount of danger to your Avid, and no more, as any other computer. I agree that general net surfing on your Avid should be avoided (especially if you’re on a PC), but otherwise no harm will likely come to your computer or to the Avid application by having it hooked up.

The advantages of hooking your Avid up to your network are as follows, and they basically fall under the two categories of internal and external file transfers.

  • Internal File Transfers
    • Everyone, at some point, usually multiple times a day, needs to get a file from your laptop to your Avid or from your Avid to another Avid. If you’re on a Unity, you can use the Unity workspaces as shared storage space for exchanging files. You can use a flash drive or hard drive if you must, but this is quicker and equally safe. If you’re not on a Unity, or if you need to do a transfer from your laptop to your Avid, you can use AFP. In your System Preferences on one of the two computers, enable Personal File Sharing:
      • Then, on the other computer, select Connect to Server from the menu in Finder, and type in the AFP URL you see in the Sharing pane (mine is afp://192.168.1.104). Type in any password you may have, and you’re on your way. AFP, by the way, is significantly faster than SMB / Windows Sharing. personal_file_sharing
  • External File Transfers
    • I like to use my Avid for uploads not only because it’s faster than my laptop and has access to the Unity, but also because I usually don’t have the free hard drive space on my laptop to accommodate the size and quantity of files that I normally transfer. I could copy those files to an external drive, connect that to my laptop, and then start the upload, but that seems like a big waste of time when I can just upload from the Avid.
    • Overnight Uploads
      • On HB2 I was frequently in a position where I needed to upload gigabytes of data overnight from London to LA. I could’ve left my laptop in the office uploading all night, but who wants to do that? Instead, use your Avid, especially if you don’t have it doing some other all-night task like exporting reels to QT.
      • For Signiant, I also set up a Mac Mini on HB2 to do a lot of the overnight file transfers back to Universal. If you do this, then you can use your Avid to transfer the DVD image or whatever you’re uploading from a Unity workspace to the Mac Mini, and then use the Mini to upload to the studio.

File Delivery Methods

Introduction

For anyone who hasn’t worked in London’s Soho district, it is a dream come true in terms of having all of your post-production departments in one place. We were fortunate enough to be based there after we wrapped Hellboy 2 in Budapest, and it meant that our sound department was two doors down, our VFX vendor was at the end of the street, our mixing stages were right next door, our DI house was a 10-minute walk, and the meeting point in case of a fire was the pub across the street (and they served Pacifico, in case I got nostalgic for something Mexican). What this meant for us in terms of our turnover process was that delivering the turnover material was quick and painless, even if creating it wasn’t.

So here’s the rundown on how we delivered files to the people who needed them, and my preferences for delivery mediums:

