Digital Future-Proofing
Issue: Volume: 26 Issue: 8 (August 2003)

Digital Future-Proofing

Walk around any of our industry shows, and you’re almost certain to walk away thinking that the digital video revolution is ancient history—that virtually all visual effects artists and animators are all busy receiving, sending, and producing all-digital video files, and that they’re performing their work on all-digital production pipelines with nth-generation digital video tools. Well, according to a new TrendWatch survey of the visual effects and dynamic media industry, titled “Media in Transition: Format Wars of the 21st Century,” that notion would be only half true.

Though this industry tends to be at the cutting edge, traditional formats are still very much entrenched," says TrendWatch partner Jim Whittington. For instance, he says, contrary to popular belief, and despite the production and distribution benefits of working with digital video, analog video is the most widely used format in effects and animation studios, which are at the most technically advanced end of the user spectrum.
Phil LoPiccolo

In fact, when working with partners or clients, nearly 80 percent of effects and animation studios say they receive work in analog video format, while less than 60 percent receive digital video. When it comes to sharing their own video work with others, the picture is somewhat brighter in that about half the studios report that they send out analog video files, whereas the other half say they send video in digital format. The most promising trend is that for internal production work, animation and effects studios now use digital video more often than analog video. Indeed, more than half (56 percent) report that they use digital video, while just 36 percent say that they use analog as their primary video production format.

It's clear that animation and effects studios are making the transition to digital video, but they have only reached the halfway mark. Should they go the rest of the way? The study offers some compelling reasons why now may be the ideal time to make the jump:

Low-cost entry: Digital video training, hardware, software, and infrastructure costs are lower now than at any other time in history, and digital video systems are paying for themselves long before they become obsolete.

System longevity: Product obsolescence doesn't occur as quickly as manufacturers would like to admit. For example, one of the most popular editing systems used for film work is an Avid Media Composer, which dates back to 1996. What's more, major software formats usually last for at least five years.

High compatibility: In a digital pipeline, compatibility issues diminish because software can convert and output data to just about any desired format: high-definition video, standard-definition video, streaming video, and so forth.

Content preservation: Animation assets can be valuable for many decades. So it's short-sighted to use formats such as standard-definition analog video that will become dated more quickly than the subject matter.

Asset management: A studio's business strategy should include plans to handle, archive, and secure digital assets. And to that end, digital asset management systems are fast becoming required tools to preserve future revenue opportunities.

Standard compliance: The Federal Communications Commission voted recently to require electronics manufacturers to include digital tuners in all new television sets by 2007, so digital video output will soon become the standard.

Perhaps the simplest way to sum up what this all means is that moving to an all-digital format now is the surest way to future-proof your business.