Tag Archives: Colorist

Behind the Title: MTI Senior Colorist Trent Johnson

NAME: Trent Johnson

COMPANY: MTI Film

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
MTI Film works in multiple post production disciplines, including TV and feature post, film restoration and software development.

AS A SENIOR COLORIST, WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
In order to be excellent in this profession you have to be obsessive about the details, because it is in the composite of details that the whole mood and tempo of the show comes alive.

At this point in the post process, I may even become more passionate about certain aspects of the project than the clients. With years of experience under my belt, I have mastered many tricks of the trade that clients may or may not be aware of. I can see what needs to be corrected in lighting and color to make the director, cinematographer and producer’s vision for the piece become a reality.

It is my responsibility to make it right and I take this responsibility very seriously and down to the tiniest detail. For example, I can unify inconsistent shots, change the time of day, augment special effects that have to be married into practical photography, tint color to affect an emotional response from the audience and enhance the appearance of characters, to name a few. The addition of my creative input to the creative process – at the direction of the creative heads of a project – serves as the icing on the cake. It’s the final perfection of the product before it’s delivered and released.

WHAT SYSTEMS DO YOU WORK ON?
I am proficient on Nucoda, Resolve and Baselight.

ARE YOU SOMETIMES ASKED TO DO MORE THAN JUST COLOR ON PROJECTS? IF SO, CAN YOU DESCRIBE?
I take on light editorial tasks: compositing, speed changes, titling, etc. For a restoration project it could be sifting through various elements to choose the best quality.

The Emoji Movie

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
I have lots of favorites. First is working with very talented creative clients who know what they want and how to communicate a vision. Sitting in a theatre with these creative giants, over a period of several days, an atmosphere of camaraderie develops. This has resulted in many wonderful working relationships.

Second, I love being given a challenge on a film or TV project and then being able to meet or exceed expectations. I have always said there are two kinds of people in this world: those who give you reasons why they can’t do something and those who give you reasons why something that seems impossible can be done. I like to be the guy that figures out how to make it happen for a client, even though it may be out of the wheelhouse of most color correctors.

Third, once I meet a challenge and succeed in enhancing the creative vision of the client to an unexpected level, I like reviewing what I colored and how it’s made everything come together according to the vision. I thoroughly enjoy looking at what I colored yesterday and liking it, not to mention witnessing my client’s satisfaction with the final product.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
Rushing through the grade. I’m a perfectionist and like to refine a look until everyone in the room is pleased. I’m willing to put the time to get it right.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
I edited as well as colored early in my career. I could have easily pursued editing, as I enjoy it quite a lot. I like focusing on performances and finding the magic moments in shots and scenes and piecing it all together to move the story forward. I bring these skills into the color bay every day and draw on them by using color to amplify and strengthen the storyline of the project I’m working on.

HOW EARLY ON DID YOU KNOW THIS WOULD BE YOUR PATH?
As a child I binge-watched TV shows and movies and developed a love of classic Hollywood. I can walk into a room and glance at a movie and usually know what the title is. My kids get a kick out of that. I have a bit of a photographic memory in that sense. This has come in handy because I not only remember the movie, but the color and lighting as well, and how it was used in that particular instance to create a mood.

As I grew into my teens, I decided to make that movie-watching time investment pay off. I bought a Super 8 camera in high school and began making movies with my friends. I’ve never looked back. I majored in film production at the collegiate level at USC and San Diego State University. I started my career at Complete Post in Hollywood, and the rest is history.

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
I recently worked on Overboard for MGM, Proud Mary for Screen Gems and The Emoji Movie for Sony/Columbia.

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
I’ve worked on all the Smurfs movies. I started on the animated TV series early in my career and was hired to color correct all three of the motion pictures. The most challenging aspect of these movies early on was the combination live action and animation.

I became known as the “Smurf Blue guy” for keeping the characteristic blue color of the characters consistent. I especially enjoyed working with the animation clients on these shows because they are extremely precise, and I respect that.

A close second favorite is the motion picture Burlesque. The cinematography on that film was executed brilliantly; it featured dramatic dance numbers enhanced with creative lighting, had an avant-garde cast and was a throw-back to old Hollywood.

WHERE DO YOU FIND INSPIRATION? ART? PHOTOGRAPHY?
I feel as connected to the old as to the new. Technology is always morphing, and the way movies are made constantly in flux. This is a source of fascination to me, and I’m inspired by the way all forms of art both reflect and influence culture. I study how camerawork and lighting techniques come and go, and how they were and are effectively used artistically in movies past and present. How to communicate different facets of life is the fundamental inspiration for art. What I do is a technical art form, so it draws deeply on these principles.

NAME SOME TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
XM Radio, television, my iPhone and my coffeemaker.

WHAT SOCIAL MEDIA CHANNELS DO YOU FOLLOW?
I thoroughly enjoy reading blogs, and especially listening to podcasts of cinematographers and other colorists to stay current on innovation trends. Anything to do with the industry on Facebook, YouTube, etc. is always interesting to me.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
Sinatra, classic radio shows and pastry. Actually, it’s my sense of humor that keeps me going. Also, coming home to my loving family and being highly involved in my children’s lives is my lifeblood.

Peter Doyle on coloring Churchill’s England for Darkest Hour

By Daniel Restuccio

Technicolor supervising digital colorist Peter Doyle is pretty close to being a legend in the movie industry. He’s color graded 12 of the 100 top box office movies, including Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, six Harry Potter films, Aleksander Sokurov’s Venice Golden Lion-winning Faust, Joel and Ethan Coen’s Inside Llewyn Davis, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs and most recently the Golden Globe-nominated Darkest Hour.

Grading Focus Features’ Darkest Hour — which focuses on Winston Churchill’s early days as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom during WWII — represents a reunion for Doyle. He previously worked with director Joe Wright (Pan) and director of photography Bruno Delbonnel (Inside Llewyn Davis). (Darkest Hour picked up a variety of Oscar nominations, including Best Picture and Best Cinematography for Delbonnel.)