  • Firewire Hard Drive
    • This is pretty straightforward, and by far the easiest way to get your files from Editorial to whoever needs them. I happen not to be a fan of LaCie drives due to the unreliability of their FireWire ports, but they’re cheap, replaceable, and their rugged versions are available with a triple interface (USB, FW, FW800). If you go cheap and use LaCie, just make sure you buy them from a vendor who’s willing to take them back and provide a replacement when the FW port fails. This happened to us twice (and I’ve had this experience on previous shows as well).
  • DVD
    • Do not burn Quicktimes to DVD. I have no information whatsoever on why this doesn’t work, but it doesn’t and you’ll waste your time trying to make it work reliably. Everything will appear to be ok when you burn the disc, but trying to copy the QT off of it fails. For security reasons, I also dislike DVDs because they rely on your recipients to properly dispose of or store them after they copy the files off. So because of these two limitations, I’ve abandoned this method entirely in favor of sending a courier on a return route with a hard drive.
  • USB Flash Drive
    • These work well for deliveries of small quantities of files. Make sure you plug your USB drive directly into the computer and not into a monitor or keyboard USB port (those are usually USB1 and are very slow). If you have a large quantity of small files, I recommend that you zip them up before copying to the flash drive, and then unzip after copying the zip file from it. Just due to the nature of how it works to copy files to/from a flash drive, it is faster to copy, for example, one 2GB Quicktime than it is to copy a thousand small text files. Just remember to clear off your flash drive when the file’s been delivered. These things have a habit of being left out in the open for anyone to swipe.
  • Electronic Delivery Methods
    • I’m a big proponent of delivering files electronically. It saves me time the time of copying to a drive and arranging delivery, and if the transfer process is well set-up, you can transfer direct from your network to the recipients’. If your transfer process involves you copying to a 3rd-party server, and then your recipient downloading from the same 3rd-party server, it might save more time to go the physical route with a FW hard drive, depending on your circumstances and geographic location.
    • FTP
      • Simple, easy to use (for some), and fast, FTP is a great option for non-confidential files. While the likelihood of anyone eavesdropping on your FTP session is slim to none, FTP is technically insecure. It transmits your passwords in plain text, and because of that if someone were to listen in they could, in theory, gain access to your account. But if that’s not a concern, then FTP has everything going for it, including the fact that anyone can set up an FTP server, and this frees you from using some poorly-designed corporate solution.
      • Tip: The concept of FTP seems to constantly elude non-techie users. If the recipient clearly has never heard the term “FTP client” before, don’t try to have them download Filezilla or Cyberduck, but instead first try to give them a URL a browser can read. I usually include a URL like this in any email to producers when using FTP:
        • ftp://username:password@server.com/folder
      • This is a standard FTP link that will work in any browser. If you are on a MediaTemple (gs) server, like I am, then these URLs will not work in Safari or IE, but will still work in Firefox, and look like this:
        • ftp://username@server.com:password@server.com/folder
    • Protected Folders on Websites
      • This has the same security limitations as FTP, in that the transmission of your password to the protected folder is insecure, on the off-chance that anyone is bothering to listen in. But it does allow you to give a standard http:// URL to your recipients, along with an easy-to-use username/password dialog box. I use this method as my last resort, and always remove the files I’m transferring as soon as I know that the recipients have them.
    • Digidelivery
      • Digidelivery is my favorite 3rd-party application for securely transferring files. It’s designed for use with ProTools sessions, but it will transfer anything and everything you give it. The client software is free, but you have to know someone with a server (or own one yourself). If the option is there to use Digidelivery, use it.
    • Signiant / Aspera
      • We used Signiant, and occasionally Aspera, to transfer files back to Universal on HB2. Our experience was mixed, there are things I like about how it’s set up, and things that clearly need some work. Universal has an excellent Digital Media Delivery team, though, that is working every day to improve the software, and I look forward to trying it out again some day. I won’t publish all the ins and outs of my experience using Signiant here, but I’d be happy to discuss it by e-mail if someone is about to start a show that will use it.
    • SmartJog
      • We used SmartJog very briefly on Rambo, actually. It’s a service for secure file transfers worldwide, but as far as I know it does not allow you to transfer to a client not on the SmartJog network, so it’s unlikely that your Editorial office will be set up with it. I think it’s mostly for studios and facilities, so if you’re on a show that’s using it, you will most likely have to send a drive to whatever facility you’re working with each time you want to receive a transfer.
    • Sohonet
      • Sohonet is an ISP, not a file transfer service, but its network is phenomenal, and if a significant number of your departments and/or vendors are on it, it can be fantastic. Basically, everyone who’s on Sohonet’s private fiber optic network can communicate with each other (i.e. FTP or Digideliver files) at speeds of around 80 Mbps (not to be confused with its equivalent of 10MBps). If you’re FTP-ing to someone outside of the Sohonet network, then your speed is just dependent on what kind of ‘external’ access you pay for.

Hellboy 2 Turnover Workflow

Introduction

Turning over reels from HD material in your Avid to sound, music, and marketing departments is a process that requires a lot of rendering time no matter which way you do it. At the outset, your two options for getting your Avid material into Quicktime format are to either export the reel directly to QT, or to play out in real-time to another computer running the capture tool in FCP. Below is a table of all the turnover specs for each department, which I think are pretty standard requirements, followed by a discussion for what we tried on Hellboy 2 and how we ultimately chose to accomplish all of these turnovers.

