What is Video Post-Production?
Video post-production is the third and final step in creating a video. It's a complex process involving a variety of skill sets to make a completed product. After the footage is captured, the post-production stage of editing and polishing the look, feel and sound of the project begins.
This step of the video production process includes editing, color correction and grading, visual effects, foley recording, sound mixing and editing, soundtrack and music. All these important elements combine to deliver a polished final video.
Why Post-Production for Video is Important
In filmmaking, a video is realized in stages: first on the page, then on set, and finally in the edit. One of the reasons video post-production is such a critical part of the process is that it is where all the separate elements become a cohesive story. If anything isn’t right in the storytelling, it is up to the post-production process to fix it.
All the preparations in pre-production are executed in production. If the story or the way it was captured has any errors, the only way to correct them is through the tools available to the post-production department.
The video below provides a great example of how post-production saved Star Wars. By painstakingly mining the material and streamlining the storytelling, the edit turned a disjointed, bloated first act into a tension-filled, exciting sci-fi Hollywood masterpiece.
But it’s not just feature films that benefit from the magical healing powers of post-production. In fact, in the video marketing space, post-production often is the most important element in connective emotional branded content.
Take a look at this gorgeous advertisement from The Mill. The concept is simple, the execution of effects and sound are everything.
8 Key Stages of Video Post-Production
Just as stories are broken down into acts, so goes the process of creating them. In post-production work, there is logging (capture and storage), editing (refining the footage into a cohesive whole), visual enhancements (conforming, VFX, color), sound (music and effects) and final delivery (titles, credits, graphics and export).
Here are the eight main phases that take you through the edit to a final product:
Capturing the raw footage
Storage and organization
Post-production video editing
Conforming your offline edit
VFX or visual effects
Color correction and color grading
1. Capturing the Raw Footage
One of the most important steps that kickstarts post-production is “capture”. Capture simply refers to the raw footage captured by the videographer. Cameras offer many options when it comes to capturing raw footage and this can influence the video production process.
For instance, recording video in log has the benefit of retaining more color information. This can be extremely helpful for the colorist, giving them more freedom with color grading and correction of the raw footage. Once you have the raw footage, it moves to editorial where the post-production video editor’s work begins.
2. Storage and Organization
After the footage is shot, it is saved on a memory card or SSD. Making sure that the footage is stored in multiple places is crucial. During backups, specialized software algorithms (which are a type of cryptographic hash function (CHF), with the source data labeled as the message, and the output being called the hash value) utilizes a checksum, which can be compared to a digital fingerprint. Checksums ensure that files on backup hard drives are exactly the same as those on memory cards.
The footage that comes from the shots is called dailies or rushes. A DIT (Digital Imaging Technician) is the one on the production team that ensures the footage is ready to be sent to the filmmaker and producers. DITs establish a workflow for production and post-production crews that works for both parties. A successful transfer of material from set to editors relies on this process.
DITs establish standards, best practices, and maintain the exposure and color baseline throughout production to ensure image quality never deteriorates. They also work with the camera operator by observing the monitor for potential issues such as boom shadows or lens flares so that they can make adjustments.
The DIT must do several things before sending the footage, including organizing it.
It is the DIT's responsibility to sync audio and video files along with organizing footage. Despite camera’s ability to record audio and video on the same file, it is still common to record audio separately, something called dual-system sound. Metadata must also be managed. Video metadata includes information such as location notes, script notes, card labels, and log notes. A script supervisor documents the metadata.
A camera's footage is typically a very large file size and generally unsuitable for editing. It's difficult to play back the footage on a typical computer, so it needs to be transcoded (transcoding is the process of converting files from one codec to another). This means taking the hi-res files and converting them to lo-res files strictly for editing. There are hundreds of codecs that can be applied, but some of the most commonly used are:
Two teams look at dailies, the editorial team and the review team (made up of the producer(s), director, and if applicable, client).
As soon as the dailies reach the editor teams, the assistant editors begin to prepare for the next step, checking that all the files are undamaged, and making sure that audio and metadata have been synced correctly. The assistant editors will then copy the daily files to their central shared storage.
3. Post-Production Video Editing
The footage must be converted to an edit-friendly codec before offline editing can begin. Once the files have been transferred into the central shared storage, the assistants begin organizing them in the NLE (video editing software) according to the lead editor's preferences. Depending on if the editors need metadata in the editing process, then the assistants will also tag and categorize the new footage.
The assistants will also build stringouts, where they create a timeline and arrange clips for each scene. Initially, the editor watches each take and makes notes by positioning markers on the timeline or selecting their favorite takes on a different track or timeline.
