An Overview of the different Stages of Post Production (Part Two)

In Part One we looked at the five media categories and four stages of post production. We looked at the first stage, the Assembly Stage, in detail.

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In this part we’ll go into the details of the last three stages: Mixing, Mastering and Creating Deliverables. Here’s an overview for your reference (click to enlarge):

Post Production Chart

The Mixing Stage

Just as with any other stage, we divide this into visuals and audio.

Visuals

The process of selecting and ordering your footage is called Editing. Your aim is to tell your story in the best way possible with what you’ve shot.

Ideally, you’ll have all the pieces of your project in one location, under the disposal of the Editor. The more material you have ready, the better your editor can work. An inspired and experienced editor can sometimes create brilliant juxtapositions of footage you never knew existed.

But these juxtapositions cannot be created with material that you don’t have.

Shots involving VFX and CGI will be mixed together, a process known as Compositing. The editor shouldn’t have to care which shots involve VFX and which don’t. Each shot is equally important in a finished film.

Some projects will include titles, descriptions and other simplified graphics and effects. These are called Motion Graphics, and are done after the edit is locked.

Once the project is edited and locked, it is moved to the color grading suite (which might be on the same computer!), under the watchful eyes of the Colorist. The colorist tries to match shots and give them life, new meaning, etc. This process is called Color Correction or Color Grading.

Audio

Sound recorded on location and created in post production needs to be assembled, edited and cleaned. This process is called Sound Editing. It is important enough to have an Oscar category of its own. A good sound editor is like a good video editor, knowing when to put what, and how. It’s only those who have never done it who complain about its importance.

Once the audio is edited and prepared, it is ready to be mixed. This falls under the ambit of the Sound Mixer or Designer. This process is as critical as the final edit, for it either enhances what you want to convey or destroys it. Watching a good sound mixer in action is a fascinating experience. Those who don’t understand it find it boring. The cure to it is to become an audiophile!

Along with sound editing and mixing, the music needs to be mixed too. There are two versions of the music mix, one for the soundtrack and one for the movie. The mixed and unmixed music tracks are made available to the sound mixer so he or she can have total control.

The Mastering Stage

Visuals

Once your visuals are locked and graded, with every shot perfectly in place, it’s time to create your master.

A Master is the best possible representation of your work. If all your footage is lost twenty years from now, and your project files don’t work anymore, your master will still be the most valuable aspect of your production. It is the culmination of your effort. If it’s a feature length movie, you might have spent a couple of years on it. It was all for this.

I like to master in the TIFF format, as a 16-bit image sequence. The other industry standards are DPX, HDCAM SR, Film, Prores and DNxHD. You try to master to a format that you think will still be around many years from now.

Audio

Similar to imagery, audio, too, needs to be mixed down and mastered for the best representation possible. Usually, this is an uncompressed 24-bit WAV file, with as many channels as required. Unlike visuals, audio can have many masters, because it needs them.

E.g., you can re-size an image to a different size, etc., but you can’t ‘re-size’ or interpolate a surround mix to stereo, or the other way around.

The number of audio channels can vary, and this creates the need to master into three major formats:

There are other formats, like Dolby Atmos, NHK, and so on. It’s not easy staying on top of all this, and we’ll deal with it in the next stage.

Creating Deliverables

Once you have your master(s) you can create ‘clones’ or copies of them for various uses. These copies, actually pseudo-masters themselves, are called Deliverables. They are traditionally organized by industry type, somewhat loosely as follows:

  • Theatrical
  • Television
  • Blu-ray
  • DVD
  • Internet/VOD
  • Trailers
  • Marketing and Publicity
  • Bonus Features

Each industry has its own specification for resolution, frame rate, audio, color, etc. There are also sub-specifications. E.g., television can be broadcast NTSC, PAL, HDTV, SDTV, Cable, and so on. Theatrical can be DCI or other, etc.

Each deliverable might include re-sizing, interlacing or de-interlacing, changing the frame rates, color grading for a different color space, and so on. Audio, too, will change.

It is critically important to know all your deliverables prior to production.

Some industries, like broadcast television, have strict requirements. Others, like the internet, do not.

At this stage you’ll also create your trailers, bonus features and behind-the-scenes videos for publicity and bonus material. These will need separate audio edits and mixes, especially with music.

Music also has its own deliverable, called the Soundtrack, that can be either bought as a CD or downloaded as MP3 files.

Don’t underestimate the costs of preparing and creating deliverables. Some of them aren’t cheap at all. Many productions ignore this expense hoping the ‘distributor or some savior’ will pay for it when the time comes. I don’t know if that’s true at all, unless your movie is picked up by a major studio. It’s better to know for sure at least what you’re up against.

On the other hand, you shouldn’t spend money on deliverables until you’re guaranteed distribution in that industry. E.g., if your movie has no chance of a theatrical release, it is stupid to create a DCP package, and so on. The same logic applies to any other industry.

By now you have a clear idea of the various stages of post production, and what it entails. Hopefully, this will keep you in good stead in your professional career, so you won’t be facing any surprises.

Find solid answers to all your questions before venturing forth. Don’t leave any stone unturned. If you do this right, the post production stage might end up being the most joyous part of your filmmaking journey. There’s nothing better than knowing you’ve made a good movie – and you only know that in post production.

No, the audience doesn’t decide for me whether I’ve made a good movie or not! If I’m a good filmmaker, I’ll know where I stand when I watch my master in all its glory.

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