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Category Archives: Colorist Chat

Colorist Chat: Light Iron’s Nick Hasson

Photography plays a big role in this colorist’s world; he often finds inspiration through others’ images.

Name: Nick Hasson

Company: Light Iron

Can you describe what Light Iron does?
Light Iron is a full-service post company providing end-to-end solutions — including dailies and finishing in both HDR and SDR.

The L Word

As a colorist, what would surprise people the most about what falls under that title?
Colorists are one of the select few creatives that touch every frame of a project. Working with the cinematographer and director, we help shape the tone of a project. It’s very collaborative.

Are you often asked to do more than just color on projects?
Almost every project I do has a visual effects component to it. I have a background in visual effects and online editing, so I am comfortable in those disciplines. I also tend to do a lot of sky replacements, beauty and cleanup work.

What’s your favorite part of the job?
Being creative on a daily basis. Problem solving is another fun aspect of the job. I love finding solutions and making the client smile.

What’s your least favorite?
I like being outside. The long days in a dark room can be a challenge.

Queen of the South

If you weren’t a colorist, what would you be doing instead?
Electrical engineering or network infrastructure. I’m a big geek and love to build computers and push technology.

How did you choose color grading as a profession?
I was originally heading to a career in music. After a year of touring, I decided it was not for me and got a job at a post house. I was lucky enough to work in both VFX and telecine at the time. Photography was always my first love, so color grading just felt right and fell into place for me.

What are some recent projects you’ve worked on?
I’m lucky to work in both episodic and feature film. Recent movies include Corporate Animals, Sweetheart, Boss Level, Wander Darkly and Like a Boss. On the episodic side, I have been working on The L Word, Room 104, Queen of the South, Greenleaf, Exhibit A and The Confession Tapes.

Room 104

What is the project you are most proud of?
Room 104 is a big challenge. Not many projects get to Season 4. Coming up with looks that aid the storytelling and are different every episode has been exciting and creative challenging. We do a lot of the look design in pre-production, and I love seeing what the cinematographers come back with.

Where do you find inspiration?
I love photography! I like to seek out interesting photographers and see how they are pushing the limits of what can be done digitally. I shoot black-and-white film every week. It is a great way to study composition and lighting.

Name three pieces of technology you can’t live without.
My phone, air-conditioned car seats and Amazon.

What social media channels do you follow?
I only use Instagram, and I tend to follow hashtags rather than specific outlets. It gives my feed a broader reach and keeps things fresh.

How do you de-stress from it all?
Spending time with my family. Working on my old cars and playing guitar. I also ride mountain bikes and love to cook in a wood-fired oven.

Color grading Togo with an Autochrome-type look

Before principal photography began on the Disney+ period drama Togo, the film’s director and cinematographer, Ericson Core, asked Company 3 senior colorist Siggy Ferstl to help design a visual approach for the color grade that would give the 1920s-era drama a unique look. Based on a true story, Togo is named for the lead sled dog on Leonhard Seppala’s (Willem Dafoe) team and tells the story of their life-and-death relay through Alaska’s tundra to deliver diphtheria antitoxin to the desperate citizens of Nome.

Siggy Ferstl

Core wanted a look that was reminiscent of the early color photography process called Autochrome, as well as an approach that evoked an aged, distressed feel. Ferstl, who recently colored Lost in Space (Netflix) and The Boys (Amazon), spent months — while not working on other projects — developing new ways of building this look using Blackmagic’s Resolve 16.

Many of Ferstl’s ideas were realized using the new Fusion VFX tab in Resolve 16. It allowed him to manipulate images in ways that took his work beyond the normal realm of color grading and into the arena of visual effects.

By the time he got to work grading Togo, Ferstl had already created looks that had some of the visual qualities of Autochrome melded with a sense of age, almost as if the images were shot in that antiquated format. Togo “reflects the kind of style that I like,” explains Ferstl. “Ericson, as both director and cinematographer, was able to provide very clear input about what he wanted the movie to look like.”

In order for this process to succeed, it needed to go beyond the appearance of a color effect seemingly just placed “on top” of the images. It had to feel organic and interact with the photography, to seem embedded in the picture.

A Layered Approach
Ferstl started this large task by dividing the process into a series of layers that would work together to affect the color, of course, but also to create lens distortion, aging artifacts and all the other effects. A number of these operations would traditionally be sent to Company 3’s VFX department or to an outside vendor to be created by their artists and returned as finished elements. But that kind of workflow would have added an enormous amount of time to the post process. And, just as importantly, all these effects and color corrections needed to work interactively during grading sessions at Company 3 so Ferstl and Core could continuously see and refine the overall look. Even a slight tweak to a single layer could affect how other layers performed, so Ferstl needed complete, realtime control of every layer for every fine adjustment.

Likewise the work of Company 3 conform artist Paul Carlin could not be done in the way conform has typically been done. It couldn’t be sent out of Resolve and into a different conform/compositing tool, republished to the company network and then returned to Ferstl’s Resolve timeline. This would have taken too long and wouldn’t have allowed for the interactivity required in grading sessions.

Carlin needed to be able to handle the small effects that are part of the conform process — split screens, wire removals, etc. — quickly, and that meant working from the same media Ferstl was accessing. Carlin worked entirely in Resolve using Fusion for any cleanup and compositing effects — a practice becoming more and more common among conform artists at Company 3. “He could do his work and return it to our shared timeline,” Ferstl says. “We both had access to all the original material.”


Most of the layers actually consisted of multiple sublayers. Here is some detail:
Texture: This group of sublayers was based on overlaid textures that Ferstl created to have a kind of “paper” feel to the images. There were sublayers based on photographs of fabrics and surfaces that all play together to form a texture over the imagery.
Border: This was an additional texture that darkened portions of the edges of the frame. It inserts a sense of a subtle vignette or age artifact that framed the image. It isn’t consistent throughout; it continually changes. Sublayers bring to the images a bit of edge distortion that resembles the look of diffraction that can happen to lenses, particularly lenses from the early 20th century, under various circumstances.
Lens effects: DP Core shot with modern lenses built with very evolved coatings, but Ferstl was interested in achieving the look of uncoated and less-refined optics of the day. This involved the creation of sublayers of subtle distortion and defocus effects.
Stain: Ferstl applied a somewhat sepia-colored stain to parts of the image to help with the aging effect. He added a hint of additional texture and brought some sepia to some of the very bluish exterior shots, introducing hints of warmth into the images.
Grain-like effect: “We didn’t go for something that exactly mimicked the effect of film grain,” Ferstl notes. “That just didn’t suit this film. But we wanted something that has that feel, so using Resolve’s Grain OFX, I generated a grain pattern, rendered it out and then brought it back into Resolve and experimented with running the pattern at various speeds. We decided it looked best slowed to 6fps, but then it had a steppiness to it that we didn’t like. So I went back and used the tool’s Optical Flow in the process of slowing it down. That blends the frames together, and the result provided just a hint of old-world filmmaking. It’s very subtle and more part of the overall texture.”

Combining Elements
“It wasn’t just a matter of stacking one layer on top of the other and applying a regular blend. I felt it needed to be more integrated and react subtly with the footage in an organic-looking way,” Ferstl recalls.

One toolset he used for this was a series of customized lens flare using Resolve’s OFX, not for their actual purpose but as the basis of a matte. “The effect is generated based on highlight detail in the shot,” explains Ferstl. “So I created a matte shape from the lens flare effect and used that shape as the basis to integrate some of the texture layers into the shots. It’s the textures that become more or less pronounced based on the highlight details in the photography and that lets the textures breathe more.”

Ferstl also made use of the Tilt-Shift effect in Fusion that alters the image in the way movements within a tilt/shift lens would. He could have used a standard Power Window to qualify the portion of the image to apply blur to, but that method applied the effect more evenly and gave a diffused look, which Ferstl felt wasn’t like a natural lens effect. Again, the idea was to avoid having any of these effects look like some blanket change merely sitting on top of the image.

“You can adjust a window’s softness,” he notes, “but it just didn’t look like something that was optical… it looked too digital. I was desperate to have a more optical feel, so I started playing around with the Tilt-Shift OFX and applying that just to the defocus effect.

“But that only affected the top and bottom of the frame, and I wanted more control than that,” he continues. “I wanted to draw shapes to determine where and how much the tilt/shift effect would be applied. So I added the Tilt-Shift in Fusion and fed a poly mask into it as an external matte. I had the ability to use the mask like a depth map to add dimensionality to the effect.”

As Ferstl moved forward with the look development, the issue that continually came up was that while he and Core were happy with the way these processes affected any static image in the show, “as soon as the camera moves,” Ferstl explains, “you’d feel like the work went from being part of the image to just a veil stuck on top.”

He once again made use of Fusion’s compositing capabilities: The delivery spec was UHD, and he graded the actual photography in that resolution. But he built all the effects layers at the much larger 7K. “With the larger layers,” he says, “if the camera moved, I was able to use Fusion to track and blend the texture with it. It didn’t have to just seem tacked on. That really made an enormous difference.”

Firepower
Fortunately for Ferstl, Company 3’s infrastructure provided the enormous throughput, storage and graphics/rendering capabilities to work with all these elements (some of which were extremely GPU-intensive) playing back in concert in a color grading bay. “I had all these textured elements and external mattes all playing live off the [studio’s custom-built] SAN and being blended in Resolve. We had OpenFx plugins for border and texture and flares generated in real time with the swing/tilt effect running on every shot. That’s a lot of GPU power!”

Ferstl found this entire experience artistically rewarding, and looks forward to similar challenges. “It’s always great when a project involves exploring the tools I have to work with and being able to create new looks that push the boundaries of what my job of colorist entails.”

Quantum F1000

Colorist Chat: I Am Not Okay With This’ Toby Tomkins

Colorist Toby Tomkins, co-founder of London color grading and finishing boutique Cheat, collaborated once again with The End of the F***ing World director Jonathan Entwistle on another Charles Forsman novel, I Am Not Okay With This. The now-streaming Netflix show is produced by Entwistle alongside Stranger Things EPs Shawn Levy and Dan Cohen, as well as Josh Barry. The director also once again called DP Justin Brown.

Toby Tomkins

Adapted from Forsman’s graphic novel of the same name, the series follows a teenage girl named Sydney as she navigates school, crushes, her sexuality and sudden on-set superpowers. You know, the typical teenage experience.

Here, Tomkins talks about collaborating with the director and DP as well as his workflow.

How early did you get involved on I Am Not Okay With This?
Jon Entwistle had reached out to DP Justin Brown about his interest in adapting this graphic novel after working on The End of the F***ing World. When the series then got commissioned and Justin was on board, he and Jon convinced production company 21 Laps that they could do the grade in London with Cheat. There were some discussions about grading in LA, but we managed to convince them that it could be a quick and easy process back here, and that’s how I got involved.

I was on board quite early on in the production, getting involved with camera tests and reviewing all the material with Justin. We worked together to evaluate the material, and after Justin chose the camera and lenses, we built a color pipeline that informed how the material was shot and how the show would be captured and pass through the color pipeline. From then, we started building off the work we did on The End of the F***ing World. (Check out our coverage of The End of the F***ing World, which includes an interview with Tomkins.)

What kind of look did Jon and Justin want, and how did they express that look to you? Film or show references? Pictures?
There were quite a few visual references, which I already knew from previously working with Jon and Justin. They both gravitate toward a timeless American cinema look — something photochemical but also natural. I knew it would be similar to The End of the F***ing World, but we were obviously using different locations and a slightly different light, so there was a little bit of playing around at the beginning.

We’re all fans of American cinema, especially the look of old film stock. We wanted the look of the show to feel a little bit rough around the edges — like when things used to be shot on film and you had limited control on how to make any changes. Films weren’t corrected to a perfect level and we wanted to keep those imperfections for this show, making it feel authentic and not overly polished. Although it was produced by the same people that did Stranger Things, we wanted to stray away from that style slightly, making it feel a bit different.

