January 7, 2011

My Backup Solution

BackupMultipleHDBacking up data is one of those things that so many people know they should do, but don't, either because they never get around to it, or think they'll be okay without it. If you're in the latter group, trust me, you'll realize you're not okay without a backup, probably when it's too late. If you're in the former group, take advantage the lighter workload that this time of year can bring and get going on your backups! Let me highlight the backup strategy I personally use.

First, please note that no single backup strategy is perfect for everyone. I approach my backups as a freelancer occasionally working from home, father, and Apple geek. The approach I use will almost certainly differ from what you use (or will use). This is just meant as a springboard from which we can remind each other about backing up our data.


My main setup is a MacPro, which gives me the luxury of having up to four drives installed internally (more if you are clever), versus a laptop which is sparse on drive expansion. In my case, I have a 320GB system drive, 500GB clone (320GB for clone, plus a spare 180GB partition), 1TB media drive, and a 2TB Time Machine volume. But I could easily substitute an external for any of these if I were on a laptop.


Regarding the backups themselves, I have a three-tiered approach to my backups:

  1. Bootable system clone
  2. Versioned local backup
  3. Remote critical backup

Let's go through these one-by-one.

1. Bootable System Clone

This is a complete clone of my main system drive, made weekly using Carbon Copy Cloner (throw the guy a donation, too). This is a backup I rarely (if ever) use, but is invaluable. If I am working on a project, and something completely trashes my system (bad blocks, system drive failure, etc.), I can immediately boot off the clone without having to wait several hours to restore my system. I can continue working off this drive until I have time to repair the original system drive.

In all honesty, this isn't a necessity, but I have so many drives littering my office, it seemed like a no-brainer to have a bootable system clone.

2. Versioned Local Backup

I go the easy route here, and simply use Time Machine. Using a 2TB Western Digital Caviar Green drive, I can backup my entire system drive as well as my 1TB media drive, which stores larger renders, captured footage, my stock library, etc. I chose to use Time Machine because it's built in to the OS, and integrated into several applications I use daily (Mail, Address Book, etc…) There are several other options out there, but it just tends to work.

What's great about a versioned backup is the ability to recover files not just from a hardware failure, but accidental deletion or file corruption as well.

3. Remote Critical Backup

If something catastrophic were to happen to my home (fire, tornado, robbery), I want to be sure my most important files are safe. I don't just mean AE and FCP files for work; family photos, videos, tax, and insurance documents top that list above anything work related. So I make sure those go off-site. Luckily, software like Crashplan makes that incredibly easy.

For a very reasonable cost ($1.50/mo up to 10GB, $3/mo unlimited single computer, $6/mo unlimited up to 10 computers), I have unlimited off-site backup, including file versioning. There are other services like Mozy and Backblaze if Crashplan isn't you're thing. The important part is to get those files somewhere outside of your home. The nice thing about Crashplan, though, is you can use their software for free to backup to a friend's computer. All you have to do is give your friend a drive, have them install Crashplan, and enter a code on their computer. (And really, why not just reciprocate and offer to be a backup destination for them as well?)

I am slowly extending my off-site backups to not-quite-so-critical files, including those on my media drive. But it's a slow process. If I really wanted to, I could send a drive to Crashplan and avoid the online transfer entirely, but I don't find that necessary for these files.


In the end, you need to find a backup solution that works for you. If you only chose one, I really recommend going off-site, either with a service like Crashplan, Mozy, or Backblaze; or with a drive you store in a safe-deposit box once a month. The important thing is to get those files to another physical location in case something happens to your home. Beyond that, if you can use a local backup for easy recovery, add that to the strategy as well. The bootable system clone? That's just if you're can't afford any down-time for a drive failure.

Drives are getting cheaper and the best backup is one that you can afford to have fail.

November 3, 2010

AE Quicktip: Assign Keyboard Shortcuts on a Mac

Is there that one menu command you always use in After Effects and wish there was a keyboard shortcut? In the past, there were cumbersome methods of modifying a text file buried in the filesystem to change things. But there's a much easier way:

System Preferences: Keyboard & Mouse

System Preferences: Keyboard & Mouse.

Go to the Keyboard Shortcuts tab and click on the "+" button towards the bottom.

Then select After Effects from the Application pulldown (you might have to go to "Other…" at the bottom and browse to AE).

Type in the exact name of the menu item you want a shortcut for, then hit the keys you'd like to be the shortcut. Just make sure they shortcut isn't already used by After Effects.

And there you go!

April 21, 2010

It’s Vivifying!

1898yearbook-76I got this link to a 1898 yearbook (30MB PDF warning) for The West Side High School from my sister-in-law. It's a fascinating glimpse of life over a century ago, but what I found more amazing were the ads, like the one to the left.

It's well worth digging around and discovering the ornate borders, intricate typography, and detailed line drawings, as well as some interesting student illustrations. Not surprisingly, photography is very limited (mostly just faculty, staff, and the building itself).

But I digress. You really need to take a look at these ads! (And if you make it to the end, there's a special surprise!)
Read more

April 15, 2010

Offline Woes


I've run into this problem a lot. Here's the setup:

I'll pull selects in Final Cut Pro, reveal the clip in the Finder and import it into After Effects to work with. When I go back to Final Cut Pro, the clip will be offline for a brief moment before showing up again. What's worse is if I've rendered that clip somewhere in a timeline, that render will be gone.

I finally decided to dig into this to find out what was going on. It turns out it's a simple thing, really. When you load a clip into After Effects CS4, it appends XMP metadata to the file. Final Cut Pro then sees the updated file and takes a moment to relink what it thinks is new media. So there you go.

Moral of the story: be careful when working directly with FCP media files in After Effects.

