Category Archives: Cinematography

Review: The Litra Torch for pro adventure lighting

By Brady Betzel

If you are on Instagram you’ve definitely seen your fair share of “adventure” photography and video. Typically, it’s those GoPro-themed action-adventure shots of someone cliff diving off a million-mile-high waterfall. I definitely get jealous. Nonetheless, one thing I love about GoPro cameras is their size. They are small enough to fit in your pocket, and they will reliably produce a great image. Where those actioncams suffer is with light performance. While it is getting better every day, you just can’t pull a reliably clean and noise-free image from a camera sensor so small. This is where actioncam lights come into play as a perfect companion, including the Litra Torch.

The Litra Torch is an 800 Lumen, 1.5 by 1.5-inch magnetic light. I first started seeing the tiny light trend on Instagram where people were shooting slow shutter photos at night but also painting certain objects with a tiny bit of light. Check out Litra on Instagram: @litragear to see some of the incredible images people are producing with this tiny light. I saw an action sports person showing off some incredible nighttime pictures using the GoPro Hero. He mentioned in the post that he was using the Litra Torch, so I immediately contacted Litra, and here I am reviewing the light. Litra sent me the Litra Paparazzi Bundle, which retails for $129.99. The bundle includes the Litra Torch,  along with a filter kit and cold shoe mount.

So the Litra Torch has four modes, all accessible by clicking the button on top of the light: 800 Lumen brightness, 450 Lumens, 100 Lumens and flashing. The Torch has a consistent color temperature of 5700 kelvin, essentially the light is a crisp white — right in between blue and yellow. The rechargeable lithium-ion battery can be charged via the micro USB cable and will last up to 30 minutes or more depending on the brightness selected. With a backup battery attached you could be going for hours.

Over a month with intermittent use I only charged it once. One night I had to check out something under the hood of my car and used the Litra Torch to see what I was doing. It is very bright and when I placed the light onto the car I realized it was magnetic! Holy cow. Why doesn’t GoPro put magnets into their cameras for mounting! The Torch also has two ¼-20 camera screw mounts so you can mount them just about anywhere. The construction of the Torch is amazing — it is drop-proof, waterproof and made of a highly resilient aluminum. You can feel the high quality of the components the first time you touch the Torch.

In addition to the Torch itself, the cold shoe mount and diffuser, the Paparazzi Bundle comes with the photo filter kit. The photo filter kit comes with five frames to mount the color filters onto the Torch; three sets of Rosco Tungsten 4600k filters; three sets of Rosco Tungsten 3200k filters; 1 White Diffuser filter; and one each of a red, yellow and green color filter. Essentially, they give you a cheap way to change white balance temperatures and also some awesome color filters to play around with. I can really see the benefit of having at least two if not three of the Litra Torches in your bag with the filter sets; you can easily set up a properly lit product shoot or even a headshot session with nothing more than three tiny Torch lights.

Putting It To The Test
To test out the light in action I asked my son to set-up a Lego scene for me. One hour later I had some Lego models to help me out. I always love seeing people’s Lego scenes on Instagram so I figured this would also be a good way to show off the light and the extra color filters sent in the Paparazzi Bundle. One thing I discovered is that I would love to have a slide-in filter holder that is built onto the light; it would definitely help me avoid wasting time having to pop filters into frames.

All in all, this light is awesome. The only problem is I wish I had three so I could do a full three-point lighting setup. However, with some natural light and one Litra Torch I had enough to pull off some cool lighting. I really liked the Torch as a colored spotlight; you can get that blue or red shade on different objects in a scene quickly.

Summing Up
In the end, the Litra Torch is an amazing product. In the future I would really love to see multiple white balance temperatures built into the Torch without having to use photo filters. Also, a really exciting but probably expensive prospect of building a Bluetooth connection and multiple colors. Better yet, make this light a full-color-spectrum app-enabled light… oh wait, just recently they announced the Litra Pro on Kickstarter. You should definitely check that out as well with it’s advanced options and color profile.

I am spoiled by all of those at home lights, like the LIFX brand, that change to any color you want, so I’m greedy and want those in a sub-$100 light. But those are just wishes — the Litra Torch is a must-have for your toolkit in my opinion. From mounting it on top of my Canon DSLR using the cold shoe mount, to using the magnetic ability and mounting in unique places, as well as using the screw mount to attach to a tripod — the Litra Torch is a mind-melting game changer for anyone having to lug around a 100-pound light kit, which makes this new Kickstarter of the Litra Pro so enticing.

Check out their website for more info on the Torch and new Litra Pro, as well as a bunch of accessories. This is a must-have for any shooter looking to carry a tiny but powerful light anywhere, especially for summer and the outdoors!


Brady Betzel is an Emmy-nominated online editor at Margarita Mix in Hollywood, working on Life Below Zero and Cutthroat Kitchen. You can email Brady at bradybetzel@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @allbetzroff.

Zoe Iltsopoulos Borys joins Panavision Atlanta as VP/GM

Panavision has hired Zoe Iltsopoulos Borys to lead the company’s Atlanta office as vice president and general manager. Borys will oversee day-to-day operations in the region.

Borys’ 25 years of experience in the motion picture industry includes business development for Production Resources Group (PRG), and GM for Fletcher Camera and Lenses (now VER). This is her second turn at Panavision, having served in a marketing role at the company from 1998-2006. She is also an associate member of the American Society of Cinematographers.

Panavision’s Atlanta facilities, located in West Midtown and at Pinewood Studios, supplies camera rental equipment in the southern US, with a full staff of prep technicians and camera service experts. The Atlanta team has provided equipment and services to productions including Avengers: Infinity War, Black Panther, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Baby Driver and Pitch Perfect 3.

DG 7.9.18

Quick Chat: Bill Ferwerda on coloring Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale

The premiere season of the dystopian series The Handmaid’s Tale earned eight Primetime Emmys, two Golden Globes, a Peabody Award and a BAFTA Award. Season 2, which is now streaming on Hulu, expands on Margaret Atwood’s novel of the same name.

For the latest season Deluxe Toronto senior colorist Bill Ferwerda reteamed with series DP Colin Watkinson, who won a Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Cinematography on The Handmaid’s Tale pilot, and also worked with DP Zoe White.

Ferwerda once again delivered HDR and SDR grades for Season 2, following the same palette established for Season One and helping develop looks for new environments, including the polluted Colonies.

“The look of The Handmaid’s Tale is so established and familiar to audiences, there wasn’t a need to reinvent the look for season two, but rather we pick up where season one left off and keep that tension building. I often pulled up season one footage to make sure I was staying true to that original aesthetic and feel,” explains Ferwerda.

Similar to how Ferwerda keyed in the signature “handmaid red” for Season 1 — a creative decision established by Watkinson and director of Season 1, episodes 1-3 Reed Morano — he accentuated a few primary colors in one key element within a scene, maintaining a simple palette and adding contrast to help the wardrobe and set design pop. He used the SDR grade as the guide for the HDR Dolby Vision grade, careful to carry through the intentionally subdued look.

Season 2 introduces The Colonies, a horrific compound where disobedient handmaids are sent to work in incredibly harsh conditions. To underscore the unpleasant environment, Ferwerda played up smoke and atmosphere with harsh contrast, following an aesthetic he helped develop with Watkinson and DIT Ben Whaley. He also accommodated for changing daylight in exterior scenes and footage shot with both Arri Alexa and drone cameras.

Bill Ferwerda

“The Colonies environment is toxic, so I was more aggressive in pushing the contrast; blacks are harder and I balanced a lot of opposite colors, such as adding a pink sky to counter green and different color tones,” explains Ferwerda. “As a fan myself, this was a very exciting project to be part of, and I can attest that season two lives up to its very high expectations.”

Let’s find out more from Ferwerda:

How does your process differ when delivering HDR and SDR?
HDR delivers more detail and clarity in the highlights as opposed to SDR, where the detail can be almost nonexistent. When working on a deliverable that is both HDR and SDR, you have to be aware of the image on both formats at the same time. The reason we do this is that both versions are delivered on one file. That is to say, the SDR is derived from the HDR source.

Using the HDR source, we do a “trim pass” to match the two images minus the highlight detail. Interestingly, in the case of The Handmaids Tale, the creative decision was made that the HDR version would look exactly the same as the SDR version because everyone liked the lack of detail in the highlights. When coloring an episode, we still do the HDR pass first and then trim past to SDR, but we keep it in the SDR parameters.

I know most of the palette from Season 1 remains, but other than The Colonies, what how did you approach environments new to Season 2?
We approach new environments by reviewing the looks that have been applied on set. After this review session, we go through a series of presentations, discussions and tweaks to get exactly what the DP wants.

When the shooting was going on in Toronto, the DPs would come in and sit down with me. Now that the shooting is finished, Deluxe sends the DPs to one of our sister companies in LA or New York (where we know the monitors will match) and does sessions with them there while we have the content and Resolve panels in Toronto.

