Creative production

The ultimate guide to optimizing your post-production workflow

Post-production is an essential component of narrative motion picture films, episodic TV, non-fiction TV and documentaries, commercials, music videos, or any other type of creative content. It’s a multi-step pipeline that encompasses nearly every aspect of content creation: from dailies, through editorial (conform and online), color, audio mix and mastering, to final deliverables and distribution. 

If you’ve ever managed a post-production project, you know how quickly workflows can become splintered and disorganized. Sharing large media files is typically cumbersome and slow, with different teams having their own iteration of tools and methods. If your post-production workflow isn’t both flexible and organized, the entire process slows down, often causing costly delays.

In this guide, we cover what the post-production workflow is and how you can improve it with a cloud-based storage solution, purpose-built for the needs of the Media & Entertainment (M&E) industry.

What is a post-production workflow?

What is a post-production workflow?

Post-production workflows often start before the filming itself begins, as productions rely on post  facilities and professionals to identify the best camera system and format for the needs of the project. Processing the raw footage, followed by narrative editorial, online editorial, visual effects, color correction, sound mixing, and musical scoring are all part of the post-production process. 

Depending on the project, post-production workflows encompass a broad cross section of tools and methods, with nearly every workflow being unique. What is more, there is very little about post-production that is predictable, especially when it comes to anticipating how long it will take to complete. For many TV productions and digital marketing teams, post-production continues well after the initial content is released as creating deliverables for different markets and languages requires intensive remastering time. 

The best post-production workflows take care to organize the process in advance of the start of production to ensure that budgets are kept and creatives are enabled to be creative without friction or delays.

Why is post-production so critical?

There is no finished product without post-production. It plays a crucial role in enhancing the overall quality, storytelling, and impact of the content. Post-production workflows offer creative editors, colorists, sound mixers and VFX artists the opportunity to contribute in a wide variety of ways:

  • Processing raw footage during the “dailies” or “rushes” to a preferred proxy editorial format. This includes syncing the audio to second-system audio sources. 

  • Applying shot by shot color correction during thе dailies process to ensure the look of the material best matches the intention of the filmmaker or TV production’s showrunner.

  • Editing the content using non-linear editing tools such as Adobe Premiere Pro, Avid Media Composer, or Apple Final Cut Pro.

  • Conforming the edit to camera original sources in a process typically known as “online editorial” or “finishing editorial”.

  • Color correcting the edit, often known as color grading, is used both to establish an overall “look” to the production based on artistic vision, or to correct for flaws that occurred during production.

  • Creating visual effects which are dropped into the edit or conform.

  • Turning over the audio to sound for audio editorial and final audio mix.

  • Creating final deliverables for both cinema and TV distribution channels.

What are the main stages of post-production?

Post-production is a complex process with multiple team members working on the same project, sometimes from very different locations around the world. Although the details may vary slightly between projects, in general the post-production process can be broken down into eight steps.

What are the main stages of post-production?

1. Raw footage

The post-production process begins as soon as the editing team starts receiving the raw footage. Raw camera material is “raw” either because the camera format is too heavy for narrative editorial, or because a final color look has not yet been applied. For long-form projects, editors typically receive raw footage everyday, which is processed as “dailies” or “rushes” by an assistant editor or often by a dailies colorist. Colorfront OSD and DaVinci Resolve are very often the tools of choice for dailies color.

It’s essential to send the raw footage to a dailies colorist or to the editing team as quickly as possible, so that reshoots can be done, if needed, while productions are still on-set or in the studio. Too often this footage is sent by shipping hard drives, which is slow, expensive and creates immediate security concerns. Many productions have discovered that some cloud-based solutions reduce costs, eliminate security worries, and dramatically speed the footage to creative teams worldwide.

2. Storage and organization

Before the editors can start doing their work on the raw footage, it has to be stored and organized with the entire workflow in mind. If your team cannot define an organizational approach early on, the whole production workflow can become unstructured and complex, thus creating delays as well as unforeseen costs. 

Traditional methods of storing and sharing the material for a given production can present huge obstacles to post-production teams. Productions should consider that:

  • Sending, transferring, and downloading massive media files is slow, creates redundant media sets and security concerns, and breaks the collaborative workflow expected of modern productions.

  • Tagging and cataloging the storage is further complicated by the duplication of media sets, which happens as a direct result of traditional methods of sending and transferring media.

  • Legacy methods of storing content such as network-attached storage (NAS), removable hard drives, LTO tapes, and removable solid-state drive (SSD) media can create massive inefficiencies when teams are working remotely.  

A unique solution to these problems is LucidLink’s storage collaboration platform. It provides the scalability, resilience and security of cloud storage, but with the comfortable familiarity of a local hard drive. LucidLink makes files accessible to everyone immediately, eliminating the need to download and transfer content first, while allowing distributed teams to simultaneously edit files directly from the cloud.

3. Rough cut

The next step in the post-production workflow is building the rough cut. This is the first draft of the final film, episode, or video, and lays out the scenes in narrative order. The editors, directors, producers, and several others provide their notes on the rough cut as it undergoes several revisions.

Once the creative team is happy with the shape of the edit, and reaches a milestone in the workflow known as “picture lock,” the next stages of post-production can follow. This includes online editorial, dropping in final VFX, followed by color grading, audio edit and final audio mix. Typically, producers and directors do extensive reviews of the content during these final stages. 

