Post Production Workflow

The shoot is over. I’m still figuring out all the things I learned, and at some point I’ll integrate it and write a short blog entry on the topic. But at the moment my energy is going towards getting ready for the next step: cutting the film. What follows is a synopsis of the post workflow for Found In Time It’s based on things I’ve learned while making this film, my experience as post supervisor on previous features, and a lot of consultation with other folks. Many thanks to Josh Apter, head of Manhattan Edit Workshop, Creative Cow Magazine, and as always Ben Wolf.

Don’t Just Start Cutting
The temptation is probably just to dig in and start cutting scenes together, using the camera master footage. This is almost always a mistake. First off, if you’re the director, you have no perspective on the footage. I know I don’t. Secondly, you need to organize both the “physical” files on the drive, giving them a proper reel name and folder to live in; and the names of the clips in your NLE. Thirdly, you need to set up a schedule – what you want, when you want it, and what the end goal is. Hopefully you’ve done this before you shot anything, and now you’re just revising it to match your remaining money/schedule/expectations. But if not, now’s a good time to set it up.

The Schedule
Take a BIG step back. Forget about the footage burning a hole on your hard drive. Think carefully: when can I realistically finish this film? What are the steps I need to take to get there? Who’s going to do those steps?
At this point, post breaks down into nine BIG steps, that generally (though not always) follow the order below:

1. Backup, Transcoding, Logging. In an ideal world, this is happening on a daily basis. Every night the Assistant Editor takes the day’s work (either on cards or drives), backs it up to another drive, then transcodes the footage to the editing format, usually while also logging it into the NLE.

2. Picture Cutting. The film is put together, reel by reel, by the editor.

3. Reshoots/Inserts/Additional Photography. You need it, you didn’t get it. Now go get it.

4. F/X and Titles. As the film nears completion, visual effects artists go to work on the more complex material. In an ideal world, sequences are finalized in time for the online. In many cases, the online has to be pushed back until after the sound mix is done, to give the effects artists more time. Titles are usually done at this point (end credit crawls are often finalized only at the final output phase).

5. Online. The film selects (from the final cut) are retranscoded at the highest possible resolution/setting. The footage is color corrected, basic transitions (dissolves, fades) and effects work (taking out booms, minor tweaks, etc.) are done. F/X and titles are married to the locked picture.

6. Sound Editing. The dialog levels are evened out, and the “sound world” of the film created – effects, foley, music, voice-over, are inserted and brought together.

7. Music. The composer scores the final cut of the film (sometimes this happens during the editing process). Existing music is licensed (don’t do this at home, kids! You don’t have the budget. Trust me.). The music is premixed (ideally).

8. Mix. The various sound elements (dialog, effects, foley, music, ambiance) are brought together and leveled, to conform to both artistic and broadcast standards. The mixer creates final “bounce files.”

9. Final Output. The conformed film is married to the bounce tracks, and the whole thing (all the reels) are output to the “final” master medium (tape or film).

So with this outline in hand, you have to figure out: who’s going to be doing what (personnel)? With what tools (gear)? For how long (timeframe)? And what are the things each step requires (inputs) and what are the results (outputs)?

After doing some research, and thinking about what’s worked best on previous low-budget films, I came up with the following chart.

Num. Step Inputs Personnel Gear Outputs
1 Transcoding
Organizing bins
Logging clips with scene/shot/take/other info
H.264 Clips on drive
Sound WAV files on drive
Myself Final Cut
Canon5D FCP Plugin
Final Cut Project File w/bins
Named ProRes LT clips in folders on drive
Logging notes of some kind (database, spreadsheet, something)
2 Syncing ProRes LT clips
Audio files
Final Cut Project
Me Final Cut
Final Cut Project File w/bins
3 Script Notes Final Cut Project
Me Final Cut Pro Lined script books with notes
Binder with notes, sound reports, production reports, etc.
4 Picture Edit Final Cut Project
Hard Drive
Editor Final Cut Pro Sequences in reels
5 Feedback Screenings Rough or 2nd Cut on DVD Editor, Me, Trusted friends DVD projector Notes for next cut
6 Reshoots/Inserts Wish list of shots Skeleton crew and cast Basic camera/sound unit
Props, set dressing
Video/audio footage
7 F/X and Titles Final Cut Project
F/X footage (shot on location)
Add’l computer-generated footage
Ben Wolf
Visual F/X Artist
Editor (possibly)
Final Cut Pro
After Effects(?)
Locked VFX sequences and titles
8 Transcode for Online FCP sequences (reels)
Camera master files
Me Final Cut Pro
5DtoRGB tool
ProRes HQ (422) or ProRes 444 versions of selects only (clips that made the final cut)
9 Conform ProRes HQ clips
Offline Final Cut Pro sequences (reels)
VFX and title sequences
Me Final Cut Pro Final Cut Pro sequences, linked to ProRes HQ clips
10 Color Correction/Basic Compositing Final Cut Pro sequences (reels)
Ben (DP)
Final Cut Pro
After Effects
Color corrected reels with all titles and effects in place
11 Prep for Sound Edit Audio files
Final Cut Reels (preferably color corrected, but at least the final conforms
Me Final Cut Pro Quicktimes for each reel per the sound designer/composer specs
Sound tracks grouped per spec
OMF files per reel
Sound Design Notes in binder
12 Sound Design OMF files, etc. as above Sound Designer
Foley Artist?
Dialog Editor?
ProTools or other sound software
Final Cut Pro
Stereo LTRT session files
Possibly 5.1 session files
13 Music Quicktimes and sound notes Composer Instruments
Music mixing software
Soundtrack, broken into reels, premixed
14 Mix Session files
Soundtrack files (if not already part of session files)
Sound Designer
Mixing hardware
Bounce tracks
15 Final Output Blank HDCAM and Digibeta stock
Final Cut reels
Bounce tracks
Post House Editor
Online suite Projection master
SD tape master
DVD master (Quicktimes)

Some specifics:
1. We picked ProRes LT because it offers the best compromise between file size and quality. H.264 can be difficult to edit with natively – it’s a long-GOP format, which means that Final Cut has to do a lot of math to reconstruct the frames at your edit points. This can cause machines to chug and drop frames during playback, which is not good. The whole long-GOP vs. i-frame discussion is beyond the scope of this article; but I’ll dig up some good resources for you or talk about it more in-depth at some point.

ProRes LT is an i-frame format (individual frames are stored instead of groups of frames), but the file size is manageable.

2. Pluraleyes is a stand-alone program that can take clips in a Final Cut Pro sequence and line them up. Assuming you have camera audio, Pluraleyes can line up your separate-source audio files with your video (with camera sound) files.

3. I’m glossing over a lot of the sound post process (which could have its own diagram); I’ll save that for another blog entry.

So now you’ve got a basic idea of what we’ll be doing over the next few months. Future blogs will focus on the individual steps, with more specifics and how-tos. I’d go into more detail but this entry is getting pretty long as it is. Until next time then!