Peter Doyle

The vibe on Darkest Hour, according to Doyle, was very collaborative and inspiring. “Joe is an intensely visual director and has an extraordinary aesthetic… visually, he’s very considerate and very aware. It was just great to throw out ideas, share them and work to find what would be visually appropriate with Bruno in terms of his design of light, and what this world should look like.”

All the time, says Doyle, they worked to creatively honor Joe’s overall vision of where the film should be from both the narrative and the visual viewpoint.

The creative team, he continues, was focused on what they hoped to achieve in terms of “the emotional experience with the visuals,” what did they want this movie to look like and, technically, how could they get the feeling of that imagery onto the screen?

Research and Style Guide
They set about to build a philosophy of what the on-screen vision of the film would be. That turned into a “style guide” manifesto of actually how to get that on screen. They knew it was the 1940s during World War II, so logically they examined newsreels and the cameras and lenses that were used at the time. One of the things that came out of the discussions with Joe and Bruno was the choice of the 1.85:1 aspect ratio. “It’s quite an ensemble cast and the 2.35:1 would let you spread the cast across the screen, but wide 1.85:1 felt most appropriate for that.”

Doyle also did some research at the Victoria and Albert Museum’s very large photographic collection and dug into his own collection of photographic prints made with alternate color processes. Sepia and black and white got ruled out. They investigated the color films of the time and settled in on the color work of Edward Steichen.

Delbonnel chose Arri Alexa SXT cameras and Cooke S4s and Angenieux zoom lenses. They mastered in ArriRaw 3.2K. Technicolor has technology that allowed Doyle to build a “broad stroke” color-model-based emulation of what the color processes were like in the ’40s and apply that to the Alexa. “The idea,” explains Doyle, “was to take the image from the Alexa camera and mold it into an approximation of what the color film stocks would have looked like at the time. Then, having got into that world, tweak it slightly, because that’s quite a strong look,” and they still needed it to be “sensitive to the skin tones of the actors.”

Color Palette and Fabrics
There was an “overall arc” to this moment in history, says Doyle. The film’s setting was London during WWII, and outside it was hot and sunny. Inside, all lights were dimmed filaments, and that created a scenario where visually they would have extremely high-contrast images. All the colors were natural-based dyes, he explains, and the fabrics were various kind of wools and silks. “The walls and the actual environment that everyone would have been in would be a little run down. There would have been quite a patina and texture on the walls, so a lot of dirt and dust. These were kind of the key points that they gave me in order to work something out.”

Doyle’s A-ha Moment
“I took some hero shots of Kristin Scott Thomas (Clementine Churchill) and Gary Oldman (Winston Churchill), along with a few of the other actors, from Bruno’s rushes,” explains Doyle, adding that those shots became his reference.

From those images he devised different LUTs (Look Up Tables) that reflected different kinds of color manipulation processes of the time. It also meant that during principal photography they could keep referencing how the skin tones were working. There are a lot of close-ups and medium close-ups in Darkest Hour that gave easy access to the performance, but it also required them to be very aware of the impact of lighting on prosthetics and makeup.

Doyle photographed test charts on both 120mm reversal film of Ektachrome he had sitting in his freezer from the late ’70s and the Alexa. “The ‘a-ha moment’ was when we ran a test image through both. It was just staggering how different the imagery really looked. It gave us a good visual reference of the differences between film and digital, but more accurately the difference between reversal film and digital. It allowed us to zero in on the reactions of the two imaging methods and build the show LUTs and emulation of the Steichen look.”

One Word
When Doyle worked on Llewelyn Davis, Delbonnel and the Coen brothers defined the look of the film with one word: “sad.” For Darkest Hour, the one word used was “contrast,” but as a multi-level definition not just in the context of lights and darks in the image. “It just seemed to be echoed across all the various facets of this film,” says Doyle. “Certainly, Darkest Hour is a story of contrasting opinions. In terms of story and moments, there are soldiers at war in trenches, whilst there are politicians drinking champagne — certainly contrast there. Contrast in terms of the environment with the extreme intense hot summer outside and the darkness and general dullness on the inside.”

A good example, he says, is “the Parliament House speech that’s being delivered with amazing shafts of light that lit up the environment.”

The DP’s Signature
Doyle feels that digital cinematography tends to “remove the signature” of the director of photography, and that it’s his job to put it back. “In those halcyon days of film negative, there were quite a lot of processes that a DP would use in the lab that would become part of the image. A classic example, he says, is Terrence Malick’s Days of Heaven, which was shot mostly during sunrise and sunset by Nestor Almendros, and “the extraordinary lightness of the image. Or Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon, which was shot by John Alcott with scenes lit entirely by candles “that have a real softness.” The looks of those movies are a combination of the cinematographer’s lighting and work with the lab.

“A digital camera is an amazing recording device. It will faithfully reproduce what it records on set,” says Doyle. “What I’ve done with Bruno in the testing stage is bring back the various processes that you would possibly do in the lab, or at least the concept of what you would do in the laboratory. We’re really bending and twisting the image. Everyone sees the film the way that the DP intends, and then everyone’s relationship with that film is via this grade.”

This is why it’s so important to Doyle to have input from day one rushes through to the end. He’s making sure the DP’s “signature” is consistent to final grade. On Darkest Hour they tested, built and agreed on a look for the film for rushes. Colorist Mel Kangleon worked with Delbonnel on a daily basis to make sure all the exposures were correct from a technical viewpoint. Also, aesthetically to make sure the grade and look were not being lost.

“The grades that we were doing were what was intended by Bruno, and we made sure the actual imagery on the screen was how he wanted it to be,” explains Doyle. “We were making sure that the signature was being carried through.”