[TABLE=2]

Exporting a QT vs. Playing Out to FCP (for SD Turnovers)

As you can see in the table above, the majority of our turnovers were Quicktime-based. If the Marketing Department hadn’t required an unmasked image, I probably would have used my sound turnover QTs to make their DVD, too. And if I had more time to experiment, I probably would’ve devised a way to export ‘blank’ QTs without a matte and then apply the matte in Compressor, which I actually did do on a few isolated occasions but never ended up incorporating into the workflow. But anyway, moving on…

As I mentioned above, there is no part of making an SD turnover from your HD material that is quick and painless, unless you are going to something with a 29.97 frame rate. The problems are basically these:

  1. Exporting an average-length reel (~20 minutes) from 1920×1080 in the Avid to a 720×486 (or similar-sized) QT takes an average of 1.5 hours per reel.
  2. Playing out via an SD output on the Adrenaline to another computer running FCP means that you’re going out of the Avid at 29.97fps, without giving FCP a way to know where your A-frame is and so reliably bring you back to 23.976. If all you need is 29.97 SD, then the biggest drawback to this is just the quality of whichever type of video output you use (SDI, Composite, S-Video, etc.)
  3. If you play out via HD-SDI to an FCP station capturing in HD, you still face the task of compressing the HD QT that FCP creates down to SD. If you figure 20 minutes to play out, plus roughly an hour to trim the QT and compress to SD, you’re looking at about the same amount of time as an export.

A black box hardware solution that takes HD-SDI and outputs a QT of the specified size in real-time without adjusting frame rate would be great. There must be something like this in existence, but I haven’t heard about it yet and haven’t seen anything in my searches that sounds like it does what I want. So since I couldn’t find a box like this, and since the tedious process of rendering, playing out, and compressing down to SD was roughly equivalent in time to exporting a reel directly to QT, I chose to go the direct export route. Ultimately, that meant a simpler turnover process for us in Editorial, as well as higher quality video for the departments who would be receiving the turnovers.

An Exception:

When we started our turnovers, I did go the playout route for our Composer and Music Editor. Their specs had originally asked for 320×240 QTs @ 29.97, but when I sent them a 720×486 QT just to test out, they decided they liked the higher quality files (who wouldn’t?) and changed their spec. So I played out through a Canopus box to FCP, trimmed the QTs and sent them on their way until one day we decided to test exporting a 29.97 from our 23.976 Avid project. The frame rate test worked (going from 24.000 -> 29.97 still doesn’t, I believe), but at the same time the Music Editor was testing the new QT he was noticing how much higher quality the exported video was. And so the workflow changed again…

Exporting Reusable Quicktimes Efficiently

One of the biggest tricks I developed on HB2 was to create Quicktimes that I could reuse. Since the biggest outlay of time required in turning over is exporting HD material to an SD Quicktime file (AAFs, guide tracks, and EDLs require much less time, and can all be done while the QTs are exporting with time to spare), the more work you can divert to Compressor instead of Avid, the better. We ended up exporting “blank” Quicktimes, which contained almost all of the visual burn-ins required for all of our turnovers except for individual initials. We also exported these Quicktimes without any audio, since it takes time and rendering to pan audio tracks in the Avid (and problems multiply if you have any Time Compression effects), and since you’re limited to 2-track stereo on any QT export from Avid.

This is what our “blank” Quicktimes looked like after they were exported mute from the Avid. They have a 1.85 matte covering the key numbers, the requisite “Property Of”, the version of the reel, and the date.

blank_qt_burnin1

After these Quicktimes finished exporting, we would then take them into Quicktime Pro and add the audio guide tracks we had exported on a different Avid while the QT was rendering out. Each guide track was added as a separate audio track to the QT, which in the end gave us a QT with three audio tracks (DX and FX as mono AIFFs, and MX in stereo). We would then go in and set the channel of each audio track to either Left or Right depending on what we needed (this is changeable at any time, including after running through Compressor), and do a Save as Self-Contained Movie (~1 minute per file).

Once the audio was added and panned appropriately, we would then take it into Compressor for creating individualized Quicktimes. Our basic Compressor settings simply kept the video codec as it was (Motion JPEG A, Medium Quality), and set the audio as Pass-through so as to keep our discrete three-track audio. We then added a text overlay, saved the setting and started the render. Each reel takes approximately 10 minutes to render (keep in mind that results vary by codec), and produces a new, basically identical QT file that looks like this:

personalized_qt_burnin

HD Turnovers

There’s a lot less to talk about when making HD Quicktimes from an HD Avid project. Given the appropriate equipment, which I probably could’ve gotten on HB2 but never did, I think playing out HD-SDI would be the fastest way to go. Video quality is obviously not an issue when playing out HD-SDI, and there are no tricky frame rate issues to tackle. We generally only had to export a single set of HD Quicktimes, just for our mixing stage, so in that case we included the personalization in the Avid title we applied to the reels before export, and eliminated the need to go to Compressor afterwards. As the show neared completion we had a few HD-capable sound and foley stages requiring turnovers, so only then did we use the “blank” QT export -> Compressor personalization process. But again, given an AJA or Kona card, I’d probably would’ve just played each one out.

