For the first time feature filmmaker, understanding post production can be a bit overwhelming. Once a picture is “locked”, meaning the offline editing process is completely finished and no further changes will be made to the project, a film then needs to then be conformed. During this process, also called the online edit, the proxies or lower-resolution files that an editor worked with in the FCP/Avid/Premiere project are replaced with the original camera negative digital files. This workflow is necessary in order to maintain the best image quality possible on your film. To further explain what actually happens during the conform process, The Post Lab asked Prehistoric Digital DI Producer, Will Adashek to elaborate.
In today’s digital world, what does it mean to “conform” your negative?
The digital conform process is actually very similar in concept to the days of editing film negatives! Like film, most of the professional digital camera in use today, including the Alexa, Red, Sony F5/55/65, Canon C300/C500, and many others, still shoot in a format that can’t be played back or edited easily on a typical computer. There is an incredible amount of processing power and disk speed needed to play back most of these formats at all, and especially in real time, because they contain so much data. So, like in the days of film, today’s digital workflows still require that we make a temporary version of the footage, with temporary color as well, in a format that can be edited on a normal computer. This footage is typically referred to as “proxy”, “offline” or “dailies” media. For Final Cut Pro and Premiere editors this usually means we use the Quicktime ProRes codec, and for Avid editors we use the DNxHD format. These are still HD video formats and look great for editing purposes, and these formats are what the creative team will use throughout the editing process. Eventually, at the post facility, the edit will be reconnected to the original camera media- a process called the conform. In addition to the cuts, we also reconstruct the reframes, resizes, speed changes, and anything else that might have been done in the edit, to make sure that the conformed version of the film accurately reflects the intent of the filmmakers.
At what point in the post production process does conforming your negative happen?
Generally the conform is done after the picture is locked, especially if you’re trying to work efficiently. The editorial materials and project files are provided to the post facility, along with all the original camera footage, and the edit is reconstructed there using special software designed for this process- generally the same software that will be used for the color correction and final delivery. Once the conform is complete the film is ready for color correction.
Is this something that a filmmaker can do on their own, or must it be done at a post production house?
The conform process requires substantial expertise and extremely powerful computers with specialized equipment, so I doubt any filmmaker would have the necessary setup. Part of the conform process also involves setting up the project for color correction, so it’s really best for this process to be completed at the same facility where the color work will be done. There’s also a lot of expertise involved with some very complex software, so it’s unlikely that anyone who does’t do this kind of work full-time would be able to complete the process successfully.
Generally speaking, how long should the conform process take?
The length of the conform process can vary substantially depending on the needs of the film, the camera and editing software that were used, and the VFX workflow. A simple film with only a few visual effects shots can take as little as 2-3 working days. Complex films can take much longer.
Is the conform process the same whether the film was cut in Avid, FCP or Premiere?
Basically…yes. All of these programs have various tools that help us conform the edit back to the original footage. With FCP and Premiere this involves XML and EDL files, and with Avid it involves AAF files, but they are all basically the same.
Will Adashek is the DI Producer at Prehistoric Digital, a boutique post production and color facility in Santa Monica, CA. Feature films finished at Prehistoric have shown at most major festivals, including Sundance, South by Southwest, AFI Fest, and LA Film Fest, and have been distributed around the world. Recent film projects include “Goodbye World” (Adrian Grenier, Ben McKenzie), “Natural Selection” (Rachel Harris), “Underdogs” (DB Sweeney), and “Four Dogs” (Official Selection, LA Film Fest 2013). Recent music videos feature Miley Cyrus, Fun., Boregore, Josh Osho, Hanson, Grouplove, Scars on 45, and The Ready Set. Commercial work from Prehistoric has aired on the web, cable, and network TV, including Super Bowl XLVI. Will is a graduate of Kenyon College and holds an M.F.A. in cinematography from the American Film Institute.