Essential Guide: Post Production Workflow
It’s both an art and a science optimizing your post production workflow. When you’re balancing creative with budget, it’s all about maximizing those minutes to create the best stories.
Whether you’re looking to fine-tune processes or start a production company, the smallest tweaks can make a world of difference in your post workflow so this guide will dive into:
- Storing and retrieving files
- Organizing projects
- Tips for editing remotely
- Sharing rough cuts and how to keep the round of edits in scope
- Collaborating with VFX teams
- Color Correction
- Plugins you can use throughout your post production workflow
- Securing music
- Nailing quality control
- Tracking hours and crew expenses
Media transfer may happen during the shoot for your team, but let’s start with storage and file organization.
Simpler setups with multiple hard drives and a single data server can cost roughly $400.
Larger teams, however, are more likely to have dozens of rack-mounted servers or large cloud storage plans. At any rate, having a backup just reduces your risk.
With whatever storage route you choose, factor in:
- Download and upload speeds
- Storage size
- Reliability; will you need to buy a backup storage space?
“A big part of a post production workflow is making a client’s life easier and getting rid of the pain points. What makes us look good is having a folder with all the finals labeled appropriately we can always link our clients to containing the project name they gave us,” said Frank Dellario, Video Producer at Pixel Valley Studio.
2. Project Organization
If you are reorganizing your storage system to streamline your post production workflow, it’s a good time to also review your file naming conventions and folder structures.
Collaborating internationally? You may want to take on the YYYYMMDD standard for dates (YYYY being year, MM being month, and DD date) in the file name set by the International Organization for Standardization. This can prevent ambiguity that can occur when leading with the date or month.
Along with documentation covering file naming best practices, you can even create folder templates. The organization of your project folders may look like this:
act or scene -> sequence/subclips -> shots in the sequence and the takes of each shot
Templates will obviously vary. For example, if you’re developing a series of social videos, the subfolders may include assets like Instagram stories, thumbnails, and social graphics.
Depending on the size and scope of your project, it might be helpful to chat with your team once footage goes out to the editor. During shooting, someone on set likely took notes to include a specific take or piece of footage. In this meeting, you can go over these and any specific script notes. Then metadata created during the shoot such as camera information and director’s notes can be effectively incorporated into the project while editing and you have more organized edits.
Retrieving assets remains one of the biggest time sucks for many teams. Making your assets more searchable is one of the easiest ways to transform your post production workflow.
Names, places, emotions, moments can all be searchable keywords that are easy to understand teamwide as they search within your NLE or VFX’s app to zero in on a specific clip. Some apps also let you save your keyword searches and filters for later use to help make search even easier.
Going forward, organizing metadata and retrieving files will continue to get quicker as AI makes a bigger impact on video. Tools like Google Cloud’s Video AI can detect scene changes and when objects appear within scenes while offering other powerful options like transcription for subtitles.
In your editing software, many teams also use project templates pre-loaded with assets, bins set up, and presets handy to optimize their post production workflow. You can see an example of Pull My Focus’s template below.
Before making any changes, talk to your team to understand how they search for files. Find out if they look by client, scene, or keywords.
Pro-Tip: Plan For the Future
Videos are repurposed and recut in many ways. In some cases, years down the line your editors may need easy access to assets. Just ask Slinky Productions.
“We are often going into our archives to update videos from two years ago for our clients. So our team is very tidy with outside assets and mimic the structure of project folders. We have this philosophy that any editor should be able to open up a project many months down the line and have no questions or confusions about it,” Scott Ledbury, Founder of Slinky Productions.
3. Incorporating Remote Editing Into Your Post Production Workflow
While it may feel like technology is accelerating at a mile a minute, cloud technology is playing a vital role for both project kickoffs and remote editing work.
“For a recent project, the motion graphics came from a team in New Orleans with a voice-over artist in Seattle and clients in two other countries. Everything had to be accessible. We use GoogleDrive folders shared with clients so we can ingest media from them and then download it while the project is active. There we house renders, single exports, and clips we need to insert into projects,” said Rob Lester, Creative Director for True Film Production.