This editorial team now uses the lower resolution footage to focus on storytelling. They put together a first assembly which has limited edits. This involves taking the footage that might have been shot out of sequence and loosely putting it together in real time to get a sense of the whole story. The assembly then moves to a rough cut version where the editor works through each scene, re-editing to find the best takes. Once the editor has a good working version of a scene, it will be placed back into the assembly so that the cut gradually becomes more complex.
The rough cut keeps the sound and picture in sync and the editor begins to mute or delete unwanted sounds. They rarely add sound here as sound mixing comes later in the process. After each scene has been edited separately, the first rough cut is created, and it is placed into the edit. At this point the director and/or producer may view and give notes, or the editor may take a few more passes at a finer cut before getting their feedback and notes. They all work together through multiple revisions until the creative team gives approval for the final version.
4. Conforming Your Offline Edit
After the video editing is done, the next step is connect those low-resolution files with the original, high-resolution footage, a process known as online editing or conform. Conform means to convert the locked edit from the edit team to a format that allows the visual effects, color correction and grading, final titles and audio to be added.
A conform is intended to ensure that all files contain no errors, most importantly the metadata. This stage is crucial because it is about preparing materials and files that will be forwarded to the other teams. It is sometimes handled by the editing team, but usually by the colorist.
5. VFX or Visual Effects
The next production stage is VFX (visual effects). The VFX team will begin working on the footage by selecting the takes that need VFX or CGI. It’s a good idea to provide the VFX team with a copy of the rough cut which will include the editor’s placeholders for the VFX, so that they can get the big picture on how the effects fit in with the overall storytelling. Editorial placeholders could be title cards with shot description, storyboards or rough 3D animations.
The VFX team will create the first draft of the footage in the NLE. After that, the editor will take a look at the first draft to make sure the desirable effects are achieved. When the editor is satisfied with the VFX placement in the footage, the VFX team will continue compositing the footage. When the VFX is done, the VFX team will start rendering the footage and send it back to the editorial team. As always, it is advisable to back up the file sent by the VFX team.
6. Color Correction and Color Grading
Color grading and correction follow the edit team and VFX team's work. In some cases, color comes before VFX. This is because the VFX artist can create more realistic visuals when they have an authentic starting point. During this step, the colorist makes adjustments and enhancements to the footage where the desired aesthetic for the video is created.
Color grading contributes to conveying a certain mood or tone. Whereas color correction is about fixing issues that may have happened during the shoot( such as differences in lighting during takes or the removal of a blemish on an actor) color grading is more about supporting the director’s vision for stylistic effect. It is integral to the audience's understanding of what the filmmaker deems important, as it can direct the eye and influence emotion. It is an incredibly powerful tool to deepen and clarify themes and emotion.
7. Sound Processing
Once the visual elements are in place, it’s time for the sound design. In the final mix, the sound editor will ensure that dialogue, foley (everyday sound effects), and other sound elements making up the sound editing are all perfectly balanced. This includes production dialogue editing, ADR recording, voice-over, noise reduction, sound effects, plugins, music composition and scoring. Then it is mixed and mastered and the final audio is encoded and the finished video is exported.
8. Final Delivery
The final step is to package and optimize every piece of media for different mediums, such as the web, broadcast, theatrical or mobile. Title, head and tail credits and any needed graphics are created.
Closed captions, which are a textual representation of the audio within a media file, are generated by providing a time-to-text track in addition to or as a replacement for the audio. These services make the media accessible to people who are deaf or hard of hearing. The text in a closed caption file is primarily speech, but captions also contain elements like speaker IDs and sound effects that are crucial to understanding the plot of the video.
Similarly, subtitles are produced, which are translations that are available in other languages and are a form of closed captioning. They are used to translate the audio into different viewer's languages. In subtitles, non-speech elements of audio are not included (such as sounds or speaker identifications).
7 Video Post-Production Tools You Need
Based on your skill level and the project you are working on, there are a variety of tools available for video post-production. The two major NLE (non-linear editor) systems are Adobe Premiere Pro and Final Cut Pro. Both are excellent options that will produce professional grade videos.
Adobe Premiere Pro has capabilities for editing video, audio, and graphics, as well as tools for color correction. You can customize filters, special effects, and audio/video transition options in Premiere, and then save them as your own templates for use in the future.
Other advanced features include 3D editing and multicam editing. You can import images, videos, and music into your project by using the program's Media Browser tool, or you can drag and drop these items into your project. It’s a highly intuitive program and an industry standard.