We were really aiming for a timeless American look, with a vintage aesthetic that played into a world that was slightly out of place and not really part of reality. During the grade, Justin liked to put a line through it, keeping it all very much in the same space, with perhaps a little pop on the reds and key “American” colors.

Personally, I wanted to evoke the style of some teen film from the late 20th century — slightly-independent looking and minimally processed. Films like 10 Things I Hate About You and She’s All That certainly influenced me.

You have all worked together in the past. How did that help on this show? Was there a kind of shorthand?
We learned a lot doing The End of the F***ing World together and Justin and I definitely developed a shorthand. It’s like having a head start because we are all on the same page from the get-go. Especially as I was grading remotely with Justin and Jon just trusted us to know exactly what he wanted.

Tomkins works on Resolve

At the end of the first day, we shared our work with Jon in LA and he’d watch and add his notes. There were only three notes of feedback from him, which is always nice! They were notes on richness in some scenes and a question on matching between two shots. As we’d already tested the cameras and had conversations about it before, we were always on the same page with feedback and I never disagreed with a single note. And Jon only had to watch the work through once, which meant he was always looking at it with clean, fresh eyes.

What was the show shot on, and what did you use for color grading?
It was shot ARRI Alexa, and I used DaVinci Resolve Studio.

Any particular challenges on this one for you?
It was actually quite smooth for me! Because Justin and I have worked together for so long, and because we did the initial testing around cameras and LUTs, we were very prepared. Justin had a couple of challenges due to unpredictable weather in Pittsburgh, but he likes to do as much as possible in-camera. So once it got to me, we were already aligned and prepared.

How did you find your way to being a colorist?
I started off in the art department on big studio features but wanted to learn more about filmmaking in general, so I went to film school in Bournemouth, back when it was called the Arts University College Bournemouth. I quickly realized my passion was post and gleamed what I could from an exceptional VFX tutor there called Jon Turner. I started specializing in editing and then VFX.

I loved the wizardry and limitless availability of VFX but missed the more direct relationship with storytelling, so when I found out about color grading — which seemed like the perfect balance of both — I fell in love. Once I started grading, I didn’t stop. I even bribed the cleaners to get access to the university grading suite at night.

My first paid gig was for N-Dubz, and after I graduated and they became famous, they kept me on. And that gave me the opportunity to work on bigger music videos with other artists. I set up a suite at home (way before anyone else was really doing this) and convinced clients to come 30 minutes out of London to my parents’ house in a little village called Kings Langley.

I then got asked to set up a color department for a sound studio called Tate Post, where I completed lots of commercials, a few feature films — notably Ill Manors — and some shorts. These included one for Jon called Human Beings, which is where our relationship began! After that, I went it alone again and eventually set up Cheat. The rest is history.

What, in addition to the color, do you provide on projects? Small VFX, etc.?
For I Am Not Okay With This, we did some minor work, online and delivery in house at Cheat. I just do color, however. I think it’s best to leave each department to do its own work and trust the knowledge and experience of experts in the field. We worked with LA-based VFX company Crafty Apes for the show; they were really fantastic.

Where do you get inspiration? Photographs, museums?
Mostly from films — both old and new — and definitely photography and the work of other colorists.

Finally, any advice you’d give your younger self about working as a colorist?
Keep at it! Experience is everything.


Colorist Chat: FotoKem’s Phil Beckner talks My Spy film, more

Phil Beckner comes to the world of color grading through his digital intermediate editing background, which includes his work on Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Over his nearly 10-year tenure at FotoKem, he has worked as the additional colorist on many studio titles, including The Nun, Aquaman and Shazam!

Beckner’s early titles include work as 3D colorist on 2016’s The Great Wall and as additional colorist on Kong: Skull Island. He moved up to lead colorist on The Director and the Jedi (a full-length BTS documentary for home release). His work can be seen on the upcoming releases My Spy, Lovebirds and Holler.

My Spy

Burbank’s FotoKem is a full-service finishing house specializing in many aspects of post and production support. Services include 2D/3D digital intermediate color grading, 4K/UHD SDR and HDR file-based mastering, digital on-set dailies, and media management and distribution.

Let’s dig a little deeper…

Can you describe the general look for My Spy and how you worked with DP Larry Blanford and director Peter Segal to achieve what they wanted?
My Spy is a great mash-up of “family buddy comedy” and “action movie,” so one of our main goals was to have the film flow seamlessly between those two worlds. We wanted to enhance the drama of the action sequences by really embracing the world that Larry created on set — paying extra attention to the shadows and contrast, for instance — all while making sure not to step on any of the lighter moments in the dialogue.

In contrast, there are interactions between Dave Bautista and the young co-star, Chloe Coleman, that feel very natural and charming. During those scenes we took the opportunity to make it feel like a more traditional comedy — poppy, warm and inviting. The goal being to blend the two looks so that they work in conjunction with each other throughout the film.

I was in contact with Larry before we started the DI and he sent still images along that he liked to get the process started. Once we got rolling and could get everyone in the theater together, it was a very collaborative effort between Pete, Larry and myself. A fun one to work on, for sure!

What format was My Spy shot on? How did that influence your approach to the film?
My Spy was primarily shot with an ARRI Alexa SXT and ARRI Alexa Mini, with some Phantom and GoPro mixed in. Having worked on many ARRI shows over the years, I was familiar with the color science and I knew right away that there would be no compromise in image quality, especially with DP Larry Blanford at the helm. Knowing all of this up front was great because we could immediately dive in and start creating the world that you see on screen.

MY SPY

What color system did you use? Why did it serve the needs of this project?
This show was finished on Blackmagic’s DaVinci Resolve, which has been rapidly improving over the past few years and it was perfect for this show. The conform, color correction and even a handful of VFX were done in Resolve in the DI theater, which was great because there is virtually no delay in showing the filmmakers the end result.

Now on to more general questions:

Throughout your career, you have worked alongside a variety of Hollywood’s top colorists. What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned?
One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned is that there is no “right” answer! In many aspects of filmmaking, you know immediately if you’ve succeeded or missed the mark, which is not really the case with color. Color grading is an ongoing collaboration between the colorist and the filmmakers with the end goal being to bring out the best aspects in every image. The communication and rapport you have with the filmmakers in the theater is just as important as knowing which knob to turn.

As a colorist, what would surprise people the most about what falls under that title?
One thing that may surprise people is how technical the job can be. As a colorist in 2020, it’s important to have a real understanding of the entire image pipeline. The colorist is often looked to for their technical expertise throughout the entire process — many times before shooting even begins — so it’s vital to have a solid technical understanding to help usher the image from set, through VFX, ultimately to the big screen.

What’s your favorite part of the job?
I really enjoy being a part of the team that ultimately creates the visual aesthetic you see on screen. Being able to give the filmmakers exactly the image that they know they captured on set or to show them something new that they hadn’t considered before is very satisfying.

What’s your least favorite?
The dark! I try and go for a lap around the block every so often to get some sunshine.

Can you name some recent projects you have worked on?
I finished a comedy for Paramount/MRC called The Lovebirds, starring Kumail Nanjiani and Issa Rae and directed by Michael Showalter. I also wrapped up Holler, a very cool film shot on 16mm, written and directed by Nicole Riegel.

Where do you find inspiration?
Obviously, I find inspiration in the work of my peers. There are a lot of great-looking movies and TV shows that come out every year, and I love seeing what other artists are doing. But maybe, most importantly, I try to be present in the moment. There are a lot of things vying for your attention on a daily basis but when you slow down and start looking with a critical eye at every different environment you find yourself in, there is a lot of information to gain. Whether I’m on the beach at sunset or in a school auditorium, I’m paying attention to how the light is reacting or what skin tones look like and putting that in my mental toolbox for use in the future.


Colorist Chat: Framestore LA senior colorist Beau Leon

Veteran colorist Beau Leon recently worked with director Spike Jonze on a Beastie Boys documentary and a spot for cannabis retailer MedMen.

What’s your title and company?
I’m senior colorist at LA’s Framestore

Spike Jonze’s MedMen

What kind of services does Framestore offer?
Framestore is a multi-Oscar-winning creative studio founded over 30 years ago, and the services offered have evolved considerably over the decades. We work across film, television, advertising, music videos, cinematic data visualization, VR, AR, XR, theme park rides… the list is endless and continues to change as new platforms emerge.

As a colorist, what would surprise people the most about what falls under that title?
Despite creative direction or the equipment used to shoot something, whether it be for film or TV, people might not factor in how much color or tone can dictate the impact a story has on its audience. As a colorist, my role often involves acting as a mediator of sorts between various creative stakeholders to ensure everyone is on the same page about what we’re trying to convey, as it can translate differently through color.

Are you sometimes asked to do more than just color on projects?
Earlier in my career, the process was more collaborative with DPs and directors who would bring color in at the beginning of a project. Now, particularly when it comes to commercials with tighter deadlines and turnarounds, many of those conversations happen during pre-production without grading factored in until later in the pipeline.

Rihanna’s Needed Me

Building strong relationships and working on multiple projects with DPs or directors always allows for more trust and creative control on my end. Some of the best examples I’ve seen of this are on music video projects, like Rihanna’s Needed Me, which I graded here at Framestore for a DP I’d grown up in the industry with. That gave me the opportunity to push the creative boundaries.

What system do you work on?
FilmLight Baselight

You recently worked on the new Beastie Boys documentary, Beastie Boys Story. Can you talk a bit about what you did and any challenges relating to deadlines?
I’ve been privileged to work with Spike Jonze on a number of projects throughout my career, so going into Beastie Boys Story, we already had a strong dialogue. He’s a very collaborative director and respectful of everyone’s craft and expertise, which can be surprisingly rare within our industry.

Spike Jonze’s Beatie Boys Story

The unique thing about this project was that, with so much old footage being used, it needed to be mastered in HDR as well as reworked for IMAX. And with Spike being so open to different ideas, the hardest part was deciding which direction to choose. Whether you’re a hardcore Beastie Boys fan or not, the documentary is well worth watching once it will air on AppleTV+ in April.

Any suggestions for getting the most out of a project from a color perspective?
As an audience, our eyes have evolved a great deal over the last few decades. I would argue that most of what we see on TV and film today is extremely oversaturated compared to what we’d experience in our real environment. I think it speaks to how we treat consumers and anticipate what we think they want — colorful, bright and eye-catching. When it’s appropriate, I try to challenge clients to think outside those new norms.

How do you prefer to work with the DP or director?
Whether it’s working with a DP or director, the more involved I can be early on in the conversation, the more seamless the process becomes during post production and ultimately leads to a better end result. In my experience, this type of access is more common when working on music videos.

Most one-off commercial projects see us dealing with an agency more often than the director, but an exception to the rule that comes to mind is on another occasion when I had the chance to collaborate on a project with Spike Jonze for the first ever brand campaign for cannabis retailer MedMen called The New Normal. He placed an important emphasis on grading and was very open to my recommendations and vision.

How do you like getting feedback in terms of the look?
A conversation is always the best way to receive feedback versus a written interpretation of imagery, which tends to become very personal. An example might be when a client wants to create the feeling of a warm climate in a particular scene. Some might interpret that as adding more warm color tones, when in fact, if you think about some of the hottest places you’ve ever visited, the sun shines so fiercely that it casts a bright white hue.

What’s your favorite part of the job?
That’s an easy answer — to me, it’s all about the amazing people you meet in this industry and the creative collaboration that happens as a result. So many of my colleagues over the years have become great friends.

Any least favorites?
There isn’t much that I don’t love about my job, but I have witnessed a change over the years in the way that our industry has begun to undervalue relationships, which I think is a shame.

If you didn’t have this job, what would you be doing instead?
I would be an art teacher. It combines my passion for color and visual inspiration with a forum for sharing knowledge and fostering creativity.

How early did you know this would be your path?
In my early 20s, I started working on dailies (think The Dukes of Hazzard, The Karate Kid, Fantasy Island) at a place in The Valley that had a telecine machine that transferred at a frame rate faster than anywhere else in LA at the time. It was there that I started coloring (without technically realizing that was the job I was doing, or that it was even a profession).

