The audio post-production business is going through its most cataclysmic changes since the digital audio workstation replaced magnetic tape. Most of the single project assignments previously done in audio post facilities are now completed by independent producers in their personal desktop environments. The work now driving facilities in the audio post-production business includes large-scale productions, ongoing advertising and promotional campaigns, and longform TV series. It's a new game with new challenges for productivity and profitability.
Storage area networks (SANs) are the "next big thing" for today's audio post-production business. An audio/video storage area network connects all the workstations in an audio/video facility to the same data storage pool. This enables universal access by every workstation (via fibre channel) to all active projects as well as all of the facility's sound effects and music libraries.
Audio editors can simultaneously work on different elements of the same audio post-production project. One editor may work on sound effects while another editor works on dialog editing, and a third editor works on music elements. At the same time, sound designers and effects specialists have access to the centralized sound effects and music library files to work on different projects simultaneously from any workstation on the network.
High-quality, creative sound design and audio post-production is as much in demand as ever. But with audio/video facilities being more and more large-project driven, the pressure is on like never before to efficiently handle large-scale contracts while addressing the fiercely competitive post-production environment.
We had Jeff Elterman, a fibre channel network consultant configure the storage area network for us. He recommended a short list of equipment including: Fujitsu 73G 2Gb/sec fibre channel drives, a QLogic SANbox2 switch, a Chaparral VFS113 router, ATTO 3300 fibre channel host bus adapters and Accelware software, and an Exabyte M2 native fibre channel tape drive. To avoid the potential for problems it is critical to go with equipment that has been proven to work together. This short list fit the bill cost-effectively. We were able to keep our operation up and running during the three days that it took to connect our audio suites and machine room with fiber optic cable and install the equipment.
Recent projects at Onomatopoeia have benefited tremendously from our use of a storage area network. One of our most fiendishly complex projects to date was for Scholastic Interactive's Phonics Reading Series, which involved 60 (!) books going onto CD-ROM. The work entailed our recording, editing and processing more than 25,000 individual sound files. Ten full-time recording engineers and sound editors were involved in the project.
The Scholastic project carried two main challenges. The first was producing extremely clear, very low resolution sound--after all, it is a phonics program. Every word, every syllable, every phoneme had to be 100 percent clear. Second was the data management issue: keeping track of 25,000+ sound files through every step of the process.
We first recorded all books being read beginning-to-end. Then, every individual word of every book was separately recorded so the student using the CD-ROM could click on any word and hear it correctly pronounced. Next, each individual phonic element was separately recorded so the user could double-click and hear the phonic breakdown of a word ("listen: ll--ih--ss--n"). We also recorded approximately 10 narrated activities per book, as well as help info for all aspects of the CD-ROM. Every individual sound file was processed to a low-resolution format and optimized, then placed on our FTP server for access by the client.
The success of the project was closely tied to the data management and workflow. There were two shifts running, each with four sound editors and a project manager/assistant manager. Our SAN made the project, which could have easily been a nightmare, into a precise process. In fact, the work was completed and delivered two weeks ahead of schedule.
Before we installed our SAN we wouldn't have been able to handle the volume of business we do now. Without a SAN, even going after projects like Scholastic Phonics would be impossible.
We have been able to accomplish at least 33 percent more work in the same amount of time as compared to when our facility did not have a SAN. This increased productivity quickly offsets the investment. The ability to handle several large productions at the same time enables us to go after the most profitable work.
The day is coming when competing for large-scale audio contracts without a SAN will be like trying to efficiently handle large scale audio post-production without digital audio workstations. Storage area networks will soon be an integral part of every audio post facility. It's the next logical step to staying competitive in the audio post business.