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Color plays key role in Ava DuVernay’s A Wrinkle in Time

Color itself plays a significant role in the fantasy feature A Wrinkle in Time. To help get the look she wanted, director Ava DuVernay chose Mitch Paulson of Hollywood’s Efilm to handle final color grading — the two worked together on the Oscar-nominated film Selma. Wrinkle, which was shot by Tobias Schliessler, captures the magical feel of lead character Meg’s (Storm Reid) journey through time and space.

The film has several different looks. The rather gloomy appearance of the Meg’s difficult life on earth is contrasted by the incredibly vibrant appearance of the far-off planets she’s taken to by a trio of magical women — played by Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon and Mindy Kaling.

Paulson recalls DuVernay’s thinking. “Ava talked a bit about The Wizard of Oz, where the early scenes are in black and white and then it goes into color. She didn’t want to take things that far but that informed the overall approach. The parts on Earth at the beginning are somewhat desaturated and depressed looking. Meg lives with her mom because her dad has mysteriously disappeared. She has issues at school and is constantly bullied.”

To fine-tune this idea, Paulson built curves inside of Autodesk Lustre 2017. These were designed to desaturate many colors, particularly blues and greens, without significantly altering skin tones. Then he went through shot-by-shot to refine this even further using Lustre’s Diamond Keyer function to isolate certain colors (such as the blue in a row of school lockers) and further pull out some saturation. “I keyed almost everything,” he says, “grass, skies, water. I’d have at least three to four keys per shot.”

Then, as Meg and friends travel to the other planets, Paulson says, “We did the opposite and used curves and keying to make things brighter and more saturated. As soon as they jump to the first planet, you feel the difference.” He also points out that the time travelers find themselves in a large grassy field — a scene for which he isolated the real green of the New Zealand location and brought the saturation beyond anything we’d be used to seeing in real life.

“By manipulating the chrominance softness and tolerance diamonds of the keyer, you can quickly and easily isolate the color for a key. I find it more effective than an HSL tracker,” he explains. The colorist also finds system’s shapes tool to be very effective. “I use it all the time to isolate a portion of an actor’s face or hair to create a subtle idea of light there that sometimes really help as a final step to making a VFX shot blend perfectly with the background.”

Not all the planets the characters travel to are happy places, and Paulson worked with the filmmakers to create some variations on the color themes. The planet, Camazotz is an evil place, he says. “That’s not obvious at first but we sort of queue it right away by making it look just a bit off. For example, we took almost all the green out of the plants.”

Besides the standard d-cinema version, Paulson also did trim passes for Dolby Cinema 2D, Dolby Cinema 3D (14 foot-lamberts) and standard 3D (3.5 foot-lamberts), each of which requires additional refinement. “Tobias likes the really deep blacks you can get in the Dolby Cinema version, but we didn’t want to push things too far. It’s already so colorful and saturated that when we’d open the files in PQ (Dolby’s Perceptual Quantizer) we pulled a lot of it back so that it has an extra pop, but it still is very similar to the way the P3 version looks.”

Dailies were colored at Efilm by Adrian DeLude on Colorfront OSD. Files were conformed in Autodesk Flame. Deluxe’s Portal service was the tool used by VFX vendors to locate and download camera-original material and upload iterations of shots, which were then integrated onto Paulson’s Lustre timeline as the final grade proceeded.