Post-Production is the last stage of video production when the editing of the film, TV show, or video content takes place to make a final cut. Post-production can take months or years of time and requires an army of talented editors, sound engineers, VFX designers, 3D and motion designers, and colorists, to name a few. Charlie Uniform Tango will look at this final phase of filmmaking and break down every step of the post-production process. To be specific, we’ll cover:
- What post production is
- Why it’s important
- How it differs from production
- Who is involved
- The importance of securing your footage
- Each step of the post production process.
Definition of Post Production
In short, post-production is the final stage of filmmaking, when the video captured by the director is pieced together into the final cut. A team of video editors works with the director to create a polished film (or commercial video production) that has audio fidelity, visual effects, 3D and motion design, color grading, sound effects, and scoring. When you finish shooting all the footage for a film production, you’re left with hours of video called raw footage. If you were to watch this footage from start to finish, you’d find it full of outtakes, repeated sections, and disconnected story beats. It won’t look or sound great, and it probably won’t make any sense. What you have at this point isn’t a film; it’s the pieces of a film, scattered haphazardly across a few hard drives. In post-production, these mismatched puzzle pieces are filtered, tweaked, and put together into the recognizable form of a movie, TV show, commercial, or branded content.
Why is Post Production Important?
Without post production services, a film just won’t reach the original vision of the director. In post-production, the film or video footage is assembled into a cohesive narrative, bringing to life the original vision of the script. The process of editing lays out the story in its final form, but there are essential layers of post-production beyond editing, like sound design, visual effects, and color grading, where the audience’s experience is refined to perfection.
Production vs Post Production
Post-production and video production are two crucial but distinct aspects of filmmaking. The video production phase comes before post-production and is where raw footage is gathered by the on-set team, including (but not limited to) the director, camera people, actors, and costume designers. The production crew works through the shot list, making sure to create all the footage needed for the final film. Once video production is done, the film will move into the post-production phase, where the raw footage is refined into a final product. Post-production involves an entirely new crew of designers with entirely different skill sets from the on-set team, including editors, sound designers, foley artists, VFX artists, and colorists. When post-production is finished, the film will be completely ready for release, with all footage edited into a final product.
Who is Involved in Post Production?
There’s a reason you see an army of people scroll by in the credits of every blockbuster film or binge-worthy Netflix series. Creating a final video product with length and polish takes an inordinate amount of work. That’s why there can be hundreds of people working in the post-production phase alone, all with highly specialized skill sets that have taken years to gain. In truth, post-production for feature films and documentary films can take years to complete, involving hundreds of people. We’ll break down just a few of the people needed in the post-production phase.
Editors are the storytellers of post-production, working hand-in-hand with the director to whittle down hundreds of hours of raw film footage into a cohesive narrative. Working closely with the directors in order to achieve the desired tone and message, editors sort through every scene to align film footage with its proper place in the story. The editor’s job is to put together the many different takes that have been captured during video production in order to make the director’s vision a reality. Once the director approves the story the editors have assembled, these edits become the foundation of the post-production process. Though a lot of work is still needed beyond the initial edit—including sound, effects, color, and composition—the choices made by the editors will inform all post-production work moving forward.
Sound designers collect, edit, and create the essential audio elements of a film, TV show, commercial, or video content, including dialogue, music, and sound effects. With a symphony of creativity, sound designers marry the perfect auditory experience with the film’s footage, bringing the story to life. Layering sounds, effects, and music to enhance the editors cut, the role of the sound design team is to set the mood and immerse the audience in the film’s own universe. Sound mixers, designers, foley artists, and composers come together to meticulously balance dialogues, add foley for those realistic footsteps, create mind-blowing sound effects, and select the most captivating music to evoke emotions and make indelible impressions. In many ways, sound design is the orchestra of audio elements, harmonizing them into a captivating symphony that amplifies the on-screen action. The impact of designing a sonic landscape during post-production is crystal-clear dialogue, real-life sound effects, bone-chilling aural interruptions, and immersive soundscapes.