What about this season stands out to you?
Season 2 was awesome, and I loved all the episodes, but what stands out to me the most is working with the new DP, Zoë White. Colin Watkinson and Zoe would flip-flop between episodes. It was such a pleasure working with her and watching her sink her teeth into the Handmaids’ world!


Our Virtual Color Roundtable

By Randi Altman

The number of things you can do with color in today’s world is growing daily. It’s not just about creating a look anymore, it’s using color to tell or enhance a story. And because filmmakers recognize this power, they are getting colorists involved in the process earlier than ever before. And while the industry is excited about HDR and all it offers, this process also creates its own set of challenges and costs.

To find out what those in the trenches are thinking, we reached out to makers of color gear as well as hands-on colorists with the same questions, all in an effort to figure out today’s trends and challenges.

Company 3 Senior Colorist Stephen Nakamura
Company 3 is a global group of creative studios specializing in color and post services for features, TV and commercials. 

How has the finishing of color evolved most recently?
By far, the most significant change in the work that I do is the requirement to master for all the different exhibition mediums. There’s traditional theatrical projection at 14 footlamberts (fL) and HDR theatrical projection at 30fL. There’s IMAX. For home video, there’s UHD and different flavors of HDR. Our task with all of these is to master the movie so it feels and looks the way it’s supposed to feel and look on all the different formats.

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach. The colorist’s job is to work with the filmmakers and make those interpretations. At Company 3 we’re always creating custom LUTs. There are other techniques that help us get where we need to be to get the most out of all these different display types, but there’s no substitute for taking the time and interpreting every shot for the specific display format.

How has laser projection and HDR impacted the work? And do you feel that DPs are working differently now that laser projection and the home HDR experiences are becoming more relevant?
Not too long ago, a cinematographer could expose an image specifically for one display format — a film print projected at 14fL. They knew exactly where they could place their highlights and shadows to get a precise look onscreen. Today, they’re thinking in terms of the HDR version, where if they don’t preserve detail in the blacks and whites it can really hurt the quality of the image in some of the newer display methods.

I work frequently with Dariuisz Wolski (Sicario: Day of the Soldado, All the Money in the World). We’ve spoken about this a lot, and he’s said that when he started shooting features, he often liked to expose things right at the edge of underexposure because he knew exactly what the resulting print would be like. But now, he has to preserve the detail and fine-tune it with me in post because it has to work in so many different display formats.

There are also questions about how the filmmakers want to use the different ways of seeing the images. Sometimes they really like the qualities of the traditional theatrical standard and really don’t want HDR to look very different and to make the most of the dynamic range. If we have more dynamic range, more light, to work with, it means that in essence we have a larger “canvas” to work on. But you need to take the time to individually treat every shot if you want to get the most out of that “canvas.”

Where do you see the industry moving in the near future?
The biggest change I expect to see is the development of even brighter, higher-contrast exhibition mediums. At NAB, Sony unveiled this wall of LED panels that are stitched together without seams and can display up to 1000 nits. It can be the size of a screen in a movie theater. If that took off, it could be a game changer. If theatrical exhibition gets better with brighter, higher-contrast screens, I think the public will enjoy it, provided that the images are mastered appropriately.

Sicario: Day of the Soldado

What is the biggest challenge you see for the color grading process now and beyond?
As there are more formats, there will be more versions of the master. From P3 to Rec.709 to HDR video in PQ — they all translate color information differently. It’s not just the brightness and contrast but the individual colors. If there’s a specific color blue the filmmakers want for Superman’s suit, or red for Spiderman, or whatever it is, there are multiple layers of challenges involved in maintaining those across different displays. Those are things you have to take a lot of care with when you get to the finishing stage.

What’s the best piece of work you’ve seen that you didn’t work on?
I know it was 12 years ago now, but I’d still say 300, which was colored by Company 3 CEO Stefan Sonnenfeld. I think that was enormously significant. Everyone who has seen that movie is aware of the graphic-novel-looking imagery that Stefan achieved in color correction working with Zack Snyder and Larry Fong.

We could do a lot in a telecine bay for television, but a lot of people still thought of digital color correction for feature films as an extension of the timing process from the photochemical world. But the look in 300 would be impossible to achieve photo-chemically, and I think that opened a lot of people’s minds about the power of digital color correction.

Alt Systems Senior Product Specialist Steve MacMillian
Alt Systems is a systems provider, integrating compositing, DI, networking and storage solutions for the media and entertainment industry.

How has the finishing of color evolved most recently?
Traditionally, there has been such a huge difference between the color finishing process for television production verses for cinematic release. It used to be that a target format was just one thing, and finishing for TV was completely different than finishing for the cinema.

Colorists working on theatrical films will spend most of their efforts on grading for projection, and only after there is a detailed trim pass to make a significantly different version for the small screen. Television colorists, who are usually under much tighter schedules, will often only be concerned with making Rec.709 look good on a standard broadcast monitor. Unless there is a great deal of care to preserve the color and dynamic range of the digital negative throughout the process, the Rec.709 grade will not be suitable for translation to other expanded formats like HDR.

Now, there is an ever-growing number of distribution formats with different color and brightness requirements. And with the expectation of delivering to all of these on ever-tighter production budgets, it has become important to use color management techniques so that the work is not duplicated. If done properly, this allows for one grade to service all of these requirements with the least amount of trimming needed.

How has laser projection and HDR impacted the work?
HDR display technology, in my opinion, has changed everything. The biggest impact on color finishing is the need for monitoring in both HDR and SDR in different color spaces. Also, there is a much larger set of complex delivery requirements, along with the need for greater technical expertise and capabilities. Much of this complexity can be reduced by having the tools that make the various HDR image transforms and complex delivery formats as automatic as possible.

Color management is more important than ever. Efficient and consistent workflows are needed for dealing with multiple sources with unique color sciences, integrating visual effects and color grading while preserving the latitude and wide color gamut of the image.

The color toolset should support remapping to multiple deliverables in a variety of color spaces and luminance levels, and include support for dynamic HDR metadata systems like Dolby and HDR10+. As HDR color finishing has evolved, so has the way it is delivered to studios. Most commonly it is delivered in an HDR IMF package. It is common that Rec.2020 HDR deliverables be color constrained to the P3 color volume and also that Light Level histograms and HDR QC reports be delivered.

Do you feel DPs are working differently now that laser projection and the home HDR experiences are becoming more relevant?
Not as much as you would think. Two things are working against this. First, film and high-end digital cameras themselves have for some time been capturing latitude suitable for HDR production. Proper camera exposure is all that is needed to ensure that an image with a wide enough dynamic range is recorded. So from a capture standpoint, nothing needs to change.

The other is cost. There are currently only a small number of suitable HDR broadcast monitors, and most of these are extremely expensive and not designed well for the set. I’m sure HDR monitoring is being used on-set, but not as much as expected for productions destined for HDR release.

Also, it is difficult to truly judge HDR displays in a bright environment, and cinematographers may feel that monitoring in HDR is not needed full time. Traditionally with film production, cinematographers became accustomed to not being able to monitor accurately on-set, and they rely on their experience and other means of judging light and exposure. I think the main concern for cinematographers is the effect of lighting choices and apparent resolution, saturation and contrast when viewed in HDR.

Highlights in the background can potentially become distracting when displayed at 1000 nits verses being clamped at 100. Framing and lighting choices are informed by proper HDR monitoring. I believe we will see more HDR monitoring on-set as more suitable displays become available.

Colorfront’s Transkoder

Where do you see the industry moving in the near future?
Clearly HDR display technology is still evolving, and we will see major advances in HDR emissive displays for the cinema in the very near future. This will bring new challenges and require updated infrastructure for post as well as the cinema. It’s also likely that color finishing for the cinema will become more and more similar to the production of HDR for the home, with only relatively small differences in overall luminance and the ambient light of the environment.

Looking forward, standard dynamic range will eventually go away in the same way that standard definition video did. As we standardize on consumer HDR displays, and high-performance panels become cheaper to make, we may not need the complexity of HDR dynamic remapping systems. I expect that headset displays will continue to evolve and will become more important as time goes on.

What is the biggest challenge you see for the color grading process now and beyond?
We are experiencing a period of change that can be compared to the scope of change from SD to HD production, except it is happening much faster. Even if HDR in the home is slow to catch on, it is happening. And nobody wants their production to be dated as SDR-only. Eventually, it will be impossible to buy a TV that is not HDR-capable.

Aside from the changes in infrastructure, colorists used to working in SDR have some new skills to learn. I think it is a mistake to do separate grading versions for every major delivery format. Even though we have standards for HDR formats, they will continue to evolve, so post production must evolve too. The biggest challenge is meeting all of these different delivery requirements on budgets that are not growing as fast as the formats.

Northern Lights Flame Artist and Colorist Chris Hengeveld
NY- and SF-based Northern Lights, along with sister companies Mr. Wonderful for design, SuperExploder for composing and audio post, and Bodega for production, offers one-stop-shop services.