Summary

It is a lot of steps to create template Quicktimes, but what this workflow gave us was the flexibility to make multiple, customized copies of our reels quickly, easily, and in batch. I can’t count the number of times we were asked to create additional copies with slightly varying specs or burn-ins, and being able to do that without re-exporting from Avid was a life saver. Additionally, Compressor can be happily processing copies in the background while you continue to work in Avid. It may slow down the Compressor renders a little, but as long as you’re not doing anything too processor-intensive in Avid, you should have no problem with running both programs concurrently.

Timewise, the following are pretty accurate estimates, although it will clearly take some more time when you first set up your Compressor workflows or go through the Quicktime Pro process.

  • Prep burn-ins and matte in Avid – 2 minutes / reel
  • Export from Avid – 1.5 hours / 20-min reel  ** (This will change as processor speeds increase. Also, some people have had luck with creating Reference Quicktimes, but I haven’t.)
  • Export Guide Tracks – 5 minutes / reel (assuming you’ve split out your tracks before starting to turnover)
  • Add audio tracks to exported QT file in Quicktime Pro – 3 minutes / reel including time to save as Self-Contained Movie
  • Add individual burn-in using Compressor – 10 minutes / reel

Bonus

Aside from just sticking someone’s name on a QT, here are a few other things you can do with QTPro and Compressor:

  • Make a DVD of the whole feature
    • In QTPro, mark an IN/OUT on each of your ‘blank’ reels at the FFOA and LFOA, then copy and paste in reel order into a new movie. Verify your audio panning and reel breaks (wouldn’t want the reels in the wrong order!), then just Save as a reference movie. Take your reference movie into Compressor, make a new workflow (you can resize/add a matte or text as needed), and render to MPEG-2 and AC3 and burn to DVD in the software of your choice. Voila, 45 minutes of rendering to make the MPEG-2, ~10 minutes for the AC3, and you’ve just made a high quality DVD in less time than it would’ve taken to play it out analog.
  • Save time by rendering two halves of a reel simultaneously (Verify your results. 90% of the time this works flawlessly, 10% of the time there are inexplicable problems at the split point after Compressing)
    • If you have multiple Avids available and are short on time, you can render half of a reel on one Avid and half on the other. Make sure you render with the Use Marks option checked, and that your OUT mark on Avid #1 is adjacent to the IN mark on Avid #2. Once you have each half reel as a QT, copy/paste one half into the other, add your audio, and continue with the process by doing a Save as Self-Contained movie before bringing into Compressor. If you don’t have audio, you can just save as a reference movie. Always verify your results after running through Compressor, I’ve run into unexplained repeated frames at the splice point in my output QTs when doing this and have not been able to reliably recreate the conditions that cause them. But if you’re in a rush, it can be worth the risk.
  • Letterbox
    • I usually output my 720×486 turnover QTs as anamorphic, in part because it’s faster than making everything letterbox, and so far no one’s cared. On my next show I’ll use 864×486, since that’s the proper aspect ratio, and I don’t think I need to take NTSC client monitors into account anymore. Anyway, if you need to do a letterboxed 720×486 QT from an anamorphic original, Compressor can do this for you during your export. Just add the Letterbox option to your workflow and select either Matte or Resize accordingly.

Backing Up Unity Media

Every once in a while it becomes necessary to back up all of the media on your Unity, and this is a fairly big task. It can be terabytes of data that you need to transfer to a backup drive or drives, and there are better ways of doing this than just drag and drop. So whether the backup is needed at the end of the show for archival purposes, or somewhere in the middle because you’re switching cities and need to ship the Unity to a new office, here’s a little script I wrote to help accomplish this task safely and reliably. Some knowledge of Terminal is required (but not too much).

