Tag Archives: Fotokem

Color plays big role in director Sean Baker’s The Florida Project

Director Sean Baker is drawing wide praise for his realistic portrait of life on the fringe in America in his new film The Florida Project. Baker applies a light touch to the story of a precocious six-year-old girl living in the shadow of Disney World, giving it the feel of a slice-of-life documentary. That quality is carried through in the film’s natural look. Where Baker shot his previous film, Tangerine, entirely with an iPhone, The Florida Project was recorded almost wholly on anamorphic 35mm film by cinematographer Alexis Zabe.

Sam Daley

Post finishing for the film was completed at Technicolor PostWorks New York, which called on a traditional digital intermediate workflow to accommodate Baker’s vision. The work began with scanning the 35mm negative to 2K digital files for dailies and editorial. It ended months later with rescanning at 4K and 6K resolution, editorial conforming and color grading in the facility’s 4K DI theater. Senior colorist Sam Daley applied the final grade via Blackmagic Resolve v.12.5.

Shooting on film was a perfect choice, according to Daley, as it allowed Baker and Zabe to capture the stark contrasts of life in Central Florida. “I lived in Florida for six years, so I’m familiar with the intensity of light and how it affects color,” says Daley. “Pastels are prominent in the Florida color palette because of the way the sun bleaches paint.”

He adds that Zabe used Kodak Vision3 50D and 250D stock for daylight scenes shot in the hot Florida sun, noting, “The slower stock provided a rich color canvas, so much so, that at times we de-emphasized the greenery so it didn’t feel hyper real.”

The film’s principal location is a rundown motel, ironically named the Magic Castle. It does not share the sun-bleached look of other businesses and housing complexes in the area as it has been freshly painted a garish shade of purple.

Baker asked Daley to highlight such contrasts in the grade, but to do so subtly. “There are many colorful locations in the movie,” Daley says. “The tourist traps you see along the highway in Kissimmee are brightly colored. Blue skies and beautiful sunsets appear throughout the film. But it was imperative not to allow the bright colors in the background to distract from the characters in the foreground. The very first instruction that I got from Sean was to make it look real, then dial it up a notch.”

Mixing Film and Digital for Night Shots
To make use of available light, nighttime scenes were not shot on film, but rather were captured digitally on an Arri Alexa. Working in concert with color scientists from Technicolor PostWorks New York and Technicolor Hollywood, Daley helmed a novel workflow to make the digital material blend with scenes that were film-original. He first “pre-graded” the digital shots and then sent them to Technicolor Hollywood where they were recorded out to film. After processing at FotoKem, the film outs were returned to Technicolor Hollywood and scanned to 4K digital files. Those files were rushed back to New York via Technicolor’s Production Network where Daley then dropped them into his timeline for final color grading. The result of the complex process was to give the digitally acquired material a natural film color and grain structure.

“It would have been simpler to fly the digitally captured scenes into my timeline and put on a film LUT and grain FX,” explains Daley, “but Sean wanted everything to have a film element. So, we had to rethink the workflow and come up with a different way to make digital material integrate with beautifully shot film. The process involved several steps, but it allowed us to meet Sean’s desire for a complete film DI.”

Calling on iPhone for One Scene
A scene near the end of the film was, for narrative reasons, captured with an iPhone. Daley explains that, although intended to stand out from the rest of the film, the sequence couldn’t appear so different that it shocked the audience. “The switch from 4K scanned film material to iPhone footage happens via a hard cut,” he explains. “But it needed to feel like it was part of the same movie. That was a challenge because the characteristics of Kodak motion picture stock are quite different from an iPhone.”

The iPhone material was put through the same process as the Alexa footage; it was pre-graded, recorded out to film and scanned back to digital. “The grain helps tie it to the rest of the movie,” reports Daley. “And the grain that you see is real; it’s from the negative that the scene was recorded out to. There are no artificial looks and nothing gimmicky about any of the looks in this film.”

The apparent lack of artifice is, in fact, one of the film’s great strengths. Daley notes that even a rainbow that appears in a key moment was captured naturally. “It’s a beautiful movie,” says Daley. “It’s wonderfully directed, photographed and edited. I was very fortunate to be able to add my touch to the imagery that Sean and Alexis captured so beautifully.”

