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Mozart in the Jungle

The colorful dimensions of Amazon’s Mozart in the Jungle

By Randi Altman

How do you describe Amazon’s Mozart in the Jungle? Well, in its most basic form it’s a comedy about the changing of the guard — or maestro — at the New York Philharmonic, and the musicians that make up that orchestra. When you dig deeper you get a behind-the-scenes look at the back-biting and crazy that goes on in the lives and heads of these gifted artists.

Timothy Vincent

Timothy Vincent

Based on the novel Mozart in the Jungle: Sex, Drugs, and Classical Music by oboist Blair Tindall, the series — which won the Golden Globe last year and was nominated this year — has shot in a number of locations over its three seasons, including Mexico and Italy.

Since its inception, Mozart in the Jungle has been finishing in 4K and streaming in both SDR and HDR. We recently reached out to Technicolor’s senior color timer, Timothy Vincent, who has been on the show since the pilot to find out more about the show’s color workflow.

Did Technicolor have to gear up infrastructure-wise for the show’s HDR workflow?
We were doing UHD 4K already and were just getting our HDR workflows worked out.

What is the workflow from offline to online to color?
The dailies are done in New York based on the Alexa K1S1 709 LUT. (Technicolor On-Location Services handled dailies out of Italy, and Technicolor PostWorks in New York.) After the offline and online, I get the offline reference made with the dailies so I can look at if I have a question about what was intended.

If someone was unsure about watching in HDR versus SDR, what would you tell them?
The emotional feel of both the SDR and the HDR is the same. That is always the goal in the HDR pass for Mozart. One of the experiences that is enhanced in the HDR is the depth of field and the three-dimensional quality you gain in the image. This really plays nicely with the feel in the landscapes of Italy, the stage performances where you feel more like you are in the audience, and the long streets of New York just to name a few.

Mozart in the JungleWhen I’m grading the HDR version, I’m able to retain more highlight detail than I was in the SDR pass. For someone who has not yet been able to experience HDR, I would actually recommend that they watch an episode of the show in SDR first and then in HDR so they can see the difference between them. At that point they can choose what kind of viewing experience they want. I think that Mozart looks fantastic in both versions.

What about the “look” of the show. What kind of direction where you given?
We established the look of the show based on conversations and collaboration in my bay. It has always been a filmic look with soft blacks and yellow warm tones as the main palette for the show. Then we added in a fearlessness to take the story in and out of strong shadows. We shape the look of the show to guide the viewers to exactly the story that is being told and the emotions that we want them to feel. Color has always been used as one of the storytelling tools on the show. There is a realistic beauty to the show.

What was your creative partnership like with the show’s cinematographer, Tobias Datum?
I look forward to each episode and discovering what Tobias has given me as palette and mood for each scene. For Season 3 we picked up where we left off at the end of Season 2. We had established the look and feel of the show and only had to account for a large portion of Season 3 being shot in Italy. Making sure to feel the different quality of light and feel of the warmth and beauty of Italy. We did this by playing with natural warm skin tones and the contrast of light and shadow he was creating for the different moods and locations. The same can be said for the two episodes in Mexico in Season 2. I know now what Tobias likes and can make decisions I’m confident that he will like.

Mozart in the JungleFrom a director and cinematographer’s point of view, what kind of choices does HDR open up creatively?
It depends on if they want to maintain the same feel of the SDR or if they want to create a new feel. If they choose to go in a different direction, they can accentuate the contrast and color more with HDR. You can keep more low-light detail while being dark, and you can really create a separate feel to different parts of the show… like a dream sequence or something like that.

Any workflow tricks/tips/trouble spots within the workflow or is it a well-oiled machine at this point?
I have actually changed the way I grade my shows based on the evolution of this show. My end results are the same, but I learned how to build grades that translate to HDR much easier and consistently.

Do you have a color assistant?
I have a couple of assistants that I work with who help me with prepping the show, getting proxies generated, color tracing and some color support.

What tools do you use — monitor, software, computer, scope, etc.?
I am working on Autodesk Lustre 2017 on an HP Z840, while monitoring on both a Panasonic CZ950 and a Sony X300. I work on Omnitek scopes off the downconverter to 2K. The show is shot on both Alexa XT and Alexa Mini, framing for 16×9. All finishing is done in 4K UHD for both SDR and HDR.

Anything you would like to add?
I would only say that everyone should be open to experiencing both SDR and HDR and giving themselves that opportunity to choose which they want to watch and when.