Published on website: January 27, 2010
Categories: CJ Johnson , Lab and Post Production , Products , Workflow , The StoryBoard Blog

In today’s world, workflow is all about choices.  Workflow is a set of processes, employing people, hardware, and software to help filmmakers bring their visions to life.  At the highest level, all motion picture workflows tend to follow the same basic path: the pre-production phase, the production phase, the post-production phase, the distribution and exhibition phase, and lastly the storage and archiving phase.  Every production, whether it is targeting television, commercials or feature films goes through these phases, albeit to a different degree. 

Historically, the typical workflow began in the planning stage with pen and paper.  Film was the standard interchange format for most workflows.  Features were shot on film.  Edited negative littered the cutting room floor.  Intermediates were made of the final production.  Multiple prints were generated for distribution and exhibition.  Finally the original negative became the archiving medium which enabled long term storage.  Film was the standard which carried across all the steps of the process.  Because of this workflow, decisions were far simpler.  Now, there are far more choices – from scene to screen to archive – and with that an increase in complexity.

Now the planning stage is called pre-production.  Many key activities are defined in this stage, including: script development, casting, wardrobe and budgeting to name a few.  Since filmmaking is a collaborative process, it is essential for everyone to share that vision from concept to through to completion.  And, with the variety of capture and delivery formats available today, it is important to plan ahead and make informed choices that will lead to the best possible results.  It can be a confusing endeavor because of the range of options available throughout the entire process.  Decisions should be made with an eye towards delivering high quality images, maintaining the flexibility to insure the vision is attained and of course, the available budget.    

The production phase is when the shooting begins.  Every new project begins with the need to make decisions about the origination media and format. Film continues to offer a superior choice for many projects.  The incredibly high resolution of film combined with its broad exposure latitude and low-cost archivability make it a high quality and versatile option.  Film format options like Super 16 along with 3-perf and 2-perf 35 make it an affordable choice for almost any production. 

The postproduction phase involves converting the raw material into a finished production. The process of using a Digital Intermediate (DI) workflow, where movies are color graded digitally instead of via traditional photochemical techniques, has become common, largely because of the greater artistic control it provides to filmmakers.  It blends the strengths of digital imaging along with the strengths of film.  DI traces it roots to the invention of the Rank-Cintel telecine during the late 1970s.  Kodak upped the ante in 1991 with the introduction of the Cineon digital film system, including a film scanner, recorder, computer workstation, and image manipulation software.

With digital acquisition, the scanning step is not necessary. Footage can go directly into a digital intermediate pipeline, although with some digital capture systems, it may need to be processed into suitable formats before it can be worked with.

The distribution and exhibition phase is the process of getting the production to the target audience.  The choices available in this phase continue to expand as technology advances.  Deliverables include; theatre prints, digital cinema in both 2D and 3D, television, DVD, internet, and mobile applications.  This list continues to grow almost every day and most productions utilize a range of distribution vehicles.

The last step of the workflow is the storage and archiving phase.  Frankly, it is often not given enough consideration early in the process.  Planning for the storage and archiving of your production should not wait until after the rest of the steps have been completed.  As choices for exhibition continue to expand, having a reliable archive will allow the production to extract ongoing value.

Film is the most reliable to archive your precious intellectual property. Properly archived black-and-white separations will last hundreds of years, and color negative and intermediate stocks will last for a century. There are numerous examples of very old film footage which has been recovered, restored and redistributed with very simple techniques.   

Today, there are countless new tools to help filmmakers unleash their creativity.  The challenge faced by many film-makers is understanding which of the many choices are best for their productions.  There are no simple answers.  It is important to plan ahead (from production through to storage and archiving).  This planning step will lead to informed choices and ultimately the best finished result.  We believe that film-based workflows using the DI process continue to offer the best of both the digital and traditional worlds and are an excellent choice for most film-making endeavors.

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