Backup Strategies

The script I’ve detailed here does rely on a bit of manual work. You will need to do the math to figure out which and how many workspaces from your Unity will fit onto the external drive(s) you have available. The Unity Administration Tool should help you out with that.

This script should be modified and run once per external drive. So once you know how you want to distribute your Unity workspaces across your external drives, then you should only set this script up for one volume at a time. When it finishes and is successful, change the Target Volume and Source Directories in the script file and execute it again.

Automating Avid Project Backups

REVISED 9/23/09: Rewrote for Leopard

The Importance of Backing Up

The most important part of an Avid project is, of course, the project directory. Media can be replaced, albeit tediously, but your project directory cannot. Therefore, it is not only important that you back up your project daily, but that you also take it with you when you leave for the night. Simply copying the project from one workspace to another is not sufficient, nor is just copying it to your local Avid drive. If a disk or two fails on the Unity and the only copy of the project you have is there, you’re probably screwed. If there’s a fire and both your Unity and your desktop Avid burn up, you’re definitely screwed. The number one rule of making backups is that the two copies must be geographically separated. I cannot stress that enough.

Thankfully, it’s easy and painless to do this, and you can automate it. It doesn’t matter whether you use a PC or Mac, you can automate it on either platform. But for the purposes of this tutorial, and since I’m pretty solidly in the Mac user base now, I like to use Automator and Growl (both Mac-only). To download my Automator script, click the link at the bottom of this post.

Automator

The process of creating an Automator workflow to back up your Avid project is fairly simple. The process I’ve chosen involves syncing the Avid project directory on the Unity to a copy of it on your Avid’s desktop, creating a zip file of the desktop copy, and then transferring that to a USB drive. It requires five actions, which are these:

  1. Run a Shell Script

    Don't forget to change this command to your own project directory and desktop folders!

    • This command runs the program rsync, with the arguments “-avP” to provide directory recursion (so it will copy all subdirectories of your project directory), copy almost everything while maintaining file attributes, and be verbose about what it’s doing (which is good if you run this command manually from the Terminal, but won’t have an affect in Automator). The command is as follows:
    • rsync -avP --delete --exclude "*.log" --exclude "~avid_remove*" --exclude ".DS_Store" --delete-excluded /Volumes/Project/YOUR_PROJECT /Users/YOUR_USER/Desktop
    • The “–delete” argument tells rsync to delete any files on your local directory that do not exist on the Unity. So if you delete a bin on the Unity, it will make sure that bin is removed from your local drive, too.
    • The “–exclude” arguments tell rsync NOT to back up any files that match *.log, ~avid_remove, or .DS_Store in their filenames
    • The –delete-excluded argument tells rsync to delete any files in your backup directory that do not exist in your project folder, including files that have been excluded above, if for some reason there are any in your backup directory
    • The reason I use rsync instead of just re-copying the entire Avid project folder to the desktop and overwriting yesterday’s copy is that when your project directory gets to be several GB in size, it is much quicker and just as thorough to copy only the files that have changed since your last backup. Otherwise you end up recopying a bunch of bins that haven’t changed since months ago, and that takes time.
  2. Get Specified Finder Items
    • Once rsync finishes, this command runs to tell Automator where your backup directory is.Get Finder Items (Leopard)
  3. Create Archive
    • This action takes your desktop Project directory, and creates a zip file out of it. You want to do this because bin files (.avb) are highly compressible, meaning that you can take your 2GB project directory and compress it down to a couple hundred MBs.
    • In the “Save as:” text box, you can see I’m telling Automator that I want my zip file to be named with a variable for today’s date, such as “Warrior.90922.zip” and that I want it saved to the Desktop.

    Create Archive (Leopard)

    My Automator variable that inserts today's date. Rearrange the parts of the date however you like. I choose this method so Finder sorts my backups chronologically.

  4. Copy Finder Items
    • This action takes your newly minted zip file and copies it to your flash drive.
    • N.B. Plug your flash drive in before running this workflow. If you don’t, Automator will fail, but if you do then you can leave and come back in 10 minutes to a fully backed up project already on your flash drive.
    • Copy to Flash Drive (Leopard)

  5. Show Growl Notification (optional)
    • This step allows you to display a Growl notification once the backup has completed. I find this useful because I can go make some tea while Automator is running and see at a glance when I come back if it’s done yet. Growl will also make a sound when it displays the notification, so you can grab your flash drive the instant it’s done and go home. Growl is a separate application you have to install, though, so there is a bit of extra prep you need to do before this action will be available inside Automator.