How has the finishing of color evolved most recently?
It’s interesting that you use the term “finishing of color.” In my clients’ world, finishing and color now go hand in hand. My commercial clients expect not only a great grade but seamless VFX work in finalizing their spots. Both of these are now often taking place with the same artist. Work has been pushed from just straight finishing with greenscreen, product replacement and the like to doing a grade up to par with some of the higher-end coloring studios. Price is pushing vastly separate disciplines into one final push.

Clients now expect to have a rough look ready not only of the final VFX, but also of the color pass before they attend the session. I usually only do minor VFX tweaks when clients arrive. Sending QuickTimes back and forth between studio and client usually gets us to a place where our client, and their client, are satisfied with at least the direction if not the final composites.

Color, as a completely subjective experience, is best enjoyed with the colorist in the room. We do grade some jobs remotely, but my experience has clearly been that from both time and creativity standpoints, it’s best to be in the grading suite. Unfortunately, recently due to time constraints and budget issues, even higher-end projects are being evaluated on a computer/phone/tablet back at the office. This leads to more iterations and less “the whole is greater than the sum of the parts” mentality. Client interaction, especially at the grading level, is best enjoyed in the same room as the colorist. Often the final product is markedly better than what either could envision separately.

Where do you see the industry moving in the near future?
I see the industry continuing to coalesce around multi-divisional companies that are best suited to fulfill many clients’ needs at once. Most projects that come to us have diverse needs that center around one creative idea. We’re all just storytellers. We do our best to tell the client’s story with the best talent we offer, in a reasonable timeframe and at a reasonable cost.

The future will continue to evolve, putting more pressure on the editorial staff to deliver near perfect rough cuts that could become finals in the not-too-distant future.

Invisalign

The tools continue to level the playing field. More generalists will be trained in disciplines including video editing, audio mixing, graphic design, compositing and color grading. This is not to say that the future of singularly focused creatives is over. It’s just that those focused creatives are assuming more and more responsibilities. This is a continuation of the consolidation of roles that has been going on for several years now.

What is the biggest challenge you see for the color grading process now and beyond?
The biggest challenge going forward is both technical and budgetary. Many new formats have emerged, including the new ProRes RAW. New working color spaces have also emerged. Many of us work without on-staff color scientists and must find our way through the morass of HDR, ACES, Scene Linear and Rec.709. Working with materials that round trip in-house is vastly easier than dealing with multiple shops all with their own way of working. As we collaborate with outside shops, it behooves us to stay at the forefront of technology.

But truth be told, perhaps the biggest challenge is keeping the creative flow and putting the client’s needs first. Making sure the technical challenges don’t get in the way. Clients need to see a seamless view without technical hurdles.

What’s the best piece of work you’ve seen that you didn’t work on?
I am constantly amazed at the quality of work coming out of Netflix. Some of the series are impeccably graded. Early episodes of Bloodline, which was shot with the Sony F65, come to mind. The visuals were completely absorbing, both daytime and nighttime scenes.

Codex VP Business Development Brian Gaffney
Codex designs tools for color, dailies creation, archiving, review and networked attached storage. Their offerings include the new Codex ColorSynth with Keys and the MediaVault desktop NAS.

How has the finishing of color evolved most recently?
While it used to be a specialized suite in a post facility, color finishing has evolved tremendously over the last 10 years with low-cost access to powerful systems like Resolve for use on-set in commercial finishing to final DI color grading. These systems have evolved from being more than just color. Now they are editorial, sound mixing and complete finishing platforms.

How has laser projection and HDR impacted the work?
Offering brighter images in the theatre and the home with laser projection, OLED walls and HDR displays will certainly change the viewers’ experience, and it has helped create more work in post, offering up another pass for grading.

However, brighter images also show off image artifacts and can bring attention to highlights that may already be clipping. Shadow detail that was graded in SDR may now look milky in HDR. These new display mediums require that you spend more time optimizing the color correction for both display types. There is no magic one grade fits all.

Do you feel that DPs are working differently now that laser projection and the home HDR experiences are becoming more relevant?
I think cinematographers are still figuring this out. Much like color correction between SDR and HDR, lighting for the two is different. A window that was purposely blown out in SDR, to hide a lighting rig outside, may show up in HDR, exposing the rig itself. Color correction might be able to correct for this, but unless a cinematographer can monitor in HDR on-set, these issues will come up in post. To do it right, lighting optimization between the two spaces is required, plus SDR and HDR monitoring on-set and near-set and in editorial.

Where do you see the industry moving in the near future?
It’s all about content. With the traditional studio infrastructure and broadcast television market changing to Internet Service Providers (ISPs), the demand for content, both original and HDR remastered libraries, is helping prop up post production and is driving storage- and cloud-based services.

Codex’s ColorSynth and Media Vault

In the long term, if the competition in this space continues and the demand for new content keeps expanding, traditional post facilities will become “secure data centers” and managed service providers. With cloud-based services, the talent no longer needs to be in the facility with the client. Shared projects with realtime interactivity from desktop and mobile devices will allow more collaboration among global-based productions.

What is the biggest challenge you see for the color grading process now and beyond?
Project management — sharing color set-ups among different workstations. Monitoring of the color with proper calibrated displays in both SDR and HDR and in support of multiple deliverables is always a challenge. New display technologies, like laser projection and new Samsung and Sony videowalls, may not be cost effective for the creative community to access for final grading. Only certain facilities may wind up specializing in this type of grading experience, limiting global access for directors and cinematographers to fully visualize how their product will look like on these new display mediums. It’s a cost that may not get the needed ROI, so in the near future many facilities may not be able to support the full demand of deliverables properly.

Blackmagic Director of Sales/Operations Bob Caniglia
Blackmagic creates DaVinci Resolve, a solution that combines professional offline and online editing, color correction, audio post production and visual effects in one software tool.

How has the finishing of color evolved most recently?
The ability to work in 8K, and whatever flavor of HDR you see, is happening. But if you are talking evolution, it is about the ability to collaborate with everyone in the post house, and the ability to do high-quality color correction anywhere. Editors, colorists, sound engineers and VFX artists should not be kept apart or kept from being able to collaborate on the same project at the same time.

New collaborative workflows will speed up post production because you will no longer need to import, export or translate projects between different software applications.

How has laser projection and HDR impacted the work?
The most obvious impact has been on the need for colorists to be using software that can finish a project in whatever HDR format the client asks for. That is the same with laser projection. If you do not use software that is constantly updating to whatever new format is introduced, being able to bid on HDR projects will be hard.

HDR is all about more immersive colors. Any colorist should be ecstatic to be able to work with images that are brighter, sharper and with more data. This should allow them to be even more creative with telling a story with color.

Do you feel that DPs are working differently now that laser projection and the home HDR experiences are becoming more relevant?
As for cinematographers, HDR gives viewers a whole new level of image details. But that hyper reality could draw the viewer from the wanted target in a shot. The beautiful details shining back on a coffee pot in a tracking shot may not be worth worrying about in SDR, but in HDR every shot will create more work for the colorist to make sure the viewer doesn’t get distracted by the little things. For DPs, it means they are going to have to be much more aware of lighting, framing and planning the impact of every possible item and shadow in an image.

Where do you see the industry moving in the near future?
Peace in our time amongst all of the different post silos, because those silos will finally be open. And there will be collaboration between all parts of the post workflow. Everyone — audio, VFX, editing and color correction — can work together on the same project seamlessly.

For example, in our Resolve tool, post pros can move between them all. This is what we see happening with colorists and post houses right now, as each member of the post team can be much more creatively flexible because anyone can explore new toolsets. And with new collaboration tools, multiple assistants, editors, colorists, sound designers and VFX artists can all work on the same project at the same time.

Resolve 15

For a long-term view, you will always have true artists in each of the post areas. People who have mastered the craft and can separate themselves as being color correction artists. What is really going to change is that everyone up and down the post workflow at larger post houses will be able to be much more creative and efficient, while small boutique shops and freelancers can offer their clients a full set of post production services.

What is the biggest challenge you see for the color grading process now and beyond?
Speed and flexibility. Because with everyone now collaborating and the colorist being part of every part of the post process, you will be asked to do things immediately… and in any format. So if you are not able to work in real time or with whatever footage format thrown at you, they will find someone who can.

This also comes with the challenge of changing the old notion that the colorist is one of the last people to touch a project. You will be asked to jump in early and often. Because every client would love to show early edits that are graded to get approvals faster.

FilmLight CEO Wolfgang Lempp
FilmLight designs, creates and manufactures color grading systems, image processing applications and workflow tools for the film and television industry

How has the finishing of color evolved recently?
When we started FilmLight 18 years ago, color management was comparatively simple: Video looked like video, and digital film was meant to look like film. And that was also the starting point for the DCI — the digital cinema standard tried to make digital projection look exactly like conventional cinema. This understanding lasted for a good 10 years, and even ACES today is very much built around film as the primary reference. But now we have an explosion of new technologies, new display devices and new delivery formats.