DP David Tattersall on shooting Netflix’s Death Note

Based on the manga series of the same name by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata, Death Note stars Nat Wolff as Light Turner, a man who obtains a supernatural notebook that gives him the power to exterminate any living person by writing his or her name in the notebook. Willem Dafoe plays Ryuk, a demonic god of death and the creator of the Death Note. The stylized Netflix feature film was directed by Adam Wingard (V/H/S/, You’re Next) and shot by cinematographer David Tattersall (The Green Mile, Star Wars: Episode I, II and III) with VariCam 35s in 4K RAW with Codex VRAW recorders.

Tattersall had previously worked with Wingard on the horror television series, Outcast. Per Tattersall, he wasn’t aware of the manga series of books but during pre-production, he was able to go through a visual treasure trove of manga material that the art department compiled.

Instead of creating a “cartoony” look, Tattersall and Wingard were more influenced by classic horror films, as well as well-crafted movies by David Fincher and Stanley Kubrick. “Adam is a maestro of the horror genre, and he is very familiar with constructing scenes around scary moments and keeping tension,” explains Tattersall. “It wasn’t necessarily whole movies that influenced us — it was more about taking odd sequences that we thought might be relevant to what we were doing. We had a very cool extended foot chase that we referred to The French Connection and Se7en, both of which have a mix of handheld, extreme wides and long lens shots. Also, because of Adam’s love of Kubrick movies, we had compositions with composure and symmetry that are reminiscent of The Shining, or crazy wide-angle stuff from A Clockwork Orange. It sounds like a mish-mash, but we did have rules.”

Dialogue scenes were covered in a realistic non-flashy way and for Tattersall, one of his biggest challenges was dealing with the demon character, Ryuk, both physically and photographically. The team started with a huge puppet character with puppeteers operating it, but it wasn’t a practical approach since many of the scenes were shot in small spaces such as Light’s bedroom.

“Eventually, the practical issue led to us using a mime artist in full costume with the intention of doing face replacement later,” explains Tattersall. “From our testing, the approach of ‘less is more’ became a thing — less light, more shadow and mystery, less visible, more effective. It worked well for this character who is mostly seen hiding in the shadows. It’s similar to the first Jaws movie. The shark is strangely more scary and ominous when you only get a few glimpses in the frame here and there — a suggestion. And that was our approach for the first 75% of the film. You might get a brief lean out of the shadows and a quick lean back in. Often, we would just shoot him out of focus. We’d keep the focus in the foreground for the Light character and Ryuk would be an out-of-focus blob in the background. It’s not until the very end — the final murder sequence — that you get to see him in full head-to-toe clarity.”

Tattersall shot the film with two VariCam 35s as his A and B cameras and had a VariCam LT for backup. He shot in 4K DCI (4096 x 2160) capturing VRAW files to Codex VRAW recorders. For lensing, he shot with Zeiss Master primes with a 2:39:1 extraction. “This set has become a favorite of mine for the past few years and I’ve grown to love them,” says Tattersall. “They are a bit big and heavy, but they open to a T1.3 and they’re so velvety smooth. With this show having so much night work, that extra speed was very useful.”

In terms of RAW capture, Tattersall tried to keep it simple, using Fotokem’s nextLAB for on-set workflow. “It was almost like using a one light printing process,” he explains. “We had three basic looks — a fairly cool dingy look, one that sometimes falls back on the saturation or leans in the cold direction. I have a set of rules, but I occasionally break them. We tried as much as possible to shoot only in the shade — bringing in butterfly nets or shooting on the shady side of buildings during the day. It was Adam’s wish to keep this heavy, moody atmosphere.”

Tattersall used a few tools to capture unique visuals. To capture low angle shots, he used a P+S Skater Scope that lets you shoot low to the ground. “You can also incorporate floating Dutch angles with its motorized internal prism, so this was something we did throughout,” he says. “The horizon line would lean over to one side or the other.” He also used a remote rollover rig, which allowed the camera to roll 180-degrees when on a crane, giving Tattersall a dizzying visual.

“We also shot with a Phantom Flex to shoot 500fps,” continues Tattersall. “We would have low Dutch angles, an 8mm fish eye look and a Lensbaby to degrade the focus even more. The image could get quite wonky on occasion, which is counterpoint to the more classic coverage of the calmer dialogue moments.”

Although he did a lot of night work, Tattersall did not use the native 5,000 ISO. “I have warmed to a new range of LED lights — the Cineo Maverick, Matchbox and Matchstix. They’re all color balanced and they’re all multi-varied Daylight or Tungsten so it’s quick and easy to change the color temperature without the use of gels. We also made use of Arri Skypanels. Outside, we used tried and tested old school HMIs or 9-light or 12-light MaxiBrutes. There’s nothing quite like them in terms of powerful source lights.”