Soon after, I received a call from a company called 525 asking me to join them. They worked on all of the top music videos during the prime “I Want My MTV” era, and after working on music videos as a side hustle at night, I knew that’s where I wanted to be. When I first walked into the building, I was struck by how much more advanced their technology was and immediately felt out of my depth. Luckily, someone saw something in me before I recognized it within myself. I worked on everything from R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion” to TLC’s “Waterfalls” and The Smashing Pumpkins’ “Tonight, Tonight.” I found such joy in collaborating with some of the most creative and spirited directors in the business, many of whom were inspiring artists, designers and photographers in their spare time.

Where do you find inspiration?
I’m lucky to live in a city like LA with such a rich artistic scene, so I make a point to attend as many gallery openings and exhibitions as I can. Some of my favorite spaces are the Annenberg Space for Photography, the Hammer Museum and Hauser & Wirth. On the weekends I also stop by Arcana bookstore in Culver City, where they source rare books on art and design.

Name three pieces of technology you can’t live without.
I think I would be completely fine if I had to survive without technology.

This industry comes with tight deadlines. How do you de-stress from it all?
After a long day, cooking helps me decompress and express my creativity through a different outlet. I never miss a trip to my local farmer’s market, which also helps to keep me inspired. And when I’m not looking at other people’s art, I’m painting my own abstract pieces at my home studio.


Colorist Chat: Keith Shaw on Showtime’s Homeland and the process

By Randi Altman

The long wait for the final season of Showtime’s Homeland seemed to last an eternity, but thankfully the series is now airing, and we here at postPerspective are pretty jazzed about it. Our favorite spies, Carrie and Saul, are back at it, with this season being set in Afghanistan.

Keith Shaw

Year after year, the writing, production and post values on Homeland have been outstanding. One of those post folks is colorist Keith Shaw from FotoKem’s Keep Me Posted, which focuses on finishing services to television.

Shaw’s credits are impressive. In addition to Homeland, his work can be seen on Ray Donovan, Shameless, Animal Kingdom and many others. We reached out to Shaw to find out more about working on Homeland from the first episode to the last. Shaw shares his workflow and what inspires him.

You’ve been on Homeland since the beginning. Can you describe the look of the show and how you’ve worked with DPs David Klein, ASC, and Giorgio Scali, ASC, as well as producer Katie O’Hara?
Working on Homeland from Episode 1 has been a truly amazing experience. Katie, Dave, Giorgio and I are an extremely collaborative group.

One consistent factor of all eight seasons has been the need for the show to look “real.” We don’t have any drastic or aggressively stylized looks, so the goal is to subtly manipulate the color and mood yet make it distinct enough to help support the storyline.

When you first started on the show, how would you describe the look?
The first two seasons were shot by Nelson Cragg, ASC. For those early episodes, the show was a bit grittier and more desaturated. It had a darker, heavier feel to it. There was not as much detail in the dark areas of the image, and the light fell off more quickly on the edges.

Although the locations and looks have changed over the years, what’s been the common thread?
As I mentioned earlier, the show has a realism to it. It’s not super-stylized and affected.

Do the DPs come to the color suite? What kind of notes do you typically get from them?
They do when they are able (which is not often). They are generally on the other side of the world. As far as notes, it depends on the episode. When I’m lucky, I get none. Generally, there are not a lot of notes. That’s the advantage of collaborating on a show from the beginning. You and the DP can “mold” the look of the show together.

You’ve worked on many episodics at Keep Me Posted. Prior to that you were working on features at Warner Bros. Can you talk about how that process differs for you?
In remastering and restoration of feature films, the production stage is complete. It’s not happening simultaneously, and that means the timeline and deadlines aren’t as stressful.

Digital intermediates on original productions, on the other hand, are similar to television because multiple things are happening all at once. There is an overlap between production and post. During color, the cut can be changing, and new effects could be added or updated, but with much tighter deadlines. DI was a great stepping stone for me to move from feature films to television.

Now let’s talk about some more general aspects of the job…

AS A COLORIST, WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
First of all, most people don’t have a clear understanding of what a colorist is or does. Even after 25 years and multiple explanations, my father-in-law still tells everyone I’m an editor.

Being a colorist means you wear many hats — confidante, mediator, therapist, VFX supervisor, scheduler and data manager — in addition to that color thing. For me, it boils down to three main attributes. One, you need to be artistic/creative. Two, you need to be technical. Finally, you need to mediate the decision-making processes. Sometimes that can be the hardest part of all, when there are competing viewpoints and visions between all the parties involved.

WHAT SYSTEM DO YOU WORK ON?
Digital Vision’s Nucoda.

ARE YOU SOMETIMES ASKED TO DO MORE THAN JUST COLOR ON PROJECTS?
Today’s color correctors are incredibly powerful and versatile. In addition to color, I can do light VFX, beauty work, editing or technical fixes when necessary. The clients appreciate the value of saving time and money by taking care of last-minute issues in the color suite.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
Building relationships with clients, earning their trust and helping them bring their vision to the screen. I love that special moment when you and the DP are completely in sync — you’re reaching for the knobs before they even ask for a change, and you are finishing each other’s sentences.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
Deadlines. However, they are actually helpful in my case because otherwise I would tweak and re-tweak the smallest details endlessly.

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
Ray Donovan, Shameless, Animal Kingdom, Single Parents and Bless This Mess are my current shows.

ANY SUGGESTIONS FOR GETTING THE MOST OUT OF A PROJECT FROM A COLOR PERSPECTIVE?
Become a part of the process as early as possible. Establishing looks, LUTs and good communication with the cinematographer are essential.

HOW DO YOU PREFER THE DP OR DIRECTOR TO DESCRIBE THE LOOK THEY WANT?
Each client has a different source of inspiration and way of conveying their vision. I’ve worked from fabric and paint samples, YouTube videos, photographs, magazine ads, movie or television show references, previous work (theirs and/or mine) and so on.

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
I can’t pick just one, so I’ll pick two. From my feature mastering work, The Shawshank Redemption. From television, Homeland.

WHERE DO YOU FIND INSPIRATION?
Definitely in photography. My father was a professional photographer and we had our own darkroom. As a kid, I spent countless hours after school and on weekends learning how to plan, take and create great photographs. It is still a favorite hobby of mine to this day.


Randi Altman is the founder and editor-in-chief of postPerspective. She has been covering production and post production for more than 20 years. 


Colorist Chat: Nice Shoes’ Maria Carretero on Super Bowl ads, more

This New York-based colorist, who worked on four Super Bowl spots this year, talks workflow, inspiration and more.

Name: Maria Carretero

Company: Nice Shoes

What kind of services does Nice Shoes offer?
Nice Shoes is a creative studio with color, editorial, animation, VFX, AR and VR services. It’s a full-service studio with offices in NYC, Chicago, Boston, Minneapolis and Toronto, as well as remote locations throughout North America.

Michelob Ultra’s Jimmy Works It Out

As a colorist, what would surprise people the most about what falls under that title?
I think people are surprised when they discover that there is a visual language in every single visual story that connects your emotions through all the imagery that we’ve collected in our brains. This work gives us the ability to nudge the audience emotionally over the course of a piece. Color grading is rooted in a very artistic base — core, emotional aspects that have been studied in art and color theory that make you explore cinematography in such an interesting way.

What system do you work on?
We use FilmLight Baselight as our primary system, but the team is also versed in Blackmagic Resolve.

Are you sometimes asked to do more than just color on projects?
Sometimes. If you have a solid relationship with the DP or the director, they end up consulting you about palettes, optics and references, so you become an active part of the creativity in the film, which is very cool. I love when I can get involved in projects from the beginning.

What’s your favorite part of the job?
My favorite moment is when you land on the final look and you see that the whole film is making visual sense and you feel that the story, the look and the client are all aligned — that’s magic!

Any least favorites?
No, I love coloring. Sometimes the situation becomes difficult because there are technical issues or disagreements, but it’s part of the work to push through those moments and make things work

If you didn’t have this job, what would you be doing instead?
I would probably be a visual artist… always struggling to keep the lights on. I’m kidding! I have so much respect for visual artists, I think they should be treated better by our society because without art there is no progress.

How early did you know this would be your path?
I was a visual artist for seven years. I was part of Nives Fernandez’s roster, and all that I wanted at that time was to try to tell my stories as an artist. I was freelancing in VFX to get some money that helped me survive, and I landed on the VFX side, and from there to color was a very easy switch. When I landed in Deluxe Spain 16 years ago and started to explore color, I quickly fell in love.

It’s why I like to say that color chose me.

Avocados From Mexico: Shopping Network

You recently worked on a number of Super Bowl spots. Can you talk a bit about your work on them, and any challenges relating to deadlines?
This year I worked on four Super Bowl spots Michelob Ultra PureGold: 6 for 6 Pack, Michelob Ultra: Jimmy Works It Out, Walmart: United Towns and Avocados From Mexico: Shopping Network.

Working on these kinds of projects is definitely a really interesting experience. The deadlines are tight, the pressure is enormous, but at the same time, the amount of talent and creativity involved is gigantic, so if you survive (laughs) you always will be a better professional. As a colorist I love to be challenged. I love dealing with difficult situations where all your resources and your energy is being put to the test.

Any suggestions for getting the most out of a project from a color perspective?
Thousands! Technical understanding, artistic involvement, there are so many… But definitely trying to create something new, special, different; embracing the challenges and pushing beyond the boundaries are the keys to delivering good work.

How do you prefer to work with the DP or director?
I like working with both. Debating with any kind of artist is the best. It’s really great to be surrounded by someone that uses a common “language.” As I mentioned earlier, I love when there’s the opportunity to get the conversation going at the beginning of a project so that there’s more opportunity for collaboration, debate and creativity.

How do you like getting feedback in terms of the look? Photos, films, etc.?
Every single bit of information is useful. I love when they verbalize what they’re going for using stories, feelings — when you can really feel they’re expressing personality with the film.

Where do you find inspiration? Art? Photography?
I find inspiration in living! There are so many things that surround us that can be a source of inspiration. Art, landscapes, the light that you remember from your childhood, a painting, watching someone that grabs your attention on a train. New York is teeming with more than enough life and creativity to keep any artist going.

Name three pieces of technology you can’t live without.
The Tracker, Spotify and FaceTime.

This industry comes with tight deadlines. How do you de-stress from it all?
I have a sense of humor and lots of red wine (smiles).


Colorist Chat: Light Iron supervising colorist Ian Vertovec

“As colorists, we are not just responsible for enhancing each individual shot based on the vision of the filmmakers, but also for helping to visually construct an emotional arc over time.”

NAME: Ian Vertovec

TITLE: Supervising Colorist

COMPANY: Light Iron

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR ROLE IN THE COMPANY?
A Hollywood-based collaborator for motion picture finishing, with a studio in New York City as well.

GLOW

AS A COLORIST, WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
As colorists, we are not just responsible for enhancing each individual shot based on the vision of the filmmakers, but also for helping to visually construct an emotional arc over time. For example, a warm scene feels warmer coming out of a cool scene as opposed to another warm scene. We have the ability and responsibility to nudge the audience emotionally over the course of the film. Using color in this way makes color grading a bit like a cross between photography and editing.

ARE YOU SOMETIMES ASKED TO DO MORE THAN JUST COLOR ON PROJECTS?
Once in a while, I’ll be asked to change the color of an object, like change a red dress to blue or a white car to black. While we do have remarkable tools at our disposal, this isn’t quite the correct way to think about what we can do. Instead of being able to change the color of objects, it’s more like we can change the color of the light shining on objects. So instead of being able to turn a red dress to blue, I can change the light on the dress (and only the dress) to be blue. So while the dress will appear blue, it will not look exactly how a naturally blue dress would look under white light.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
There is a moment with new directors, after watching the first finished scene, when they realize they have made a gorgeous-looking movie. It’s their first real movie, which they never fully saw until that moment — on the big screen, crystal clear and polished — and it finally looks how they envisioned it. They are genuinely proud of what they’ve done, as well as appreciative of what you brought out in their work. It’s an authentic filmmaking moment.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
Working on multiple jobs at a time and long days can be very, very draining. It’s important to take regular breaks to rest your eyes.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
Something with photography, VFX or design, maybe.