      Growl (Leopard)

      Make your Growl notification "Sticky" if you want the notification to remain on screen until you click on it.

And that’s it. After Automator finishes, you’ll have a backup copy of your project on both your local Avid drive, and your flash drive. You should then take your flash drive home with you every night, so that your backup copies are in separate places. I also keep an archive of every zip file I make on an external hard drive. Most of the time you won’t need this, but sometimes it’s useful to be able to go back a few days or months in your project’s history.

Attachments:

Pros and Cons of Cutting in HD

Hellboy 2 was a first for me in terms of cutting in HD. All of the other projects I’ve cut or worked on have edited in either NTSC or PAL, and so this was my first run through the process of organizing an editorial and post-production process involving HD. Overall, it worked very well. The editor enjoyed working with much higher-quality footage, the sound department loved mixing to higher-quality reels, and having that extra definition gave us assistant editors more flexibility across the board for how and at what quality we would turn materials over to the people who needed them.

That said, after a year of working in HD, there are some big limitations that got in the way, many of them from Day 1. I will go into them in detail, but I think I can sum them up by saying that the HD workflow was obviously not intended to be used for cutting film, and I hope that we soon move back to cutting with 4:3 material, hopefully in 1k or even 2k.

How To Troubleshoot

Troubleshooting seems to be one of the least understood concepts of working with computers. Everyone is familiar with having software problems, and most people have a friend that they can call for advice on how to fix the situation. What is not understood as widely as it really should be is how easy it is to troubleshoot something yourself. Even if you don’t solve the problem yourself, the legwork you can do on your own, before calling for help, provides very useful information to anyone trying to fix the problem for you.

Troubleshooting is a very logical exercise, and often one that involves a simple process of elimination. You have to be observant, and note when you can get the problem to happen, and equally importantly, when you can’t. You also have to be aware of the immense amount of knowledge available on the Internet to help you solve any type of problem. If it’s a problem with OSX, there are sites such as macosxhints.com or the Apple Support Site and Discussion Boards. Microsoft has their own useful support site. If it’s a problem with Avid, then try searching the Avid Community Forums. Or just search Google, which often times has already indexed all these sites for you.

I think the big thing you need to remember when troubleshooting is this: Someone has had your problem before, and has found a way to solve it.

That bears repeating. Whatever problem you are encountering has almost certainly been encountered before, fixed or worked around, and written about on the Internet. Even if it hasn’t been fixed, it’s probably still been written about, and you can put your mind at ease by knowing that even if you have to wait for the next version to come out, at least other people are suffering also and it’s not something unique to what you’re doing.

And another thing: Looking up solutions on the Internet isn’t cheating. I once impressed another assistant editor by fixing her problem with a deck configuration, only to have her turn around and scoff when I told her I’d just looked up the answer on the Avid forums. Being a good troubleshooter has nothing to do with knowing all the answers in advance, but it has everything to do with knowing how to find the answers quickly. The more problems you solve through your own research, the quicker you’ll get at zeroing in on the sites most likely to have the solution to your next problem. And don’t forget, if you solve a problem no one else has solved yet, write about it! Find a forum that talks about the problem you’re having, and post the solution for everyone else who encounters this problem after you.

If in the end you are unable to solve the problem you’re having, but still think it to be a solvable problem, make sure to tell the person you call for help all the steps you’ve done already. Otherwise they’ll just waste their time repeating all the steps you’ve gone through just to get to where you are already. For example, when my Internet goes out and I call AT&T, I usually get myself bumped directly up to their Level 2 support because I immediately tell the guy who answers the phone at Level 1 all the things I’ve done already. Those guys at Level 1 just have a book of common procedures that people usually don’t bother to do on their own, so if you call and tell them that you’ve already done everything in their book, you save everyone the time of troubleshooting for the wrong solutions and get bumped up to the people who actually know what they’re doing.