In a remote post production workflow, editors have the challenge to maintain their own files and still keep them in sync if they are working as part of a larger editing team. Having a strong internet connection is vital to staying in sync.
When locked sequences are clear, the other editors can work on other sections and avoid overlapping work on the same sequences.
Working from home, your editor may not have access to a workstation powerful enough to do their work. Through tools like Remote Graphics Software, they can stream and remotely drive work within a more powerful device with no latency as they complete actions.
4. Rough Cuts
The assembly cut is the roughest version of a video, typically used in films. During the first assembly cut, most editors look to ensure the story is logically coming together with edit points between scenes clear for any internal review. There’s likely a scratch track for any voice-overs (often recorded by an editor) to get an idea on the proper pacing. Plus, placeholders for any scenes with animations. More on that later.
That said, any internal review of an assembly cut can take place in tools like such filmmaking software like ftrack. Whether it’s comments from your team or clients, having a central point for feedback in your post production workflow can save a ton of time.
With these tools, you can get timestamp specific comments from teammates or clients without long email threads. If you’re looking to get input on specific scenes or points in a video, comment at an exact frame and tag stakeholders to prompt a discussion. You can also direct comments to ignore aspects your team will update at a later stage after the rough cut such as color correction.
Collaborating with others you’ll likely share multiple versions of a video with subtle to drastic changes. You can call out these changes at a specific timestamp to gather feedback.
“What we found that’s easier after completing an edit is to comment in Frame.io to show where we made changes. You might have a video that’s run time decreased in the second round of edits. Including comments makes it much faster for clients to see the actual changes made,” said Frank Dellario, Video Producer at Pixel Valley Studio.
Many of these feedback platforms let everyone click when they are done commenting. The scope of the project outlines the round of revisions so you can wait for all comments to come in and address everything efficiently as possible.
These feedback platforms also integrate with editing software so you can view comments as you revise.
Create a new sequence each time you’re creating sequences off a round of notes. Keep these edits as a separate sequence on your editing timeline to help save time in your post production workflow. Then you can always plug the older sequence back in quickly if a client decides they instead want the same sequence they originally saw in round one.
After a round or two of edits, depending on your project you’re looking at either a fine cut, director’s cut, or producer’s cut. In feature films, picture lock then occurs so that editorial changes can not be made once it’s locked. Then VFX can get started or has clearer directions to craft. And your team can also get to work on sound and color.
5. Collaborating with VFX Teams
If your project contains full shots or sequences with VFX, you’re likely incorporating something temporary to make it clear later where the effects go. Going through takes, the editor can then ensure the performance works in that scene and that background can successfully incorporate effects.
The editor will identify the original camera file(s) for those shots, since the VFX team needs full resolution to get the best end video.
Be sure to provide a copy of the rough cut to the VFX vendors to helps with context – that way they can see how their sequence fits into the shots. Working across departments and different teams, proper file naming and metadata tagging continues to come into play here.
For sequences containing animations or VFX, the editor will likely put in a temporary placeholder as part of their post production workflow.
Placeholders might include:
- A title card containing the shot description. (The shot description being an action happening in the scene that involves VFX such as a space ship soaring across the stars)
- A single or group of storyboards that provides the editors timed-out space to help with pacing and selecting the right live-action shots. For longer animated sequences, the editor can work with music or voice-overs that will cohesively work with any animations.
- Rough 3D animations that act as stand-ins to show motion and timing, often used in action sequences.
Foreground bits, multiple backgrounds, lighting passing through the background, and other elements are in play for more complicated VFX scenes.
The VFX team needs high-resolutions assets for each element going into these shots and likely uses asset management tracking to verify everything is present. The VFX house will use a combination of in-depth lists, spreadsheets, and project management software to track the status of every shot throughout their post production workflow.
Once VFX is complete, back up the file sent by that team. Store along with the rest of the camera files so that it can be easily found for linking the sequence back to them.
6. Color Correction
Based on your project schedule and post production workflow, at this point either VFX wraps up or both color correction and VFX are happening in parallel. Pre-planning for color correction will be important as this step in post arises.