HOW EARLY ON DID YOU KNOW THIS WOULD BE YOUR PATH?
I was doing image manipulation in high school and college before I even knew what color grading was.

Just Mercy

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
Just Mercy, Murder Mystery, GLOW, What We Do in the Shadows and Too Old to Die Young.

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
Sometimes your perspective and a filmmaker’s perspective for a color grade can be quite divergent. There can be a temptation to take the easy way and either defer or overrule. I find tremendous value in actually working out those differences and seeing where and why you are having a difference of opinion.

It can be a little scary, as nobody wants to be perceived as confrontational, but if you can civilly explain where and why you see a different approach, the result will almost always be better than what either of you thought possible in the first place. It also allows you to work more closely and understand each other’s creative instincts more accurately. Those are the moments I am most proud of — when we worked through an awkward discord and built something better.

WHERE DO YOU FIND INSPIRATION?
I have a fairly extensive library of Pinterest boards — mostly paintings — but it’s real life and being in the moment that I find more interesting. The color of a green leaf at night under a sodium vapor light, or how sunlight gets twisted by a plastic water bottle — that is what I find so cool. Why ruin that with an Insta post?

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
FilmLight Baselight’s Base Grade, FilmLight Baselight’s Texture Equalizer and my Red Hydrogen.

WHAT SOCIAL MEDIA CHANNELS DO YOU FOLLOW?
Instagram mostly.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
After working all day on a film, I often don’t feel like watching another movie when I get home because I’ll just be thinking about the color.  I usually unwind with a video game, book or podcast. The great thing about a book or video games is that they demand your 100% attention. You can’t be simultaneously browsing social media or the news  or be thinking about work. You have to be 100% in the moment, and it really resets your brain.


Color Chat: Light Iron’s Corinne Bogdanowicz

Corinne Bogdanowicz colorist at Light Iron, joined the post house in 2010 after working as a colorist and digital compositor for Post Logic/Prime Focus, Pacific Title and DreamWorks Animation.

Bogdanowicz, who comes from a family of colorists/color scientists (sister and father), has an impressive credit list, including the features 42, Flight, Hell or High Water, Allied and Wonder. On the episodic side, she has colored all five seasons of Amazon’s Emmy-winning series Transparent, as well as many other shows, including FX’s Baskets and Boomerang for BET. Her most recent work includes Netflix’s Dolemite is My Name and HBO’s Mrs. Fletcher.

HBO’s Mrs. Fletcher

We reached out to find out more…

NAME: Corinne Bogdanowicz

COMPANY: Light Iron

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
Light Iron is a post production company owned by Panavision. We have studios in New York and Los Angeles.

AS A COLORIST, WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
I think that most people would be surprised that we are the last stop for all visuals on a project. We are where all of the final VFX come together, and we also manage the different color spaces for final distribution.

ARE YOU SOMETIMES ASKED TO DO MORE THAN JUST COLOR ON PROJECTS?
Yes, I am very often doing work that crosses over into visual effects. Beauty work, paint outs and VFX integration are all commonplace in the DI suite these days.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
The collaboration between myself and the creatives on a project is my favorite aspect of color correction. There is always a moment when we start color where I get “the look,” and everyone is excited that their vision is coming to fruition.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
Maybe farming? (laughs) I’m not sure. I love being outdoors and working with animals.

HOW EARLY ON DID YOU KNOW THIS WOULD BE YOUR PATH?
I have an art background, and when I moved to Los Angeles years ago I worked in VFX. I quickly was introduced to the world of color and found it was a great fit. I love the combination of art and technology, as well as constantly being introduced to new ideas by industry creatives.

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
Where’d You Go, Bernadette?, Sextuplets, Truth Be Told, Transparent, Mrs. Fletcher and Dolemite is My Name.

Transparent

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
This is a hard question because I feel like I leave a little piece of myself in everything that I work on.

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
My phone, the coffee maker and FilmLight Baselight.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM THE PRESSURES OF THE JOB?
I have two small children at home, so I think I de-stress when I get to work (laughs)!

Colorist Chat: Scott Ostrowsky on Amazon’s Sneaky Pete

By Randi Altman

Scott Ostrowsky, senior colorist at Deluxe’s Level 3 in Los Angeles has worked on all three seasons of Amazon’s Sneaky Pete, produced by Bryan Cranston and David Shore and starring Giovanni Ribisi. Season 3 is the show’s last.

For those of you unfamiliar with the series, it follows a con man named Marius (Ribisi), who takes the place of his former cell-mate Pete and endears himself to Pete’s seemingly idyllic family while continuing to con his way through life. Over time he comes to love the family, which is nowhere as innocent as they seem.

Scott Ostrowsky

We reached out to this veteran colorist to learn more about how the look of the series developed over the seasons and how he worked with the showrunners and DPs.

You’ve been on Sneaky Pete since the start. Can you describe how the look has changed over the years?
I worked on Seasons 1 through Season 3. The DP for Season 1 was Rene Ohashi and it had somewhat of a softer feel. It was shot on a Sony F55. It mostly centered around the relationship of Bryan Cranston’s character and Giovanni Ribisi’s newly adopted fake family and his brother.

Season 2 was shot by DPs Frank DeMarco and William Rexer on a Red Dragon, and it was a more stylized and harsher look in some ways. The looks were different because the storylines and the locations had changed. So, even though we had some beautiful, resplendent looks in Season 2, we also created some harsher environments, and we did that through color correction. Going into Season 2, the storyline changed, and it became more defined in the sense that we used the environments to create an atmosphere that matched the storyline and the performances.

An example of this would be the warehouse where they all came together to create the scam/ heist that they were going to pull off. Another example of this would be the beautiful environment in the casino that was filled with rich lighting and ornate colors. But there are many examples of this through the show — both DPs used shadow and light to create a very emotional mood or a very stark mood and everything in between.

Season 3 shot by Arthur Albert and his son, Nick Albert on a Red Gemini, and it had a beautiful, resplendent, rich look that matched the different environments when it moved from the cooler look of New York to the more warm, colorful look in California.

So you gave different looks based on locale? 
Yes, we did. Many times, the looks would depend on time of day and the environment that they were in. An example of this might be the harsh fluorescent green in the gas station bathroom where Giovanni’s character is trying to figure out a way to help his brother and avoid his captures.

How did you work with the Alberts on the most recent season?
I work at Level 3 Post, which is a Deluxe company. I did Season 1 and 2 at the facility on the Sony lot. Season 3 was posted at Level 3. Arthur and Nick Albert came in to my color suite with the camera tests shot on the Red Gemini and also the Helium. We set up a workflow based on the Red cameras and proceeded to grade the various setups.

Once Arthur and Nick decided to use the Gemini, we set up our game plan for the season. When I received my first conform, I proceeded to grade it based on our conversations. I was very sensitive to the way they used their setups, lighting and exposures. Once I finished my first primary grade, Arthur would come in and sit with me to watch the show and make any changes. After Arthur approved the grade, The producers and showrunner would come in for their viewing. They could make any additional changes at that time. (Read our interview with Arthur Albert here.)

How do you prefer to work with directors/DPs?
The first thing is have conversation with them on their approach and how they view color as being part of the story they want to tell. I always like to get a feel for how the cinematographer will shoot the show and what, if any, LUTs they’re using so I can emulate that look as a starting point for my color grading.

It is really important to me to find out how a director envisions the image he or she would like to portray on the screen. An example of this would be facial expressions. Do we want to see everything or do they mind if the shadow side remains dark and the light falls off.

A lot of times, it’s about how the actors emote and how they work in tandem with each other to create tension, comedy or other emotions — and what the director is looking for in these scenes.

Any tips for getting the most out of a project from a color perspective?
Communication. Communication. Communication. Having an open dialogue with the cinematographer, showrunners and directors is extremely important. If the colorist is able to get the first pass very close, you spend more time on the nuisances rather than balancing or trying to find a look. That is why it is so important to have an understanding of the essence of what a director, cinematographer and showrunner is looking for.

How do you prefer the DP or director to describe their desired look?
However they’re comfortable in enlightening me to their styles or needs for the show is fine. Usually, we can discuss this when we have a camera test before principal photography starts. There’s no one way that you can work with everybody — you just adapt to how they work. And as a colorist, it’s your job to make that image sing or shine the way that they intended it to.

You used Resolve on this. Is there a particular tool that came in handy for this show?
All tools on the Resolve are useful for a drama series. You would not buy the large crayon box and throw out colors you didn’t like because, at some point, you might need them. I use all tools — from keys, windows, log corrections and custom curves to create the looks that were needed.

You have been working in TV for many years. How has color grading changed during that time?
Color correction has become way more sophisticated over the years, and is continually growing and expanding into a blend of not only color grading but helping to create environments that are needed to express the look of a show. We no longer just have simple color correctors with simple secondaries; the toolbox continues to grow with added filters, added grain and sometimes even helping to create visual effects, which most color correctors are able to do today.

Where do you find inspiration? Art? Photography?
I’ve always loved photography and B&W movies. There’s a certain charm or subtlety that you find in B&W, whether it’s a film noir, the harshness of film grain, or just the use of shadow and light. I’ve always enjoyed going to museums and looking at different artists and how they view the world and what inspires them.

To me, it’s trying to portray an image and have that image make a statement. In daily life, you can see multiple examples as you go through your day, and I try and keep the most interesting ones that I can remember in my lexicon of images.


Randi Altman is the founder and editor-in-chief of postPerspective. She has been covering production and post production for more than 20 years. 

Colorist Chat: Lucky Post’s Neil Anderson

After joining Lucky Post in Dallas in 2013 right out of film school, Neil Anderson was officially promoted to colorist in 2017. He has worked on a variety of projects during his time at the studio, including projects for Canada Dry, Costa, TGI Fridays, The Salvation Army and YETI. He also contributed to Augustine Frizzell’s feature comedy, Never Goin’ Back, which premiered at Sundance and was distributed by A24.

YETI

We checked in with Anderson to find out how he works, some favorite projects and what inspires him.

What do you enjoy most about your work?
That’s a really hard question because there are a lot of things I really enjoy about color grading. If I had to choose, I think it comes back to the fact that it’s rewarding to both left- and right-brained people. It truly is both an art and a science.

The satisfaction I get when I first watch a newly graded spot is also very special. A cohesive and mindful color grade absolutely transforms the piece into something greater, and it’s a great feeling to be able to make such a powerful impact.

What’s the most misunderstood aspect of color artistry?
I’m not sure many people stop and think about how amazing it is that we can fine tune our engineering to something as wild as our eye sight. Our vision is very fluid and organic, constantly changing under different constraints and environments, filled with optical illusions and imperfect guesses. There are immensely strange phenomena that drastically change our perception of what we see. Yet we need to make camera systems and displays work with this deeply non-uniform perception. It’s an absolutely massive area of study that we take for granted; I’m thankful for those color scientists out there.

Where do you find your creative inspiration?
I definitely like to glean new ideas and ways of approaching new projects from seeing other great colorists. Sometimes certain commercials come on TV that catch my eye and I’ll excitedly say to my partner Odelie, “That is damn good color!” Depending on the situation, I might get an eye-roll or two from her.

Tell us about some recent projects, and what made them stand out to you creatively?
Baylor Scott & White Health: I just loved how moody we took these in the end. They are very inspiring stories that we wanted to make feel even more impactful. I think the contrast and color really turned out beautiful.

Is This All There Is?

Is This All There Is? by Welcome Center: This is a recent music video that we filmed in a stunningly dilapidated house. The grit and grain we added in color really brings out the “worst” of it.