There are new options in resolution, brightness, dynamic range, color gamut, frame rate and viewing environments. The idea of a single deliverable has gone: There are just too many ways of getting the content to the viewer. That is certainly affecting the finishing process — the content has to look good everywhere. But there is another trend visible, too, which here in the UK you can see best on TV. The color and finishing tools are getting more powerful and the process is getting more productive. More programs than ever before are getting a professional color treatment before they go out, and they look all the better for it.

Either way, there is more work for the colorist and finishing house, which is of course something we welcome.

How has laser projection and HDR impacted the work?
Laser projection and HDR for cinema and TV are examples of what I described above. We have the color science and the tools to move comfortably between these different technologies and environments, in that the color looks “right,” but that is not the whole story.

The director and DP will choose to use a format that will best suit their story, and will shoot for their target environment. In SDR, you might have a bright window in an interior scene, for example, which will shape the frame but not get in the way of the story. But in HDR, that same window will be too bright, obliterate the interior scene and distract from the story. So you would perhaps frame it differently, or light up the interior to restore some balance. In other words, you have to make a choice.

HDR shouldn’t be an afterthought, it shouldn’t be a decision made after the shoot is finished. The DP wants to keep us on the edge of our seats — but you can’t be on the edge in HDR and SDR at the same time. There is a lot that can be done in post, but we are still a long way from recreating the multispectral, three-dimensional real world from the output of a camera.

HDR, of course, looks fantastic, but the industry is still learning how to shoot for best effect, as well as how to serve all the distribution formats. It might well become the primary mastering format soon, but SDR will never go away.

Where do you see the industry moving in the future?
For me, it is clear that as we have pushed resolution, frame rate, brightness and color gamut, it has affected the way we tell stories. Less is left to the imagination. Traditional “film style” gave a certain pace to the story, because there was the expectation that the audience was having to interpret, to think through to fill in the black screen in between.

Now technology has made things more explicit and more immersive. We now see true HDR cinema technology emerging with a brightness of 600 nits and more. Technology will continue to surge forward, because that is how manufacturers sell more televisions or projectors — or even phones. And until there is a realistic simulation of a full virtual reality environment, I don’t see that process coming to a halt. We have to be able to master for all these new technologies, but still ensure compatibility with existing standards.

What is the biggest challenge for color grading now and in the future?
Color grading technology is very much unfinished business. There is so much that can be done to make it more productive, to make the content look better and to keep us entertained.

Blackboard

As much as we might welcome all the extra work for our customers, generating an endless stream of versions for each program is not what color grading should be about. So it will be interesting to see how this problem will be solved. Because one way or another, it will have to be. But while this is a big challenge, it hopefully isn’t what we put all our effort into over the coming years.

BlackboardThe real challenge is to understand what makes us appreciate certain images over others. How composition and texture, how context, noise and temporal dynamics — not just color itself — affect our perception.

It is interesting that film as a capture medium is gaining popularity again, especially large-format capture. It is also interesting that the “film look” is still precious when it comes to color grading. It puts all the new technology into perspective. Filmmaking is storytelling. Not just a window to the world outside, replaced by a bigger and clearer window with new technology, but a window to a different world. And the colorist can shape that world to a degree that is limited only by her imagination.

Olympusat Entertainment Senior DI Colorist Jim Wicks
A colorist since 2007, Jim has been a senior DI colorist at Olympusat Entertainment since 2011. He has color restored hundreds of classic films and is very active in the color community.

How has the finishing of color evolved most recently?
The phrase I’m keying in on in your question is “most recently.” I believe the role of a colorist has been changing exponentially for the last several years, maybe longer. I would say that we are becoming, if we haven’t already, more like finishing artists. Color is now just one part of what we do. Because technologies are changing more rapidly than at any time I’ve witnessed, we now have a lot to understand and comprehend in addition to just color. There is ACES, HDR, changing color spaces, integrating VFX workflows into our timelines, laser projection and so on. The list isn’t endless, and it’s growing.

How has laser projection and HDR impacted the work?
For the time being, they do not impact my work. I am currently required to deliver in Rec.709. However, within that confine I am grading a wider range of media than ever before, such as 2K and 4K uncompressed DPX; Phantom Digital Video Files; Red Helium 8K in the IPP2 workspace; and much more. Laser projection and HDR is something that I continue to study by attending symposiums, or wherever I can find that information. I believe laser projection and HDR are important to know now. When the opportunity to work with laser projection and HDR is available to me, I plan to be ready.

Do you feel that DPs are working differently now that laser projection and the home HDR experiences are becoming more relevant?
Of course! At the very heart of every production, the cinematographer is the creator and author of the image. It is her creative vision. The colorist is the protector of that image. The cinematographer entrusts us with her vision. In this respect, the colorist needs to be in sync with the cinematographer as never before. As cinematographers move because of technology, so we move. It’s all about the deliverable and how it will be displayed. I see no benefit for the colorist and the cinematographer to not be on the same page because of changing technology.

Where do you see the industry moving in the near future and the long-range future?
In the near future: HDR, laser projection, 4K and larger and larger formats.

In the long-range future: I believe we only need to look to the past to see the changes that are inevitably ahead of us.

Technological changes forced film labs, telecine and color timers to change and evolve. In the nearly two decades since O Brother Where Art Thou? we no longer color grade movies the way we did back when the Coen classic was released in 2000. I believe it is inevitable: Change begets change. Nothing stays the same.

In keeping with the types of changes that came before, it is only a matter of time before today’s colorist is forced to change and evolve just as those before us were forced to do so. In this respect I believe AI technology is a game-changer. After all, we are moving towards driverless cars. So, if AI advances the way we have been told, will we need a human colorist in the future?

What is the biggest challenge you see for the color grading process now and beyond?
Not to sound like a “get off my lawn rant,” but education is the biggest challenge, and it’s a two-fold problem. Firstly, at many fine film schools in the US color grading is not taught as a degree-granting course, or at all.

Secondly, the glut of for-profit websites that teach color grading courses have no standardized curriculum, which wouldn’t be a problem, but at present there is no way to measure how much anyone actually knows. I have personally encountered individuals who claim to be colorists and yet do not know how to color grade. As a manager I have interviewed them — their resumes look strong, but their skills are not there. They can’t do the work.

What’s the best piece of work you’ve seen that you didn’t work on?
Just about anything shot by Roger Deakins. I am a huge fan of his work. Mitch Paulson and his team at Efilm did great work on protecting Roger’s vision for Blade Runner 2049.

Colorist David Rivero
This Madrid-born colorist is now based in China. He color grades and supervises the finishing of feature films and commercials, normally all versions, and often the trailers associated with them.

How has the finishing of color evolved most recently?
The line between strictly color grading and finishing is getting blurrier by the year. Although it is true there is still a clearer separation in the commercial world, on the film side the colorist has become the “de facto” finishing or supervising finishing artist. I think it is another sign of the bigger role the color grading is starting to play in post.

In the last two to three years I’ve noticed that fewer clients are looking at it as an afterthought, or as simply “color matching.” I’ve seen how the very same people went from a six- to seven-day DI schedule five years ago to a 20-day schedule now. The idea that spending a relatively small amount of extra time and budget on the final step can get you a far superior result is finally sinking in.

The tools and technology are finally moving into a “modern age” of grading:
– HDR is a game changer on the image-side of things, providing a noticeable difference for the audience and a different approach on our side on how to deal with all that information.

– The eventual acceptance by all color systems of what was traditionally compositing or VFX tools is also a turning point, although controversial. There are many that think that colorists should focus on grading. However, I think that rather than colorists becoming compositors, it is the color grading concept and mission that is (still) evolving.

How has laser projection and HDR impacted the work? And do you feel that DPs are working differently now that laser projection and the home HDR experiences are becoming more relevant?
Well, on my side of the world (China), the laser and HDR technologies are just starting to get to the public. Cinematographers are not really changing how they work yet, as it is a very small fraction of the whole exhibition system.

As for post, it requires a more careful way of handling the image, as it needs higher quality plates, compositions, CG, VFX, a more careful grade, and you can’t get away with as many tricks as you did when it was just SDR. The bright side is the marvelous images, and how different they can be from each other. I believe HDR is totally compatible with every style you could do in SDR, while opening the doors to new ones. There are also different approaches on shooting and lighting for cinematographers and CG artists.

Goldbuster

The biggest challenge it has created has been on the exhibition side in China. Although Dolby cinemas (Vision+Atmos) are controlled and require a specific pass and DCP, there are other laser projection theaters that show the same DCP being delivered to common (xenon lamp) theaters. This creates a frustrating environment. For example, during the 3D grading, you not only need to consider the very dark theaters with 3FL-3.5FL, but also the new laser rooms that are racking up their lamps to show off why they charge higher ticket prices with to 7FL-8FL.

