VFX Workflow Guide

Overview

It can be easy to find tutorials on how to do specific effects, but figuring out how to smoothly integrate those effects into your film poses it’s own challenges. This article will walk you through how to include visual effects and motion graphics into your workflow.

Media Management

Having organized file structures and naming conventions is critical through a project. Proper media management prevents numerous troubles down the road, for something that helps everyone. Always remember to keep a backup.

File Structures

Organized file structures keep everyone on the same page. The format you choose doesn’t matter, as long as it is clear and consistent. See the attachments at the bottom of the page for some sample project directories choose one that works for you, or create your own.

Naming Conventions

This also needs to have a format, as long as it works for you. It is a good idea to pad your numbers with zeros so that they sort correctly. Some samples are:

Style

Example

Index

Filename_001

 

001_Filename

Version Numbers

Filename_v3

 

Filename_V03

Time Stamps

Filename_YYMMDD_HHMM

 

Filename_MMDDYY

Hybrids

Filename_YYMMDD_V01

 

001_Filename_MMDDYY

Editing, Picture Lock & Color

Picture lock is crucial to a painless process for VFX and Color. Edit in Premiere or Avid for the smoothest workflow.

Once you have finished your edit. Duplicate your sequence, and rename it to something like MyProject_ForColor. Export your XML and continue with your standard Color Correction process. If you need assistance with this, please checkout our guides on Round Trip Color Correction.

Exporting for VFX from your NLE

You’ve gotten picture lock, colored your footage, and brought it back into your NLE. First, export a reference cut for your VFX artist. Just export a H.264 version of your video, and include that with what you deliver to your VFX artist.

  • Reduce your project down to a few tracks. For instance on this project I mostly have greenscreens.
  • Move the all the greenscreen clips to V2 and put their relevant backgrounds below on V1, this just makes it easier for a compositor to match up shots, and quickly identify which shots need attention.
  • If possible remove any non-relevant clips from the timeline.

Once you have prepped your sequence, export an XML or AAF from your NLE. This will enable your effects artist to import your sequence into their timeline. Warning: AAFs from Premiere will not work, be sure to use an XML.

The best method is to give the artist the working drive, or an identical drive so that there is no discrepancy in the file structures. However this is not always possible. In that case, set up clear guidelines for how files will be named and organized. In either case make sure to discuss what frame-rate, raster-dimensions, and delivery codecs you will be working with to reduce complications. High-quality codecs such as ProRes422, or ProRes4444 and dpx image sequences optimize media quality through the process.

Importing to After Effects

In After Effects to to File > Import > Pro Import After Effects. This will allow you to import an AAF or XML, and it will automatically import your media and create a timeline.

For more information on ProImport After Effects, check out the attached pdf at the bottom of the page.

ProImport After Effects Settings

Navigate to your AAF/XML, and select “Modify Settings”

Suggested Settings:

Avid AAF Import Error

It is likely that when importing an AAF from Avid that you will get this error:

Your media will not import properly, but placeholders will have been imported and named appropriately. To fix this simply replace your footage, and start working. This is why slimming down your NLE’s timeline is important, nobody wants to relink 300 media files by hand.

Preparing to Work in After Effects

I suggest Pre Composing your individual clips. This will let you focus and organize your project easier. I suggest using the “Trim Compose Script” from VideoCopilot. This enables you to create compositions for each clip without having to do each one individually.
Warning: If your footage is multiple frame rates. Make sure you pay attention to this, and make adjustments accordingly. Example: 60fps footage in a 24fps timeline might show up too long or short. This is where your reference cut can be helpful in making sure your edit is correct.  

Exporting from After Effects

Getting your project out of After Effects is just your normal exporting process. Add each clip to the render queue, via Composition > Add to Render Queue, or Composition > Add to Media Encoder Queue. Make sure to consider where your renders will be going. High quality codecs such as ProRes422, ProRes4444, or Animation are suggested in most scenarios. Both ProRes4444 and Animation can preserve color information and carry an alpha channel. Though as its name suggests, Animation is best-suited to animations, not live action footage. After exporting, simply relink in your NLE and do your final export.