Hurdle: This was a documentary feature I worked on that I really enjoyed. The film was shot over a six-month window in the West Bank in Israel, so wrangling it in while also giving it a distinctly unique look was both difficult and fun.

Light From Light: Also a feature film that I finished a few months ago. I really enjoyed the process of developing the look with its wonderful DP Greta Zozula. We specifically wanted to capture the feeling of paintings by Andrew Wyeth, Thomas Eakins and Johannes Vermeer.

Current bingeable episodics and must see films?
Exhibit A, Mindhunter, Midsommar and The Cold Blue.

When you are not at Lucky Post, where do you like to spend time?
I’m an avid moviegoer so definitely a lot of my time (and money) is spent at the theater. I’m also a huge sports fan; you’ll find me anywhere that carries my team’s games! (Go Pack Go)

Favorite podcast?
The Daily (“The New York Times”)

Current Book?
“Parting the Waters: America in the King Years 1954-1963”

Dumbest thing you laughed at today?
https://bit.ly/2MYs0V1

Song you can’t stop listening to?
John Frusciante — 909 Day

Color grading IT Chapter Two’s terrifying return

In IT Chapter Two, the kids of the Losers’ Club are all grown up and find themselves lured back to their hometown of Derry. Still haunted both by the trauma that monstrous clown Pennywise let loose on the community and by each one’s own unique insecurities, the group (James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain, Bill Hader) find themselves up against even more terrifying forces than they faced in the first film, IT.

Stephen Nakamura

IT Chapter Two director Andy Muschietti called on cinematographer Checco Varese and colorist Stephen Nakamura of Company 3. Nakamura returned to the franchise, performing the final color grade at Efilm in Hollywood. “I felt the first one was going to be a big hit when we were working on it, because these kids’ stories were so compelling and the performances were so strong. It was more than just a regular horror movie. This second one, in my opinion, is just as powerful in terms of telling these characters’ stories. And, not surprisingly, it also takes the scary parts even further.”

According to Nakamura, Muschietti “is a very visually oriented director. When we were coloring both of the films, he was very aware of the kinds of things we can do in the DI to enhance the imagery and make things even more scary. He pushed me to take some scenes in Chapter Two in directions I’ve never gone with color. I think it’s always important, whether you’re a colorist or a chef or a doctor, to always push yourself and explore new aspects of your work. Andy’s enthusiasm encouraged me to try new approaches to working in DaVinci Resolve. I think the results are very effective.”

For one thing, the technique he used to bring up just the light level in the eyes of the shapeshifting clown Pennywise got even more use here because there were more frightening characters to use it on. In many cases, the companies that created the visual effects also provided mattes that let Nakamura easily isolate and adjust the luminance of each individual eye in Resolve. When such mattes weren’t available, he used Resolve to track each eyeball a frame at a time.

“Resolve has excellent tracking capabilities, but we were looking to isolate just the tiny whites of the characters’ eyes,” Nakamura explains, “and there just wasn’t enough information to track.” It was meticulous work, he recalls, “but it’s very effective. The audience doesn’t consciously know we’re doing anything, but it makes the eyes brighter in a very strange way, kind of like a cat’s eyes when they catch the light. It really enhances the eerie feeling.”

In addition, Nakamura and the filmmakers made use of Resolve’s Flicker tool in the OpenFX panel to enhance the flickering effect in a scene involving flashing lights, taking the throbbing light effects further than they did on set. Not long ago, this type of enhancement would have been a more involved process in which the shots would likely be sent to a visual effects house. “We were able to do it as part of the grading, and we all thought it looked completely realistic. They definitely appreciated the ability to make little enhancements like that in the final grade, when everyone can see the scenes with the grade in context and on a big screen.”

Portions of the film involve scenes of the Losers’ Club as children, which were comprised of newly shot material (not cut in from the production of the first It). Nakamura applied a very subtle amount of Resolve’s mid-tone detail tool over them primarily to help immediately and subliminally orient the audience in time.

But the most elaborate use of the color corrector involved one short sequence in which Hader’s character, walking in a local park on a pleasant, sunny day, has a sudden, terrifying interaction with a very frightening character. The shots involved a significant amount of CGI and compositing work, which was completed at several effects houses. Muschietti was pleased with the effects work, but he wanted Nakamura to bring in an overall quality to the look of the scene that made it feel a bit more otherworldly.

Says Nakamura, “Andy described something that reminded me of the old-school, two-strip color process, where essentially anything red would get pushed into being a kind of magenta, and something blue or green would become a kind of cyan.”

Nakamura, who colored Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator (shot by Robert Richardson, ASC), had designed something at that point to create more of a three-strip look, but this process was more challenging, as it involved constraining the color palette to an even greater degree — without, of course, losing definition in the imagery.

With a bit of trial and error, Nakamura came up with the notion of using the splitter/combiner node and recombined some nodes in the output, forcing the information from the green channel into the red and blue channels. He then used a second splitter/combiner node to control the output. “It’s almost like painting a scene with just two colors,” he explains. “Green grass and blue sky both become shades of cyan, while skin and anything with red in it goes into the magenta area.”

The work became even more complex because the red-haired Pennywise also makes an appearance; it was important for him to retain his color, despite the rest of the scene going two-tone. Nakamura treated this element as a complex chroma key, using a second splitter/combiner node and significantly boosting the saturation just to isolate Pennywise while preventing the two-tone correction from affecting him.

When it came time to complete the pass for HDR Dolby Cinema — designed for specialty projectors capable essentially of displaying brighter whites and darker blacks than normal cinema projectors — Muschietti was particularly interested in the format’s treatment of dark areas of the frame.

“Just like in the first one,” Nakamura explains, “we were able to make use of Dolby Cinema to enhance suspense. People usually talk about how bright the highlights can be in HDR. But, when you push more light through the picture than you do for the P3 version, we also have the ability to make shadowy areas of the image appear even darker while keeping the details in those really dark areas very clear. This can be very effective in a movie like this, where you have scary characters lurking in the shadows.

“The color grade always plays some kind of role in a movie’s storytelling,” Nakamura sums up, “but this was a fun example of how work we did in the color grade really helped scare the audience.”

You can check out our Q&A with Nakamura about his work on the original IT.

Colorist Chat: Technicolor’s Doug Delaney

Industry veteran Doug Delaney started his career in VFX before the days of digital, learning his craft from the top film timers and color scientists as well as effects supervisors.

Today he is a leading colorist and finisher at Technicolor, working on major movies including the recent Captain Marvel. We spoke to him to find out more about how he works.

NAME: Doug Delaney

TITLE: Senior Colorist

IN ADDITION TO CAPTAIN MARVEL, CANYOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
We have just wrapped on Showtime’s The Loudest Voice, which documented Fox News’ Roger Ailes and starred Russell Crow, Naomi Watts and Sienna Miller.

I also just had the immense pleasure of working with DP Cameron Duncan on Nat Geo’s thriller The Hot Zone. For that show we actually worked together early on to establish two looks — one for laboratory scenes taking place in Washington, DC, and another for scenes in central Africa. These looks were then exported as LUTs for dailies so that the creative intent was established from the beginning of shooting and carried through to finishing.

And earlier this year I worked on Love, Death & Robots, which just received two Emmy nominations, so big congrats to that team!

ARE YOU SOMETIMES ASKED TO DO MORE THAN JUST COLOR ON PROJECTS?
Yes, these days I tend to think of “colorists” as finishing artists — meaning that our suites are typically the last stop for a project and where everything comes together.

The technology we have access to in our suites continues to develop, and therefore our capabilities have expanded — there is more we can do in our suites that previously would have needed to be handled by others. A perfect example is visual effects. Sometimes we get certain shots in from VFX vendors that are well-executed but need to be a bit more nuanced — say it’s a driving scene against a greenscreen, and the lighting outside the car feels off for the time of day it’s supposed to be in the scene. Whereas we used to have to kick it back to VFX to fix, I can now go in and use the alpha channels and mattes to color-correct that imbalance.

And what’s important about this new ability is that in today’s demanding schedules and deadlines, it allows us to work collaboratively in real time with the creative rather than in an iterative workflow that takes time we often don’t have.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
The look development. That aspect can take on various conversations depending on the project. Sometimes it’s talking with filmmakers in preproduction, sometimes just when it gets to post, but ultimately, being part of the creative journey and how to deliver the best-looking show is what I love.

That and when the final playback happens in our room, when the filmmakers see for the first time all of the pieces of the puzzle come together with sound … it’s awesome.

ANY SUGGESTIONS FOR GETTING THE MOST OUT OF A PROJECT FROM A COLOR PERSPECTIVE?
Understanding that each project has a different relationship with the filmmaker, there needs to be transparency and agreement to the process amongst the director, DP, execs, etc. Whether a clear vision is established early on or they are open to further developing the look, a willingness to engage in an open dialogue is key.

Personally, I love when I’m able to help develop the color pipeline in preproduction, as I find it often makes the post experience more seamless. For example, what aired on Strange Angel Season 2 was not far removed from dailies because we had established a LUT in advance and had worked with wardrobe, make-up and others to carry the look through. It doesn’t need to be complicated, but open communication and planning really can go a long way in creating a stunning visual identity and a seamless experience.

HOW DO YOU PREFER THE DP OR DIRECTOR TO DESCRIBE THE LOOK THEY WANT? PHYSICAL EXAMPLES, FILMS TO EMULATE, ETC.?
Physical examples — photo books, style sheets with examples of tones they like and things like that. But ultimately my role is to correctly interpret what it is that they like in what they are showing me and to discern if what they are looking for is a literal representation, or more of an inspiration to start from and massage. Again, the open communication and ability to develop strong working relationships — in which I’m able to discern when there is a direct ask versus a need versus an opportunity to do more and push the boundaries — is key to a successful project.

WHAT SYSTEM DO YOU WORK ON?
Baselight. I love the flexibility of the system and the support that the FilmLight team provides us, as we are constantly pushing the capabilities of the platform, and they continue to deliver.

 

GLOW’s DP and colorist adapt look of new season for Vegas setting

By Adrian Pennington

Netflix’s Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling (GLOW) are back in the ring for a third round of the dramatic comedy, but this time the girls are in Las Vegas. The glitz and glamour of Sin City seems tailor-made for the 1980s-set GLOW and provided the main creative challenge for Season 3 cinematographer Chris Teague (Russian Doll, Broad City).

DP Chris Teague

“Early on, I met with Christian Sprenger, who shot the first season and designed the initial look,” says Teague, who was recently nominated for an Emmy for his work on Russian Doll. “We still want GLOW to feel like GLOW, but the story and character arc of Season 3 and the new setting led us to build on the look and evolve elements like lighting and dynamic range.”

The GLOW team is headlining the Fan-Tan Hotel & Casino, one of two main sets along with a hotel built for the series and featuring the distinctive Vegas skyline as a backdrop.

“We discussed compositing actors against greenscreen, but that would have turned every shot into a VFX shot and would have been too costly, not to mention time-intensive on a TV schedule like ours,” he says. “Plus, working with a backdrop just felt aesthetically right.”

In that vein, production designer Todd Fjelsted built a skyline using miniatures, a creative decision in keeping with the handcrafted look of the show. That decision, though, required extensive testing of lenses, lighting and look prior to shooting. This testing was done in partnership with post house Light Iron.

“There was no overall shift in the look of the show, but together with Light Iron, we felt the baseline LUT needed to be built on, particularly in terms of how we lit the sets,” explains Teague.

“Chris was clear early on that he wanted to build upon the look of the first two seasons,” says Light Iron colorist Ian Vertovec. “We adjusted the LUT to hold a little more color in the highlights than in past seasons. Originally, the LUT was based on a film emulation and adjusted for HDR. In Season 1, we created a period film look and transformed it for HDR to get a hybrid film emulation LUT. For Season 3, for HDR and standard viewing, we made tweaks to the LUT so that some of the colors would pop more.”

