Tech specs for audio-to-picture projects

These are guidelines to help ensure a smooth process. We can work with different materials, but there are drawbacks that we should discuss with you before we get started. Please feel free to ask if any of it doesn’t make sense.

I. Before outputting anything for us, please make sure:

  1. There are sync pops before and after each piece of video (movie, episode, or reel).
  1. The pop at the front of the project should be 8 seconds after the start of the timecode (preferably not using a zero hour start time, so 01:00:08:00 as an example).
  2. You are encouraged to use an “Academy Leader” which counts down to the sync pop which is followed by exactly 2 seconds of black and then the first frame of the picture.
  3. If your distributor is asking for final delivery in reels, now is a good time to break it up into reels. Traditionally, a reel in these purpose was roughly 2000 feet of 35mm film, or about 20 minutes.
  4. The tail pop should come exactly 2 seconds after the “last frame of action.” (Last frame of action or LFOA is not the first frame of black, it’s the frame edge of the last frame containing an image. As an example, if the LFOA of a reel is 01:20:00:00, the first frame of black will be 01:20:00:01 and the tail pop should be at 01:20:02:00. On a 23.976 sequence in FCP, this means inserting a slug 00:00:01:23 in duration between the picture and the tail pop.)
  5. You should also insert a slug of black at least 1 frame long after the tail pop. (Pro Tools will be more reliable in playback of the tail pop in sync if it’s not the last frame of the video file.)
  6. Both head and tail sync pops should have a visual and audio component both of which last exactly one frame.
  1. The production audio which is in your sequence is our bible for sync, so if there are any questions about sync, now is the time to fix them. If you have used an alternate take as a “cheat” or any temp ADR, please keep the original audio in your sequence and use it for the audio guide track you’ll output in part II.
  2. All production audio from dailies which might go in the final mix should be in your sequence. For example, if there are 4 tracks of production audio and you only want to hear one in the edit, leave the other 3 in the sequence and mute them or turn the volume down. We can do a full assembly of all tracks of dailies, but even with the greatest and newest tools, it’s still a time-consuming and only semi-automated process, so if it’s not too late, please discuss that with us before removing any production tracks from your timeline.
  3. Please organize audio on your tracks to keep dialog, music and effects on their own unique tracks. For example:
  1. Audio 1-8 all production dialog including room tone from the set, wild tracks, etc
  2. Audio 9-12 music
  3. Audio 13-24 stereo sound effects
  4. Audio 25-28 mono sound effects
  5. Audio 29-32 stereo backgrounds (you might get editor of the year awards if you consistently separate your backgrounds from sound effects)
  1. If you have an older editing system (e.g. FCP 7 or earlier), please keep stereo audio on odd-even pairs of tracks (i.e. odd numbered tracks are always the left channel or stereo files and even tracks are the right). If you’re video software supports stereo tracks, we will get them as two mono tracks and can handle that without any trouble.

II. The day before we start working in earnest on a full audio post project, we will need:

  1. We need a video reference of the whole movie.
  1. QuickTime movies (.mov) in the DNxHD36 codec are the only video file officially supported by Pro Tools. NOTE: Premiere’s .mov files don’t work very well even if you do have that codec. We’ve been told an .mxf wrapper is preferable, but we haven’t gotten one since we learned that.
  2. If that codec is not available to you, it’s a free download from Avid: https://avid.force.com/pkb/articles/en_US/download/Avid-QuickTime-Codecs-LE
  3. Please DO NOT use h.264 or .mp4 files as that codec has known sync issues in Pro Tools.
  4. A visual sync pop at the beginning and end is strongly advised to ensure sync.
  5. Use of an alpha channel will only serve to eat up a bunch of disk space and possibly confuse Pro Tools, so please turn it off on your output.
  1. There needs to be an audio guide track for sync purposes.
  1. Production dialog should be on channel 1 and all added music and effects on channel 2. If you want extra credit, you can send us 3 stems separating the music and effects from each other.
  2. It’s easiest if this guide track is embedded in the video reference you send us, but we can also work to a separate wave track or two or three.
  3. Please ensure the audio guides also have audible sound matching the visual sync pops. Some leaders you can download, for some reason, have the audio a fraction of a frame early, so please line it up to the frame edge.
  4. We can not stress enough how important it is for this guide track to be in sync with picture. Before we do any dialog editing, we manually sync the OMF/AAF to that guide track. When we have to nudge audio later, we have to redo a lot of the dialog editing work we’ve done, and there will generally be an overage for that extra time.
  1. 1080p is great, but we can use 720 or whatever works for you. We don’t have a 2k or 4k projector at the moment, so any bigger than 1080 is just costing disk space.
  2. An OMF or AAF file of your sequence(s).
  1. Premiere doesn’t translate file names well on AAF, so we prefer an OMF from Premiere, or both
  2. 48kHz 32 bit “broadcast wave” file format is preferred
  3. a minimum 10 seconds of handles should be included for us to be able to find bits of room tone and have extra material to fix edits
  4. An AAF should have audio encapsulated or embedded or whatever your software calls it. There is a 2GB file size limit on OMF, so projects can be imported from Pro Tools using unencapsulated audio. It is a little smoother for us to import encapsulated files, though, so if you have time the best method is to divide the exports into groups of tracks (e.g. tracks 1-4 in one OMF, 5-8 in another, 9-16 in a third). If it’s a feature length project with a tight schedule, please do provide a test output pre-lock so we can make sure the plan is going to work.
  5. we can’t undo any “baked in” audio effects, so only give those to us in the OMF/AAF if you’re absolutely sure that’s the way you want it to sound in the final mix. If you’re in doubt, give it to us both ways. EQ and compression and noise reduction are better done in Pro Tools, so please check with us before baking those in.
  1. A lined script from the set, sound reports, and all original audio dailies. (This requirement often doesn’t apply to documentary projects. Please don’t hesitate to omit this or ask about it if it’s any trouble to provide it.)

III. If your project is going to make picture changes:

  1. before you make any changes:
  1. Create EDLs (Tor learned in the CMX-2000 days, but there’s a new CMX format which is the best these days) of:
  1. The video track alone
  2. Your primary dialog tracks
  3. If there is a narrator, an additional EDL for the narrator tracks
  4. In the case of documentary, it is often helpful to have yet one more EDL for b-roll dialog
  1. if there has been a mix (temp or final) by Hear Kitty Studios, keep all the original production audio in the sequence, but also add tracks for stereo dialog, music & effects from the temp mix
  1. As you are making changes:
  1. keep the original production audio in place as a sync reference, but listen to the temp mix stems and edit those to sound the way you want us to hear your work
  2. add ALL new audio on their own tracks--this is all we’ll need in an OMF/AAF
  1. After making changes, output for us:
  1. a video reference as you had done before
  2. an OMF/AAF, as before, of only NEW audio tracks (new music including new edits of existing music cues, etc)
  3. new EDLs matching those from III.1.a. As well as one of each temp mix stem you had in your sequence.