Depending on the creative requirements of your video’s story, project scale, budget, and your team’s skills, you may be looking at either collaborating with a vendor or doing this in-house. Professional colorists come with their own specific rigs for sometimes greater precision and speed.
Feedback and discussions throughout production from your client help reinforce a scene’s tone. Ensure your VFX and editors have access to feedback – that way your post-production team is working together around visual continuity.
In other words, your team can adjust hues and color correction to reflect the video’s tone.
7. Post Production Plugins
While many projects go through dedicated color grading, if your deadline or budget is super tight and those skills aren’t there — or perhaps you just want to test out color grade plugins — check out:
Digital Anarchy’s Beauty Box provides de-aging tools used in many narratives, documentaries, and fashion and cosmetic videos. Working off lower quality footage you may also need NeatVideo or Magic Bullet Denoiser to lower light noise. For reducing lens flare, there’s Knoll Light Factory.
To cut down on time spent creating animations during your post workflow you have options for motion presets and precomps including Envato Elements, Animation Composer, and Motion Bro. Or subscribe to Red Giant Universe for a suite of transitions, motion graphic templates, and HUD components.
8. Audio and Mixing
During pre-production, you likely established the mood and perhaps even already secured the music.
After the fine cut is greenlit, most editors within their post production workflows weave in music and sound effects. Then tweak the audio levels until they can’t listen to it anymore.
If you’re distributing something that will go live in multiple languages, some of the noises captured in the original audio might end up on the cutting room floor and you’ll need to secure sound effects for international release.
If you’re looking for more options to get music or sound effects, here are a few resources:
- Envato Market offers royalty-free music starting at $1
- Purple Planet for more ala-carte music options as cheap as $8 per track
- Epidemic Sound provides access to 30,000 music tracks and 60,000 sound effects for $299 per year (commercial licensing covers all online platforms for this pricing tier)
- Artlist’s annual $299 subscription that gives you the rights to use songs or sound effects in their library on any medium including broadcast commercials
- Audio Network‘s music library used by brands like Vice and Mercedez-Benz
In case you receive a dispute on specific platforms like YouTube and need to make a claim, name your music files based on the source so you can quickly retrieve any proof.
9. Keep Quality Control In Check and In Scope
Hopefully, collaboration tools and the rest of your post production workflow up until this point have kept endless revisions to a minimum.
However, after hours of hearing dialogue and music,you may be a little too close to a project to spot all the mistakes. That’s why it’s crucial to get someone with a fresh set of eyes and ears to review your project.
Quality Checking covers the process of reviewing all the elements of your final video before uploading it or sending to a client. Save a template QC doc and keep it handy to help streamline this process.
While your team may not end up making a blatant mistake like showing a Starbucks cup during an episode of Game of Thrones, spelling is the thing you can most likely get wrong and be instantly obvious to clients. Include spellchecks in your workflow to save you a ton of headaches.
“We get everyone to spell their names out in-camera footage and look them up on LinkedIn. We also run a mechanical check where we copy and paste any text from Premiere into Word,” said Scott Ledbury, Founder of Slinky Productions.
10. Paying Out Crew
By now, you’ve worked with folks across a range of specialties to get that final video live. They’re all eager to get paid in a timely matter.
Tie the bow on your post production workflow by streamlining how you pay your team and contractors. Using Wrapbook you can save hours on calculations and ensuring staff they complete timecards. Wrapbook allows you to onboard 10-200 people for a few days or months.
On Wrapbookyou can have everyone securely sign their W9s, input their hours worked, and submit their expenses.
You can track the status of each of these for each member of your crew and even assign a coordinator so they only see information on a specific project. If you work with the same contractors on multiple projects you can also quickly review crew’s reported expenses and hours on previous projects.
All information remains stored secure and compliant so you can send out payments, and automate payroll filings.
Streamlining your workflow isn’t just budget friendly. It also helps you make more deliberate operational and storytelling choices. You may even find stepping up your processes separates you in the eyes of new clients considering other production teams.
Whether you’re part of a video production or VFX house, find out more about how you can swiftly and compliantly pay your crew.