The show was also finished in Dolby Vision HDR. “There was some initial concern about working with backdrops and stages in HDR,” Teague says. “We are used to the way film treats color over its exposure range — it tends to desaturate as it gets more overexposed — whereas HDR holds a lot more color information in overexposure. However, Ian showed how it can be a creative tool.”

Colorist Ian Vertovec

“The goal was to get the 1980s buildings in the background and out the hotel windows to look real — emulating marquees with flashing lights,” adds Vertovec. “We also needed it to be a believable Nevada sky and skyline. Skies and clouds look different in HDR. So, when dialing this in, we discussed how they wanted it to look. Did it feel real? Is the sky in this scene too blue? Information from testing informed production, so everything was geared toward these looks.”

“Ian has been on the first two seasons, so he knows the look inside and out and has a great eye,” Teague continues. “It’s nice to come into a room and have his point of view. Sometimes when you are staring at images all day, it’s easy to lose your objectivity, so I relied on Ian’s insight.” Vertovec grades the show on FilmLight’s Baselight.

As with Season 2, GLOW Season 3 was a Red Helium shoot using Red’s IPP2 color pipeline in conjunction with Vertovec’s custom LUTs all the way to post. Teague shot full 8K resolution to accommodate his choice of Cooke anamorphic lenses, desqueezed and finished in a 2:1 ratio.

“For dailies I used an iPad with Moxion, which is perhaps the best dailies viewing platform I’ve ever worked with. I feel like the color is more accurate than other platforms, which is extremely useful for checking out contrast and shadow level. Too many times with dailies you get blacks washed out and highlights blown and you can’t judge anything critical.”

Teague sat in on the grade of the first three of the 10 episodes and then used the app to pull stills and make notes remotely. “With Ian I felt like we were both on the same page. We also had a great DIT [Peter Brunet] who was doing on-set grading for reference and was able to dial in things at a much higher level than I’ve been able to do in the past.”

The most challenging but also rewarding work was shooting the wrestling performances. “We wanted to do something that felt a little bigger, more polished, more theatrical,” Teague says. “The performance space had tiered seating, which gave us challenges and options in terms of moving the cameras. For example, we could use telescoping crane work to reach across the room and draw characters in as they enter the wrestling ring.”

He commends gaffer Eric Sagot for inspiring lighting cues and building them into the performance. “The wrestling scenes were the hardest to shoot but they’re exciting to watch — dynamic, cinematic and deliberately a little hokey in true ‘80s Vegas style.”


Adrian Pennington is a UK-based journalist, editor and commentator in the film and TV production space. He has co-written a book on stereoscopic 3D and edited several publications.

Colorist Chat: Refinery’s Kyle Stroebel

This Cape Town, South Africa-based artist says that “working creatively with a director and DP to create art is a privilege.”

NAME: Colorist Kyle Stroebel

COMPANY: Refinery in Cape Town, South Africa

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
We are a full-service post company in the heart of Cape Town. We specialize in front-end dailies and data solutions, and have a full finishing department with a VFX arm and audio division.

Our work varies from long-form feature and television programming to commercials and music video content. We are a relatively young team that loves what we do.

AS A COLORIST, WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
We are by far the most important members of the team and the creative success of a movie is largely based around our skills! Okay, honestly? I have a shot on my timeline that is currently on version 54, and my client still needs an additional eyelash painted out.

I think the surprising thing to the uninformed is the minute elements that we focus on in detail. It’s not all large brush strokes and emotional gesturing; the images you see have more often than not gone through painstaking hours of crafting and creative processing. For us the beauty is in the detail.

Flatland

WHAT SYSTEM DO YOU WORK ON?
FilmLight’s Baselight

ARE YOU SOMETIMES ASKED TO DO MORE THAN JUST COLOR ON PROJECTS?
We are a small team handling multiple projects simultaneously, and our Baselight suites perform multiple functions as a result. My fellow colorist David Grant and I will get involved in our respective projects early on. We handle conform, VFX pulls and versioning and follow the pipe through until the film or project has cleared QC.

With Baselight’s enhanced toolset and paint functionality, we are now saving our clients both time and money by handling a variety of cleanups and corrections without farming the shots out to VFX or Flame.

Plus, the DI is pretty much the last element in the production process. We’re counselors, confidants and financial advisors. People skills come in really handy. (And a Spotify playlist for most tastes and moods is a prerequisite.)

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
Making something amazing happen with a client’s footage. When they didn’t realize that their own footage could look like what the final product looks like… and sharing in that excitement when it happens.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
Insane deadlines. As our tools have improved, the expectation for lightning-fast turnarounds has increased. I’m a perfectionist with my work and would love to spend days molding certain shots and trying new things. Walking away from a grade and coming back to it is often very fruitful because looking at a complex shot with fresh eyes frequently produces new outlooks and better results. But with hard delivery dates this is becoming seldom-afforded.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
Scuba diving with manta rays in Bali; it’s a testament to how much I love what I do that I’m not doing that every day of my life.

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THIS PROFESSION?
I sometimes wonder that myself when it’s 3am and I’m in a room with no windows for the 17th consecutive hour. Truthfully, I chose it because changing something from the banal to the magnificent gives me joy. Working creatively with a director and DP to create art is a privilege, and the fact that they must sweat and literally bleed to capture the images while I fiddle with the aircon in my catered suite doesn’t hurt.

I was in my third year of film school and brought one of my 16mm projects in to grade with a colorist in telecine. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I knew I wanted to do that.

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
There have been a load of amazing projects recently. Our local industry has been very busy, and we have benefited greatly from that. I recently finished a remake of the cult classic Critters for Warner Bros.

Flatland

Before that I completed a movie called Flatland that premiered at Berlinale and then went to Cannes. There are a few other movies that I can’t chat too much about right now. I also did a short piece by one of South Africa’s biggest directors, Kim Geldenhuys, for the largest blue diamond found in recent history.

Changing of the seasons has also meant a couple of amazing fashion pieces for different fashion houses’ new collections.

HOW DO YOU PREFER TO WORK WITH THE DP/DIRECTOR?
Depends on the project. Depends on the director and DP too, actually. With long-form work,  I love to spend a day or two together with them in the beginning, and then I take a day or two to go over and play with a couple of scenes on my own. From there we should have reached a pretty cohesive vision as to what the directors wants and how I see the footage. Once that vision is aligned, I like to work on my own while listening to loud music and giving everything a more concrete look. Then, ideally, the director returns for a few days at the end, and we get stuck into the minutia.

With commercials, I like working with the director from early in the morning so that we know where we want to go before the agency has input and makes alterations! It’s a fine balancing act.

ANY SUGGESTIONS FOR GETTING THE MOST OUT OF A PROJECT FROM A COLOR PERSPECTIVE?
Have the colorist involved early on. When you begin shooting, have the colorist and DP develop a relationship so that the common vision develops during principal photography. That way, when the edit is locked, you have already experimented with ideas and the DP is shooting for a more precise look.

CAN YOU TALK ABOUT YOUR WORK ON THE WARNER BROS. FILM? EXPLAIN YOUR PROCESS ON THAT? ANY PARTICULARLY CHALLENGING SCENES?
Critters is a cult horror franchise from the late ’80 and early ‘90s. The challenge was to be really dark and moody but still stay true to the original and fit in with modern viewing devices without losing drastic detail. It centers on a lot of practical on-set special effects, something in increasing decline with advancements in CGI. Giving the puppets a lifelike appearance while still making them believable came with quite a few challenges.

HOW DO YOU PREFER THE DP OR DIRECTOR TO DESCRIBE THE LOOK THEY WANT? PHYSICAL EXAMPLES, FILMS TO EMULATE, ETC.?
Practical examples or references are very helpful. Matching something is easy, developing beyond that to give it a unique quality is what keeps it interesting. Certain directors find it easier to work with non-specifics and let me interpret the vibe and mood from more emotional explanations rather than technical jargon. While sometimes harder to initially interpret, that approach has benefits because it’s a bit more open-ended.

Red Bull

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
I love and hate most of the things I work on for a variety of reasons. It’s hard to pick one. Gun to my head? Probably a short film for Red Bull Music by Petite Noir. It was shot by Deon Van Zyl in the Namib desert and had just the most exquisite visuals from the outset. I still watch it when I’m feeling down.

WHERE DO YOU FIND INSPIRATION? ART? PHOTOGRAPHY?
At the risk of sounding like a typical millennial, I use Instagram a heck of a lot. I get to see what the biggest and best colorists are doing around the world. Before Instagram, you would only see pieces of critical acclaim. Now, through Instagram and Vimeo, I get to see so many passion projects in which people are trying new things and pushing boundaries beyond what clients, brands and studios want. I can spend days in galleries and bask in the glory of Caravaggio and Vermeer, but I can also scroll quickly through very contemporary looks, innovations and trends.

Red Bull

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
My phone. I hate it, but my life happens largely through that porthole. My NutriBullet. My Baselight. I’ve never loved an inanimate object like I love my Baselight.

WHAT SOCIAL MEDIA CHANNELS DO YOU FOLLOW?
Instagram as mentioned. I love the work of Joseph Bicknell, Kath Raisch, Sofie Borup, Craig Simonetti, Matt Osborne and then anything that comes from The Mill channel. Also, a wide range of directors and the associated Vimeo links. I can honestly get lost on an obscure Korean channel with magnificent images and languages I don’t understand.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
I run. Even If I’m breaking 90-hour weeks, I always make sure I run three or four times a week. And I love cooking. It’s expressive. I get to make meals for my partner Katherine, who tends to be very receptive.

Perpetual Grace’s DPs, colorist weigh in on show’s gritty look

You don’t have to get very far into watching the Epix series Perpetual Grace LTD to realize just how ominous this show feels. It begins with the opening shots, and by the time you’ve spent a few minutes with the dark, mysterious characters who populate this world — and gathered hints of the many schemes within schemes that perpetuate the story — the show’s tone is clear. With its black-and-white flashbacks and the occasional, gritty flash-forwards, Perpetual Grace gets pretty dark, and the action goes in directions you won’t see coming.

This bizarre show revolves around James (Westworld’s Jimmi Simpson), who gets caught up in what initially seems like a simple con that quickly gets out of control. Sir Ben Kingsley, Jacki Weaver, Chris Conrad and Luis Guzmán also star as an assortment of strange and volatile characters.

The series comes from the minds of executive producer Steve Conrad, who also served in that role on Amazon’s quirky drama Patriot, and Bruce Terris, who was both a writer and a first AD on that show.

These showrunners developed the look with other Patriot veterans: cinematographers James Whitaker and Nicole Hirsch Whitaker, who incorporated colorist Sean Coleman’s input before commencing principal photography.

Coleman left his grading suite at Company 3 in Santa Monica to spend several days at the series’ New Mexico location. While there he worked with the DPs to build customized LUTs for them to use during production. This meant that everyone on set could get a strong sense of how lighting, costumes, sets and locations would read with the show’s signature looks applied.

The Whitakers on set

“I’ve never been able to work with the final colorist this way,” says Whitaker, who also alternated directing duties with Conrad. “It was great having him there on set where we could talk about the subtleties of color. What should the sky look like? What should blood look like? Faces? Clothes? Using Resolve, he made two LUTs — “the main one for the color portions and a different one specifically for the black-and-white parts.”

The main look of the show is inspired by film noir and western movie tropes, and all with a tip of the hat to Roger Deakins’ outstanding work on The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. “For me,” says Whitaker, “it’s about strong contrast, deep blacks and desert colors … the moodier the better. I don’t love very blue skies, but we wanted to keep some tonality there.”

“It’s real sweaty, gritty, warm, nicotine-stained kind of thing,” Coleman elaborates.

“When we showed up in New Mexico,” Whitaker recalls, “all these colors did exist at various times of the day, and we just leaned into them. When you have landscapes with big, blue skies, strong greens and browns, you can lean in the other way and make it overly saturated. We leaned into it the other way, holding the brown earth tones but pulling out some of the color, which is always better for skin tones.”