Death Note was finished at Technicolor by colorist Skip Kimball on Blackmagic Resolve. “The grade was mostly about smoothing out the bumps and tweaking the contrast” explains Tattersall. “Since it’s a dark feature, there was an emphasis on a heavy mood — keeping the blacks, with good contrast and saturated colors. But in the end, the photographic stylization came from the camera placement and lens choices working together with the action choreography.

Evoking the beauty and power of Dunkirk with 65mm

FotoKem worked to keep Christopher Nolan’s 65mm source natively photochemical and to provide the truest-to-film digital cinema version possible

By Adrian Pennington

Tipped for Oscar glory, Christopher Nolan’s intense World War II masterpiece, Dunkirk, has pushed the boundaries further than any film before it. Having shot sequences of his previous films (including Interstellar) on IMAX, this time the director made the entire picture on 65mm negative. Approximately 75% of the film was captured on 65mm/15-perf IMAX (1.43:1) and the rest on 65mm/5-perf (2.2:1) on Panavision cameras.

Christopher Nolan on set.

Nolan’s vision and passion for the true film experience was carried out by Burbank-based FotoKem in what became the facility’s biggest and most complex large format project to date. In addition to the array of services that went into creating two 65mm master negatives and 70mm release prints in both 15p and 5p formats, FotoKem also provided the movie’s DCP deliverables based on in-house color science designed to match the film master. With the unique capability to project 70mm film (on a Century JJ projector) side by side with the digital projection of 65mm scans, FotoKem meticulously replicated the organic film look shot by Hoyte van Hoytema, ASC, NSC, FSF, and envisioned by Nolan.

In describing the large format film process, Andrew Oran, FotoKem’s VP of large format services, explains, “Hoyte was in contact with FotoKem’s Dan Muscarella (the movie’s color timer) throughout production, providing feedback on the 70mm contact and 35mm reduction dailies being screened on location. The pipeline was devised so that the IMAX (65mm/15p) footage was timed on a customized 65mm Colormaster by FotoKem color timer Kristen Zimmermann, under Muscarella’s supervision. Her timing lights were provided to IMAX Post, who used those for producing 35mm reduction prints. Those prints were screened in Los Angeles by IMAX, Muscarella and editorial, who in turn provided feedback to production on location. Prints and files travelled securely back and forth between FotoKem and IMAX throughout each day by in-house delivery personnel and via FotoKem’s proprietary globalDATA e-delivery platform.”

A similar route was taken for the Panavision (65mm/5p) footage — also under Muscarella’s keen eye — prior to FotoKem producing 70mm/5p contact daily prints. A set of both prints (35mm and 70mm) were transported for screening in a trailer on location 50,000 miles away in England, France (including shooting on Dunkirk beach itself) and The Netherlands. Traveling with editorial during principal photography was a 70mm projector on which editor Lee Smith, ACE, and Nolan could view dailies in 70mm/5 perf. A 35mm Arri LocPro was also used to watch reduction prints on location.

Oran adds, “Zimmermann also applied color timing lights to the 65mm/5p negatives for contact printing to 70mm at FotoKem. Ultimately, prints from every reel of film negative in both formats were screened by Dan at FotoKem before shipping to production. This way, Dan ensured that the color was as Nolan and Hoytema envisioned. Later, the goal for the DCP was to give the audience the same feel as if they were watching the film version.”

HD deliverables for editorial and studio viewing were created on a customized Millennium telecine. Warner Bros. and Nolan required the quality be high at this step of the process — which can be challenging for 65mm formats. To do this, FotoKem made improvements to the 65mm Millennium telecine machine’s optical and light path, and fed the scans through a custom keycode and metadata workflow in the company’s nextLAB media management platform. Scans for the film’s digital cinema mastering were done at 8K on FotoKem’s Imagica 65mm scanners.

 

Then, to produce the DCPs, FotoKem’s principal color scientist, Joseph Slomka, says, “We created color modeling tools using the negative, interpositive and print process to match the digital image to the film as precisely as technically possible. We sat down with film prints and verified that the modeling data matched a printed original negative in our DI suite with side by side projection.”

Walter Volpatto

This is where FotoKem colorist Walter Volpatto says he determined “how much” and “how close” to match the colors. “We did this by using a special machine — called a Harrahscope Minimax Comparator Projector, developed by Mark Harrah and on loan from the Walt Disney Studios — to project still IMAX frames on the screen,” Volpatto elaborates. “We did this for 400 images from the movie and looked at single frames of digital (projected from a Barco 4K DLP) versus film from Harrahscope, and compared, using the data created by the modeling tools.”

