For more than 100 years, filmmakers have followed the same three signs on the road to a completed project: You start at preproduction, move on to production and finally end up at postproduction. It’s a simple set of instructions and a timeline that made perfect sense, whether you were making a big-budget studio movie or a small documentary. But over the past decade, the digital revolution—which tellingly began to impact and reshape the traditional postproduction process long before the arrival of digital cameras began to impact shooting—has changed all that. The truth is, if you still think that post is always the very last step in the filmmaking process, you’ve been sadly misinformed.
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The digital revolution has completely changed the role and nature of post, and that change is so radical, some filmmakers now start post on projects at the same time as they plan preproduction—or even earlier. In fact, it’s no exaggeration to say that post has become so important that the filmmaking road map should now read: "Start at post and preproduction, continue with post and production, and end up with more post."
Case in point is Gravity, the recent 3-D hit thriller cowritten and directed by Alfonso Cuarón (Y Tu Mamá También, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban). "We actually needed to complete post before we even started preproduction," reports Cuarón. "We had to do very precise animation for the whole film, with perfect lighting and rendering. Then some of the rendering started every scene’s prep work."
And even though the director started on post work early for such VFX-driven films as Harry Potter, he admits that front-loading postproduction (all done at London-based Framestore) onto a complex shoot like Gravity is the new—if unnerving—normal. "I had never gone through a post experience like this before," he states. "It was totally unconventional. It was also quite scary because we developed all the technology and had these prototypes, and it was all theoretical. It wasn’t until we had all the final rendering—maybe three years into the process—that we finally knew that the theory worked."
While Gravity may be an extreme example, all films with a heavy VFX component now routinely start post at the same time as preproduction. Director Justin Lin, who has been driving the Fast & Furious franchise since 2006’s Tokyo Drift, and who has become the go-to car-chase and car-stunt filmmaker of his generation, did exactly that with Fast & Furious 6. How early did he have to integrate post into the shoot? "Right from the start of the entire project since the post aspect was crucial," he notes.
And the changing timeline of post isn’t just confined to movies. The hit CBS show Under the Dome is a sci-fi tale that also gives a glimpse into the future of post in effects-heavy TV productions, and how new approaches and digital pipelines are helping cinematographers and post teams work together more closely than ever. Shot by DP Cort Fey on soundstages and locations in Wilmington, N.C., the show is posted—on set and back in L.A.—by Encore, with an assist from Mobilabs, Encore’s on-set dailies solution, which offers both coloring and processing. With the DP shooting on ARRI ALEXAs (REDs, Canon EOS 5Ds and GoPro 3s for crash cameras are also used), footage goes to the Mobilabs that are set up in the studio near the production offices. There, the dailies colorist is able to do color turnaround very quickly, grading on Colorfront’s Express Dailies system, and get the dailies to Level 3 Post, Encore’s sister company in L.A., using a MediaXpress 100 Mb secure pipeline.
"It probably shouldn’t even be called post anymore," sums up Cuarón. "It’s now part of all production."
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