Final Cut Pro is made by Apple and if you have Apple devices, installation from the Apple App Store to multiple devices will be simple and reliable. Import and edit everything from standard-definition to 8K video—including ProRes, ProRes RAW, and all major professional camera formats.
You can edit multi-camera footage, automatically syncing up to 64 angles of video with different formats, frame sizes, and frame rates. View up to 16 angles at once, then use the angle editor to move, sync, trim, add effects, or color grade individual clips in the timeline. Color grading tools are built into Final Cut Pro, including a dedicated color inspector with color wheels, color curves, hue/saturation curves, and keyframes to adjust corrections over time. It has more than 300 built-in special effects, transitions, and generators.
Here Are Five Additional Helpful Tools
Apple Logic Pro X is a collection of creative tools which allow you to compose, record, arrange, edit and mix music. Logic Pro includes a massive collection of instruments, effects, loops and samples, providing a complete toolkit to create sound and music.
Adobe Audition allows you to create, mix, and design sound effects. It includes a free sound library, with the ability to eliminate background noise and improve sound quality with intuitive audio editing tools. It also includes Strip Silence, which automatically identifies and removes silent or inactive regions in recorded clips, without losing synchronization in multitrack audio.
DaVinci Resolve combines editing, color correction, visual effects, motion graphics, as well as audio post production into one program. The program's trim interface also allows editing in minute detail, and the dual timeline makes it easy to navigate, cut, and trim. It offers a robust suite of video effects, an impressive set of 3D tools, and a well-designed interface.
Filmora is a budget friendly option. It offers motion tracking, green screen, split screen, the ability to add external subtitles, auto synchronization, color correction and visual effects. You can upload and share project documents, project templates, and exported videos. Filmora is one of the best video editors for sound effects. It comes with a library of free basic sound effects and background music tracks that you can easily add to your video clips via drag-and-drop. There is also an easy way to record a voiceover using the microphone button.
Vegas Pro offers unlimited video & audio tracks, storyboard and timeline synchronization, scene detection, nested timelines, adjustment tracks, keyframing & automation control, multicam editing, hundreds of filters, effects, transitions and titles and customized workflow, shortcuts & layouts. Works with a wide range of formats including: Apple ProRes, HEVC 10bit 4:2:2, Sony XDCAM & XAVC, Panasonic AVCHD, RED RAW and Blackmagic RAW Beta.
4 Tips on Post-Production Video Editing
We’ve covered the actual workflow in the video post-production process, converting raw footage, organizing and editing it in an NLE system, conforming the offline edit so that color, effects, sound, titles, graphics and captions can be created and mixed for final delivery. But what are some techniques editors can apply to make sure their final product is successful?
1. Correct White Balance
What is white balance? Basically, it tells the camera about lighting conditions so it can correct any unnatural color casts in your video and restore the whites in your image to how they appeared at the location where they were filmed. Ideally this would happen during production, but sometimes it needs to be corrected during post-production. Every NLE editing tool will have the ability to fix white balance and it can dramatically alter a shot to appear more natural and real life.
2. Use LUTs
LUT is an acronym for “lookup table”. In the context of color grading video footage, this refers to a set of data that a computer color grading program uses to take an input from your camera and transform it into the final footage of your choice. Basically, it’s a shortcut that can create all kinds of cinematic and stylized effects. The use of customized LUTs can also be used to hide shot blemishes or imperfections in color grading.
3. Kill Your Darlings
Remember this is an edit. You don’t need to include every moment captured for its entire duration. Get into a scene as late as possible and cut out as early as possible. You may fall in love with a moment or the beauty of a cinematic shot, but if in playback it doesn’t move the narrative forward, be ruthless and cut it.
4. Learn Some Quick Shortcuts
Professional video post-production can be quick paced. Any knowledge that can shave time from the process is power. For example, some shortcuts allow you to add and move elements around your timeline. If you’re creating assembly edits and want to add clips from your browser to your timeline quickly, shortcuts are super helpful. Here is a comprehensive list for Final Cut Pro and Adobe Premiere Pro to get you started.
Video Post-Production: Key Takeaways
They say it’s not how you start, but how you finish. To finish strong, a well-organized post-production workflow is essential.
The video post-production process starts when the raw footage is captured, stored, and transcoded into an editable format. This allows the video editor to put together a rough cut of the project and work toward a final cut. Once everyone is happy, the edit moves to conform, where color correction, grading, visual effects, sound processing, titles and captioning happen.
Choose the editing software that most meets your needs, have a production checklist and system in place that is transparent and accountable and the post-production phase should produce high-quality results.