Volpatto worked mainly with RGB offsets in Resolve after each single frame verification to maintain a similarity to traditional color timing. “We also modified the DLP white point settings of the projector for purposes of maintaining the closest match,” he says. “Then, once all the tweaks were made with the stills, we moved to motion picture film reels. Everything described in the printer lights at the film stage were translated to digital based on modeling data.”

In addition to working with Dan (Muscarella) on the film screenings to see the quality he would need to match, Volpatto says that working on Interstellar also helped inform him how to approach this process. “It’s about getting the look that Nolan wants — I just had to replicate it with tremendous accuracy on Dunkirk.”

Joseph Slomka

Aside from the standard DCP, two further digital masters were created for distribution including IMAX scans and digital IMAX distribution, and a Dolby Digital Cinema HDR Master from same source material.

“For the Dolby pass, we had to create another set of color science tools — that still represented Nolan’s vision — to exactly replicate the look of film to HDR,” says Slomka. “Because we had all the computer modeling tools used earlier in the process to identify how the film behaved, we were able to build on that for the HDR version.”

Adds Volpatto, “The whole pipeline was designed to preserve the original viewing experience of print film – everything had to integrate purely and unnoticeably. Having this film and color science knowledge here at FotoKem, it’s hard to see that anybody else could achieve what we did at this level.”

Margarita Mix’s Pat Stoltz gives us the low-down on VR audio

By Randi Altman

Margarita Mix, one of Los Angeles’ long-standing audio and video post facilities, has taken on virtual reality with the addition of 360-degree sound rooms at their facilities in Santa Monica and Hollywood. This Fotokem company now offers sound design, mix and final print masters for VR video and remixing current spots for a full-surround environment.

Workflows for VR are new and developing every day — there is no real standard. So creatives are figuring it out as they go, but they can also learn from those who were early to the party, like Margarita Mix. They recently worked on a full-length VR concert film with the band Eagles of Death Metal and director/producer Art Haynie of Big Monkey Films. The band’s 2015 tour came to an abrupt end after playing the Bataclan concert hall during last year’s terrorist attacks in Paris. The film is expected to be available online and via apps shortly.

Eagles of Death Metal film.

We reached out to Margarita Mix’s senior technical engineer, Pat Stoltz, to talk about his experience and see how the studio is tackling this growing segment of the industry.

Why was now the right time to open VR-dedicated suites?
VR/AR is an exciting emerging market and online streaming is a perfect delivery format, but VR pre-production, production and post is in its infancy. We are bringing sound design, editorial and mixing expertise to the next level based on our long history of industry-recognized work, and elevating audio for VR from a gaming platform to one suitable for the cinematic and advertising realms where VR content production is exploding.

What is the biggest difference between traditional audio post and audio post for VR?
Traditional cinematic audio has always played a very important part in support of the visuals. Sound effects, Foley, background ambiance, dialog and music clarity to set the mood have aided in pulling the viewer into the story. With VR and AR you are not just pulled into the story, you are in the story! Having the ability to accurately recreate the audio of the filmed environment through higher order ambisonics, or object-based mixing, is crucial. Audio does not only play an important part in support of the visuals, but is now a director’s tool to help draw the viewer’s gaze to what he or she wants the audience to experience. Audio for VR is a critical component of storytelling that needs to be considered early in the production process.

What is the question you asked the most from clients in terms of sound for VR?
Surprisingly none! VR/AR is so new that directors and producers are just figuring things out as they go. On a traditional production set, you have audio mixers and boom operators capturing audio on set. On a VR/AR set, there is no hiding. No boom operators or audio mixers can be visible capturing high-quality audio of the performance.

Some productions have relied on the onboard camera microphones. Unfortunately, in most cases, this turns out to be completely unusable. When the client gets all the way to the audio post, there is a realization that hidden wireless mics on all the actors would have yielded a better result. In VR especially, we recommend starting the sound consultation in pre-production, so that we can offer advice and guide decisions for the best quality product.

What question should clients ask before embarking on VR?
They should ask what they want the viewer to get out of the experience. In VR, no two people are going to walk away with the same viewing experience. We recommend staying focused on the major points that they would like the viewer to walk away with. They should then expand that to answer: What do I have to do in VR to drive that point home, not only mentally, but drawing their gaze for visual support? Based on the genre of the project, considerations should be made to “physically” pull the audience in the direction to tell the story best. It could be through visual stepping stones, narration or audio pre-cues, etc.

