Keeping the Archive Alive

If you’re engaged in any sort of media making, a thing that it’s smart to consider is how you’ll keep your works alive and accessible. Magnetic tapes, hard drives and optical discs all have a lifespan that is only somewhat known, and often unpredictable. Even media like photographic film, which has shown itself to be quite durable, is not utterly dependable.

I touch on this topic from time to time because I, myself, worry about this issue and am reasonably good about keeping multiple backups of the radioshow and other projects. Indie video/filmmakers worry about it more, since digital video takes up many more gigabytes than audio.

Mike Curtis at HD for Indies points to a Studio Daily article reporting on a Hollywood Post Alliance retreat that tackled the long-term archive issue for analog and digital media (and their future interoperability).

A guy from Sun Microsystems recommended using a backup tape library system of the type used by enterprise-level data warehouses. The idea is to keep two copies of uncompressed version of your finished product in each of two libraries in different physical locations, with the storage medium being backed up and replaced every ten years.

That’s a bit more than I can afford, but I think you can take something from the principle of keeping four uncompressed (or highest available quality) copies of your work, with them split up into different locations, and then backed up regularly. A lot of labor, yes, but how valuable is your work?

But that’s just part of the work, as Mike Curtis notes:

They are only talking about backing up final results – but what about all the intermediate plate elements? That opens up another huge ball of wax – even if you had all the files and elements…will you have computers, OS’s and software to run it on that all still works? Think about if you had a 10 year old animation project you had to resurrect – do you still have a system that can open that file or run that software? What if it was OS 9 software, for instance?

He’s right. If you’re editing digital video, then your project can be made up of hundreds of files, covering multi-gigabytes. If you wanted to do a revised edit, director’s cut, or somehow work with your original footage, it’s a heck of a lot easier to work with that project file than to try and go back to source tapes or work from the final cut.

So, the best advice is to keep as many copies as you can of everything you can, in as many formats as you can (maybe dumping down even to VHS doesn’t sound so silly?).

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