A foley artist is in charge of perfecting the realistic sound effects heard throughout the film. These can be anything from footsteps and rainfall to gunshots and explosions. Sounds like these are very hard to capture adequately in a live filming environment. Instead, these authentic sounds are created by a foley artist who captures the original sounds in a post production studio. Once captured, the everyday sounds either replace or layer over the production in tandem with the visual actions on screen ensuring a high-quality experience in the final film
Music Editors and Composers
Music editors and composers are responsible for tailoring the background music used in a film or tv show. In a nutshell, the music editor focuses on manipulating and arranging existing music tracks, while composers are responsible for crafting original orchestrations. Working hand in hand, music editors and composers collaborate to ensure the audio experience of the film, tv, commercial, or video content evokes emotion and inspiration. Every note, every beat, and every musical element are synced to enhance the narrative and captivate audiences.
Colorists transform raw footage into a visual masterpiece by manipulating color, contrast, and overall image aesthetics to set the mood of a film. Working towards the director’s vision, colorists adjust hues, brightness, tones, and other aspects of the final film colors to create a self-contained universe that feels joyful, temperamental, sad, exciting, or fantastical. With an artistic touch and technical expertise, colorists enhance the mood, evoke emotions, and create a cohesive visual style that compliments the director’s storytelling.
Visual Effects Artists
VFX designers use cutting-edge software to create mind-blowing visual illusions that seamlessly integrate into the film’s footage. Stunning visual effects enhance the story and captivate audiences with jaw-dropping explosions, mythical creatures, digital worlds, weather and natural phenomena, time manipulation, sci-fi and futuristic technology, and subtle CGI enhancements. The VFX designer is a master of pixels and polygons and is overseen by a visual effects supervisor who understands the director’s vision for the final cut. The role of a visual effects artist is to create any part of the film that was difficult or impossible to capture during the video shoot, instead combining the live-action footage with computer-generated imagery (CGI), matte paintings, 3D models, and other elements. The goal is to seamlessly blend the real and the imaginary, ensuring that the VFX seamlessly integrate into the visual narrative.
A Crucial Step Before the Post Production Stage: Securing Your Footage
Before we jump into the finer details of post production, a warning: Secure all your footage properly before starting any post production processes! This is an incredibly important step that will cause unending headaches for all involved if it’s skipped or not given proper attention. When you’ve finished filming, make sure to properly label and store all of your footage on hard drives. This could take several days depending on the amount of footage and the processing power available to you. Whatever you do, don’t get lazy here! It is a nightmare if you lose huge swathes of footage. Plus, having everything neatly categorized can massively speed up your editing process as well.
Stages of Post-Production
Post-production involves non-linear editing (NLE), and no two film post-production projects are the same. That said, though the order of events may change to suit the project at hand, and some may define individual steps as additional stages, there are generally five stages that always take place during post production.
1) Picture Editing
The first step of the post production process is picture editing. The chief editor oversees this stage of post production, with input from the cinematographer and director. Picture editing begins with assembly of all raw footage to be sorted into sequential scenes. The chief editor will create an Edit Decision List (EDL) that details the full editing plan for the film. Once the EDL is complete, the video scenes can start being placed on a timeline within film editing software in a rough cut that gives an idea of the film’s order. Then, large changes to the film’s order are made with the director’s supervision and substandard footage is removed (including misspoken lines, outtakes, and other mistakes).
Before any effects are added, the film is edited and refined again and again, like a sculptor chipping away at the stone to create fine art, slowly crafting more and more detail into the film. The goal of picture editing is to create a rough cut, which is the first “fully edited” version of the film. This first draft of the edited video footage will have a clear timeline and final takes for each scene that has been chosen by the director. The flow of the story is directed and edited together, creating a cohesive series of events across the film. Following another round of refining and editing, the Answer Print is established, which is the fine cut of the film, where the director instructs the chief editor to “lock the visuals” – meaning no more changes to the basic editing will be made.
2) Sound Design
With the visuals locked, several other stages of post production can begin, especially sound design. Audio is equally important to the visuals in the film, bringing to life the story told by the edited scenes. Without it, a film simply feels flat. Poorly mixed sounds can also entirely obscure parts of the story; for instance, when voices are drowned out by passing cars or rain. To that end, the initial steps of sound design involve cleaning up the dialogue recorded on-set. Sometimes, this just means tweaking the live audio recording on the day. Other times, new audio will be needed to replace unusable dialogue. This is done using Automated Dialogue Replacement (ADR). Basically, ADR involves re-recording lines from the film in a proper sound booth and then editing them over top of the footage. It’s incredibly hard to get perfect audio live, on-set, so this is an essential tool. It’s also used for voiceovers and any other dialogue that wasn’t spoken by actors during filming.