What tools are you using on VR projects?
Because this is a nascent field, new tools are becoming available by the day, and we assess and use the best option for achieving the highest quality. To properly address this question, we ask: Where is your project going to be viewed? If the content is going to be distributed via a general Web streaming site, then it will need to be delivered in that audio file format.

There are numerous companies writing plug-ins that are quite good to deliver these formats. If you will be delivering to a Dolby VR (object-based preparatory format) supported site, such as Jaunt, then you will need to generate the proper audio file for that platform. Facebook (higher order ambisonics) requires even a different format. We are currently working in all these formats, as well as working closely with leaders in VR sound to create and test new workflows and guide developments in this new frontier.

What’s the one thing you think everyone should know about working and viewing VR?
As we go through life, we each have our own experiences or what we choose to experience. Our frame of reference directs our focus on things that are most interesting to us. Putting on VR goggles, the individual becomes the director. The wonderful thing about VR is now you can take that individual anywhere they want to go… both in this world and out of it. Directors and producers should think about how much can be packed into a story to draw people into the endless ways they perceive their world.

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.

Dave Cole joins FotoKem as senior colorist

FotoKem has hired Dave Cole as senior colorist, strengthening its DI talent offerings. One of Cole’s first projects for Burbank-based FotoKem, will be Legendary’s upcoming Kong: Skull Island.

Cole’s career began in his native Australia, where he was a telecine operator and technical director, quickly segueing to colorist. His early work includes collaborating with director Peter Jackson and cinematographer Andrew Lesnie, ASC, on color for The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring in 2001 at The PostHouse AG and King Kong in 2004 at Weta Digital.

In 2006, he moved to Los Angeles and joined LaserPacific Media where he was colorist on the Oscar-nominated Ides of March, The Savages, Tron: Legacy, the Alvin and the Chipmunks series, and the Best Cinematography Academy Award-winning Life of Pi.

Most recently, at Modern VideoFilm, Cole was supervising colorist on titles such as The Book of Life, Eye in the Sky, Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip, An Ordinary Man and created looks for TV series such as Sleepy Hollow, Reign and Scorpion.

In addition to his colorist duties, Cole has been helping in the development of emerging HDR technologies for manufacturers and studios, as well as providing HDR grading for several major home theater releases.

Cole joins a colorist FotoKem team that includes Alastor Arnold, John Daro, Mark Griffith, George Koran, Kostas Theodosiou and Walter Volpatto. These colorists have worked on such titles as San Andreas, The Boxtrolls, Palo Alto, The D Train, Interstellar, The Conjuring 2, Independence Day: Resurgence and Central Intelligence. The team calls on Blackmagic DaVinci Resolve and SGO’s Mistika.

FotoKem’s Alastor Arnold helps set look for ‘Ash vs Evil Dead’

The colorist worked hand in hand with director Sam Raimi and editor Bob Murawski

By Randi Altman

Halloween is known for its ghosts, goblins and gruesome zombies, but this year we got an extra serving of the non-alive, dished up by Sam Raimi and Starz Network. Fans of Raimi’s The Evil Dead (1981) and its sequels (Evil Dead 2, Army of Darkness) were treated to the pilot episode of Ash vs Evil Dead. Many consider The Evil Dead films cult classics, but they are so much more than that. Yes, they are campy and gory and more bloody than necessary, but it’s all done in an effort to make people laugh.

Back for this comedy/action/horror series on Starz is Bruce Campbell as Ash, the man who lost his hand in battle and then cleverly replaced it with a chainsaw. His quick wit and sarcasm have amazingly not diminished over the years. You know, it’s not easy to keep your sense of humor when evil dead people are after you!

Alistor Arnold

Alastor Arnold

Raimi, who directed the first episode, worked very closely with long-time editor and collaborator Bob Murawski and FotoKem colorist Alastor Arnold to create the look of the pilot.

While the show was shot digitally on Arri Alexa (with a couple of pickups shot via a Sony F55), Raimi wanted a filmic look, and that is a big part of what Murawski and Arnold worked to accomplish.

Arnold has some history with Raimi and Murawski — he remastered The Evil Dead for theatrical and Blu-ray release. While Murawski and Arnold work together often, Ash vs Evil Dead is only the second project for the colorist and Raimi.