Where do you see the industry moving in the near future and the long-range future?
I hope to see the HDR technologies settling and becoming the new standard within the next five to six years, and using this as the reference master from which all other deliveries are created. I also expect all these relative new practices and workflows (involving ACES, EXRs with the VFX/CG passes, non-LUT deliveries) to become more standardized and controlled.

In the long term, I could imagine two main changes happening, closely related to each other:
– The concept of grading and colorist, especially in films or long formats, evolving in importance and relationship within the production. I believe the separation or independence between photography and grading will get wider (and necessary) as tools evolve and the process is more standardized. We might get into something akin to how sound editors and sound mixers relate and work together on the sound.

– The addition of (serious) compositing in essentially all the main color systems is the first step towards the possibilities of future grading. A feature like the recent FaceRefinement in Resolve is one of the things I dreamed about five or six years ago.

What is the biggest challenge you see for the color grading process now and beyond?
Nowadays one of the biggest challenges is possibly the multi-mastering environment, with several versions on different color spaces, displays and aspect ratios. It is becoming easier, but it is still more painful than it should be.

Shrinking margins is something that also hurts the whole industry. We all work thanks to the benefits, but cutting on budgets and expecting the same results is not something that is going to happen.

What’s the best piece of work you’ve seen that you didn’t work on?
The Revanant, Mad Max, Fury and 300.

Carbon Colorist Aubrey Woodiwiss
Full-service creative studio Carbon has offices in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.

How has the finishing of color evolved most recently?
It is always evolving, and the tools are becoming ever more powerful, and camera formats are becoming larger with more range and information in them. Probably the most significant evolution I see is a greater understanding of color science and color space workflows.

How has laser projection and HDR impacted the work? And do you feel that DPs are working differently now that laser projection and the home HDR experiences are becoming more relevant?
These elements impact how footage is viewed and dealt with in post. As far as I can see, it isn’t affecting how things are shot.

Where do you see the industry moving in the near future? What about in the long-range future?
I see formats becoming larger, viewing spaces and color gamuts becoming wider, and more streaming- and laptop-based technologies and workflows.

What is the biggest challenge you see for the color grading process now and beyond?
The constant challenge is integrating the space you traditionally color grade in to how things are viewed outside of this space.

What’s the best piece of work you’ve seen that you didn’t work on?
Knight of Cups, directed by Terrence Malick with cinematography by Emanuel Lubezki.

Ntropic Colorist Nick Sanders
Ntropic creates and produces work for commercials, music videos, and feature films as well as experiential and interactive VR and AR media. They have locations in San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York City.

How has the finishing of color evolved most recently?
SDR grading in Rec.709 and 2.4 Gamma is still here, still looks great, and will be prominent for a long time. However, I think we’re becoming more aware of how exciting grading in HDR is, and how many creative doors it opens. I’ve noticed a feeling of disappointment when switching from an HDR to an SDR version of a project, and wondered for a second if I’m accidentally viewing the ungraded raw footage, or if my final SDR grade is actually as flat as it appears to my eyes. There is a dramatic difference between the two formats.

HDR is incredible because you can make the highlights blisteringly hot, saturate a color to nuclear levels or keep things mundane and save those heavier-handed tools in your pocket for choice moments in the edit where you might want some extra visceral impact.

How has laser projection and HDR impacted the work? And do you feel that DPs are working differently now that laser projection and the home HDR experiences are becoming more relevant?
In one sense, cinematographers don’t need to do anything differently. Colorists are able to create high-quality SDR and HDR interpretations of the exact same source footage, so long as it was captured in a high-bit-depth raw format and exposed well. We’re even seeing modern HDR reimaginings of classic films. Movies as varied in subject matter as Saving Private Ryan and the original Blade Runner are coming back to life because the latitude of classic film stocks allows it. However, HDR has the power to greatly exaggerate details that may have otherwise been subtle or invisible in SDR formats, so some extra care should be taken in projects destined for HDR.

Extra contrast and shadow detail mean that noise is far more apparent in HDR projects, so ISO and exposure should be adjusted on-set accordingly. Also, the increased highlight range has some interesting consequences in HDR. For example, large blown-out highlights, such as overexposed skies, can look particularly bad. HDR can also retain more detail and color in the upper ranges in a way that may not be desirable. An unremarkable, desaturated background in SDR can become a bright, busy and colorful background in HDR. It might prove distracting to the point that the DP may want to increase his or her key lighting on the foreground subjects to refocus our attention on them.

Panasonic “PvP”

Where do you see the industry moving in the near future? What about the long-range future?
I foresee more widespread adoption of HDR — in a way that I don’t with 3D and VR — because there’s no headset device required to feel and enjoy it. Having some HDR nature footage running on a loop is a great way to sell a TV in Best Buy. Where the benefits of another recent innovation, 4K, are really only detectable on larger screens and begin to deteriorate with the slightest bit of compression in the image pipeline, HDR’s magic is apparent from the first glance.

I think we’ll first start to see HDR and SDR orders on everything, then a gradual phasing out of the SDR deliverables as the technology becomes more ubiquitous, just like we saw with the standard definition transition to HD.

For the long-range, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a phasing out of projectors as LED walls become more common for theater exhibitions due to their deeper black levels. This would effectively blur the line between technologies available for theater and home for good.

What is the biggest challenge you see for the color grading process now and beyond?
The lack of a clear standard makes workflow decisions a little tricky at the moment. One glaring issue is that consumer HDR displays don’t replicate the maximum brightness of professional monitors, so there is a question of mastering one’s work for the present, or for the near future when that higher capability will be more widely available. And where does this evolution stop? 4,000 nits? 10,000 nits?

Maybe a more pertinent creative challenge in the crossover period is which version to grade first, SDR or HDR, and how to produce the other version. There are a couple of ways to go about it, from using LUTs to initiate and largely automate the conversion to starting over from scratch and regrading the source footage in the new format.

What’s the best piece of work you’ve seen that you didn’t work on?
Chef’s Table on Netflix was one of the first things I saw in HDR; I still think it looks great!

Main Image: Courtesy of Jim Wicks.


Color for Feature Films

By Karen Maierhofer

Just as with episodic series, making the right color choices can greatly impact a film and its storytelling. While the look and mood of a project is set by the director and DP, colorists face creative decisions while delivering those desired results, even when nature or other factors prevent it from being captured on set.

As a result of their work, colorists help set the atmosphere, tone, emotion and depth of a project. They help guide storylines and audiences’ reactions to what is playing out on screen. They can make us happy, sad, scared or thrilled. And, they can make us fall in love, or out of love, with a character.

Here we look at three tent-pole films and their color process.

Deadpool 2
Like the original film, Deadpool 2 is colorful, especially when it comes to the overall tone of the character and action. However, that was the focus of the writers. Deluxe’s Efilm colorist, Skip Kimball, was concerned with the visual look of the movie, one that delivered a filmic style for the over-the-top destruction and gore playing out on the screen.

Amid the movie’s chaos, Kimball used understated saturation and limited contrast, with minimal stylization to preserve the on-set lighting choices of DP Jonathan Sela.

Skip Kimball

The working relationship between Kimball and Sela dates back nearly 15 years and spans several projects, including The Omen, Die Hard 5 and Max Payne, resulting in an informal shorthand of sorts between the two that enables them to dial in looks quickly. “Jonathan’s work is consistently great, and that makes my job easier. I simply help his on-set choices shine further,” says Kimball.

Despite the popularity of the original Deadpool, which Kimball did not work on, there was no directive to use that film as a guide for the sequel. Kimball attacked Deadpool 2 using Blackmagic Resolve, working with the raw camera footage whenever possible, as long as it was not a visual effects shot. “I get what the DP had exposed onto my screen, and then the DP and director come in and we discuss the look and feel of their project. Then I just kind of make things happen on the screen,” Kimball says, noting he prefers to work alongside the DP and director in the same room, as he can pick up on certain body language, “so I am making a change before they ask for it.”

At times, the DP and director will provide stills of examples they have in mind for certain shots, although mostly Kimball gets his direction from discussions they have. And that is exactly how they proceeded with Deadpool 2 — through discussions with the DP mostly. “It was kind of desaturated and low contrast in spots, while other shots had a lot more chroma in them, depending on the scene,” says Kimball.

One sequence Kimball particularly likes in the film is the prison scene with Deadpool and the young mutant Firefist. “It’s just a different look, with lots of cyans and greens. It’s not a typical look,” he says. “We were trying to make it feel uncomfortable, not a pleasant place to be.”

According to Kimball, the biggest challenge he faced on Deadpool 2 was managing all the VFX drop-ins. This required him to start with plates in his timeline, then update it accordingly as VFX shots were delivered from multiple vendors. In some instances, Kimball blended multiple versions of the effects to achieve director David Leitch’s vision. “There were a lot of VFX houses working on various shots, and part of my job is to help get them all to flow and look [unified],” he adds.

