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Saving Money at Any Cost

Proper post-production pipeline practices produce fewer perilous pitfalls.

New York has a soft spot for independent films, and Mechanism Digital is proud to have worked on so many of them. First, some disambiguation: “Independent” does not always mean “low-budget.” Some independent films cost millions of dollars to produce, while others are financed on a shoestring. Mechanism Digital enjoys working on all types.  

One particularly memorable experience was a passion project that had been financed by the life savings of the producer/director. In an effort to be budget conscious, the filmmaker decided to have the edit team perform the VFX turnover to our studio and also handle the conform, avoiding the cost of a dedicated finishing house.  

  • The turnover is a critical part of film making in which full quality footage is “pulled” and delivered to the effects studio for VFX integration.
  • Once the effects are approved, the high-resolution versions are reconciled with the low-quality, “offline” edit proxies. Matching these two versions together is called the conform.  

Halfway through working on 100 VFX shots the team realized completed vfx footage wasn’t matching in the conform. It turned out that the original pulls were exported using a different resolution and were color corrected to be linear (LIN) instead of the logarithmic format (LOG space) we typically receive.

Half the visual effects for the film had to be redone. As much as this filmmaker tried to save money and time— it ended up costing even more money and time.

No matter how much of a rush a post-production is in, whether it's a low-budget indie or big-budget feature, we insist on running at least one shot through the entire pipeline. We might add a very simple visual effect on the footage or nothing at all. Most importantly, we process this test footage “version 0” through all the steps from file transfer to rendering and even naming conventions and let the conform team re-import the footage and insert it back into the cut to confirm that everything works so we can “bless the pipeline.”

In the end, we helped save as much work as we could on the unfortunate VFX shots and completed additional work at a discounted price. Since that hard lesson a decade ago, Mechanism Digital has collaborated with the same filmmakers on several bigger budget films after that first project. It’s a perfect example how in the VFX business, relationships are everything.

Originally published: 04/01/2022

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