Darkest Hour and HDR
On Darkest Hour, Doyle built the DCI grade for the Xenon projector, 14 foot-lambert, as the master color corrected deliverable. “Then we took what was pretty much the LAD gray-card value of that DCI grade. So a very classic 18% gray that was translated across to the 48-, the 108-, the 1,000- and the 4,000-nit grade. We essentially parked the LAD gray (18% gray) at what we just felt was an appropriate brightness. There is not necessarily a lot of color science to that, other than saying, ‘this feels about right.’ That’s (also) very dependent on the ambient light levels.”

The DCI projector, notes Doyle, doesn’t really have “completely solid blacks; they’re just a little gray.” Doyle wished that the Xenon could’ve been brighter, but that is what the theatrical distribution chain is at the moment, he says.

When they did the HDR (High Dynamic Range) version, which Doyle has calls as a “new language” of color correction, they took the opportunity to add extra contrast and dial down the blacks to true black. “I was able to get some more detail in the lower shadows, but then have absolutely solid blacks —  likewise on the top end. We opened up the highlights to be even more visceral in their brightness. Joe Wright says he fell in love with the Dolby Vision.”

If you’re sitting in a Dolby Vision Cinema, says Doyle, you’re sitting in a black box. “Therefore, you don’t necessarily need to have the image as bright as a Rec 709 grade or LAD gray, which is typically for a lounge room where there are some lights on. There is a definite ratio between the presumed ambient light level of a room and where they park that LAD,” explains Doyle.

Knowing where they want the overall brightness of the film to be, they translate the tone curve to maintain exactly what they did in the DCI grade. Then perceptually it appears the same in the various mediums. Next they custom enhance each grade for the different display formats. “I don’t really necessarily call it a trim pass; it’s really adding a flare pass,” elaborates Doyle. “A DCI projector has quite a lot of flare, which means it’s quite organic and reactive to the image. If you project something on a laser, it doesn’t necessarily have anywhere near that amount of flair, and that can be a bit of a shock. Suddenly, your highlights are looking incredibly harsh. We went through and really just made sure that the smoothness of the image was maintained and emulated on the other various mediums.”

Doyle also notes that Darkest Hour benefited from the results of his efforts working with Technicolor color scientists Josh Pines and Chris Kutchka, working on new color modeling tools and being able “to build 3D LUTs that you can edit and that are cleaner. That can work in a little more containable way.”

Advice and Awards
In the bright new world of color correction, what questions would Doyle suggest asking directors? “What is their intent emotionally with the film? How do they want to reinforce that with color? Is it to be approached in a very literal way, or should we think about coming up with some kind of color arc that might be maybe counter intuitive? This will give you a feel for the world that the director has been thinking of, and then see if there’s a space to come at it from a slightly unexpected way.”

I asked Doyle if we have reached the point where awards committees should start thinking about an Academy Award category for color grading.

Knowing what an intensely collaborative process color grading is, Doyle responded that it would be quite challenging. “The pragmatist in me says it could be tricky to break it down in terms of the responsibilities. It depends on the relationship between the colorist, the DP and the director. It really does change with the personalities and the crew. That relationship could make the breakdown a little tricky just to work out whose idea was it to actually make it, for example, blue.”

Because this interview was conducted in December, I asked Doyle, what he would ask Santa to bring him for Christmas. His response? “I really think the new frontier is gamut mapping and gamut editing — that world of fitting one color space into another. I think being able to edit those color spaces with various color models that are visually more appropriate is pretty much the new frontier.”


Daniel Restuccio is a producer and teacher based in Southern California.

Fancy Film brings on Michael Smollin to head color division

Michael Smollin has joined Fancy Film, a post facility based in Los Angeles’ Silver Lake area, as senior colorist for theatrical and television projects. Smollin has credits that span features, episodics, reality series and documentaries.

“Mike is someone who can lead our color division in both technical and artistic capacities,” says Fancy Film CEO Bill Macomber. “He brings a significant ability to grow our business through his many diehard fans. He has especially deep experience as a colorist for mid-budget features and television series, projects that are a perfect match for Fancy and the facilities we have here. As these projects gear up for HDR, Mike’s leadership will be key.”

Smollin has worked at Fancy on an occasional freelance basis for over five years. His credits include Undefeated, the 2012 Oscar winner for Best Documentary Feature, as well as The Case Against 8 for HBO and Underwater Universe for Discovery.

Smollin’s career in post spans more than 20 years, the past four at Roundabout Entertainment in Burbank. His background also includes posts with Walden Media, Mega Playground, Technicolor and Encore Video. He got his start with Complete Post.

His many credits include the television series American Dreams, CSI: Miami, Once and Again and Grounded for Life, the documentary Sound City, and the features Chasing Mavericks, Parental Guidance and the Disney live-action feature The Jungle Book.

“What inspires me to be a colorist is the day-to-day creativity and collaborative artistic communication between the creative artists of the post industry,” says Smollin. “I also enjoy helping people see their images come to life on television and the big screen.”

Launched by Macomber in 2003, Fancy Film offers a seamless workflow from dailies processing through picture lock and has developed a strong reputation for providing high quality post services in a boutique, creative environment. The facility features a DCI-certified, Blackmagic Da Vinci Resolve color grading theater and three broadcast color correction suites, plus editorial conforming, quality control and related resources.

In addition, it has 20,000 square feet of offline editorial space that it leases to film and television productions on long- and short-term bases. Recent projects that have undergone post finishing at the facility include Beatriz at Dinner, Miguel Arteta’s film, starring Salma Hayek and John Lithgow. Its series work includes Sing It! for YouTube Red and Party Over Here for Lonely Island and Fox.

Aubrey Woodiwiss joins Carbon LA as lead colorist

Full-service creative studio Carbon has added colorist Aubrey Woodiwiss as senior colorist/director of color grading to their LA roster. He comes to Carbon with a portfolio that includes spots for Dulux, NBA 2K17, Coors and Honda, and music videos for Beyonce’s Formation, Jay-Z’s On to the Next One and the Calvin Harris/Rihanna song This Is What You Came For.

