Managing assets: how graphics and animation facilities benefit

Managing assets: how graphics and animation facilities benefitIn the world of graphics and animation, it's not uncommon to deal with an immense number of media assets created in different formats and resolutions. Considering the time pressure that artists work under, there's no question that digital asset management (DAM) can be of great benefit. While DAM solutions all do essentially the same things--such as allowing users to track, search, retrieve, transcode and access rich media assets on digital storage--they differ in the ways they get the job done.

One key differentiator is that DAM is offered as software you purchase or as a service you subscribe to. If you decide to purchase the DAM software outright, there's a substantial upfront capital cost for the software and whatever is needed to integrate it within your facility. You must also act as your own systems administrator, seeing to regular maintenance and upgrades whenever necessary. But software vendors say that once the installation is paid for, you can use it cost effectively for years to come.

On the other hand, the DAM service providers say that if you subscribe to their service, you can spare yourself that huge upfront capital outlay and simply "turn on" their asset management service and get right to work. This pay-as-you-go approach is also conductive to project-based and billable work. But, while you must pay their monthly fee for as long as you need to use their service, you're spared the systems administration headaches.

Either way, whether it's software or a service, the vendors we spoke with stressed that DAM can make a facility's workflow far more productive and efficient. For graphics and animation in particular, they say DAM and workflow management go hand-in-hand.


"Alienbrain Studio offers a return on investment [ROI] by dovetailing with a facility's existing workflow and tracking and managing assets as an intuitive, unobtrusive process," says Matthias Adrian, senior product manager for Alienbrain, at Avid Technology's ( computer graphics group in Tewksbury, MA. "With the use of software plug-ins, Alienbrain Studio 7.1 can work within the Softimage|XSI, Alias Maya and Autodesk 3DS Max environments, as well as Adobe Photoshop and Microsoft Office."

Alienbrain Studio can automatically track the comings and goings of each media asset as it moves about in the collaborative review and approval process. "If an artist searches for a particular file, every version of that asset and every asset relevant to the search will come up, whether the asset is stored online, near-line, or on an archival medium," says Adrian. "And that artist will be able to see the entire history of a particular asset and pinpoint who has it, if it is being worked on, where the bottleneck is, or if it's been approved.

"If artists need to create graphics and animations, they can search for similar assets already in the database so as to repurpose those rather than starting over from scratch," says Adrian. "Also, when artists are working in collaboration, Alienbrain Studio can prevent duplicate efforts caused by two artists working on the same file at the same time without each other's knowledge."

And when it's time to move assets from valuable online storage, the digital files can be placed into "buckets" and moved as a group onto nearline storage or offline to DVDs or data tape where they continue to be tracked.


"With our service-based approach, small- to mid-sized creative shops can take advantage of enterprise-class DAM software at a very economical price-point," says Mike Castle, VP strategic alliances for Onstream Media ( in Pompano Beach, FL. "Without the high up-front capital cost of buying DAM software and integrating it into the facility, these creatives can simply 'turn on' a service that enables them to start managing all of their graphics, animation and video assets. This approach is especially ideal for facilities that serve and bill clients for project-based work.

"Our goal was to simplify DAM for our customers so they could focus on growing their businesses versus managing and administering another complex technology system," says Castle. While Onstream Media counts Disney, New Line Cinema, AOL and PBS among its customers, Castle says creative shops of two to 20 people can leverage the same powerful DAM software large companies use by subscribing to its Digital Media Services Platform. The monthly fee is determined by such factors as the amount of storage or services required. Besides asset management, Onstream also offers Webcasting and Webconferencing, as well as its EDNet digital dailies service.

"Our Digital Media Services Platform offers support for over 250 file formats," says Castle. "We have partnered with many best-in-class products, including the Virage Logger; Telestream Flip Factory and Clip Mail; Adobe Creative Suite; Digimark watermarking; and Apple's Final Cut Pro. These entertainment-specific tools integrate to form a scalable, flexible DAM solution that encompasses the ability to ingest, encode, index, manage, and even monetize, rich media libraries of nearly unlimited size."


"With the explosion of digital media, artists and animators can be dealing with literally millions of elements that comprise their finished product," says Todd Eckler, senior VP of North Plains Systems ( in Toronto. "The traditional model of linear organizational structure--organizing things in folders according to projects--just doesn't satisfy today's demands for media asset management."

North Plains' TeleScope software is a DAM whose capabilities fall into several areas: tracking renditions, different file formats of the master asset; the parent-child derivative relationship tracking graphics back to the original raw materials; and version control to ensure that TeleScope users are always able to identify the latest approved version of an asset. TeleScope supports all major metadata models, including MPEG-7, Dublin Core, Prism and MXF, as well as static and time-based media workflows.

"'Children,' or assets derived from graphics, can have multiple 'parents' and a rendition can have numerous versions," Eckler explains. "So that's why the volume of graphics in the database can grow exponentially. When we developed TeleScope 11 years ago, we envisioned that content creators would deal with millions of assets organized in complex relationships. We designed TeleScope with this graphics and animation environment in mind."


"The challenge for content creators, especially those doing graphics and animation, is that their files can be up to film resolution," says Guy Hellier, VP of product management for Artesia, an Open Text Corporation ( company, in Rockville, MD. "Yet they often need to manage them down to the frame level, as well as to track every version as it moves through the review-and-approval process."

Open Text, which recently acquired Artesia, is a provider of ECM (Enterprise Content Management) software, which is now benefiting Artesia by broadening its capabilities.

Since Artesia was first formed in 1999, it has been in use by HBO, Discovery Communications, Electronic Arts and Major League Baseball's Advanced Media. Leading videogame developer Electronic Arts in San Francisco uses Artesia DAM software to support every aspect of its workflow, including graphics and audio files.

"Think about a videogame about NASCAR, where every animated car has brand imagery all over it," says Hellier. "When artists search for particular logos to put on the cars, they need to know which versions have been approved and any usage restrictions that apply. Asset and rights management is critical for Electronic Arts, considering the huge volume of graphics in their database."

New York's HBO has been using Artesia to search, find and manage media assets since they first began producing promotions for the hit series Sex and the City. "They not only needed to find and manage image files of Sarah Jessica Parker, they needed to ensure that they were only using those assets according to the rigorously-defined terms in her talent contract or they could have been sued," says Hellier.