“I do a lot of work with Bob. In addition to being an Oscar-award winning editor (The Hurt Locker), he has a company called Grindhouse Releasing,” explains Arnold. “They specialize in the restoration and distribution of exploitation and horror films, and I’ve had the pleasure of remastering numerous titles with Bob over the years. When he can bring me in to work with him, he does. And that’s how we got to do the pilot of Ash vs Evil Dead.”

Let’s find out more about the color grade and creating the look for the pilot and series.

How early were you brought on?
Just after shooting — when they started cutting. They had some questions about what work could be accomplished in the color suite when they were doing their rough cuts for the executive screeners. There was one scene in particular… they wanted to see if we could accomplish a specific look without having to go to visual effects.

What was that look?
There was a scene in a room with no lights, and it needed to be lit by a spinning flashlight. So the actors would be coming in and out of darkness, illuminated by only a flashlight. Originally when they shot it, they intended it to be a visual effect, so it was shot brighter than intended. Through color correction, we were able to create the effect they were going for.

How did they describe the look that they wanted for the pilot and the series?
Bob and Sam are both fans of a “filmic” look. They like the image to stay warm and high contrast. Based on their relationship, Sam entrusted Bob with the first pass of color. When Sam walked in for his first day of grading, the show was already in a good place for dialing in looks and trims, with a focus on shaping the frame with Power Windows and integrating visual effects more thoroughly. The look of the pilot is very warm, saturated and punchy, very chromatic — not what I would call a typical kind of horror movie look. A lot of times horror movies are drab or pretty desaturated and a lot of the times they are very cool. This is against that grain.

The pilot was shot almost entirely with an Arri Alexa. How did that play a role in getting the filmic look?
Arri has done a fantastic job with their color science. It responds in a natural way. All the base grades started with a film emulation, internally built at FotoKem with our color scientist, and based on our film lab experience.

The series has a campy feel. Would you say that’s reflected in the look?
The first Evil Dead was much more of a horror movie when compared to Evil Dead 2 and Army of Darkness. The tone of the series has evolved. Sam always injects humor into his movies, even in the first Evil Dead. In the TV show, there’s lots of horror and definitely gore, but it’s actually really funny. There’s an ingrained sense of humor in what Sam does, and that really comes through. Maybe that is reflected in the chromatic, warm look. It may complement that.

What kind of terms or language do you like to use when talking to someone about a look? And do you get examples, such as stills?
I like to approach color from an instinctual artistic level. When I start a project it’s important for me to engage with clients and discuss not only the literal of what they might like to achieve but also what it is emotionally they’re going for, and how color might enhance that. In addition, visual references are always great. I’m always happy when they reference other movies or projects or bring in stills. It’s common these days for looks to be set somewhat in dailies. Any visual reference is always good, but for me, I find it more important to engage artistically and emotionally with people to derive a look for a project.

What about the technical aspects of the grade and the system, in your case Blackmagic’s DaVinci Resolve?
There’s an expectation when people walk into a room with a professional colorist that the technical side of things won’t be an issue; that the colorist is going to be able to help you reach your creative goals. Solidifying and understanding what those creative goals are in the beginning is very important. So, I’m generally less concerned with how to technically arrive somewhere than creatively. Often the technical side of things can be driven by the creative goals.

It’s very important to experiment and have fun; that’s what this process is all about. Engage creatively and artistically; that is the most important part. The technical will happen.

Were Sam and Bob open to suggestions and experimenting?
Bob has been involved in just about everything Sam has done since Darkman (1990), which was their first project together; they have a short hand. Sam was very involved in this episode, and we spent probably two or three days together going through the show, but Sam is less technically driven. When he walked into the room, Bob had already gone through it and gotten it to a good starting place, based on his knowledge of Sam’s sensibilities.

Sam is generally more concerned with what is going to enhance the performances or the emotion of a scene. There’s lots of Windowing in different parts of the frame to either bring things up or down, or tinting things slightly to enhance an emotional feel. That’s where Sam comes from.

So the initial sessions with Bob are where you did the heavy lifting and decided on the overall look?
Yes, the technical grading — matching shots, fixes, general levels and looks. That’s what Bob focuses on during the pre-grading.

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Can you talk about the lighting and working with the Resolve?
Lighting wise, it’s actually pretty up, even though the intent may be to have it slightly darker in final color. The nice thing about Resolve is its tracking tools are very good, so you can bring up parts of the frame individually while still keeping other areas very dark.

We did have to do some noise reduction in certain parts as well. The built-in noise reduction tool is very good. I find it very easy to use — I don’t find myself struggling to reach a look or correction, it generally happens quick and easy. That’s important when you have a client in the room. You don’t want to take too long to come up with something.