The LUTs, Whitaker notes, offer a lot more flexibility than the DPs would have if they used optical filters. Beyond the nondestructive aspect of a LUT, it also allows for a lot more complexity. “If you think about a ‘sepia’ or ‘tobacco’ filter or something like that, you think of an overall wash that goes across the entire frame, and I get immediately bored by that. It’s tricky to do something that feels like it’s from a film a long time ago without dating the project you’re working on now; you want a lot of flexibility to get [the imagery] where you want it to go.”

The series was shot in November through February, often in brutally cold environments. Almost the entire series (the present-day scenes and black-and-white flashbacks) was shot on ARRI Alexa cameras in a 2.0:1 aspect ratio. A frequent Whitaker/Hirsch Whitaker collaborator, DIT Ryan Kunkleman applied and controlled the LUTs so the set monitors reflected their effect on the look.

The flash forwards, which usually occur in very quick spurts, were shot on a 16mm Bolex camera using Kodak’s 7203 (50D) and 7207 (250D) color negative film, which was pushed two stops in processing to enhance grain in post by Coleman.

Final color was done at Company 3’s Santa Monica facility, working primarily alongside the Whitakers. “We enhanced the noir look with the strong, detailed blacks,” says Coleman. Even though a lot of the show exudes the dry desert heat, it was actually shot over a particularly cold winter in New Mexico. “Things were sometimes kind of cold-looking, so sometimes we’d twist things a bit. We also added some digital ‘grain’ to sort of muck it up a little.”

For the black and white, Coleman took the color material in Resolve and isolated just the blue channel in order to manipulate it independent of the red and green, “to make it more inky,” he says. “Normally, you might just drain the color out, but you can really go further than that if you want a strong black-and-white look. When you adjust the individual channel, you affect the image in a way that’s similar to the effect of shooting black-and-white film through a yellow filter. It helps us make darker skies and richer blacks.”

Sean Coleman

“We’ve booked a whole lot of hours together, and that provides a level of comfort,” says Hirsch Whitaker about her and Whitaker’s work with Coleman. “He does some wonderful painting [in Resolve] that helps make a character pop in the frame or direct the viewer’s eye to a specific part of the frame. He really enjoys the collaborative element of color grading.”

Whitaker seconds that emotion: “As a cinematographer, I look at color grading a bit like working on set. It’s not a one-person job. It takes a lot of people to make these images.”

Behind the Title: Editor and colorist Grace Novak

One of her favorite parts of the job is when she encounters a hard edit and it finally clicks and falls into place.

NAME: New York-based Grace Novak

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
Editor and Colorist

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
I work with directors/clients to make their project come to life using an editing program. Then during the color process, I bring it even closer to their aesthetic vision.

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
It can include a lot of not-so-creative work like troubleshooting and solving technical problems, especially when doing assistant color/edit work either for myself or for someone else.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
I love the great moment when you push through a hard edit and it finally clicks. I also love getting to collaborate with other great creators and filmmakers and working one-on-one in the editing room. I find it to be a great learning experience.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
When nothing works and I don’t know why. But, luckily, once I figure it out (eventually, hours later sometimes) I’ve learned to solve a new issue.

WHAT IS YOUR MOST PRODUCTIVE TIME OF THE DAY?
Definitely the mornings once I’ve had some coffee. I’m a morning person who is most active around the hours of 8-11. Once lunch hits, it can be hard not to want to take a good midday nap.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
When I was younger, for some reason, I told everyone I wanted to be a barber. I think that’s because I liked using scissors. Seriously, though, I’d probably be working with kids in some way or as an educator. I still hope to teach down the road.

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THIS PROFESSION?
I knew I wanted a job where I could be creative, and with editing I can also be technically proficient. I love the combination of the two.

Dissonance

HOW EARLY ON DID YOU KNOW THIS WOULD BE YOUR PATH?
I always knew I wanted to be involved with film, probably since I was 12. I remember starting to edit on Windows Movie Maker and being enamored with the effects. I especially liked the really awful and gaudy one that went through a gradient of colors. Don’t worry, I would never use something like that now.

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
I’m working on a lot of short indie films right now including Dissonance, Bogalusa and Siren. I’m also an assistant editor on the feature film The Outside Story.

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
Dissonance, a short experimental film that is currently in color right now (with me), is probably the most proud I am of a project purely because of how far it pushed me as an artist, editor and collaborator.

WHAT SOCIAL MEDIA CHANNELS DO YOU FOLLOW?
I follow a lot, but in the post world that includes postPerspective, BCPC and Jonny Elwyn.

DO YOU LISTEN TO MUSIC WHILE YOU WORK?
If I can, I like to listen to podcasts. That’s probably my primary podcast listening time besides at the gym. Obviously, I can only do this during my color work. For music, I like tunes that aren’t too upbeat and more relaxing. For podcasts I like to listen to either comedians or Reply All, Blank Check and Reveal.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
I like to read and play video games. I also started to do cross-stitch recently and it’s nice to find a way to use my hands that doesn’t involve a computer or a controller. I make sure to exercise a lot as well because I find that helps my stress levels like nothing else can.

Color Chat: Light Iron’s Sean Dunckley

Sean Dunckley joined Light Iron New York’s studio in 2013, where he has worked on episodic television and features films. He finds inspiration in many places, but most recently in the photography of Stephen Shore and Greg Stimac. Let’s find out more…

NAME: Sean Dunckley

COMPANY: LA- and NYC-based Light Iron

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
Light Iron is a Panavision company that offers end-to-end creative and technical post solutions. I color things there.

AS A COLORIST, WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
I like to get involved early in the process. Some of the most rewarding projects are those where I get to work with the cinematographer from pre-production all the way through to the final DCP.

Ongoing advances in technology have really put the spotlight on the holistic workflow. As part of the Panavision ecosystem, we can offer solutions from start to finish, and that further strengthens the collaboration in the DI suite. We can help a production with camera and lens choices, oversee dailies and then bring all that knowledge into the final grade.

Recently, I had a client who was worried about the speed of his anamorphics at night. The cinematographer was much more comfortable shooting the faster spherical lenses, but the film and story called for the anamorphic look. In pre-production, I was able to show him how we can add some attributes of anamorphic lenses in post. That project ended up shooting a mix of anamorphic and spherical, delivering on both the practical and artistic needs.

Hulu’s Fyre Fraud doc.

WHAT SYSTEM DO YOU WORK ON?
Filmlight’s Baselight. Its color management tools offer with strong paint capabilities, and the Blackboard 2 panel is very user-friendly.

ARE YOU SOMETIMES ASKED TO DO MORE THAN JUST COLOR ON PROJECTS?
Now that DI systems have expanded their tools, I can integrate last-minute fixes during the DI sessions without having to stop and export a shot to another application. Baselight’s paint tools are very strong and have allowed me to easily solve many client issues in the room. Many times, this has saved valuable time against strict deadlines.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
That’s easy. It is the first day of a new project. It feels like an artistic release when I am working with filmmakers to create style frames. I like to begin the process by discussing the goals of color with the film’s creative team.

I try to get their take on how color can best serve the story. After we talk, we play for a little while. I demonstrate the looks that have been inspired by their words and then form a color palette for the project. During this time, it is just as important to learn what the client doesn’t like as much as what they do like.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
I think the hours can be tough at times. The deadlines we face often battle with the perfectionist in me.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
Architecture is a field I would have loved to explore. It’s very similar, as it is equal parts technical and creative.

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THIS PROFESSION?
I had always been interested in post. I used to cut skateboard videos with friends in high school. In film school, I pursued more of an editing route. After graduation, I got a job at a post house and quickly realized I wanted to deviate and dive into color.

Late Night with Emma Thompson. Photo by Emily Aragones

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
Recent film titles I worked on include Late Night and Brittany Runs a Marathon, both of which got picked up at Sundance by Amazon.

Other recent projects include Amazon Studio’s Life Itself, and the Fyre Fraud documentary on Hulu. Currently, I am working on multiple episodic series for different OTT studios.

The separation that used to exist between feature films, documentaries and episodics has diminished. Many of my clients are bouncing between all types of projects and aren’t contained to a single medium.

It’s a unique time to be able to color a variety of productions. Being innovative and flexible is the name of the game here at Light Iron, and we’ve always been encouraged to follow the client and not the format.

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
It’s impossible to pick a single project. They are all my children!

WHERE DO YOU FIND INSPIRATION?
I go through phases but right now it’s mostly banal photography. Stephen Shore and Greg Stimac are two of my favorite artists. Finding beauty in the mundane has a lot to do with the shape of light, which is very inspiring to me as a colorist.

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
I need my iPhone, Baselight and, of course, my golf course range finder.

WHAT SOCIAL MEDIA CHANNELS DO YOU FOLLOW?
I follow Instagram for visuals, and I keep up with Twitter for my sports news and scores.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
I have young children, so they make sure I leave those stresses back at the office, or at least until they go to bed. I also try to sneak in some golf whenever I can.

Colorist Christopher M. Ray talks workflow for Alexa 65-shot Alpha

By Randi Altman

Christopher M. Ray is a veteran colorist with a varied resume that includes many television and feature projects, including Tomorrowland, Warcraft, The Great Wall, The Crossing, Orange Is the New Black, Quantico, Code Black, The Crossing and Alpha. These projects have taken Ray all over the world, including remote places throughout North America, Europe, Asia and Africa.

We recently spoke with Ray, who is on staff at Burbank’s Picture Shop, to learn more about his workflow on the feature film Alpha, which focuses on a young man trying to survive alone in the wilderness after he’s left for dead during his first hunt with his Cro-Magnon tribe.

Ray was dailies colorist on the project, working with supervising DI colorist Maxine Gervais. Gervais of Technicolor won an HPA Award for her work on Alpha in the Outstanding Color Grading — Feature Film category.

Let’s find out more….

Chris Ray and Maxine Gervais at the HPA Awards.

How early did you get involved in Alpha?
I was approached about working on Alpha right before the start of principal photography. From the beginning I knew that it was going to be a groundbreaking workflow. I was told that we would be working with the ARRI Alexa 65 camera, mainly working in an on-set color grading trailer and we would be using FilmLight’s Daylight software.

Once I was on board, our main focus was to design a comprehensive workflow that could accommodate on-set grading and Daylight software while adapting to the ever-changing challenges that the industry brings. Being involved from the start was actually was a huge perk for me. It gave us the time we needed to design and really fine-tune the extensive workflow.

Can you talk about working with the final colorist Maxine Gervais and how everyone communicated?
It was a pleasure working with Maxine. She’s really dialed in to the demands of our industry. She was able to fly to Vancouver for a few days while we were shooting the hair/makeup tests, which is how we were able to form in-person communication. We were able to sit down and discuss creative approaches to the feature right away, which I appreciated as I’m the type of person that likes to dive right in.

At the film’s conception, we set in motion a plan to incorporate a Baselight Linked Grade (BLG) color workflow from FilmLight. This would allow my color grades in Daylight to transition smoothly into Maxine’s Baselight software. We knew from the get-go that there would be several complicated “day for night” scenes that Maxine and I would want to bring to fruition right away. Using the BLG workflow, I was able to send her single “Arriraw” frames that gave that “day for night” look we were searching for. She was able to then send them back to me via a BLG file. Even in remote locations, it was easy for me to access the BLG grade files via the Internet.

[Maxine Gervais weighs in on working with Ray: “Christopher was great to work with. As the workflow on the feature was created from scratch, he implemented great ideas. He was very keen on the whole project and was able to adapt to the ever-changing challenges of the show. It is always important to have on-set color dialed in correctly, as it can be problematic if it is not accurately established in production.”]

How did you work with the DP? What direction were you given?
Being on set, it was very easy for DP Martin Gschlacht to come over to the trailer and view the current grade I was working on. Like Maxine, Martin already had a very clear vision for the project, which made it easy to work with him. Oftentimes, he would call me over on set and explain his intent for the scene. We would brainstorm ways of how I could assist him in making his vision come to life. Audiences rarely see raw camera files, or the how important color can influence the story being told.

