Student Handbook

Production and Backup Drive Guide

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Taking care of your digital data is an essential part of being a filmmaker today.  Your production drive is your master and protecting it should be taken seriously.  Without backing it up, you run the risk of losing your project.  It is your responsibility to backup your files.  You are responsible for understanding and implementing a backup process for your projects.

The School of Film/Video recommends certain specifications for use in the digital editing and animation labs.  The following are guidelines for production drives, backup drives, purchasing, formatting, backups, and versioning.

Production and Backup Drives

There is no completely safe method for storing your digital media files. It is imperative that you have at least two drives: one for production and one for backup.

Your production drive is your primary drive which you use to edit audio and video in real time. They need to be fast and robust.

Your backup drive is used to backup your production drive. Speed may not be as important for backup drives but will certainly save you time. Consider having more then one backup, physically stored in different locations.

Do not rely on the Scratch drive of any School of Film/Video computer. Other users may delete your files by accident or if space is needed. Also, there is periodic maintenance that includes removal of all files on Scratch drives.

Purchasing Recommendations

Purchase a drive from a retailer or vendor with a liberal return policy in case of issues where return would be necessary.

Your production drive should ideally be a SSD (solid-state drive). If you purchase a HDD (hard disk drive) it must have a rotation speed of 7200 RPM or higher. Be cautious about portable thumb drives — they have a higher failure rate.

To be compatible with School of Film/Video computers, your drive must at least have a USB 3.0 connection. Drives with Firewire interfaces are no longer recommended.

Do not use a USB 2.0 drive for production. It is not fast enough to provide a sustained transfer rate for playback and editing. USB 3.0 drives are compatible with USB 2.0-equipped computers, in case your personal computer doesn’t have a USB 3.0 port.

It is recommended that you purchase the largest drive you can afford. Make sure that it can hold all of your media and production files and leave at least 20% overhead; full drives can become fragmented and slow. When estimating your storage needs, keep in mind that rendering and transcoding your media will take up a considerable amount of space on your drive.

For long or higher resolution projects, your drive should have adequate cooling in the form of an internal fan or heat sinks. Without adequate cooling, the life of your drive will be shortened and may result in premature failure.


New drives must be reformatted before storing any data on it.  If you currently own a drive that is formatted for PC (FAT32, NTFS, etc.) it must be reformatted for use with Mac computers. This will erase all files on your drive. Any needed data should be backed up before reformatting.

The first thing you should do when you get a new drive is reformat it. Not reformatting new drives is the #1 reason people have drive issues. Brand new drives are almost always formatted incorrectly for use with a Mac computer and come with software pre-installed on them. You will not need the pre-installed software, and it will be erased when you format the drive.

Reformatting your drive will erase all files.  Backup your data before continuing. Be sure to always have at least two copies of your files on two separate drives.

To reformat your drive on a Mac:

  • Connect your drive and go to /Applications/Utilities/Disk Utility.
  • Select your drive in the left hand column of the Disk Utility window.
  • Click on the Erase button on the top of the Disk Utility window. Under Name enter a name for your drive, under Format, select Mac OS Extended (Journaled), and under Scheme, select GUID Partition Map. Click Erase to format the drive. Consider including your name in the drive name in case it gets lost.

If you need to connect a Mac formatted drive to a Windows-based PC, you will need to install compatibility software onto the PC, such as MacDrive.

ExFAT format is a good file exchange format for both macOS and Windows

Best Practices for Backups

  • Remember a backup means you have at least two copies of your work on two different drives / locations. Scratch drives don’t count!
  • Backup your project files daily while working.
  • Use an external drive that is NOT your production drive for backups.
  • Alternatively you can backup to your Private folder on FVCentral (250GB storage limit) or to the Google Drive associated with your CalArts email (no storage limit but slow).
  • Be certain you are not working from your backup drive / location. Work on your project should only be done from your production drive or Scratch drive. If you are using the Scratch drive be sure to copy to your production drive when finished working for the day.

Version Up Regularly

Each day, when you sit down to work, version up. For example, if you are currently working on v02 (version 2) of your project file, make a duplicate and name it v03. Tomorrow, duplicate it and name it v04.

Dates can also be used instead of or along with version numbers.  For example, 19760401 (April 1, 1976).

Standard Naming Convention (LastFM_MyMovieTitle_YYYYMMDD)

Start with your capitalized last name, the capital first letter of your first name, then the capital first letter of your middle name.  For example, if your name is Steven Paul JobsJobsSP

Next, to add a project name or title, use an underscore, followed by an abbreviated project name without spaces.  Capitalize each word of the project name or title.  For example, if your project name is My MovieJobsSP_MyMovie

Then, to add a date, use an underscore, followed by the year, month, and day without spaces.  For example, if the date is April 1, 1976JobsSP_MyMovie_19760401

Supplemental information can be added after the date, such as version, audio, frame rate, or codec information.  For example, if your file is version 2, with LtRt audio, at 24fps, and Pro Res HQ codec:  JobsSP_MyMovie_19760401_v02_LtRt_24p_PRHQ

Don’t delete previous versions; they may be crucial in the event of data loss or file corruption.

Be cautious when renaming files or performing a “Save As”; be sure not to over-write your current files.

Further Help

You can submit a ticket by clicking the Submit a Ticket at the top of this page, or send an email to


This document contains information and recommendations that are accurate to the best of the knowledge of the School of Film/Video. All purchases of any hardware discussed within this document are done at the sole risk of the purchaser. The School of Film/Video does not assume any responsibility for such purchases nor does it directly endorse any hardware/software manufacturer and/or retailer/vendor. The School of Film/Video does not provide direct technical support for personal hardware or software. All data stored on local/network drives within the School of Film/Video’s labs are done at your own risk. Every student is responsible for backing up her/his data.