FotoKem used Resolve for the online as well?
Yes. With the exception of the visual effects, the entire online edit was completed in Resolve, in addition to the color and deliverables.

How does being able to do so much in that one system help you?
I came up working on a system that was more of a hero suite, so it did the color, it did the graphics, it did the minor visual effects work. So it’s nice to see Resolve now competing at that level.

Although I didn’t do the bulk of the editorial work, it was nice to be in the room with Bob and be able to slip a shot a couple of frames, or drop in the visual effects as they came in last minute along with their associated mattes… it all happens very quickly and easily in Resolve.

Where do you find your inspiration?
I love movies and find my inspiration in them. I always try to stay artistically engaged; I like to work on my own projects, in addition to enjoying and contributing to other people’s work. I make an effort to get to the theater two or three times a week. I’m a member of the Visual Effects Society, so I go to lots of their member screenings too. To me, it’s important to stay current in my craft and to be inspired by other people’s work. I enjoy seeing what people are doing with different cameras and how things hold up in different theaters. I like seeing films in a theater as they’re intended and viewing them with an audience. To see how other people are practicing the craft is important. If you’re a painter, you’re going to go to the museum. If you’re a colorist, you should go to the movies, and lots of them.

What have you seen recently that you respected?
I really liked the movie The Diary of a Teenage Girl. It was beautiful. Also Cartel Land, which was lovely, especially considering it was a documentary. Those are small movies, but I saw Sicario recently and that was a very impressive and pretty movie… beautifully shot.

Another movie I enjoyed this year was Tangerine, which was shot entirely on an iPhone. The artist in me wanted to see it for the story and craft. But it was also really important for me to view it in the theater on a large screen and see how well it held up technically. For a colorist it’s an artistic and technical exercise to watch movies.

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Ash vs. Evil Dead can be seen weekly on Starz at 9pm EST.

FotoKem colorist Walter Volpatto discusses his process, ‘Stonewall’

FotoKem colorist Walter Volpatto comes from a family of farmers in Italy. He studied electrical engineering at the local university, which gave him an entrée into broadcasting. He began his career at RAI (Italy’s national public broadcasting company), where he became proficient with electronic compositing, lighting and photography. Around 2000, as more computers came to market, he segued into digital mastering, learning the craft with the help of film color timers.

Volpatto then transitioned to Cinecitta Studios about 10 years later, and subsequently became a freelance colorist. After working in that role on a documentary for FotoKem (@fotokem), Volpatto joined the facility in 2003. His credits include many features, such as Interstellar, San Andreas, CBGB, Chronicle and Hustle & Flow, along with some TV movie and restoration projects. His most recent project is the film Stonewall, about the 1969 Stonewall riots, which kicked off the gay rights movement in New York City.

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A photographer himself, Volpatto says he is particularly attracted to the artists of the Renaissance, and the purest form of art. He claims his best work is influenced by art representing reality. Let’s find out more.

How has the state of the art of DI technology changed over the course of your career? 

Computing power has advanced exponentially over the years, making it easier to review footage and make changes in realtime versus waiting for files to render. But machines are simply tools. The color science and approaches we use today have pretty much stayed the same — other than slightly different strategies that support digital and film projects. The bottom line is I can certainly work faster with the new tools, but the concept behind the DI hasn’t really changed.

How did you work and communicate with director Roland Emmerich and/or DP Markus Förderer regarding their vision for the look of Stonewall? What did those discussions reveal in terms of the direction you would take? 

I worked with Markus about 99 percent of the time. He and Roland had a bold vision for the movie, and they were very much in sync on the look they wanted. When they approached us about the project, I asked Markus some standard questions about the camera and his intent for the look, and we immediately started talking about film. Even though he wanted to use a digital camera, it was obvious he wanted the final product to look like film. That resonated with me, and we further explored what his thoughts were about grain structure and film emulation. We did a test, and he loved the results. 

We also looked at a few images in a photo library he kept on his computer.

Markus is a technical connoisseur. He knew from the beginning where he was going with the look. After showing me a few photos, the main visual theme for Stonewall — a 1970s filmic look — transpired" STONEWALL " Photo by Philippe Bosse. We basically changed grain to emphasize a look that reflects the warm highlights and cool-ish lowlights of film, without feeling artificial.

