What is Post-Production in Film & Animation?

Jakob Straub
Jakob Straub, Content Writer

Post-production is the integral and final step in the filmmaking process after development, pre-production, and principal photography. Only then can a film be ready for release. The editing of visual and audio material is most important during post-production, but depending on the film, this phase may involve many more steps, such as special effects, music, additional graphics, color correction and grading, as well as possibly re-recording footage or dubbing audio.

From Hollywood blockbusters to documentaries and other film production projects, the final product often only comes together in post-production. How can we define film and animation post-production, how is it different from the other filmmaking stages, and what does the workflow look like? Let’s dive straight into the answers!

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What is post-production in filmmaking?

A filmmaking saying states that a film is made three times: the initial story unfolds during the development and writing of the script, then the shooting is the actual realization or recording of the film, and finally the editing process gives the narrative its final shape.

Without post-production, you have no film, all you have is recorded footage out of order with no cohesive story. In a collaborative process, the production team of editors, designers, composers, colorists, and effects specialists add their expertise to tell the story and refine the raw materials into a fully realized movie in line with the original vision.

The term post-production in filmmaking encompasses all the steps after principal photography to ready the product for distribution. The post-production workflow for a TV production can have a similar setup, but often follows a more fixed production schedule and standard practices.

Depending on the project, its budget, and the targeted distribution or release, a filmmaker might assemble a production team of their own or work with a production company to contract post-production services, for example, for editing, design, data and archival management, animation, motion graphics design, pre-visualization, or color correction and grading.

Film post-production definition. Post-production in filmmaking begins after principal photography with the assembling and editing of footage. Editors work on video and audio material to cut and put it in order according to a shot list and the director’s vision. Further steps can add special effects, music and sound or dubbing, graphics and titles, and alter the colors and look of the film. The goal of the post-production phase is always to have a finished product ready for release.

Pre-production, production, and post-production

Post-production is the last step in the filmmaking process, but it’s so much more than just putting on the finishing touches. It can play an important part in the narrative or the storytelling because individual segments or scenes only come together after editing: cutting can add stress and drama, alter the pace with various viewpoints, pull the audience into the moment with framing, or give context.

In film production, it is preceded by the development phase, when the production team works on the story and scripts, and possibly the logistics of the project. Pre-production then refers to the planning phase with research, casting, location scouting, design, and set construction. Principal photography or production is the actual recording of footage with the cast and crew on location or on set.

Want to know who does what on a film set? Check out our ultimate guide to film crew positions!

The post-production process explained

A layperson might think that first, you shoot the movie, then you edit it, which isn’t entirely wrong, but within the filmmaking process, post-production is not merely synonymous with editing. The ‘cutting’ of the raw footage is only one step of many in a workflow that can take weeks, months, or even more than a year. Not every film production will include the following steps, but these are the fundamentals of post-production in film:

Picture Editing

The editing process begins with picture editing: the editor will work the raw footage, or animated footage, into a story that follows the script, the characters, the themes, and the director’s vision. The editor might involve the director and cinematographer directly, or pass edited versions back and forth.

Filmmaking involves non-linear editing, or NLE for short, which is a form of offline editing in which the original video or audio material is not altered. Modern video editing with digital video production uses professional editing software, such as Adobe Premiere Pro, Avid Media Composer, or Final Cut Pro.

The film editor uses the shot list, the script, and instructions or a brief from the director to guide them in creating an Edit Decision List, or EDL for short. The goal of picture editing is to have a foundation for the movie. The director or a producer will review the first draft or rough cut and will probably give editing feedback. The final version of picture editing is the Answer Print. If that is satisfactory, the director can “lock the picture” and the post-production process moves on to sound editing.

Sound Editing

Sound editing creates an auditory experience for the audience. This post-production step involves assembling the film’s audio tracks from recordings, editing dialog, editing out background noise as needed, and adding sound effects.

Foley describes the production or reproduction of sound effects to be added which weren’t recorded during shooting. Foley artists use specific parts of the footage to match their sound effects to the on-screen action. Foley can be an artistic choice, for example, to insert more dramatic or comic sound to enhance scenes.