“I’m always prepared to bend and shape myself around the requirements of the project at hand, but always with a point of view,” says Woodiwiss, who honed his craft at The Mill and Electric Theater Collective during his career.

“I am fortunate to have been able to collate various experiences within life and work, and have been able to reapply them back into the work I do. I vary my approach and style as required, and never bring a labored or autonomous look to anything. Communication is key, and a large part of what I do as well,” he adds.

Woodiwiss’ focus on creativity began during his adolescence, when he experimented with editing films on VHS and later directed and cut homemade music videos. Woodiwiss started his pro career in the early 2000s at Framestore, first as a runner and then as a digital lab operator, helping to pioneer film scanning and digital film tech on Harry Potter, Love Actually, Bridget Jones Diary and Troy.

While he’s traversed creative mediums from film, commercials, music videos and on over 3,000 projects, he maintains a linear mindset when it comes to each project. “I approach them similarly in that I try to realize the vision set by the creators of the project,” says Woodiwiss, who co-creative directed the immersive mixed media art exhibition and initiative mentl, with Pulse Films director Ben Newman and producer Craig Newman (Radiohead, Nick Cave).

Carbon’s addition of the FilmLight Baselight color system and Woodiwiss as senior colorist to its established VFX/design services hammers home the studio’s move toward a complete post solution in Los Angeles. Plans are in the works to offer remote grading capabilities from any of the Carbon offices in NY, Chicago and Los Angeles.

Digging Deeper: The Mill Chicago’s head of color Luke Morrison

A native Londoner, Morrison started his career at The Mill where worked on music videos and commercials. In 2013, he moved across to the Midwest to head up The Mill Chicago’s color department.

Since then, Morrison has worked on campaigns for Beats, Prada, Jeep, Miller, Porsche, State Farm, Wrigley’s Extra Gum and a VR film for Jack Daniel’s.

Let’s find out more about Morrison.

How early on did you know color would be your path?
I started off, like so many at The Mill, as a runner. I initially thought I wanted to get into 3D, and after a month of modeling a photoreal screwdriver I realized that wasn’t the path for me. Luckily, I poked my nose into the color suites and saw them working with neg and lacing up the Spirit telecine. I was immediately drawn to it. It resonated with me and with my love of photography.

You are also a photographer?
Yes, I actually take pictures all the time. I always carry some sort of camera with me. I’m fortunate to have a father who is a keen photographer and he had a darkroom in our house when I was young. I was always fascinated with what he was doing up there, in the “red room.”

Photography for me is all about looking at your surroundings and capturing or documenting life and sharing it with other people. I started a photography club at The Mill, S35, because I wanted to share that part of my passion with people. I find as a ‘creative’ you need to have other outlets to feed into other parts of you. S35 is about inspiring people — friends, colleagues, clients — to go back to the classic, irreplaceable practice of using 35mm film and start to consider photography in a different way than the current trends.

State Farm

In 2013, you moved from London to Chicago. Are the markets different and did anything change?
Yes and no. I personally haven’t changed my style to suit or accommodate the different market. I think it’s one of the things that appeals to my clients. Chicago, however, has quite a different market than in the UK. Here, post production is more agency led and directors aren’t always involved in the process. In that kind of environment, there is a bigger role for the colorist to play in carrying the director’s vision through or setting the tone of the “look.”

I still strive to keep that collaboration with the director and DP in the color session whether it’s a phone call to discuss ahead of the session, doing some grade tests or looping them in with a remote grade session. There is definitely a difference in the suite dynamics, too. I found very quickly I had to communicate and translate the client’s and my creative intent differently here.

What sort of content do you work on?
We work on commercials, music promos, episodics and features, but always have an eye on new ways to tell narratives. That’s where the pioneering work in the emerging technology field comes into play. We’re no longer limited and are constantly looking for creative ways to remain at the forefront of creation for VR, AR, MR and experiential installations. It’s really exciting to watch it develop and to be a part of it. When Jack Daniel’s and DFCB Chicago approached us to create a VR experience taking the viewer to the Jack Daniel’s distillery in Kentucky, we leapt at the chance.

Do you like a variety of projects?
Who doesn’t? It’s always nice to be working on a variety, keeping things fresh and pushing yourself creatively. We’ve moved into grading more feature projects and episodic work recently, which has been an exciting way to be creatively and technically challenged. Most recently, I’ve had a lot of fun grading some comedy specials, one for Jerrod Carmichael and one for Hasan Minhaj. This job is ever-changing, be it thanks to evolving technology, new clients or challenging projects. That’s one of the many things I love about it.

Toronto Maple Leafs

You recently won two AICE awards for best color for your grade on the Toronto Maple Leafs’ spot Wise Man. Can you talk about that?
It was such a special project to collaborate on. I’ve been working with Ian Pons Jewell, who directed it, for many years now. We met way back in the day in London, when I was a color assistant. He would trade me deli meats and cheeses from his travels to do grades for him! That shared history made the AICE awards all the more special. It’s incredible to have continued to build that relationship and see how each of us have grown in our careers. Those kinds of partnerships are what I strive to do with every single client and job that comes through my suite.

When it comes to color grading commercials, what are the main principles?
For me, it’s always important to understand the idea, the creative intent and the tone of the spot. Once you understand that, it influences your decisions, dictates how you’ll approach the grade and what options you’ll offer the client. Then, it’s about crafting the grade appropriately and building on that.

You use FilmLight Baselight, what do your clients like most about what you can provide with that system?
Clients are always impressed with the speed at which I’m able to address their comments and react to things almost before they’ve said them. The tracker always gets a few “ooooooh’s” or “ahhhh’s.” It’s like they’re watching fireworks or something!