The other thing I tell people who have a problem they need to troubleshoot on their own is that they should not be afraid to tinker. If you’re at all hesitant about troubleshooting on your own, you’re one of the least likely people to cause any serious harm. So go ahead, play around. Try to reproduce the error and see if you can identify the conditions under which the error occurs, and those under which it doesn’t. Once you know the conditions under which the error occurs, you might then try a divide and conquer approach. This means that you go one by one through all the steps it takes to recreate the error, and test all the options to see which of those steps is the actual cause. It’s kind of like a choose your own adventure book. At each step, try all the options and see what happens. Oftentimes, this approach will not only tell you which specific action is the cause, but it will also give you a good idea of what to do to fix it or find a workaround.

Lastly, I am always wary of phone tech support people who try to fix the problem for a few minutes and then give up and tell you to reinstall or reformat. In my experience, when you reinstall an application, you may reset the problem, but you haven’t fixed it and it is likely to come up again. When you reformat, you’re spending hours of time getting back to where you were without any guarantee that the problem had anything to do with the steps you’ve just taken to try to fix it. Reformatting is an especially drastic step that I find to be recommended by tech support people far more often than is actually necessary. A little patience and inquisitiveness will go a long way towards fixing your problem quickly, and in a manner that’s not nearly as destructive as reformatting or reinstalling.

An Avid Example

On Hellboy 2, I ran into a Bus Error when exporting an AAF with Embedded Media. This was strange, since I’d exported tons of AAFs with Embedded Media already, and there was no reason that this process should now not work. I was even more discouraged because Bus Errors, as any Mac Avid user knows, can be incredibly obtuse and can have any number of causes. Reproducing the error reliably took a little while to accomplish, but I soon figured out a pattern. I was sometimes able to export an AAF or two successfully out of however many reels I’d selected, but the more sequences I had in the bin I was exporting the AAF from, the more likely it was to crash during export. Not only that, but the first part of the AAF export process always seemed to work, it was in the time after consolidation but before actually writing the AAF file that Avid would crash.

What I took to doing as a workaround was creating new bins, putting just a few sequences in each, and exporting AAFs for only 2-3 reels at a time instead of all 7. But one day when I had time to spend on troubleshooting, I got to actually figuring out the cause, and it was much simpler than I had imagined. Basically, when you export an AAF with Embedded Media, what you are essentially doing are these 3 steps: consolidating a sequence, saving the bin, and then copying all of the newly-consolidated media into the AAF file as it’s being written. I selected one of my sequences and did the consolidation manually, saved the bin manually, and then manually exported an AAF with the consolidated media. No problem. I then selected a second sequence, since I knew the problem didn’t always occur the first time around, and repeated the process. When I went to save I suddenly got a helpful error message that said I had too many clips in the bin for Avid to be able to save it. I moved a few sequences out of the bin and deleted the previously consolidated media that I no longer needed, and then Avid allowed me to save.

Based on that error message and my troubleshooting steps, it seemed that the problem during my AAF export was the same error without the helpful error message. After a reel or two had been consolidated, I then had too many clips in the bin for Avid to be able to save it. Additionally, all of the clips that were referenced in the sequences in that bin contributed to the total clip count. So even if I had only 6 sequences in the bin, in Avid’s eyes that bin still contained thousands and thousands of clips. The problem was simply that Avid only knew how to handle the error of having too many clips in a bin when you approached that limit through manual consolidation. When you wanted to do a compound process like exporting an AAF with embedded media, Avid ran into the same clip count limitation, but without the error code programmed in to handle it. And, at least on Macs, when Avid is overwhelmed or encounters an error it doesn’t know what to do with, it crashes out with a Bus Error.

So in this case, the workaround I came up with before I knew what the problem was ended up being the right solution anyway. But by knowing what the cause of the Bus Error was, I could not only avoid running into it, but I could also rule out any other, deeper problem.

Conclusion

When things start going wrong, don’t waste your time waiting for help. You are unlikely to break things more than they already are, and you’re actually more likely to fix it than you think. Just be patient, careful, and work your way through the steps it takes to recreate the problem until you can diagnose what the specific cause is. Between the steps you take to troubleshoot your problem, as well as the vast amount of troubleshooting information available on the Internet, you should be able to greatly decrease the amount of downtime you suffer due to technical problems.