Chapter 4: The Impossible Technology (Part Four)

In the final part of the technology series, let us talk about post production. Post production involves the following steps:

  • NLE (non-linear editing software)
  • Titles and Motion Graphics Software
  • VFX (visual effects) Software
  • Grading and finishing software
  • Authoring Software
  • Hardware for all of the above
  • Sound Editing and mixing software
  • Sound Editing and mixing hardware
  • Data and storage devices

Let’s take it one by one:

NLE Software

To edit you need an editing software. There are four major players in the market that I would recommend. They are (in the order of personal preference) Adobe Premiere Pro, Sony Vegas Pro, Avid, and Apple Final Cut Pro.

In fact, any one of the four is good enough for editing, with ease of use going to Vegas Pro, and best overall NLE to Adobe Premiere Pro. The version I used for The Impossible Murder is CS3 (Creative Suite 3). Most NLEs also have additional finishing tools, like titles, keying, grading and encoding, but these are rudimentary and not really enough for those who need the utmost in creative enterprise.

Titles and Effects Software

For titles, motion graphics and basic 2D effects, nobody even comes close to Adobe After Effects. This is the industry gold mark against which all other packages are measured, and it is rumored that it is a rare film indeed that has not passed through this versatile and legendary software.

I keyed, composited, titled, graded and finished The Impossible Murder entirely on this platform.

VFX Software

VFX software comes in many forms, depending on what needs to be achieved. VFX includes CGI (computer generated imagery), compositing, rotoscoping, matte painting, 3D tracking, stereoscopy, etc.

For 3D CGI, the players are Autodesk Maya and 3D Max, Cinema 4D, Poser, etc. These programs are used to design, model, animate, render, light and match 3D elements into animations or live action sequences.

For compositing, my two favorites are Nuke and After Effects. Nuke offers speed and the ability to work in a node-based 2D and 3D compositing environment in 32-bit. After Effects also has 32-bit mode (With also 8-bit and 16-bit options), and is a layer-based 2D (mostly) compositing environment. Both are equally powerful in what they do, and the decision to choose one over the either comes down to the specific nature of each project.

For rotoscoping, my favorite is Mocha. Rotoscoping is basically the laborious task of drawing on a pre-existing frame. It’s most common use is wire-removal, and it is also increasingly used in 2D-3D conversions since each frame element needs to be hand cut out. This is a highly specialized software and one need not invest in it if it is not going to be used on a regular basis.

For matte painting, 3D softwares listed above are used, along with compositing tools, to create a 3D environment. Matte painting simply means creating scenes that did not exist on location. 2D matte painting is also achieved quite effectively with Adobe Photoshop.

3D tracking (or match moving) is used when elements created in CGI have to be combined with moving live action footage, and need to precisely matched. Powerful compositing apps like NukeX and After Effects have camera tracking plug-ins, however, one standalone software widely used is Boujou.

Even though the latest NLEs and Finishing programs have steresoscopic workflow support, Ocula, from the Foundry, is a stereoscopic plug-in that powerful alignment, matching and depth tools that can simplify a complicated stereo pipeline.

Grading and Finishing

Color Grading or color correction, is the process via which changes are made to the colors of a movie to give it a specified look. The Impossible Murder was graded and finished on After Effects, which is a good-enough program and is my personal favorite. However, there are standalone applications like Apple Color and Da Vinci Resolve (which is available as software only).

Finishing is the process where all the sequences are laid out and rendered to achieve what is called the Master. The Master can take many forms – DVD, Blu-ray, HDCAM SR, Digibeta, image sequence (in DPX, TIFF, JPG, etc), avi or mov file, etc. It is the source from which authoring and duplication begins. The finishing process usually involves rendering or transcoding the source footage from one format to the preferred destination or delivery format. For all intents and purposes, Adobe After Effects has a good enough encoding platform as any other.
The Impossible Murder was rendered out from After Effects as a 16-bit TIFF sequence, and occupied a 1TB Western Digital hard drive. This is the Master from which the DVD was authored.

Authoring Software

Authoring is the process in which the Master is used to produce the final delivery format, which in most cases is either:

  • DVD
  • Blu-ray
  • Internet video
  • Film out
  • My favorite software (and the only one I’ve ever used), is Adobe Encore, which has both DVD and Blu-ray capabilities. This software is used to create menus, import and organize media (audio, video, images and text) and to render out to the destination format. For DVD and Blu-ray, it means having a DVD or Blu-ray burner that is versatile and robust.

    For internet delivery, After Effects can be used to reencode the Master to a more compressed file. For film out, the Master is most likely used as is (provided prior planning and standards have been adhered to).

    Hardware for Editing and finishing

    Obviously if you’re a small band of independent filmmakers, you will need a system that can possible do all of the above. The software package I recommend for everything if you’re on a budget is Adobe Production Premium CS5.5, which includes all the tools you’d possibly need:

  • Premiere Pro
  • After Effects
  • Encore
  • Photoshop
  • Flash (for your website)
  • On Location (if you want on set monitoring)
  • Media Encoder
  • Bridge (to organize everything
  • Audition (for sound editing)
  • As of this writing, the Production Premium Suite costs USD 1,699.00, and it’s all you’ll ever need for 2K imagery and below. As for hardware, the Adobe website gives detailed hardware requirements to smoothly run CS5.5, and you would be wise to stick to that as a bare minimum.

    Sound Editing and mixing software

    Sound editing is the layering, organizing and treatment of dialog and sound effects to match the footage. Mixing is simply the mixing of all sound elements, with effects and volume, to obtain the final audio track, which can be mono, stereo or surround (5.1).

    If you are investing in Adobe Production Premium CS5.5, it comes with Audition, a powerful and versatile tool that can both edit and mix. However, if you’re looking for specialized software, the two industry giants are Pro Tools by Avid and Nuendo by Steinberg.

    Sound Editing and mixing hardware

    If you are editing and mixing sound, you will need the following hardware (in addition to your computer):

  • Sound card
  • Professional sound environment
  • Studio Monitors
  • Optional hardware mixer
  • Optional headphones
  • For sound cards, my favorite manufacturer is M-audio. They have sound cards for all sizes and budgets.
    For studio monitors, I turn to Yamaha studio monitors.
    The mixer you choose will depend on the software you are using, and one commonly used brand is Yamaha.
    For headphones, look no further than Sennheiser.

    The most important thing, of course, is to have a properly designed sound room. I have left out other sound requirements like ADR (or dubbing), music, foley, etc. These are a whole different ball game. My personal advice is: Don’t invest in sound. Let the professionals handle this one (unless you are THE professional!).

    Data and storage devices

    Producing a feature film needs a lot of data backup and integrity planning. I won’t go into much details, because for the indie filmmaker it usually means hard drives, and more hard drives. The three most recommended manufacturers are:

  • Western Digital (for high-capacity drives)
  • Transcend (for portable military grade drives), and
  • OCZ (for SSD drives)
  • It is a long and arduous process to invest in research, buying, learning and executing one’s own project through its post production phase. One has to take the tough decision on whether the expenditure and time involved is worth it to do on one’s own, or whether it might be just better to hand it over a professional. What I’ve mentioned here barely scratches the surface. If I have left out any software, it is not because I don’t respect its abilities, but because I have no experience with it. Do more research!

    For up to date information on video and audio hardware and software, a good place to start would be DVInfo.net. If the terms used in this post are new and confusing to you, please start learning about them through Wikipedia, the great life saver. All the best!