At FotoKem, we have a team of experts overseen by our in-house color scientist Joseph Slomka, who spends a lot of time engineering solutions so that digital cameras look like film stocks. Joseph assisted us on this project, so when we started, we were on the right path and just had to fine tune along the way. Markus is also a big fan of anamorphic lenses, using the full anamorphic format on the Red Epic Dragon at 4K. And we finished the entire movie at 4K.

Have you previously worked with either of the filmmakers?
This was a first-time collaboration. They came to FotoKem because they wanted the convenience of finishing in Los Angeles. They saw my resume and that I had experience with film projects in the DI, and, as they say, the rest is history.

Stonewall is the story of an incredibly important event in history, highly charged politically and emotionally — were certain visual elements relied on to create certain moods in a scene or to convey the mood of a character?
I was not familiar with the Stonewall riots until this project came in. We established a certain look that becomes a little harsher when the riots ensue, and it’s a little smoother when happier events are taking place. It’s very subtle – not something you can see but rather feel. The tension in the movie wasn’t meant to be overpowering.

What tools were you working with? How did it help to enable your work?

We chose a Quantel Rio because we needed to finish in full 4K with full film emulation with grain layers, and at the time it was the best color correction tool for accomplishing this in realtime.

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You mention the movie was shot on Red Epic Dragon. Did that affect how you worked or approached coloring scenes?
Markus was familiar with Red and knew how to light for the camera. On Stonewall, he exposed and lit to create some texture. With that strong visual foundation created by Markus’ photography, we were able to focus on the task at hand — to fine-tune the images in order to create the film look he and Roland wanted.

A colorist works at the intersection of art and science. How do you translate what a cinematographer says into pictures?

The first thing I do is get an understanding from the DP about his or her digital experience. DPs who have worked more heavily in the film format will be able to make reference points from using printer lights and being in a lab. They have a way to express what they want.

The process is scientific in that there is only so much a colorist can do to bring the original material where they want it, and the artistry lies within how much further the DP wants to go with it. The work in the suite can become almost visceral. It’s usually expressed as a feeling — I want it to feel this way — and then I decide which tool will best accomplish that. I don’t rely heavily on controls and buttons. I’m a minimalist and bring that predisposition to the suite.

How do you know when you have gotten to where you want to be, and where the filmmakers want to be?
When the material comes to me in great shape, with good lighting and captured as close as possible to the intentions of the filmmakers, my job is to not mess it up!

Do you have any advice for someone who wants to become a colorist?

There are two approaches to color. You can use color to represent reality or emotions, or a blend of the two. For colorists inclined to being a realist, I’d tell them to learn how to represent that within the limits of their display. They should start in black and white — or work on a black and white short film. With the influx of a younger generation of colorists, I’ve noticed they are prone to using color to represent emotions, and they tend to make strong color choices. 

I’d recommend to anyone who wants to be a colorist to look at what other people do and understand how light works, and how the camera and display (monitor) react to light. Then they should practice achieving a particular look with the minimum amount of tools. There are many fabulous places where colorists can learn the craft, but to be proficient a basic understanding of color science will go a long way. 

Lastly, it’s the colorist’s job to bring the vision of the DP to the screen — not just to make a pretty picture. To do that, you need to learn to understand what’s inside the mind of the artist.

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Stonewall is in theaters now.

FotoKem colorist Mark Griffith: digital remastering ‘The Sound of Music’

By Randi Altman

Who doesn’t love The Sound of Music? Who? Introduce them to me and we’ll talk. Fifty years after it was released in theaters, this classic film about — well, you know what it’s about — was restored by Burbank’s Fotokem, home to one of the last feature film labs in the country. The studio completed the restoration of the 65mm musical through 8K scans from large-format film elements, downsampled to 4K for restoration and digital cinema mastering.

For the restoration of The Sound of Music, which was directed by Robert Wise and photographed by Ted D. McCord, ASC, Andrew Oran and his team began by creating the highest Continue reading

FotoKem’s nextLab pushes envelope with Gone Girl’s 6K workflow

 The last piece in our Gone Girl workflow series.

By Daniel Restuccio

Back in the fall of 2013, FotoKem was prepping and packing up one of its nextLab data field systems and shipping it to a hotel in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. This particular hotel was the off-set digital asset processing hub for David Fincher’s Gone Girl, which is being released on Blu-ray/DVD on January 13 and has also garnered a considerable amount of Oscar buzz this season.

This movie represented a new chapter for the system — Gone Girl was about to become the first major feature film shot entirely on the Red Dragon at 6K and edited with Adobe Premiere Pro Creative Cloud.

Continue reading