For teams that aren’t all in the same office, city, or even in the same country, remote video editing is an essential part of the building and approval of the rough cut. LucidLink makes it easy for the editors to put together a first draft and send it to the producers for review. With LucidLink, producers and other stakeholders are able to watch any revisions without having to download the content.

4. Visual effects

Often in parallel with editing, Visual Effect (VFX) teams consisting of artists and engineers work on adding more details and elements to the rough cut, like CGI animations and transitions. This allows creatives to enhance the storytelling and push the boundaries of visual aesthetics. Usually, they build VFX shots and provide lower resolution versions of the VFX shots to the editorial team for edit and review purposes.

Visual effects are no longer exclusive to major blockbusters. In today’s cinematic landscape, even small-budget films often incorporate subtle enhancements like removing wires used to suspend actors in action scenes or extending a small city street to appear as a bustling metropolis.

Check out the breakdown of the visual effects behind HBO’s hit show ‘The Last of Us’.

5. Color grading

Sometimes also known as “color correction,” color grading serves two key purposes: 

  • rectifying color inconsistencies that occur from shot to shot within a given scene

  • applying a general “look” for the project that satisfies the artistic and aesthetic vision of the production or filmmaker. 

Color inconsistencies happen naturally during filmmaking. For example, one character’s dialogue might be filmed in the morning sunlight, while the other’s takes place on a cloudy afternoon. The shots filmed when sunny will have a warm look, whereas the others will have a bluer hue. Color correction can balance them out to have an even and consistent look, thus creating a sense of live, real-time dialogue.

In order to satisfy the needs of various audiences, color grading can change looks depending on the ultimate deliverable. Filmmakers and productions now have to consider their final content appearing on three entirely different viewing platforms: cinemas, conventional TV, and devices such as phones and tablets.

6. Audio mixing

In addition to editorial, VFX and final grading, a production will simultaneously work on the sound. The sound editor and sound mixers help to bring to life what we see, typically handling: 

  • Dialogue

  • Sound FX

  • Ambient sound

  • Incorporating a musical score

Everything from the sound of footsteps to the swell of the final music at the end is part of the sound team’s job. Once the audio effects are added, the project finally starts to resemble a finished product.

7. Final approval

After the final stages of color grading, VFX drop-ins and audio mixing are done, multiple rounds of approvals are needed from producers, directors, filmmakers, and any stakeholders who assess the completed project. Typically, a lengthy series of last minute changes and final edits are needed to satisfy all involved. It is during these final stages where a high degree of flexibility in the workflow is needed to ensure creative needs and technical requirements are kept in balance.

8. Distribution

Once final approvals are done, a broad variety of deliverables are sent to cinemas, streaming platforms, social media platforms, and any other relevant distribution channel. Ensuring the secure delivery of finished content is always important and a solution such as LucidLink provides end-to-end encryption of customer data both at rest and in flight. 

At this step, the team also creates archives of all the production content, both to deliver to studios, networks or content owners, and to ensure that it can be re-mastered at higher resolutions and formats in the future.

Cloud-based post-production

Cloud-based post-production

Traditional methods of storing and organizing production files create major difficulties for post-production teams. Access to production content requires immediacy, despite the modern challenges of remotely distributed teams. Creatives need to collaborate without friction in order to channel their energy into producing their finest work. 

The wrong cloud-based solution will exacerbate workflow challenges, while the right one offers creative teams the chance to work together over distance without obstacles. The right cloud-based storage solution can help address these problems by allowing teams to:

  • Optimize their storage and only pay for what they need. Cloud storage should be both fast and responsive, even over distance, while remaining secure for any archiving needs.

  • Edit remotely and work on the same files in real time. Cloud-based post-production solutions like LucidLink empower creatives to work directly from the cloud without needing to download or transfer their content first.

  • Collaborate more efficiently by accessing the same files at the same time and without duplicating efforts or worse, inadvertently working on older versions of projects.

Most post-production teams need to work from anywhere, with anyone, both in traditional facility environments, as well as in remote locations, on the road and in the field. Traditional sync and share cloud storage systems like Google Drive, Box, and Dropbox have limitations for creative teams, especially when dealing with massive file sizes and real-time versioning. In contrast, leveraging the right kind of cloud solution can empower a new flexibility never previously possible and supercharge your post-production workflow.

Using LucidLink for your post-production process

Some of the biggest problems that remote post-production teams generally have when it comes to dealing with their content are:

  • Wasted time uploading and downloading media files

  • Unclear file versioning

  • Data security

LucidLink solves these challenges. As a cloud-based storage collaboration platform it provides content creators with instant access to media assets of any size, without downloading or syncing first. Moreover, LucidLink streamlines your media asset management by becoming your single source of truth, and ensures robust security and data integrity with its “Zero-knowledge” encryption model

When it comes to remote collaboration, global creative teams in different locations can work together simultaneously with the same user experience as working from any conventional local drive. LucidLink seamlessly fits into any creative workflow, without requiring creatives to learn anything new or change their creative habits. 

LucidLink can help make your post-production workflow smooth and coherent. Want to see for yourself? Sign up for a free trial today.