How do you keep current with emerging technologies?
That’s the amazing thing about working at The Mill: we’re makers and creators for all media. Our Emerging Technologies team is constantly looking for new ways to tell stories and collaborate with our clients, whether it’s branded content or passion projects, using all technologies at our disposal: anything is at our fingertips, even a Pop Llama.

Name three pieces of technology you can’t live without.
Well, I’ve got to have my Contax T2, an alarm clock, otherwise I’d never be anywhere on time, and my bicycle.

Would you say you are a “technical” colorist or would you rather prioritize instincts?
It’s all about instincts! I’m into the technical side, but I’m mostly driven by my instincts. It’s all about feeling and that comes from creating the correct environment in the suite, having a good kick off chat with clients, banging on the tunes and spinning the balls.

Where do you find inspiration?
I find a lot of inspiration from just being outside. It might sound like a cliché but travel is massive for me, and that goes hand in hand with my photography. I think it’s important to change your surroundings, be it traveling to Japan or just taking a different route to the studio. The change keeps me engaged in my surroundings, asking questions and stimulating my imagination.

What do you do to de-stress from it all?
Riding my bike is my main thing. I usually do a 30-mile ride a few mornings a week and then 50 to 100 miles at the weekend. Riding keeps you constantly focused on that one thing, so it’s a great way to de-stress and clear your mind.

What’s next for you?
I’ve got some great projects coming up that I’m excited about. But outside of the suite, I’ll be riding in this year’s 10th Annual Fireflies West ride. For the past 10 years, Fireflies West participants have embarked on a journey from San Francisco to Los Angeles in support of City of Hope. This year’s ride has the added challenge of an extra day tacked onto it making the ride 650 miles in total over seven days, so…I best get training! (See postPerspectives’ recent coverage on the ride.)

Behind the Title: ArsenalFX colorist Greg Werner

NAME: Greg Werner

COMPANY: ArsenalFX Color

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
ArsenalFX Color is a high-end post facility focusing on the television industry. Our 9,000-square-foot facility hosts Lustre color, Flame, Smoke (Flame Assist) and Avid conform, as well as Colorfront dailies toolsets. Arsenal features a file-based architecture and concurrent HD through 4K workflows (including HDR).

AS A COLORIST, WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
I don’t think most people are aware of the job title of colorist in general. I think people are aware of cinematographers and editors and their part in creating the look and feel of a show, but don’t realize what can be done on the post side. The systems we work with have an arsenal of tools that allow us to modify and isolate virtually any part of the picture in order to give the client exactly what they’re looking for.

WHAT SYSTEM DO YOU WORK ON?
Autodesk Lustre

ARE YOU SOMETIMES ASKED TO DO MORE THAN JUST COLOR ON PROJECTS?
Lustre has the power to do things other than just color for artistic intent, such as adding grain or noise to a shot, sharpening or softening a portion of the picture or creating a bleach bypass effect.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
My favorite part of the job is viewing a completed show knowing that I had a part in helping maintain the intended look and feel of the show.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
My least favorite part of the job may be that color correction can be tedious at times when working on shows that are very cutty with variable lighting conditions. But, it is that challenge that is also the most rewarding when viewing the completed work and seeing how everything comes together cohesively.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
I would probably be an editor or VFX artist.

HOW EARLY ON DID YOU KNOW THIS WOULD BE YOUR PATH?
I chose this profession because I always wanted a hands-on technical-oriented type of career. Studying communication and media in college, I was exposed to and very interested in the video production and post environment.

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
Turn: Washington’s Spies, Outsiders, Marvel’s Agents of Shield, Bones, Prison Break (2017) and HBO’s Barry.

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
I am probably the most proud of being able to work on the new event series Prison Break (2017) because it was given some stylized looks that were fun to work on.

WHERE DO YOU FIND INSPIRATION? 
I find inspiration in the world around me. Whether it be zip lining over tropical waterfalls in Hawaii, surfing in the azure waters of Fiji or simply viewing a spectacular sunset (like the one I saw the other night driving home from work). These experiences can shape the way we see things.

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
Television, of course, my iPhone and my MacBook Pro.

WHAT SOCIAL MEDIA CHANNELS DO YOU FOLLOW?
Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Twitter and Pinterest.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
After the long hours of sitting in a dark room fixated on a monitor the best de-stress for me is to grab my surfboard and paddle out for a few waves and watch the sunset.

Colorist Dan Hermelin joins Roundabout Entertainment

Roundabout Entertainment, which is growing its services for picture finishing and restoration, has hired colorist Dan Hermelin. He comes to Roundabout with more than 20 years of post experience and a resume spanning features, television and restoration projects, the latter including remasters of Jerry Maguire, Men in Black and The Deep. At Roundabout, his current project is the animated series Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for Nickelodeon.

He uses a Blackmagic DaVinci Resolve, running version 12.5, using Resolve panels. His room is equipped with the new Sony X550 55-inch OLED monitors.

Hermelin spent the past five years at Deluxe, where he worked on restoration projects for Sony Pictures, MGM, Disney and other studios, as well as animation projects for Netflix and Nickelodeon. Prior to that, he spent 17 years at Ascent Media where his work spanned from commercials and music videos to episodic television, long-form television and features.

Notable credits include Disney’s Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen and Raising Helen and restorations of the Little Rascals and Gene Autry Westerns. He began his career with Image Transform.

Behind the Title: AlphaDogs colorist Sean Stack

NAME: Sean Stack

COMPANY: Burbank’s AlphaDogs

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
We are a post production facility focused on online finishing, including color correction and audio mixing. We also have graphic artists and complete duplication, format conversion and tape output capabilities.

AS A COLORIST, WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
Probably the most surprising thing to the layman would be how much control I can have over the image and what that means for the production.

WHAT SYSTEM DO YOU WORK ON?
Primarily, I work in DaVinci Resolve for color grading, and we have both Mac and PC systems capable of the same work. I also color correct in Avid Symphony. The choice of system is guided by the requirements of the project.