One of those VFX vendors was Efilm’s sister company, Method Studios, which provided approximately 300 VFX shots. As Kimball points out, it is more convenient when the VFX are done in-house with the coloring. “You can walk down the hall and bring [the VFX team] in to show them what you’re doing with their shots,” he says. “When it’s done out of house and you want to grade something a certain way and have to push it so far to where it breaks the visual effect, then you have to get them on the phone and ask them come in or send them examples of where the scene is going.”

In addition to Deadpool 2’s overall cinematic style, the film contains unique flashback and afterlife sequences that are differentiated from the main action through varied light and color. A lot of the afterlife glow was accomplished on set through in-camera filters and angled light rays, though Kimball augmented that further through additional glow, warm sepia tones and light VFX within Resolve.

“They wanted it to stand out and the audience to recognize immediately that it is a flashback,” he explains. “It was fun to create because that was all done in Resolve, with color correction and power windows, along with the OpenFX plug-ins.” Kimball explains he blurred unimportant scene elements and used a tilt lens effect. “For color, they went with a desaturated cyan feel and warmth in the highlights to create a dreamy quality that’s also a bit spooky,” he adds.

This film required many output formats — UHD, HD, HDR10 and IMAX. In addition, Kimball color graded all the promotional trailers, home entertainment release, and the related music video for Celine Dion’s Ashes.

When asked what sets this project apart from many of the others he has done, Kimball pondered the answer before responding, “It’s hard to say because it is all instinctual to me.”

Fans have many favorite scenes in the film, but for Kimball, it’s not so much about the individual sequences that make the movie memorable, but rather it’s about bringing it all together and making everything flow. He adds, “Executing the vision of the director, you know.”

Black Panther
One of the hottest movies of the year so far is Marvel’s Black Panther, a film about a prince who, after the death of his father, returns home to the African nation of Wakanda to take his rightful place as king. His path isn’t easy, though, and he must fight for the right to lead his people. Technicolor colorist Maxine Gervais was charged with creating a distinctive look as the movie jumped from conventional cities to the isolated, yet technologically advanced, nation of Wakanda. To handle the huge workload, her team called on a network of six or more FilmLight Baselight color grading workstations, operating simultaneously.

Maxine Gervais

“We knew that this was a fantasy movie with big themes and a strong story,” says Gervais, adding that since the film wasn’t an established franchise but a completely new departure, it gave the team more creative freedom. On most Marvel movies you have a sequel to match. Characters’ wardrobes, skin colors, sets, but on Black Panther everything was new so we didn’t have to match a particular aesthetic. We were creating a new world. The only scene where we needed to somewhat match in tones was to Captain America: Civil War, a flashback of Black Panther’s father’s death. Everything else was literally a ‘blank’ canvas in some ways — rich warm tones, colorful, darker filmic scenes.”

Gervais worked very closely with Oscar-nominated cinematographer Rachel Morrison, ASC, (Mudbound) to create colors that would follow the film’s story. “We wanted the film and photography to feel real, unlike most superhero movies,” explains Morrison. “Our aim was to highlight the beauty of Africa. And like all of our work, we were hoping for a subjectivity and clear point of view.”

Black Panther has very distinct settings and looks,” added Gervais. “Wakanda is this magical, futuristic African nation, with a lush colorful world the audience has never experienced. Then you have the darker reality of cityscapes in Oakland, plus the lab scenes, which have a more sterile look with cooler colors and tones.”

According to Gervais, for her, the most demanding part of the grade was the jungle scenes. “It was shot at night, so to keep all the detail we needed to see, and to make it feel organic, I ended up grading in multiple levels.” Cinematographer Morrison agrees: “The jungle scene was the biggest challenge. It was shot interior on a sound stage and had a bit of a ‘set’ feel to it. We knocked everything down and then really worked to amplify the contrast in the background.”

“We were both looking for a high sensitivity for contrast, deep blacks and shadows and a strong, rich image. I think we achieved that very well,” says Gervais. “The way we did this was almost in reverse engineering. We isolated a different part of the image to bring it up or down add contrast or remove it. You don’t want the cars to be shiny; you want minimum light reflection on cars, but you do want a bit of moonlight hitting foliage, etc. You want to see faces but everything should still be very dark as it is deep in a forest. We took down strong highlights but we also added highlights where they were mostly absent. I followed Rachel’s directions on this and worked it until she was happy with it.”

Looking back on how it started, Gervais says, “We first looked at an Avid output of the movie with Ryan (Coogler), Rachel and executives. Some of the VFX had a CDL applied from Ryan’s notes. As the movie played we could all call out comments, ideas. I wrote down everything to have a general feel for what was being said, and for my first pass Rachel gave me some notes about specific scenes where she was after a rich contrast look. This was very much a team effort. Before any supervised session with director, DP and executives, I would sit with 3D supervisor Evan Jacobs and VFX supervisor Geoffrey Baumann and review my first pass with notes that were taken from session to session. This way, we could make sure we were all going down the right path. Ryan and Rachel are wonderful to work with. They are both passionate and have a strong vision of what they want. I really enjoyed working with them — we were all new to the Marvel world.”

When it came to deliverables, multiple variations were required: 2D and 3D, laser projector as well as standard digital cinema. It is also available in IMAX, and of course there are multiple home video versions as well. “To complete all the work within the tight deadline, we extended the team for the first time in my career,” explains Gervais. “My assistant colorist Jeff Pantaleo and I went on to rotoscoping a lot of the shots and tried to avoid using too many mattes so it would simplify other deliveries like 3D. Then we had a team dedicated to offset all the shapes for 3D. Thankfully, Baselight 5.0 includes tools to speed up the way shapes are translated, so this helped a great deal. We ended up with a huge number of layers and shapes.

Creating the futuristic scenes and superhero action inevitably meant that the movie was highly reliant on VFX, featuring 2,500 shots within 134 minutes. Ensuring that the large team could keep track of VFX required extensions to Baselight’s Categories function, which made it immediately obvious which shots were temporary and which were final on the client monitor. This proved essential to keeping the project on track.

Overall, Gervais loved her first Marvel movie, and all the challenges it brought. “It was an amazing experience to work with all these talented people,” she says. “On Black Panther, I used way more composite grading than I have ever done before, blending many layers. I had to push the technology and push myself to find ways to make it work. And I think it turned out pretty good.”

Gervais has also employed Baselight on some upcoming titles, including Albert Hughes’ Alpha and director Robert Zemeckis’ Welcome to Marwen.

Solo: A Star Wars Story
One of the most revered movie series in history is Star Wars. Fans are not simply fans, they are superfans who hold dearly all tenets associated with the franchise — from the details of the ships to the glow of the lasers to the nuances of the characters and more. So, when color grading a film in the Star Wars universe, the colorist has to appease not only the DP and director, but also has to be cognizant of the galaxy of fans with their ultra-critical eye.

Joe Gawler

Such was the pressure facing Joe Gawler when color grading the recent Solo: A Star Wars Story, one of the two stand-alone Star Wars features. Directed by Ron Howard, with cinematography by Bradford Young, Solo follows the antics of young Han Solo and his gang of smugglers as they plan to steal coaxium from the planet Kessel.

While on the project, Gawler was immersed in the lore of Star Wars from many fronts, including working out of the famed Skywalker Ranch. “The whole creative team was at the Ranch for four weeks to get the color done,” he says, attributing the film’s large amount of visual effects for the extended timeframe. “As the new shots were rolling in from ILM, we would add them into the timeline and continue color grading.”

Harbor Picture Company’s Gawler, who usually works out of the studio’s New York office, stepped into this production during its early stages, visiting the London set where he, along with Young, helped finalize the aesthetic and look for the show’s look-up table, through which the movie would be lit on set and dailies would be created. Meanwhile, on set, any changes the dailies colorist Darren Rae made were passed through to VFX and to final color as a CDL (color decision list) file.

In fact, Solo introduced a number of unique factors to Gawler’s typical workflow. Among them was working on a film with so many visual effects — a hallmark of any Star Wars feature, but far more than any production he has color corrected in the past. Also, while he and Young participated in tweaking the LUT, it was created by ILM senior image and process engineer J. Schulte. Indeed, the film’s color pipeline was both developed and managed through ILM, where those fabled visual effects were crafted.

“That was something new to me,” Gawler says about the pipeline establishment. “There were some specific lasers, lights and things that are all part of the Star Wars world that were critical to ILM, and we had to make sure we got just the right hue and level of saturation. Those kinds of colors can get a little crazy if they’re not managed properly through the color science,” he explains. “But the way they managed the color and the way the shots came in from ILM was so smooth and the work so good that it moved like principal photography through the process, which isn’t always the case with visual effects, in my experience.”

