Isenseven

A team of seven snowboarders captured the world's attention with their unique approach to filmmaking. Today they have grown-up to become one of Europe's best-known production houses.

“You cannot live for a moment without backing up. I preach that to all my friends.”

Tom Elliott: Where Downhill Meets Digital

Even for someone who has never been on a snowboard it’s impossible not to stand in awe of isenseven’s film work. The German group of snowboarding film producers is known for creating some of the greatest snow-bound stunt footage in the world. To keep production of these videos racing along at downhill speeds while protecting them for the future, isenseven depends on robust, highly reliable storage products.

England-born Tom Elliott joined the isenseven team three years ago. There are no snowy ski resorts in England, but Elliott was fortunate enough to grow up with an indoor ski slope only 15 minutes from his house. By his mid-teens, right about when isenseven started to gather a continental audience, Elliott and his friends were on this manmade slope three times per week throughout the year, producing clips and refining their craft.

Eventually, Elliott and his team started attracting sponsorships from various snowboard brands. Time passed. Fame and freelancing fortune (freelancers will recognize that phrase as irony) slowly grew. Eventually, Elliott and isenseven crossed paths and intertwined. Glide past isenseven.tv to check out some of Elliott’s spectacular editing. Like any skilled snowboarder, he makes the insane look easy, but, of course, it’s the discipline behind the camera and keyboard that makes such videos possible.

On the Mountain

According to Elliott, it’s not uncommon for he and his small crew to be out on a mountainside in -20˚ all day. They’re often off-path, hiking for hours and snowboarding out to difficult locations. Their packs often weigh up to 20 kilos. These are professionals who understand the value of balancing high performance against low weight.

As the alpenglow fades and the chill deepens even further, Elliott and his companions pile back into their RV wagon or hotel room. There is no time for exhaustion or relaxing. This is when Elliott’s expertise swings into play. He fires up his notebook, plugs in a CompactFlash reader, and begins the long business of transferring the day’s 18 to 32 gigabytes of H.264 footage—or more if there were time lapses.

“As soon as we get back,” he says, “I need to log the shots, get them onto hard drive, and back them up. Once that’s done, I can make selections, convert to ProRes, maybe make dailies, and the get all of that backed up. As time goes on, you learn that any hard drive can be dropped and broken. You cannot live for a moment without backing up. I preach that to all my friends. If somebody has a hard drive failure and they lose all their stuff, I’m usually not very sorry for them, because they should have known better.”

Elliott copies his footage to two external drives, the most important of which is G-Technology’s G-RAID mini. The mini is Elliott’s workhorse in the field. The aluminum enclosure houses a pair of 2.5” SATA II drives configurable as either a striped RAID 0 or a mirrored RAID 1. (Elliott opts for RAID 1, valuing security over extra performance.) The drive weighs in just a pinch shy of 1.0 kg and offers 3 Gb/s eSATA, FireWire 400/800, and USB 2.0 connectivity. One reason he favors the G-RAID mini is that, unlike lower-end drives, the mini is bus-powered, meaning there will be one less cable cluttering up their crowded editing environment.

“Everything gets backed up onto two drives,” says Elliott.“If I’m ever working from something, it’s the G-RAID mini. We get everything backed up and from that make selections and create 4.2.2 ProRes regular quality. By the time you’ve done that, it’s time to make dinner, go to bed, and get up early the next day.”

Like many other small-scale video professionals, budget constraints still have Elliott working with FireWire 800 as his main system interface for editing. With a top throughput rate of 100 MB/s, FW800 is just sufficient for the 80 to 90 MB/s demanded by Elliott’s ProRes format. With a bit more budget, he hopes to soon upgrade his notebook to leverage the G-RAID mini’s eSATA capability. Ultimately, he has his eye on the company’s more recent G-RAID with Thunderbolt, which would explode his bandwidth potential by over 12x.

Dependable Under Fire

Tom Elliott became an ambassador for G-Technology in the summer of 2012, but he was already a G-Technology drive user well before that. In addition to the G-RAID mini he depends on in the field, Elliott also uses three G-DRIVE mobile units—one for each team member editing daily footage. Because of the mobile drive’s FireWire interface, Elliott is able to daisy chain through the mini to a single laptop port.

The cinematographer’s preference for G-Technology drives springs from several factors. When shooting in the field, no factor trumps durability.

“I’ve dropped my G-RAID mini off a table, far enough where I think it could be broken, at least three times,” he says. “Same drive. And it’s not just me. It’s other people knocking my hard drive onto the floor. The look on their faces when they realize they may have just destroyed the day’s work is kind of priceless.”

However, so far, Elliott has never suffered a single technical failure with a G-Technology product, and that’s something he can’t say about most of the alternative brands he’s tried over the years. 

Back in the office, Elliott uses a 4TB G-Drive for long-term storage as well as 1TB and 3TB G-SAFE RAID enclosures (now discontinued and replaced by the G-SPEED series). None of these drives has ever failed, either. In the future, he would like to migrate these drives into a more convenient, centralized, network-based solution, but this is another thing that will have to wait for a bigger future budget. For now, direct-attach G-Technology drives deliver the performance and reliability that Elliott and his team need at a price point they can afford.

Three other elements that Elliott appreciates about G-Technology are the breadth of the company’s product line, the professional support, and (he adds somewhat sheepishly) how the rugged yet stylish finish of the G-Technology drives matches the aesthetic of his MacBook Pro. In particular, he noticed how one prominent rival company tended to push its online support out to a third-party forum on the Web (Creative Cow). G-Technology, on the other hand, was directly accessible and very prompt about providing authoritative, thorough answers.

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