January 25, 2010

Saul Bass: On Making Money vs Quality Work

I want everything we do—that I do personally, that our office does—to be beautiful. I don't give a damn whether the client understands that that's worth anything or that a client thinks it's worth anything or whether it is worth anything. It's worth it to me.

– Saul Bass

[via Motionographer]

December 11, 2009

iPhone Apps for Designers/Post Production

I'm not afraid to admit that I'm slightly addicted to my iPhone. It's a really useful piece of tech, not just for communication, but for my work as well. Here's a list of apps I use almost daily for my motion design & post production work :

WhatTheFontWhat The Font (Free, iTunes Link)
Take a picture of a sign, layout, billboard, or pretty much anything and upload it to What The Font. It operates much like the website and can be a lifesaver. Though it can be tricky to get matches back unless you have a 3G S, as the fixed focus camera on the original and 3G iPhones makes it tricky to get a decent picture.

Colorscliqcliq Colors ($2.99, iTunes Link)
Choosing the right colors for a project is important and inspiration can come from anywhere at any time. Chose your own colors (up to 16) or use a photo as the basis for the palette. You can work in RGB, HSB, Gray or CMYK (for you print designers). When you're done you can name & rate your palette, or even send it in an email. The email is especially thorough, providing ACO, ASE, Office Open XML Color Theme, bitmap, plaintext, and CSV file formats, along with a preview.

ColorSlideColorSlide (Free, iTunes Link)
Speaking of color palettes, you're probably familiar with Adobe Kuler. ColorSlide is basically an iPhone front-end allowing you to search, browse, and bookmark the palettes. Unfortunately, there's no way to sign in with your Kuler account, though you can email links.

ColourMill Colour (Free, iTunes Link)
A great little photo adjustment app by The Mill. Allows you to chose from predefined looks or adjust lift/gamma/gain (both luminance & separate RGB) and saturation on your own.

PSMobilePS Mobile (Free, iTunes Link)
From Adobe themselves. Crop, adjust exposure/saturation/tint, apply filters and save & upload your completed image to photoshop.com. I admit I don't use this too often, but it's handy to have.

AnimTimerAnimation Timer ($4.99, iTunes Link)
Tap out timing for your animation. It's similar to the "lap" feature on stopwatches, though instead of fractions of a second, you get frames, 35mm footage or timecode. It's handy for timing everything from edits to complex character animation.

EditCalcEditCalc ($0.99, iTunes Link)
A simple timecode calculator. Works in 23.98, 24, 25, 29.97, 59.94, and 60 fps. You can also work in varying film footages, from 16mm 1perf all the way up to 70mm 5perf.

DataCalcAJA DataCalc (Free, iTunes Link)
Recently released, this app will calculate storage for varying frame sizes/rates and codecs, and closely mirrors their Mac & Windows calculators in function. You can work in days/hours/min/sec or timecode. What I really like about the app is you can chose between working in KB (1000 bytes), KiB (1024 bytes) or even Bits, which is handy if you're working in Snow Leopard. One complaint is that they don't offer 720p24 as a preset, though you can use custom setups, so it's not that big of a deal. When you're all done you can mail a summary of your calculation; useful if you're on set and need to let your assistant know what's coming.

iBlueSkyiBlueSky ($9.99, iTunes Link)
If you're not familiar with mind mapping, you might not care much about this app. But it's hands-down the best app for this purpose. What I really like is that I can email my maps as OPML files (along with other formats) and open it up with OmniOutliner on my Mac.

PocketVFXPocket VFX ($0.99, iTunes Link)
This is just for fun. Framestore (vfx credits include Avatar, The Dark Knight, The Golden Compass, and Where the Wild Things Are) has released an app of their own. You, too can have Framestore's power in your own pocket!

Have other favorite design/post apps? Share them in the coments.

December 8, 2009

VFX Breakdown: Sweater

Last week I was working on a retail spot where we needed a product that wasn't shot on-figure. But we did have a shot of a similar product. It just needed a little work. This is what I mean by "a little:"

I'm pretty pleased with the end result. It was a fun task to work on, though I hope I don't have to do it too often…

November 23, 2009

Centercut Safe in Final Cut Pro

dh_widesafeWhile I would rather have better control of the title-/sction-safe within the built-in overlay, this is the next best thing. DH Widesafe from Digital Heaven. The downside it that it uses a video track and will cause re-renders if you use it frequently. Still, it's better than nothing.

November 20, 2009

AE Mini Tip: Color Control Layer

If you've worked on commercial project, you know there's only one constant: change… especially at the last minute. One of the things that seems to frequently change is color choice. If you have a complicated AE animation and many layers that use the same colors, this can be a royal pain. You can reduce this pain if, from the beginning, you set up a color control layer.

[Note: this really only works well if you're working on vector animations with single-color objects.]

First, set up an adjustment layer and add the "Color Color" effect found under "Expression Controls." Do this for as many colors as you want.


I recommend naming the controls for the layers you will be coloring rather than the color itself.

Then, apply the "Fill" effect under "Generate." Here, you can option-click (alt-click on PC) and drag the pick-whip (that little spiral button) to the color control in your color control layer.


Now, when the client comes back to you with the comment "The trees should be purple," you won't be cursing under your breath (as much).

November 9, 2009

Ramen – Not Just Cheap Noodles

I just found out about Ramen, an open-source, node-based compositing application today. It looks promising, if for no reason other than to get node-based workflows in the hands of more people.

I'll have to give this a try tonight when I get home… Maybe. The only way to get the software is to download the source and compile it yourself. I'm pretty sure that means I'll be messing around with installing dependencies for a while before I ever get to try it out.

If and when I get around to compiling, installing, and playing with this, I'll post a review.

(via @Kashaan & @BoundaryVFX)

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