The data station is the nerve center of the on-set backup system.
The first thing you’ll need for your data station is a Media Reader. It can be as simple as an SD card reader, which usually comes in-built on most laptops; or as ‘complicated’ as a Codex Vault, specially made to ingest and work with Arriraw data streams.
Here’s a table listing media and examples of readers for that format:
|SD/CF||Kingston’s USB 3.0 Media Reader|
|XQD||Sony Media XQD Memory Card Reader|
|Memory Stick||Sony Media 21 in 1 External Multi Card Reader/Writer|
|SATA SSD 2.5″||Thermaltake Docking Station|
|Codex Drive||Codex Transfer Stations|
|SxS||SONNET QIO QIO-PCIE Media Reader|
|SR Memory||SRPC4 Data Transfer Unit|
Rule of thumb: Card readers must be better than the cards they are meant to read! Many novices buy good cards and then hunt for a crappy reader.
The card reader takes the data-responsibility off the card’s hands. It’s a good idea to keep the card on standby and use another card for the next setup, as I’ve mentioned earlier.
As you keep shooting, you’ll need a bigger storage solution to accumulate all this data. This responsibility typically falls on hard drives. Whether you use consumer grade hard drives or enterprise drives is up to you, but the common goal for both is reliability. Ideally, they shouldn’t fail, but we all know they will.
For this reason, the data station will include an SFS of its own, with either redundancy or duplication (copying data without RAID) built in. RAID 6 probably offers a great compromise between safety, drive space efficiency and speed. I personally prefer RAID 10.
Considerations for on-set SFS are more stringent than the post-production variety:
- Good transfer speeds, especially while writing
- Compatibility with card reader and file system
- UPS (very important)
- Checksum and backup management software
- Good ventilation and air flow
- Low Noise
- Enough storage space for contingencies
- Warning systems for quick troubleshooting
- Easy access to drive bays, etc. for maintenance
It is not uncommon for data stations to hold all the footage from a production, just in case somebody wants to refer to it. Imagine that, you don’t need to worry about continuity anymore!
After all the data for a particular scene or shot has been backed up, the original card is ready to go back into circulation if necessary. No matter what your data needs, the basic principles are the same.
A data station that is just meant to copy files around isn’t very cool, is it? Hey, as long as you are carrying a computer around, you might as well get more work done:
If a data wrangler moves files around, a Digital Imaging Technician (DIT) knows how to manipulate it. One of the bread-and-butter functions of a DIT is transcoding – the conversion of one video format to another format, and so on.
How do you know if you need transcoding on set? Here are a few questions to get you started:
- Do you have multiple collaborators who need to watch dailies?
- Maybe your uber cool producer or director wants to watch his or her dailies on an ipad?
- Does footage sent to a VFX facility or post house need to be in a different format to the one shot?
- Do you want to do some quick editing on set?
- Do you need to debayer to view files (like Redcode, CinemaDNG, Arriraw, etc.)?
If you need to transcode files on set, your data station or DIT should be ready to handle it.
Converting data from one form to another requires computing power, and this duty falls mostly on the CPU. In some cases, a GPU or other hardware (like a Red Rocket) can speed up things. A good data station demands human supervision, preferably by someone who understands computers, networking and video. Most data stations are custom built by knowledgeable computer engineers who know what they are doing.
Diving in head first without a clue will lead to bottlenecks on set – that’s when data stops moving when you don’t want it to. For this reason, manufacturers make turnkey data solutions, like this excellent one from Codex:
The Codex Arriraw recorder (top) connects directly to the Arri Alexa and records to Codex Datapacks (Middle). This is moved to the Codex Vault S Process + Storage + Archive (bottom left) which includes 8 TB of internal storage, dual LTO-5 drives and archival tools. For dailies, editing, etc., data can be transcoded and copied over to Transfer Drives (bottom right), LTO tapes, etc.
We have enough information to now build our own data station. Let’s start with the component that brings it all together: the Computer.