For example, if I am working on a documentary or feature I would most likely be using Resolve to re-link and conform the sequence to the camera source files for grading, allowing access to the full quality and resolution of the source file. In the event I am finishing an unscripted reality-style television series, the sequence in Avid would be upres’d to a high-resolution format (such as DNxHD175) and graded using the Avid Symphony color correction tools.

Sunset Strip

‘Sunset Strip’ is just one of many projects Sean Stack has worked on.

ARE YOU SOMETIMES ASKED TO DO MORE THAN JUST COLOR ON PROJECTS?
Nearly every project I work on has additional work other than color correction. It ranges — some are simple edit tasks that are required to create delivery files, such as adding the final audio mix stems and exporting them with picture in the correct layout following the delivery specifications.

For a more complicated project I may be exporting DPX image sequences from Resolve of pre-graded scenes that will go to graphic artists for visual effects work. Then, once the VFX are complete, I will be cutting the final effect shots back into the final graded sequence. I’ve never been asked to do a hula dance and I am thankful for that, however I have been asked for my critical review of the project and that can be very tricky terrain to tread on. I always try to find something in every project that I like, because filmmakers need emotional support.

ARE YOU BEING ASKED TO DO MINOR VFX WORK TOO?
I do a ton of minor VFX work. My favorite fix is when you can just push-in to remove a problem, such as a boom mic dropping into the frame. Arguably, that instance may not be VFX but if you are talking about painting it out and I fix it, then it’s fixed. Minor perhaps, but I just saved the client major time and money. Other minor VFX work may include stabilizing shots, blurring objects and compositing several images together. A compositing example for a recent project involved adding footage inside a cell phone that was making a FaceTime call and also adding computer desktop images to laptop screens that were not powered up.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
When the clients and I get on the same wavelength and we are seeing the color working the same way. It means I get it and I can go forward with confidence, and once that trust is built the project will sail.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
Unlocking the cut. Do everything to avoid unlocking the cut once you are in color and sound mix.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
Good question. Making ice cream or maybe a landscape designer.

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THIS PROFESSION? HOW EARLY ON DID YOU KNOW THIS WOULD BE YOUR PATH?
I’ve always wanted to be part of filmmaking and spent some years acting in professional non-equity theatre before discovering editing was what really made me happy.

Tom Petty

‘Running Down a Dream’

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
The most well-known project may be the Tom Petty documentary called Running Down a Dream, directed by Peter Bogdanovich. Other projects of note would be Sunset Strip, a documentary on the history of the famous boulevard in Los Angeles.

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
I would have to say a documentary called Dying to Know about Timothy Leary and Ram Das. I’m proud of the work on that film because the filmmakers set a very high bar for me to achieve, and I feel like I met the expectation, and in some cases, exceeded it. In that feature length documentary, there was nearly every possible video format used, from archival film transfers of a Congressional inquiry to standard definition video captured in the early 1980s. The director has a fantastic eye for color and the producer is a talented photographer, so the color grading was highly scrutinized by experienced people, and that pushed me into learning new solutions.

Timothy Leary

‘Dying to Know’

This was one of the few projects where every stone was turned over to get the best out of every shot — if it meant going to the Teranex to convert footage to the proper frame-rate then it was done. There was a long interview section where camera A was an analog video format, Betacam, and footage from camera B was Digi Beta, so the sources looked very different. I was able to balance the sources to look very similar and the distraction of varied formats was removed. Do average viewers notice? I have to say, subconsciously they probably do, and there’s a value added to a program when there’s no distraction from the story. Editing, color correction, VFX and even audio mix should not be something the viewer is thinking about or even aware of, so my best work probably goes completely unnoticed and that’s the best possible scenario for the audience. Enjoy the show.

WHERE DO YOU FIND INSPIRATION? ART? PHOTOGRAPHY?
I first try to find it within the project and footage I’m working on. I get on board with the story and, if the director has ideas, listen to those as well. If that still doesn’t get me involved, I might look at some clips from movies that have a similar feel to what I’m working on. Then I choose some music to listen to and usually stick with the genre through the project to keep my head in that space.

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
Graphics tablet, external video scopes and fast Internet.

WHAT SOCIAL MEDIA CHANNELS DO YOU FOLLOW?
Instagram and Facebook, but really only for personal stuff. I have a LinkedIn account as well but I’m not very active. I’m not suggesting this is the wisest choice. I also have listings on IMDB, of course.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
I golf and work on restoring my vintage VW bus, then go camping or hit the beach and just relax.

Hands of Stone DP and colorist weigh in on film’s look and feel

By Randi Altman

“No mas! No mas!” Those famous words were uttered in desperation by legendary fighter Roberto Durán, putting an end to his rematch with Sugar Ray Leonard. But before that, Durán had impressively defeated the charismatic Sugar Ray, capturing the WBC welterweight title. Durán’s story — along with that of his trainer Ray Arcel — was recently told in The Weinstein Company’s feature Hands of Stone.

Written and directed by Jonathan Jakubowicz, the film’s DP was Miguel Ioan Littin Menz. He worked very closely with director Jakubowicz and FotoKem colorist Kostas Theodosiou to develop several different looks for the film, including for the different decades in which the story takes place, boxing versus training scenes in different locations (New York, Panama, Las Vegas) and flashback scenes.

Robert De Niro and Edgar Ramírez star in HANDS OF STONEThe film stars Édgar Ramírez as Duran, Usher Raymond as Sugar Ray and Robert DeNiro as Ray Arcel.

We were lucky enough to get some time from both Littin Menz and Theodosiou, albeit separately, for questions. First we caught up with Theodosiou.
Enjoy.

How early did you get involved with the film?
Theodosiou: Prior to my involvement in the project, FotoKem’s nextLAB was on location and involved in dailies acquisition and management. However, I started working with the filmmakers at the editorial stage, after the shoot was finished.