Also known as SFX, sound effects include pretty much any sound that isn’t dialogue or music. This could be footsteps, rain, cars, gunshots, explosions, and plenty more. Foley watch the film, identifying moments where better SFX is needed, then recreate the sounds as closely as possible in a studio and edit them into the footage.This can involve finding the exact shoes an actor was wearing, or perfectly copying the sound conditions seen on-set. If you hear a door slam, bone break, or glass shatter, it was probably created by a foley artist for real life sound effects.
Most high-budget films will have a composer to create completely original music. This music will help emphasize tone and increase the emotional weight of important scenes tenfold. In other cases, a film will license existing music that suits the needs of the film. However, this can be a bit of a logistical nightmare at times – especially if you want to achieve an international release.
Once music, sound effects, and dialogue are perfected, sound mixers will start their work to balance each of the audio elements. Each audio track will be layered on top of the footage, and then equalized (EQ’d) so that each piece compliments the other. The most important part of this process is finding the correct volume for each audio component. For instance, voices and dialogue sit on top of the music and sound effects so that characters are understandable. Sound mixers will also eliminate overly-distracting audio captured on-set. This can be especially important if filming in intense weather or near something noisy like a highway. Finally, plugin effects are added to the sound to give some reverb, delay, and tuning to the characters’ voices, depending on the scene.
3) Visual Effects
Visual effects, also known as VFX, are another essential stage of the post production process. With the aid of green screens, matte paintings, 3D models and computer-generated imagery (CGI), VFX teams create visuals that are not possible to capture during video production. Monsters, explosions, slow motion action sequences, and weather events are just some of the visual effects applied to the film during post production. With the picture-locked final cut, VFX artists start working frame by frame to rotoscope out unwanted objects, animate entire characters, add CGI and create backgrounds to green screen scenes. This phase of the production process is often one of the last completed before the film’s release.
4) Color Grading
Also known as color correction, color grading tweaks the hues, brightness, and contrast of the footage to achieve a consistent mood and feel for the film. Color grading has a huge impact on the emotion of the film, setting the tone of the film and creating the virtual atmosphere for how an audience feels. It also helps to convey things about the scene’s environment, like weather, time of day, and location. The color grading of a film can become iconic. Some great examples include the high-contrast greens of The Matrix, or the intense orange tones of Breaking Bad’s Mexican scenes.
5) Titles, Credits and Graphics
In the final stage of post production, graphic editors create title cards, subtitles, credits, chyrons, and any other necessary graphics for the films beginning and end. Though seemingly insignificant to the consumer, these features are very important for the setting the final feel of a film. The title screen is especially important for establishing the mood of the entire movie. The scale and complexity of these pieces vary hugely depending on the film, tv show, or commercial, but even when unnoticed, graphics are often necessary.
Additional Aspects of Post Production
Alongside the soundtrack, an international release will often require a full dialogue script with timestamps for each line spoken. This will allow dubbing artists and subtitle writers to accurately represent the dialogue of your film while translating it into other languages. This is extremely important, as you’ll want anyone watching your film to understand the intended experience of the story.
When preparing to send your film out to cinemas, you’ll need to make a Digital Cinema Package. This will include a full, finalized copy of your film encoded and ready to be distributed in theaters. You’ll want to make sure this is properly prepared since it will be what audiences see when to viewing your work. It’s vital to avoid mistakes in this step at all costs. If there’s a time to double and triple-check your work – it’s here.
Finally, it’s time to market and advertise your movie, television show, and video content. First impressions are everything. Your advertising should hook people and get them excited to see your film. This is especially important in the modern age, where competition is extremely strong. A great way to build this anticipation is with posters and campaign images. Social media video production is an incredibly important part of marketing a film in the present day, and a good poster will make all the difference here.You should also create a trailer that includes some of the most exciting parts of your film. This will give people a taste of your film, and make them want to find out more about the full story.
The Bottom Line
Post production is a long, intense, and highly skilled process carried out by incredibly talented people. We can write a hundred more pages on this topic. Every part mentioned here has an abundance of minutiae and interesting processes that could be delved into. Remember, each post production studio’s process is different! No two post-productions look the same or move in the same way. Despite this, we hope we’ve given some clarity to this crucial part of filmmaking. Whether you’re an aspiring creator – or just curious about how movies are made – hopefully this article has helped to demystify the process!