By Joel Goodman.
In a time of ever-shrinking budgets and deadlines to match, it’s often the ‘home-stretch’ of any project, whether it be TVC, online content or even long-form projects, which bring out the stress and desperation.
There are few things you can do to ensure a smooth-running and budget-efficient vfx, offline, grade and finishing process.
Experienced planning and supervision.
It’s only human nature, when asked to trim-down on a production budget, to start by cutting back on those processes we least understand, and, well, for most people these are those processes done by those pixel-pushers we usually meet when the finish-line is in sight!
Every process requires offline (edit) and colour-grading, and generally these don’t require any substantial preparation, just adequate time, a skilled operator and delivery of suitable elements.
An editor and grader hone and craft the materials you provide into a beautiful piece of screencraft, but it is your vfx and online team who smooth out the work, create elements for the holes you can’t fill, fix the oversights and errors, and put that final polish on your creation.
As my old gran would say “There are two ways to do things; the right way and the wrong way”, and this is especially poignant when it comes to Post production.
Let’s look at the ‘wrong’ way to do things and see if we can put you on the right track:
1) “We’ll fix it in post” – Unless you have a very relaxed schedule and very deep pockets, this is probably a phrase which should only be uttered, in reassurance, by your VFX Supervisor. VFX and post is a generally slow and costly process. And doubly so if you’re ill prepared and using elements which are not optimal for your purposes. It’s always better to be well prepared and having everything you require for a seamless post process in-camera. Poorly shot green-screens, missed elements and badly planned difficult setups are just some of the roadblocks which can turn hours of work into days or weeks.
2) “Supervision? We don’t need no stinkin’ Supervision!” – What does that pesky VFX Supervisor do anyway?
Your Post Supervisor is a core team member, not an afterthought! Along with the Director and DOP, one could argue that your Post or VFX Supe is one of your most important person crew members. The ‘creatives’ might have the vision, but its the experienced ‘Supe’ who can tell you how to achieve it. And the earlier they’re involved the better. Right from initial concept , they’re the ones who’ll help you find a realistic solution which will satisfy your creativity without blowing the budget. If you’re only engaging them after creative has been presented to client, promises made, and budgets set, then you’re playing with firet and you’d better hope you’ve been lucky in your scoping.
3) “Here’s Our Schedule” – If you’ve locked in your schedule, done your media buys or even made basic promises to client, all before you’ve involved your Post team, then you may already be racing to catch up. You really need an experienced vfx supe or a very experienced vfx producer to give you accurate estimates as to how much time should be allocated to finishing your project. Not much can be done if you’ve got 4 weeks worth of vfx work which you’ve promised client and it all needs to be on air in 2 weeks time. If that’s the case, your only recourse is to reduce the scope and quality of your vfx work to fit into your schedule. All this can be avoided by consulting your VFX team before setting your timelines.
4) Cutting corners. – Unless your concept requires little to no vfx, you’re going get the best results by engaging your post team early and involving them frequently. By skipping steps, or skimping on key team members, you risk inefficiencies and avoidable hold-ups that may cost you significant time and money.
1. Pre-post production.
Once you have your basic concept and script, a comprehensive pre-Post Production meeting with your vfx supervisor will help you develop a realistic methodology for realising your vision as well as scoping the time and budget required
2. Storyboarding and previsualisation.
Getting signed-off storyboards is really beneficial for ensuring everyone is, almost literally, ‘on the same page’. Using these to clarify your shot framing and scope will further hone your time and budgetary estimates, and you’ll be able to confirm the efficacy of your intended shooting and post methodologies.
3. On-Set Supervision.
Your post-production team can only work with what you give them, and if they’re to take responsibility for their budget and schedule commitments, you need to allow them to ensure that their plans are implemented effectively during the shoot, that avoidable mistakes are prevented, and that the full scope of their requirements are covered. Once the shoot is over, only hard-work and time can get you across the line, so you’re much better getting it right first time, instead of scrambling to fix mistakes made on-set, or creating missing elements from whole-cloth. Your on-set supervisor is there to flag bad costume choices, place tracking markers, check green-screen lighting, guide crew through setups, take HDR Images for 3d lighting or reference.
4. Time is Money.
When it come to edit, grade, vfx and online we need that fine balancing act between time and budget. We often get projects where edit concludes on the Tuesday, grade is on the Wednesday, Thursday is for VFX and Online and then dispatch is Friday. This is almost never successful. We all know, from experience, that realistically most projects have to go through multiple tiers of approvals, from Director, to Agency, to Client, sometimes more, and you can be guaranteed everyone is going to want to contribute their 2c. It’s neither reasonable nor fair to have one day for each process quoted and budgeted, and then expect the post team to work overtime or additional days to cater for creative revisions. Make sure you allocate for feedback cycles and revisions, and schedule and budget accordingly. And once again, it’ll be your post/vfx supervisor who will be able to accurately scope this for you.
It might sound cliché, but in the end the thing to remember is that sometimes, by trying to cut corners and save money, you’re really cutting out the processes and expertise required to realise your creative vision in the most efficient and cost effective way possible. To ensure smooth sailing, engage your Post crew early in your process, and then let them guide you through traps and pitfalls in which we find ourselves, time and again.
VFX Supervisor / Founder