What kind of overall look/looks did the director and DP have in mind for the film, and how did they share that vision with you?
Theodosiou: Both the director Jonathan Jakubowicz and the director of photography Miguel Ioan Litten Menz were very hands-on. They supervised each session to make sure we created looks that best suited all the different time periods, as well as the variety of locations used in the production. The story involved multiple locations, including Panama, New York and Las Vegas.

Nearly every scene was shot on location to maintain authenticity, and it was important that we were true to the look and feel of each location. Jonathan and Miguel explained in detail what they wanted to achieve visually, so we created a unique look for each location.

kostas

Kostas Theodosiou

In addition, the story took us through many different time periods that spanned Roberto Duran’s life — from childhood through his entire career. Each time period also required a different treatment to establish its place in time. Every look we created had a purpose and is in the film for a reason. As a result, there are many different looks in this movie, but they all worked together to help tell the story.

You called on Resolve for this film. Can you talk about the tool and how it helps you in your work?
Theodosiou: Resolve is a great platform and allowed me to mix footage that was shot using a variety of different cameras, lenses and aspect ratios. The tools in Resolve helped me blend the footage seamlessly to enhance the filmmakers’ vision, and the results surpassed their expectations.

You mentioned that both the director and DP were in the room with you?
Theodosiou: Yes, Miguel and Jonathan were supervising the color correction from beginning to end. We all had great chemistry and worked together as a team. This was Jonathan’s passion project and he was very invested in the film, so he was deeply involved in the finishing process. And Miguel flew in from Chile to make sure he was here with us.

In the final stages of making the film, additional scenes were added and both filmmakers returned to FotoKem to work with me to make sure the new extended scenes fit in with the mood they were trying to portray. It was a very hands-on experience.

Now let’s hear from DP Miguel Ioan Litten Menz:

What were your first meetings like with Kostas?
Littin Menz: I was very pleased to hear that the color correction was to be done at FotoKem in Los Angeles. We chose Kostas because of his background — he’s worked for Paul Thomas Anderson; Robert Elswit, ASC; Christopher Nolan; and Hoyte van Hoytema, ASC. Since the first meeting, the connection and conversation about aesthetic was immediately understood. Our ideas and feelings about how to adjust the palette of colors for the final look of the film were in sync. He did marvelous work.

director-and-dp

Jonathan Jakubowicz and Miguel Ioan Littin Menz.

What was the general overall look the director had in mind for the film and how did he communicate that to you?
Littin Menz: In general, Jonathan talked about creating different looks between Panama and New York, and at the same time creating a look where you can feel an epic and intimate story at the same time. We want the audience to feel the wild, powerful and sensual colors around Roberto Durán’s life in Panama, and more plain, elegant and sober colors around Ray Arcel’s life in New York. In our research, we looked at thousands of photographs from sports magazines from that period, and also many documentaries.

And for my personal research, I again read Norman Mailer’s book “The Fight” and Jack London’s “The Mexican.”

How would you describe the different looks and feel of the film — decade by decade, location by location?
Littin Menz: I worked very closely with Tomás Voth, the production designer, who did amazing work. We described two very different worlds — Duran’s life in Panama and Ray Arcel’s in New York — so as a general concept we tried to create eclectic and powerful palates of colors for Duran’s life, to mimic his real personality.

For Ray Arcel, we used colors that were more serene and elegant, like he was throughout his entire life. Sometimes I used warm colors to evoke nostalgic times for Ray Arcel, and sometimes cool colors appeared in the sad times for both Duran and Arcel. Decade by decade, from the ‘60s to the ‘80s, we created different looks for timeline reasons but also as part of the intimate space for each character.

What cameras did you use, and why did you opt for three different ones? How did that affect the look and the grade?
Littin Menz: We relied on two Alexa XTs, one Alexa M and three Blackmagic cameras for VFX purposes. One of the Alexas, the B camera, was always prepared for the Steadicam. The C camera and the Alexa M were used for the fights. Also, we used Anamorphic Hawk V Lite Lenses. Kostas was thorough in making sure everything from the different shoots matched.

Can you talk about the shoot? Was there a DIT? If so, what role did they play? And what kind of on-set monitors were you using?
Littin Menz: The DIT was there mostly for making the back-ups and dailies. It was a lot of material every day. We also created LUTs for some scenes. The monitors were Asus VS197D-P 18.5-inch for video assist and a Flanders Scientific for the DIT station.

Was there anything unique or challenging about it that you are particularly proud of?
Littin Menz: On the technical side, it was very challenging to reproduce the big spaces and fights, in places like the Madison Square Garden in New York through three decades, the Olympic Stadium in Montreal and the Superdome in New Orleans, but I think we did it successfully.

Some of my favorite scenes were those of Durán when he was a kid in “El Chorrillo,” the poor neighborhood where he lived. We never forgot that the principal idea for the film was to tell the story through the clear and transparent eyes of that child — the story of a child who came from one of poorest neighborhoods of Latin America and became a world champion. I’m very proud to have been a part of this project.

Jill Bogdanowicz talks color grading and ‘Ghostbusters’

By Randi Altman

Who you gonna call? Well, in my case it was Deluxe’s Jill Bogdanowicz, the colorist on director Paul Feig’s new Ghostbusters. She took time out of her busy schedule — finishing up War Dogs — to walk us through her process on the VFX-heavy film, which is an updated version on the Ivan Reitman classic from 1984.

Bogdanowicz, who works at Deluxe’s Company 3, got involved on Ghostbusters early on, working on camera tests with DP Bob Yeoman — testing cameras, lenses and resolutions. The two had worked together before on Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel, even though they did it all remotely, with Bogdanowicz in London and Yeoman in New York.

“He was able to review Grand Budapest and the DCPs, and gave comments to Wes,” she says. “The first time I met him was at the ASC awards after the movie had come out, so it was a good thing that we got to work in the same city for Ghostbusters.”