So, by the time Gawler was at Skywalker Ranch, he had an informed timeline and CDL values, such as the actual dailies and decisions made for the production, already sitting inside his color correction, ready for him to decide what to use. He then spent a few days balancing out the shots before Young joined him and they dug in. “We’ve been working together for such a long time, and there’s a level of trust between us,” Gawler says of his relationship with the DP.

The pair started working together on an indie project called Pariah — which won the Excellence in Cinematography: Dramatic at Sundance in 2011 — and continued to do so as their resumes grew. Last year, they worked together on Arrival (2016), which led to a Best Cinematography Academy Award nomination for Young. “And now, holy cow, he is shooting a Star Wars film,” says Gawler. “It’s been one of those special relationships everyone dreams of having, where you find a director of photography you connect with, and you go places together.”

Gawler used Resolve for his color grading. He and Young would work alongside each other for a few days, then would meet with Howard. “It is such a big movie, and I was really pleasantly surprised at what a creatively collaborative experience it was,” he notes. “Ron respects Bradford, his editors, his sound mixers and me as a colorist, so he would take in whatever we were presenting to him and then comment. Everyone had such a wonderful energy on the show. It felt like every single person on the VFX team, editorial team, director, producers, Bradford and I were all rowing the boat in the same direction.”

The work Gawler does with Young is kept as natural as possible, with the light that is available. “His work is so good that we generally refrain from doing too much power windowing and secondaries. We only do that when absolutely necessary,” he says. “We try to keep more of a photo-chemical feel to the images, like you would have if you printed on film.”

Young, Gawler contends, is known for a dark, underlit aesthetic. But on this particular film, they didn’t want to go too dark — though it does have Young’s classic underlit, subtle hue. “We were making an effort to print up the image, so it almost felt like it had been flashed in processing,” he explains. “We had to find that balance of having it bright enough to see things we needed to see clearly, without compromising how Bradford shot the movie to begin with. The image is very committed; it’s not the most flexible thing to make his photography look like 20 different things.”

As a result, plenty of time was spent with the on-set lighting. “So, a lot of the work was just staying true to what was done on the day of the shoot,” he adds.

Solo is like most Star Wars films, with diverse locations and setups, though there are a few scenes that stand out in Gawler’s mind, including the one at the beginning of the film with the underground lair of Lady Proxima, which shows tunnels spanning the city. The sequence was shot with a blacklight, with lots of blues and purples. “We had a very narrow bandwidth of color to work with, but we wanted to back away from it feeling too electric to something that felt more organic,” he explains. “We spent a lot of time homing in on what kind of saturation and formality it would have.”

The scene Gawler spent the most time on, though, was the heist aboard a special train that weaves through snow-capped mountains. “That’s the biggest, longest, most cutty action sequence in the entire movie,” he says. “We had all these exterior plates shot in the Dolomites [in Spain]. We spent a tremendous amount of time just trying to get everything to match just right on the cut.”

All told, Gawler estimates the sequence alone contains 600 to 700 cuts. And he had to create a progression, wherein the characters drop down on top of the train before dawn’s first light, when it’s dark and cool, and the heist occurs during sunrise as the train rounds a bend. “We made sure they were happy with how every shot cut from one to the next and how it progressed [time-wise]. It was probably our biggest challenge and our biggest success,” he says. “It really gets the audience going.”

Most of Solo’s scenes were shot on stage, in highly controlled environments. However, scenes that occur on the planet Savareen were filmed in the Canary Islands, where wind and weather became factors, with shifting clouds and light. “I felt that it was one of the few spots in the movie where it was up to the colorist to try and pull all these different types of shots together,” notes Gawler, “and it was beautiful. It felt a little like a Western, with this standoff. It comes right after a chase with the TIE fighters and Millennium Falcon in space, and then Boom! You’re on this desert-like planet with a blaring sun and sand and dust everywhere.”

Another standout for Gawler was the large number of deliverables. Once the master was locked and approved (the grade was done in 4K) with support from Efilm in Hollywood, they had to sit with an IMAX colorist to make sure the work translated properly to that format. Then they moved to Dolby Vision, whose laser projector has a much greater range of contrast and brightness than a halogen digital cinema projector. “I give credit to J Schulte at ILM. He had these output display lookup tables for each flavor of delivery. So, it wasn’t a heavy lift for me to go from what we did at the Ranch to sitting in the Dolby cinema theater, where we spent maybe another three days tweaking everything,” he adds.

And then there was a 3D version and a Dolby 3D version of Solo, along with those for home video, 3D for home video, RealD 3D, and Dolby Vision’s home theater. “Being a colorist from New York, I don’t generally get a lot of tent-pole films with so many different flavors of deliverables,” Gawler says.

But this is not just any tent-pole. It’s Star Wars.

Throughout the project, that fact was always in the back of Gawler ’s mind. “This is a real part of culture — pop culture, film culture. There’s all this lore. You work on other projects and hope the film is going to find an audience. But with Star Wars, there’s no doubt millions of people are going to see it,” he adds.


Karen Maierhofer is a longtime technical writer with more than two decades of experience in segments of the CG and post industries.


Color for Television Series

By Karen Maierhofer

Several years ago I was lucky enough to see Van Gogh’s original The Starry Night oil on canvas at a museum and was awestruck by how rich and vibrant it really was. I had fallen in love with the painting years before after seeing reproductions/reprints, which paled in comparison to the original’s striking colors and beauty. No matter how well done, the reproductions could never duplicate the colors and richness of the original masterpiece.

Just as in the art world, stories told via television are transformed through the use of color. Color grading and color correction help establish a signature look for a series, though that can, and often does, change from one episode to another — or from one scene to another — based on the mood the DP and director want to portray.

Here we delve into this part of the post process and follow a trio of colorists as they set the tone for three very different television series.

Black-ish
Black-ish is an ABC series about a successful African-American couple raising their five children in an affluent, predominantly white neighborhood. Dre, an advertising executive, is proud of his heritage but fears that culture is lost when it comes to his kids.

There is no struggle, however, when it comes to color grading the show, a job that has fallen to colorist Phil Azenzer from The Foundation in Burbank starting with this past season (Season 4).

The show is shot using an Arri Alexa camera. The dailies are then produced by the show’s in-house editor. The files, including the assembly master, are sent to Azenzer, who uses the raw camera files for his color grading, which is done using Blackmagic’s Resolve.

Azenzer starts a scene by rolling into the establishing shot and sets the look there because “you can see all light sources and their color temperatures,” he says. “I get a feel for the composition of the shot and the gradation of shadow to light. I see what light each of the actors is standing in or walking through, and then know how to balance the surrounding coverage.”

In his opinion, networks, for the most part, like their half-hour comedies to be well lit, more chromatic, with less shadow and contrast than an average one-hour drama, in order to create a more inviting, light feel (less somber). “And Black-ish is no different, although because of the subject matter, I think of Black-ish as more of a ‘dramedy,’ and there are scenes where we go for a more dramatic feel,” Azenzer explains.

Black-ish’s main characters are African-American, and the actors’ skin tones vary. “Black-ish creator Kenya Barris is very particular about the black skin tones of the actors, which can be challenging because some tones are more absorbent and others more reflective,” says Azenzer. “You have to have a great balance so everyone’s skin tone feels natural and falls where it’s supposed to.”

Phil Azenzer

Azenzer notes that the makeup department does an excellent job, so he doesn’t have to struggle as much with pulling out the bounce coming off the actors’ skin as a result of their chromatic clothes. He also credits DP Rob Sweeney (with whom he has worked on Six Feet Under and Entourage) with “a beautiful job of lighting that makes my life easier in that regard.”

While color grading the series, Azenzer avoids any yellow in skin tones, per Barris’s direction. “He likes the skin tones to look more natural, more like what they actually are,” he says. “So, basically, the directive was to veer away from yellow and keep it neutral to cool.”

While the colorist follows that direction in most scenes, he also considers the time of day the scene takes place when coloring. “So, if the call is for the shot to be warm, I let it go warm, but more so for the environment than the skin tones,” explains Azenzer.

Most of the show is shot on set, with few outdoor sequences. However, the scenes move around the house (kitchen, living room, bedrooms) as well as at the ad agency where Dre works. “I have some preferred settings that I can usually use as a starting point because of the [general] consistency of the show’s lighting. So, I might ripple through a scene and then just tighten it up from there,” says Azenzer. But my preference as a colorist is not to take shortcuts. I don’t like to plug something in from another episode because I don’t know if, in fact, the lighting is exactly the same. Therefore, I always start from scratch to get a feel for what was shot.”

For instance, shots that take place in Dre’s office play out at various points in the day, so that lighting changes more often.

The office setting contains overhead lighting directly above the conference table, like one would find in a typical conference room. It’s a diffused lighting that is more intense directly over the table and diminishes in intensity as it feathers out over the actors, so the actors are often moving in and out of varying intensities of light on that set. “It’s a matter of finding the right balance so they don’t get washed out and they don’t get [too much shadow] when they are sitting back from the table,” explains Azenzer. “That’s probably the most challenging location for me.”