Automated Dialog Replacement, or ADR for short, involves sound editors re-recording dialog with actors in the studio, for example, the sound recording on set wasn’t up to par for a particular take or scene. ADR is also a creative part of the post-production process when scenes require voice-over narration or off-screen lines. With an animated film, ADR is crucial, because recording the dialog with voice actors is vital in giving animated characters a unique personality and bringing them to life.

Music Editing

A theatrical film often features an original score: a composer creates music for very specific segments and scenes to match the pace and emotion or bring out a recurrent theme. These compositions can become part of the storytelling, especially in scenes that are otherwise silent or have no dialog.

To use an existing track or piece of music in their production, filmmakers have to secure the rights, which can quickly become an expensive budget item. A sizable film production will have a music supervisor to oversee scoring or securing rights.

Sound Mixing and Sound Design

Sound mixers will check the audio once all tracks are finished to adjust the audio levels to a uniform volume. Audio mixing ensures the audio that the audience will hear in theaters is of the highest quality and will sound great on the sound systems in theaters, with no distracting elements. The music should not drown out the dialog, and sound effects shouldn’t be too distant, for example.

Sound engineers, sound mixers, and sound designers work with professional software such as Pro Tools to create, record, and mix sound for film productions. Sound mixing primarily refers to the normalization of audio levels, sound design includes all audio aspects: dialog, audio tracks, sound effects, and music, and a production might summarize them under this term. Sound design is the attempt to achieve a harmony of all audio elements and might begin during pre-production when a composer sketches musical pieces and a sound designer works with engineers to capture high-quality audio on set.

VFX: Visual Effects

Special effects, visual effects, or simply VFX are integral for many Hollywood film productions but play an increasing role in the industry. Depending on the production size and budget, a VFX supervisor will work with a team of VFX artists to create computer-generated imagery or CGI for short, and other special effects that would be impossible to capture during principal photography. On an animated film project, the entire film can be CGI, or special effects can be added form of animation, such as puppets, clay, or paper.

Visual effects work often involves compositing, a process of combining multiple images to form a single, cohesive visual, which today is also done digitally instead of splicing and layering together physical media. Rotoscoping is an old filmmaking technique to animate footage by drawing over live-action footage.

The VFX department will only begin editing visual effects into the film once the picture is locked, to avoid having to work with a changing number of frames, as most visual effects require frame-by-frame animation. Yet the VFX workflow can start during pre-production with concept art, animation tests, 3D models, and pre-visualization.

Color Editing

Coloring or color editing a film is a two-part post-production process. A colorist will first work on color correction, which ensures that all the footage has uniform colors and that there are no scenes which are more saturated than others, for example. Depending on the amount of footage, this can be done when the transfer of raw footage into the editing system happens.

During color grading, however, the colorist alters the color scheme or colorspace for the entire film, for example, to achieve an artistic look or realize the visual design of the project. We go into great detail of color correction and grading with lookup tables in our ultimate guide to color grading.

Graphics

As one of the last post-production steps, artists and editors will create titles, motion graphics, cards, credits, and other on-screen graphics such as date stamps and add them to the film. The opening credits play a role in how viewers will perceive the film and the artistic approach can set the tone and mood for the movie. End credits can tell a story of their own with more animation, bloopers, or outtakes, but they also require accurate and professional mentions of the cast, crew, and production team and other industry professionals involved.

Preparation for distribution

Finally, there are things to tick off to get the film ready for distribution. A trailer is one of them, letting audiences know before the upcoming release. A film editor can cut the trailer, or a production might hire a special trailer editor to produce this kind of preview.

To prepare for the upcoming release, the production team will work on a music and effects track as well, or M&E track for short, in case of an international release. This soundtrack without dialog enables distribution companies to dub the film in foreign languages.#

After these pre-production steps, the advertising and marketing department will likely take over to produce further promotional material, such as images, posters, taglines, gimmicks, swags, press releases, and more. Finally, a Digital Cinema Package is a digital medium with the film encoded for distribution to theaters or film festivals.

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In conclusion: the importance of post-production

Despite the many technical aspects of the post-production process, it’s also highly creative, and a film project can flop if the production team involved doesn’t deliver in post. Since the entire production is highly collaborative, the post-production specialist will have nothing to work with if the previous stages fall short. To ensure the best product and final cut, rigorous planning and hiring a solid production team are among the best steps a filmmaker can take to run a smooth post-production process.

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