The positive experience on Grand Budapest led Yeoman to ask Bogdanowicz to join him on Ghostbusters.

It was during those camera tests, which were done on the Sony lot, that Yeoman decided on the Arri Alexa. It was also during this time that both Yeoman and Feig decided they wanted Ghostbusters to feel very filmic, with rich colors and a lot of detail.

“It was also decided that the film would be lit in a way where Bob could do his thing and make it look beautiful, and then I would just enhance that wonderful photography,” explains Bogdanowicz. “You still see the characters’ eyes and faces really well, but we could shape the image in a way where there was nothing distracting the frame. We would make sure that the audience would be looking where you want them to look.”

Another early test they did was deciding on what color of slime would be used in the film.

After shooting began, Bogdanowicz began visual effects tests for Yeoman and his team. In addition, she started looking at different LEDs. “They actually used practical LEDs on a lot of the actors who were going to be playing the ghosts so they could see how that would translate into visual effects,” says Bogdanowicz. “After all those tests were done, I got an edit of the movie. I was able to have a couple days to start going through the movie, smoothing it out, and getting the look set.”

That’s when Yeoman came into her suite and they went through the movie. Shortly after that director Feig joined them. “Paul was very involved. After I started the DI, basically, I took over all the visual effect sessions, so all final visual effects went through me on the big screen. I actually colored them, and they could see what they looked like as a final. It’s part of a process for finishing the visual effects, so when they would need certain parts of visual effects brightened, or darkened, or the color tweaked, I was able to do that live and they would approve the visual effect, and move on, and I could apply that into my final list for the movie.”

Bogdanowicz calls the process on Ghostbusters fun, interactive and collaborative — including the visual effects team, Feig, his editor Brent White and Yeoman. “They were an amazingly fun, and professional team to work with,” she says.

Let’s dig a bit more into Bogdanowicz’s process on the film.

Were there any challenges when working with the VFX shots?
I guess the biggest challenge was making sure I had enough time after all the visual effects were completed and dropped in to be able to fine tune a scene. They did something very smart on this film, which helped my process: toward the end of the process they would fill the scene with all the visual effects, finished or not. They were close enough to be put into the show, and they would keep updating them with the minor changes.

In general, my color was set. They were super organized, and I always had enough time to be able to smooth it out, because usually I had something done ahead of time, before it was absolutely final. (Sony Imageworks was the main house on this one.)

What’s an example of a note that you would get about a scene?
Paul never wanted anything to be too flat or too bright. He always wanted it to feel very rich. It was wonderful to have somebody with such a high taste level working on such a big comedy. So a lot of notes would be like, “Make sure it feels filmic, and rich.” It was really fun for me to be able to find those looks.

Another note would be, “Make sure you can see their eyes.” Certain times we would just brighten the actors’ eyes, so you could see their expressions a little bit more. There was a lot of that happening as well.

Do you think that enhanced the comedy?
I definitely think so, because you catch all the little details. These actresses are awesome, and they have so many tiny little expressions that you don’t want to miss.

Looking back, was there a particular scene that you are most proud of?
The Time Square fight scene toward the end of the movie, which was a combination of the VFX team and me. It’s quite intricate, and there is a lot of detail with the visual effects — all the different ghosts, and all the colors, which we really celebrated. We are not afraid of color in this movie. We go for it, keeping it rich with an almost Technicolor-type of look.

It has sort of a three-strip type of feel, because it’s got all beautiful flesh tones, and we are not afraid of letting that saturation shine through without being overly saturated, flat and garish. It’s really rich and filmic.

In Columbia Pictures' GHOSTBUSTERS.That scene is a dark night scene, but it’s got a lot of detail in it. Nothing is crushed and nothing is clipped, it’s got all this wonderful detail and color, and there’s tons of stuff going on, including visual effects integrating with non-visual effects.

You use both DaVinci Resolve and FilmLight Baselight, but for this one it was Baselight. Can you talk about how it helped in the process?
The Baselight handles multiple resolutions on the timeline, from a workflow standpoint, very elegantly. So in that respect it was very nice because the movie was shot on Alexa. We had the native Alexa resolution (3414) mixed with some of the visual effects resolutions, which most of the time were some form of 2K… not quite 3414. It was nice to be able to have those seamlessly integrated and at the highest resolution possible.

I also did the compositing for all the titles — which you can also do with the Resolve — and it just made everything easy. I used a lot of the tracking tools while I opened up the eyes on the actresses, and the power windows stuck right on their eyes beautifully.

The last time we spoke was about two years ago, and I asked you about your philosophy of color. Has that changed at all?
My philosophy has grown, and I’ve been learning a lot here at Company 3. I find it fascinating to see how other colorists work, and here I work with Stefan Sonnenfeld, Stephen Nakamura and Siggy Ferstl.

I’ve always had the philosophy of creating a really solid base for the image. What I love to do now is I’ll go through, and balance the whole movie to a place where I have something that looks really solid, and then create a look based on how the director or cinematographer, or both, see it.

Gertrude the Ghost in Columbia Pictures' GHOSTBUSTERS.For Ghostbusters I kept everything really rich, and really elegant and filmic. With other movies I like to start with that as my building blocks; it’s almost like building a house. You have to build the foundation and then you slowly pick out the details like the drapes, faucets and things. That is kind of how I think about coloring. I always like to try to build a foundation, which means the most color separation and the richest image that I can create, and then on top of that you can go anywhere.

What’s next for you?
I’m finishing up War Dogs, right now. I recently finished a smaller movie by director Mark Pellington, starring Shirley MacLaine and Amanda Seyfried, called The Last Word. It’s an amazing little film. Mark sent me the script a long time ago, and really wanted my input. That was a great little project.

I also just finished Ouija Origin of Evil with director Michael Flanagan and cinematographer Michael Fimognari. It’s a beautifully shot film with a ‘70s look.