It also helps that Martin is a master of aesthetic. The content being captured was extremely striking; he has this natural intuition about what look is needed for each environment that he shoots. We shot in lush rain forests in British Columbia and arid badlands in Alberta, which each inspired very different aesthetics.

Whenever I had a bit of down time, I would walk over to set and just watch them shoot, like a fly on the wall quietly observing and seeing how the story was unfolding. As a colorist, it’s so special to be able to observe the locations on set. Seeing the natural desaturated hues of dead grass in the badlands or the vivid lush greens in the rain forest with your own eyes is an amazing opportunity many of us don’t get.

You were on set throughout? Is that common for you?
We were on set throughout the entire project as a lot of our filming locations were in remote areas of British Columbia and Alberta, Canada. One of our most demanding shooting locations included the Dinosaur Provincial Park in Brooks, Alberta. The park is a UNESCO World Heritage site that no one had been allowed to film at prior to this project. I needed to have easy access to the site in order to easily communicate with the film’s executive team and production crew. They were able to screen footage in their trailer and we had this seamless back-and-forth workflow. This also allowed them to view high-quality files in a comfortable and controlled environment. Also, the ability to flag any potential issues and address them immediately on set was incredibly valuable with a film of such size and complexity.

Alpha was actually the first time I worked in an on-set grading trailer. In the past I usually worked out of the production office. I have heard of other films working with an on-set trailer, but I don’t think I would say that it is overly common. Sometimes, I wish I could be stationed on set more often.

The film was shot mostly with the Alexa 65, but included footage from other formats. Can you talk about that workflow?
The film was mostly shot on the Alexa 65, but there were also several other formats it was shot on. For most of the shoot there was a second unit that was shooting with Alexa XT and Red Weapon cameras, with a splinter unit shooting B-roll footage on Canon 1D, 5D and Sony A7S. In addition to these, there were units in Iceland and South Africa shooting VFX plates on a Red Dragon.

By the end of the shoot, there were several different camera formats and over 10 different resolutions. We used the 6.5K Alexa 65 resolution as the master resolution and mapped all the others into it.

The Alexa 65 camera cards were backed up to 8TB “sled” transfer drives using a Codex Vault S system. The 8TB transfer drives were then sent to the trailer where I had two Codex Vault XL systems — one was used for ingesting all of the footage into my SAN and the second was used to prepare footage for LTO archival. All of the other unit footage was sent to the trailer via shuttle drives or Internet transfer.

After the footage was successfully ingested to the SAN with a checksum verification, it was ready to be colored, processed, and then archived. We had eight LTO6 decks running 24/7, as the main focus was to archive the exorbitant amounts of high-res camera footage that we were receiving. Just the Alexa 65 alone was about 2.8TB per hour for each camera.

Had you worked with Alexa 65 footage previously?
Many times. A few year ago, I was in China for seven months working on The Great Wall, which was one of the first films to shoot with the Alexa 65. I had a month of in-depth pre-production with the camera testing, shooting and honing the camera’s technology. Working very closely with Arri and Codex technicians during this time, I was able to design the most efficient workflow possible. Even as the shoot progressed, I continued to communicate closely with both companies. As new challenges arose, we developed and implemented solutions that kept production running smoothly.

The workflow we designed for The Great Wall was very close to the workflow we ended up using on Alpha, so it was a great advantage that I had previous experience working in-depth with the camera.

What were some of the challenges you faced on this film?
To be honest, I love a challenge. As a colorist, we are thrown into tricky situations every day. I am thankful for these challenges; they improve my craft and enable me to become more efficient at problem solving. One of the largest challenges that I faced in this particular project was working with so many different units, given the number of units shooting, the size of the footage alone and the dozens of format types needed.

We had to be accessible around the clock, most of us working 24 hours a day. Needless to say, I made great friends with the transportation driving team and the generator operators. I think they would agree that my grading trailer was one of their largest challenges on the film since I constantly needed to be on set and my work was being imported/exported in such high resolutions.

In the end, as I was watching this absolutely gorgeous film in the theater it made sense. Working those crazy hours was absolutely worth it — I am thankful to have worked with such a cohesive team and the experience is one I will never forget.

Efilm’s Natasha Leonnet: Grading Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

By Randi Altman

Sony Pictures’ Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is not your typical Spider-Man film… in so many ways. The most obvious is the movie’s look, which was designed to make the viewer feel they are walking inside a comic book. This tale, which blends CGI with 2D hand-drawn animation and comic book textures, focuses on a Brooklyn teen who is bitten by a radioactive spider on the subway and soon develops special powers.

Natasha Leonnet

When he meets Peter Parker, he realizes he’s not alone in the Spider-Verse. It was co-directed by Peter Ramsey, Robert Persichetti Jr. and Rodney Rothman and produced by Phil Lord and Chris Miller, the pair behind 21 Jump Street and The Lego Movie.

Efilm senior colorist Natasha Leonnet provided the color finish for the film, which was nominated for an Oscar in the Best Animated Feature category. We reached out to find out more.

How early were you brought on the film?
I had worked on Angry Birds with visual effects supervisor Danny Dimian, which is how I was brought onto the film. It was a few months before we started color correction. Also, there was no LUT for the film. They used the ACES workflow, developed by The Academy and Efilm’s VP of technology, Joachim “JZ” Zell.

Can you talk about the kind of look they were after and what it took to achieve that look?
They wanted to achieve a comic book look. You look at the edges of characters or objects in comic books and you actually see aspects of the color printing from the beginning of comic book printing — the CMYK dyes wouldn’t all be the same line — it creates a layered look along with the comic book dots and expression lines on faces, as if you’re drawing a comic book.

For example, if someone gets hurt you put actual slashes on their face. For me it was a huge education about the comic book art form. Justin Thompson, the art director, in particular is so knowledgeable about the history of comic books. I was so inspired I just bought my first comic book. Also, with the overall look, the light is painting color everywhere the way it does in life.

You worked closely Justin, VFX supervisor Danny Dimian and art director Dean Gordon What was that process like?
They were incredible. It was usually a group of us working together during the color sessions — a real exercise in collaboration. They were all so open to each other’s opinions and constantly discussing every change in order to make certain that the change best served the film. There was no idea that was more important than another idea. Everyone listened to each other’s ideas.

Had you worked on an animated film previously? What are the challenges and benefits of working with animation?
I’ve been lucky enough to do all of Blue Sky Studios’ color finishes so far, except for the first Ice Age. One of the special aspects of working on animated films is that you’re often working with people who are fine-art painters. As a result, they bring in a different background and way of analyzing the images. That’s really special. They often focus on the interplay of different hues.

In the case of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, they also wanted to bring a certain naturalism to the color experience. With this particular film, they made very bold choices with their use of color finishing. They used an aspect of color correctors that are used to shift all of the hues and colors; that’s usually reserved for music videos. They completely embraced it. They were basically using color finishing to augment the story and refine their hues, especially time of day and progression of the day or night. They used it as their extra lighting step.

Can you talk about your typical process? Did that differ because of the animated content?
My process actually does not differ when I’m color finishing animated content. Continuity is always at the forefront, even in animation. I use the color corrector as a creative tool on every project.

How would you describe the look of the film?
The film embodies the vivid and magical colors that I always observed in childhood but never saw reflected on the screen. The film is very color intense. It’s as if you’re stepping inside a comic book illustrator’s mind. It’s a mind-meld with how they’re imagining things.

What system did you use for color and why?
I used Resolve on this project, as it was the system that the clients were most familiar with.

Any favorite parts of the process?
My favorite part is from start to finish. It was all magical on this film.

What was your path to being a colorist?
My parents loved going to the cinema. They didn’t believe in babysitters, so they took me to everything. They were big fans of the French new wave movement and films that offered unconventional ways of depicting the human experience. As a result, I got to see some pretty unusual films. I got to see how passionate my parents were about these films and their stories and unusual way of telling them, and it sparked something in me. I think I can give my parents full credit for my career.

I studied non-narrative experimental filmmaking in college even though ultimately my real passion was narrative film. I started as a runner in the Czech Republic, which is where I’d made my thesis film for my BA degree. From there I worked my way up and met a colorist (Biggi Klier) who really inspired me. I was hooked and lucky enough to study with her and another mentor of mine in Munich, Germany.

How do you prefer a director and DP describe a look?
Every single person I’ve worked with works differently, and that’s what makes it so fun and exciting, but also challenging. Every person communicates about color differently and our vocabulary for color is so limited, therein lies the challenge.

Where do you find inspiration?
From both the natural world and the world of films. I live in a place that faces east, and I get up every morning to watch the sunrise and the color palette is always different. It’s beautiful and inspiring. The winter palettes in particular are gorgeous, with reds and oranges that don’t exist in summer sunrises.

Color grading The Favourite

Yorgos Lanthimos’ historical comedy, The Favourite, has become an awards show darling. In addition to winning 10 British Independent Film Awards, it also dominated the BAFTA nominations with 12 nods, including Best Film, Best Director, Best Editing, and Best Cinematography for Robbie Ryan, BSC, ISC, who scored an ASC Award nom as well.

Final picture post on the black comedy was completed by Goldcrest Post in London using DaVinci Resolve Studio. The Century Fox film’s DI was overseen by Goldcrest producer Jonathan Collard, with senior colorist Rob Pizzey providing the grade. He was assisted by Maria Chamberlain, while Russell White completed the online edit.

The film stars Olivia Colman (who one a Golden Globe for her role), Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz.

Lensed by Ryan, The Favourite was shot on a mixture of Kodak 500T 5219 and 200T 5207 film stocks with Timothy Jones of Digital Film Bureau scanning the 35mm film negative for the grade at Goldcrest. To capture the full dynamic range of modern film stock, the 2K ARRI scanner was set to 2.5 density range with drama scanning beginning once the edit was locked.

According to colorist Pizzey, once scanned almost everything seen on-screen exposure-wise is what came straight out of the camera. “Robbie did such an amazing job; there were only a handful of shots where I had to tweak the film grain back a little bit.

“In some respects, grading on film can be harder,” he continues. “It does take a lot more balancing because of variations in the scanning process and film stocks. Conversely, with digital capture you have a pretty good balance to begin with, if you start with the CDL values from the digital rushes process.”

Rob Pizzey

He says the way the director worked was very interesting. “Basically, we kept the images very natural and didn’t rely on too many secondaries. Instead, we focused on manipulating the palette using primary color correction to achieve an organic, naturalistic look. It sounds easy, but in truth, it is quite difficult. We started early testing on some of the dailies, a mix of interior and exterior shots, both day and night, to get an idea of where the director and DP wanted to go. We then pushed on with that into the DI.”

DP Ryan wasn’t able to attend the grade, so it was just Pizzey and the director.

“There was a lot of colorization going on in the bottom end of the picture, whether it’s in the shadows and deep blacks or playing with the highlights to create something that looked interesting,” says Pizzey. “We were ultimately still creating a look, it is just a lot more subtle, which is where the challenge lies.”

Most of the film was shot relying on available light only. “There was hardly any artificial lighting used at all during principal photography,” he reports. “The candlelit scenes at night relied solely on the candles themselves and, as you can imagine, there were a lot of candles. The blacks in those scenes are really inky.”

The night scenes were especially tough to complete, with Pizzey relying on Resolve’s primary grading toolset. “Those scenes are very rich and very warm, so we automatically backed off the warmth and tried to dial it down by adding some desaturation. However, it just didn’t look right,” he explains. “We then stripped the grade back and tried to stay as close to what had come out of the camera as we could, with only a few subtle tweaks here and there.”

Looking to embrace the contrast of the film stock, everything about the grade was all very natural and subtle. “For the first couple of weeks everything was about the primaries, and it was only toward the end of the DI that we began to use window shapes and keys on shots that we couldn’t otherwise get to work using primaries alone.

“There was one scene in particular where Yorgos and Robbie had to go back and shoot it five weeks later. Coming into the grade, there were a number of notable differences between the trees, moving from winter into spring, which meant the trees were beginning to bud.”

The Favourite is in theaters now.