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Picture Reference

I am posting this information for several reasons:

  • It allows easy access for clients.
  • It may help other media professional develop their Best Practices in sound for picture.
  • In hopes that someone will suggest ways to improve it.

  • Technical Specifications for Picture Reference

    for Film/TV Post Production

    For sound work associated with picture (ADR, music scoring, sound design, mixing, etc.), please provide a picture reference that meets the specifications below.
    If a third party is making the video, please see that they refer to this specification.



  • QuickTime (.mov) using H.264 video coding.
  • Total Data Transfer Rate should be between 1 – 6 Mbps.
  • Note: H.264 is used for file transfer only, to keep the file relatively small. Video file will be converted to Motion JPEG-A upon receipt. See ProTools + H.264 video = Problem


  • Please provide a 4:3 Aspect Ratio. If the native ratio is 16:9, or any ratio other than 4:3, please matte (letterbox) to 4:3.
  • Frame Size should be 640 x 480 -OR- 320 x 240.
  • Frame Rate should be the same native rate as the Edit Master.
  • Standard frame rates for the US are 24.00 or 29.97. If the Frame Rate is anything else, please contact me first.

  • Visible timecode burn in the upper left hand corner of the picture, slaved from the Edit Master – FINAL LOCKED PICTURE.
  • A film footage counter is also acceptable for 24.00fps picture. If there is no timecode or film footage inherently associated with the Edit Master, please contact me first.

  • Timecode should be continuous and always visible for the entire file; even in video before, after and between spots/clips; even in video black.
  • If more than one spot or clip will be used in the same video file, please insert at least 5 seconds of video black in between.
  • File should include a set of Flash Frames that match the audible Sync Pops (see also Audio): Entirely white picture or large white “2”, 1 frame long. Head flash should start 2 seconds before program start. Tail flash should start 2 seconds after program end. Each spot/clip should have a separate set of head and tail Flash Frames.
  • A complete SMPTE Universal Leader (ANSI/SMPTE 55) is not required, but certainly welcome.


  • Please contact, or put me in contact with, downstream audio professionals (ie – mix stage, finishing house) for the audio specification they will use. If we work at some other specification it will force them to convert our audio, potentially degrading the quality.
  • PCM Linear audio coding.
  • Bit depth to be used downstream.
  • If not 16bit or 24bit, please contact me first.

  • Sample rate to be used downstream.
  • If not 48,000 Hz please contact me first.

  • File should employ a set of Sync Pops that match the visual Flash Frames (see also Video): 1k tone at -25 dB FS, 1 frame long. Head pop should start 2 seconds before program start. Tail pop should start 2 seconds after program end. Each spot/clip should have a separate set of head and tail Sync Pops.

  • In the case of ADR, audio should also be configured:

  • Audio Channel 1 – Dialog reference; ONLY the lines to be recorded / replaced
  • Audio Channel 2 – Everything EXCEPT dialog reference (other dialog, music, effects, etc.)
  • If you do not have the option to separate these elements, please contact me first.

    In the case of non-ADR, audio should also be configured:

  • Audio Channel 1 – Production audio or other production reference
  • Audio Channel 2 – Anything helpful that is NOT already on channel 1 (dialog, music, effects, etc.)
  • If you do not have the option to separate these elements, please contact me first.


    Please provide cue sheets and any other production documentation needed (ie – dialog scripts for ADR) at the same time the picture reference is supplied.
    Please include a text document (.doc, .rtf or .pdf) to describe every reference video file supplied:

  • Audio channel contents
  • Frame rate (24.00 or 29.97)
  • Timecode count type (Drop Frame, Non-Drop Frame or Film Footage)
  • Will there be or have there been any pullups, pulldowns (film video) or frame rate conversions at any point in this project? If yes, please describe.
  • Total program runtime for each spot/clip.
  • Edit Master completion date.
  • If the program start time is NOT one hour straight up, please indicate the timecode address for the first frame of picture.
  • If there are multiple clips, please indicate the start time of each.
  • If ADR, a list of characters that need to be recorded for each spot/clip.


    Reference picture, documentation and other materials should be provided well in advance. A minimum of 24 business hours is required for any kind of sound for picture work, more in cases of significant complexity (such as recording live performers). This lead time is necessary for spotting cues and to allow sufficient time for trouble-shooting technical issues.


    These specifications allow us to work with an exact picture match, allow locked playback, and can save time downstream by using the time references from the Final Master.

    Once picture is locked, everyone involved in post production should be given materials with the same sync indications: same Sync Pops with matching Flash Frames, same window burn. This allows everyone to verify sync and provides tools for trouble-shooting sync if needed.

    If any of these specifications do not apply to your project, or you are unable to provide them, please contact me so we can find appropriate solutions. My goal is to provide great sounding audio that looks right against picture and can be used most effectively downstream.

    Thank you for your help. For questions, please feel free to contact me.

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