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Defining the Stages

Now you know the three main stages that a project goes through, but it’s very important to know where each stage ends and the next one starts, as each project is different. Let’s study some examples to understand these differences better.

A Film without Visual Effects

Today, almost every single film has some visual effects. However, let’s consider a film that doesn’t have any visual effects. This will help you understand the basic process of film production, and then we’ll discuss some different production options.

During preproduction, the filmmakers create the film’s script and decide what will be the climax moments (and maybe even film them to test whether they really work). Every film goes through storyboarding, the process of making quick drawings to define where the cameras will be positioned and what will happen on each shot, so the production team can plan each shot, see what they’ll need on set, know what type of lenses to use in the camera, and identify where the actors will be positioned. Then, the filmmakers search for the locations where they’re going to film the scenes. They also have to create the costumes the actors will wear and all the props they’ll have to interact with. Then the filmmakers cast the actors and all of the extras who will appear in the film. Finally, the filmmakers must assemble the technicians who will film the movie and manage all the equipment, build the sets, and so forth. Usually, composers begin to develop the music at this stage so that a rough edit of the film can be made using the storyboard and the timing of each shot can be defined.

Everything is now ready to start filming, so production begins. At this point, the actors already know the script and the team knows what they need to do on each shot and what has to appear on camera. Production is usually not a very long process; because all aspects of the project were organized during preproduction, the production stage (the most expensive stage) is as short as possible. When production is completed, the movie has been filmed according to the decisions made during preproduction about where, when, how, and with whom.

Once filming is completed, postproduction can begin. The film must be edited at this point, perhaps by using some color correction to make a scene look more vivid, warm, or cold, depending on the feeling the director wants each scene to convey to the audience. Perhaps the director decides that a shot would work better if the main actor’s face were closer, so the video editor zooms in a little. Suppose the name of a business appears in the background and the director doesn’t want it to be recognizable; some simple visual effects can remove it or replace it with the name of another business that will pay the filmmakers for advertising! This is the point at which the last retouches are added to the film, the complete soundtrack and all the sound effects are included, and the final result is achieved.

A Visual Effects Film

Let’s now analyze the differences that a film with complex visual effects would have compared to the previous example.

During preproduction, the production team would need to think about what visual effects to use, how they’re going to be filmed, and what will be required to create them. Generally, the visual effects team works very closely with the director during preproduction to see what’s possible, what’s not possible, and how the effects will be achieved. (Usually, almost anything is possible in visual effects; it just may be way too expensive for a particular film’s budget.)

During production, the visual effects team may need to film some shots in special ways, using green screens or using markers or puppets the actors can interact with so that later the team can add an animated character to that scene. Lighting in the sets has to be measured and recorded, so the team can simulate it later in the 3D world to make it match the lighting on the real set. Some effects like explosions may need to be filmed separately so they can later be integrated with the footage of the actors.

After the movie has been filmed, it’s time to begin the postproduction stage, but because this film involves visual effects, the line between production and postproduction tends to blur and sometimes these stages actually overlap. The visual effects artists probably work on some shots even before production begins so that during filming, all the different elements that comprise a scene will fit together seamlessly.

The visual effects team has its own preproduction, production, and postproduction stages. They plan the specific effects and determine how a shot will be accomplished; then they proceed to production and work to create the elements of the visual effects, and finally combine those elements, adjusting colors, shapes, textures, and so forth.

An Animated Film

The stages of an animated film are even more difficult to distinguish, as the entire film is computer-generated, the line between production and postproduction is not so clear.

During preproduction, all aspects of the film are planned and designed as usual, but then production and postproduction tend to overlap because every aspect of these stages happens in the 3D software. Usually, it’s easier to divide the stages, with production creating the action (developing characters, sets, and animation), and post-production creating the effects such as water, splashes, particles, cloth, dust, smoke, fire, explosions and other simulations. Then, the final compositing will bring all these diverseelements together.

A Photograph

Yes, even something as simple as a photograph can be divided into the three production stages. Even if photographers are not conscious of it, they’re performing the stages of production with their own photos.

First, photographers complete the preproduction stage by thinking about what they’re going to shoot and where. During production, they must go to the location, pose the subject, and finally take the photo. Then, even using a smart phone, they can do some postproduction work such as adding an aging effect to the photo, or increasing its contrast, or maybe even changing it to black and white.

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