Over the past couple of months, I have been re-building my edit suite piece by piece and as of this week it’s finally complete. When I moved to Los Angeles in March, all I had with me to work on was my laptop and a couple of external drives. My primary editing machine is a 12 core Mac Pro, but I had to wait almost a month to ship it down here, as I did with my broadcast monitor and many others things. Since my space here is larger than what I had in Toronto, I decided that when everything finally arrived, I would take the opportunity to rebuild my suite from the ground up.
Having a solid edit suite to work in is arguably as important as having a great camera to shoot on. To draw on that comparison, in cinematography, you can get a beautiful image and tell a great story using a crappy camera, although it will be a pain and likely not an enjoyable experience. Likewise, you can use an old beater computer with outdated software on it to edit, but it will also be a pain and make your life miserable, while still getting the job done. I stress this point because I regularly meet editors who are great at what they do, but are limiting themselves by the set up they have, and with just a few additions/changes to their set up they could massively increase their productivity and they could get much better results.
When I was researching some options for setting up my new edit bay, it occurred to me that there wasn’t really anything online (that I could find at least) that gave a real life approach to what an edit suite should look like, and the type of tools that you need in it. So after completing my own suite, I thought I would do just that – break down how and why I set up my new suite the way that I did for those wanting to put together the basics of an editing room. Keep in mind there are countless ways you can do this, and you’ll want to customize it to suit your needs.
I’ve worked in just about every possible post-production environment including: a large offline editing company, a boutique finishing house, a home based edit suite, a mobile station on set, etc. Every suite I’ve worked in was set up entirely differently, and the way I’ve set up my new editing room is sort of an amalgamation of a few of the better set ups I’ve worked in over the years.
Regardless of exactly how you set yourself up, there are two main things you want to consider when building an edit suite/editing room:
1.Â Functionality for you as an editor
2.Â Functionality for your clients
Let’s start with number 1. The core and brain of having a fully Â operational edit suite is of course your computer. I have multiple machines, but my main one is a 12-core MacPro tower. For the purpose of this post, I won’t get into the specifics what computer to buy, because that is simply a question only you can answer for yourself based on what your needs are. A lot of it relies on the software you’d like to run, and for some past posts on software please see: Why I am Editing My Feature On FCP X andÂ Using Premiere Pro As a Workflow Tool
For my needs, the MacPro is crucial, although my Retina MacBook pro can run circles around it for most basic editing tasks and I’m using it more and more every day. Regardless, for other reasons the MacPro is the hub of the room.
No matter what if you prefer mac or pc, it’s so important to invest in something powerful. If you’re making a living from editing or planning to, you’ll want something that will work for you and make your life easier while allowing yourself and your business to grow more quickly and effectively. Getting something with a Cuda card, lots of ram and preferably a SSD drive in it, are the most important things right now, editing wise.
When it came down to rebuilding my suite, I knew I definitely did not need a new computer. In fact, I didn’t upgrade any hardware for the most part, with the exception of a NAS that I’ll get to later.Â What did change was the layout of the room and the addition of a client monitor, something I didn’t have it my previous set up.
Here are a couple of photos of my new edit suite:
Let’s start at the back of the room where one of the most important elements to the room is installed – the Curtains. Yes the curtains. Simple, but they are extremely important. If there are only two things you ABSOLUTELY need in an editing room (besides a computer) they are: a door on the room and light control. The light control is paramount to ensure that if you do any color/vfx work, you have an optimal viewing condition for making color critical decisions. Even if you aren’t a colorist or VFX artist, the light control is a must as glares on your screen can affect your ability to work properly. So make sure to get some blackout blinds or curtains that will kill any light spilling through the windows.
Under the desk is the above mentioned 12-core mac pro tower, filled with ram and two video cards: the ATI Radeon 5770 and a Quadro 4000 for use with DaVinci Resolve and other Cuda enabled applications. The computer is also configured with an internal RAID that I use to work off of and a solid state boot disk to run my applications off of. Upgrading to a SSD drive was one of the best things I ever did to my computer and I would highly recommend it.
Up on the desk I have two 23″ Samsung monitors which will soon be upgraded, and beside them my 21″ Panasonic broadcast monitor. I also keep a pen/tablet handy for quick color fixes (I bring out a color control surface when needed), and have two solid audio monitors hiding behind the screens. Any configuration of these basic parts will do the trick. If you never do color work, than you don’t need the broadcast monitor or conversely if you do a lot of audio, you’ll want higher grade speakers, but all in all any number of setups using these basic tools will have you covered.
What I added in this suite, that I did not have in my previous suite was a client couch and client monitor. My goal is to create a relaxed and inviting environment for my clients to work in and as such it was important that I set this up in a way that replicated the feeling of a large scale facility but with the service of a boutique shop.
There are countless ways you can set up a client viewing area, but this way was always my favorite. As you can see in the above photos, the couch is in front of my desk, so while I work on FCP for example, the client can comfortably sit on the couch, make notes and review on the 43″ monitor in front of them. I also made sure that the monitor is high enough that I can see it over my screens, so I can keep an eye on it and make sure it’s running as it should.
I much prefer working in a space with a separate client monitor to having to share a single monitor with them. Having the extra space really does make the experience more enjoyable, productive and professional. I highly recommend getting a client monitor, even if most of your clients don’t work from your edit suite. The ones that do will really appreciate it, and it also help to attract a higher end clientele. As for the monitor itself, Panasonic Professional Plasmas are the best, but most modern 1080p TV’s will work fine if you don’t need something close to broadcast spec. If your room isn’t large enough to be set up this way, you can still have a client monitor elsewhere. Many smaller suites have the couch behind the desk (as opposed to in front of it in my setup), the desk faces a wall and there is a client monitor mounted either on the wall in front of them, or to the side on another stand.
The last thing I’ll touch on is storage. Camera file sizes are getting larger and larger by the month with raw cameras getting released regularly, but hard drive space isn’t catching up as quickly as it could. If your clients shoot on Red Epic, Blackmagic (raw), Alexa, or many other formats, you may quickly find yourself running out of storage. What will end up happening, is you’ll have your files scattered across multiple small drives, and that will make your process incredibly inefficient and disorganized. From my experience, one of the worst things for any editing application is to be simultaneously pulling data from multiple drives. It’s also bad for you as an editor as you’ll wind up spending a lot of time looking for files/media managing that you could be spending working or finishing your work entirely. You really want all your files in one place.
It’s not only crucial to have a large storage system to work off of, but also to backup to. I would recommend some kind of RAID, possibly one of the following:
I went a step further and installed a NAS version of the LaCie RAID you see above. The difference between what I have and the RAID above, is that being a NAS, mine is hooked up to my network and I am accessing it through ethernet, not firewire/thunderbolt. To me this is beneficial for many reasons, but the biggest being collaboration. Whether I have another editor working from here, or I simply want to work on a different machine, this gives me the flexibility to keep everything on a centralized, shared system.
Many of you know that this one of the basic fundamentals of how major post houses are set up, but of course on a much large scale, with rack mounted RAIDs of massive sizes. I always feel it is important to provide the same level of professionalism to my craft and to offer to my clients as I would see in even the largest scale post shop. It’s great that we can now do this in much smaller environments just as effectively.
There is really no right or wrong way to set up an edit suite, only the way that suits your needs the best. But if you have a fast machine, comfortable/light controlled environment, and client monitoring – you’ve got all the bases covered.
UPDATE: While I did say in this post, I wouldn’t get too much into computer gear specifically, today the new Mac Pro was released and it will certainly be the new brain of my setup when it is released. Check out my write up on how the new Mac Pro will affect FCP X here.