Alas, things changed somewhat during the last few episodes of the season. Dre and his wife, Rainbow, hit a rough patch in their marriage and separate. Dre moves into a sleek, ultra-modern house in the canyon, with two-story ceilings and 20-foot-tall floor-to-ceiling windows — resulting in a new location for Azenzer. “It was filled with natural light, so the image was a little flat in those scenes and awash with light and a cool aura,” he describes. Azenzer adjusted for this by “putting in extra contrast, double saturation nodes, and keying certain colors to create more color separation, which helps create overall separation and depth of field. It was a fun episode.”

In the prior episode, the show toggles back and forth from flashbacks of Bow and Dre from happier times in their marriage to present day. Azenzer describes the flashbacks as saturated with extremely high contrast, “pushing the boundaries of what would be acceptable.” When the scene switched to present day, instead of the typical look, it was shot with the movie Blue Valentine in mind, as the characters discussed separating and possibly divorcing.

“Those scenes were shot and color corrected with a very cool, desaturated look. I would latch onto maybe one thing in the shot and pop color back into that. So, it would be almost grayish blue, and if there was a Granny Smith apple on the counter, I grabbed that and popped it, made it chromatic,” explains Azenzer. “And Dre’s red sweatshirt, which was desaturated and cool along with the rest of the scene, I went back in there and keyed that and popped the red back in. It was one of the more creative episodes we did.”

When Azenzer first took over coloring the show, “everybody was involved,” he says. “I had a relationship with Rob Sweeney, but I was new to Kenya, the post team, and Tom Ragazzo, co-producer, so it was very collaborative at the beginning to nail the look they were going for, what Kenya wanted. Now we are at the point so when I finish an episode, I give Rob a heads-up and he’ll come over that day or whenever he can and bring lunch, and I play it back for him.”

It’s not as if the episodes are without change, though Azenzer estimates that 85 percent of the time Sweeney says, “‘Beautiful job,’ and is out the door.” When there are changes, they usually involve something nominal on just a shot or two. “We are never off-base to where we need to redo a scene. It’s usually something subjective, where he might ask me to add a Power Window to create a little shadow in a corner or create a light source that isn’t there.”

Azenzer enjoys working on Black-ish, particularly because of the close relationship he has with those working on the show. “They are all awesome, and we get along really well and collaborate well,” he says. Indeed, he has forged bonds with this new family of sorts on both a professional and personal level, and recently began working on Grown-ish, a spin-off of Black-ish that follows the family’s eldest daughter after she moves away to attend college.

The 100
Dan Judy, senior colorist at DigitalFilm Tree (DFT) in Hollywood, has been working on The CW’s The 100 starting with the pilot in 2014, and since then has helped evolve it into a gritty-looking show. “It started off with more of an Eden-type environment and has progressed into a much grittier, less friendly and dangerous place to live,” he says.

The 100 is a post-apocalyptic science-fiction drama that centers on a group of juvenile offenders from aboard a failing space station who are sent to Earth following a nuclear apocalypse there nearly a century earlier. Their mission: to determine whether the devastated planet is habitable. But, soon they encounter clans of humans who have survived the destruction.

“We have geographical locations that have a particular look to them, such as Polis (the capitol of the coalition),” says Judy of the environment set atop rolling hills lush with vegetation. “In this past season, we have the Eden environment — where after the planet incurs all this devastation, the group finds an oasis of thriving foliage and animated life. Then, gradually, we started backing off the prettiness of Eden and making it less colorful, a little more contrasty, a little harsher.”

The series is shot in Vancouver by DP Michael Blundell. The dailies are handled by Bling Digital’s Vancouver facility, which applies color with the dailies cut. As an episode is cut, Bling then ships drives containing the camera master media and the edit decision list to DFT, which assembles the show with a clip-based approach, using the full-resolution camera masters as its base source.

“We aren’t doing a transcode of the media. We actually work directly, 100 percent of the time, from the client camera master,” says Judy, noting this approach eliminates the possibility of errors, such as dropouts or digital hits that can result from transcoding. “It also gives me handles on either end of a shot if it was trimmed.”

Dan Judy

Vancouver-based Blundell sets the palette, but he conveys his ideas and concepts to Tim Scanlan, director and supervising producer on the show, with whom Judy has a longstanding relationship — they worked together years before on Smallville. “Then Tim and I will sit down and spot the show, setting looks for the scenes, and after the spotting session, I will fill in the gaps to give it a consistent look,” says Judy. Although Scanlan is in nearby Santa Monica, due to LA’s traffic, he and Hollywood-based Judy collaborate remotely, to save valuable time.

“I can remote into [Scanlan’s] system and color correct with him in full resolution and in realtime,” explains Judy. “I can play back the reference file with the dailies color on it, and I can split-screen that with him in realtime if he wants to reference the dailies color for that particular scene.”

For coloring the show, Judy uses Blackmagic’s DaVinci Resolve, which is also used to conform the series. Using Resolve’s Project Management tools, the editors and colorists “can all work on the project and contribute to it live, in realtime, simultaneously,” Judy points out. “So, I can be color correcting at the same time the editor is building the show, and getting all of his updates in mere seconds.”

Scanlan uses a remote Resolve system with a monitor that is calibrated to Judy’s, “so what he is seeing on his end is an exact replica of what I’m seeing in my room,” Judy says.

One scene in The 100 that stands out for Judy occurs early in the episode during the premiere of Season 5, which finds Clarke Griffin, one of the prisoners, trapped in a wasteland. He explains: “We had several different evolutions of what that look was going to be. I gave them a few designs, and they gave me some notes. Before the show was cut, they gave me little snippets of scenes to look at, and I did test looks. They came back and decided to go with one of those test looks at first, and then as the show progressed, we decided, collaboratively, to redesign the look of the scene and go with more of a sepia tone.”

Much of The 100 is filmed outdoors, and as everyone knows, nature does not always cooperate during shoots. “They deal with a lot of different weather conditions in Vancouver, unlike LA. They’ll get rain in the middle of a scene. Suddenly, clouds appear, and you have shadows that didn’t exist before. So, when that’s the only footage you have, you need to make it all blend together,” explains Judy. “Another challenge is making these amazing-looking sets look more natural by shadowing off the edges of the frame with power windows and darkening parts of the frame so it looks like the natural environment.”

Judy points to the character Becca’s abandoned lab — an elaborate set from last year’s season — as a scene that stands out for him. “It was an amazing set, and in wide shots, we would shape that picture with power windows and use color levels and desaturation to darken it, and then color levels and saturation to brighten up other areas,” he says. “This would make the room look more cavernous than it was, even though it was large to begin with, to give it more scope and vastness. It also made the room look dramatic yet inviting at the same time.”

All in all, Judy describes The 100 as a very edgy, dramatic show. “There’s a lot going on. It’s not your standard television fare. It’s very creative,” he says. “Tim and I did a lot of color design on Smallville, and we’re carrying on that tradition in The 100. It’s more feature-esque, more theatrical, than most television shows. We add grain on the picture to give it texture; it’s almost imperceptible, but it gives a slightly different feel than other shows. It’s nice to be part of something where I’m not just copying color for a standardized, formulaic show. This series gives me the opportunity to be creative, which is awesome.”

Dear White People
Sometimes color grading decisions are fairly standard on television shows. Black and white, so to speak. Not so for the Netflix series Dear White People, a comedy-drama spin-off from the 2014 film of the same name, which follows students of color at a predominantly white Ivy League college as they navigate various forms of discrimination — racial and otherwise.

Helping achieve the desired look for the series fell to senior colorist Scott Gregory from NBCUniversal StudioPost. Starting with Season 1, day one, “the show’s creator, Justin Simien, DP Jeffrey Waldron, executive producer Yvette Lee Bowser and I huddled in my bay and experimented with different ‘overall’ looks for the show,” notes Gregory.

Simien then settled on the “feel” that is present throughout most of the series. Once he had locked a base look, the group then discussed how to use color to facilitate the storytelling. “We created looks for title cards, flashbacks, historical footage, locations and even specific characters,” Gregory says.

Using stills he had saved during those creative meetings as a guide, he then color corrects each show. Once the show is ready for review, the executive producers and DP provide notes — during the same session if schedules permit, or separately, as is often the case. If any of the creatives cannot be present, stills and color review files are uploaded for review via the Internet.

According to Gregory, his workflow starts after he receives a pre-conformed 4:4:4 MXF video assembled master (VAM) and an EDL supplied by online editor Ian Lamb. Gregory then performs a process pass on the VAM using Resolve, whereby he re-renders the VAM, applying grain and two Digital Film Tools (DFT) optical filters. This gives the Red camera footage a more weathered, filmic look. This processing, however, is not applied to the full-frame television show inserts to better separate them from the visual palette created for the show by Simien, Bowser and DPs Waldron and Topher Osborn.

Scott Gregory

Once the VAM is processed, Gregory creates a timeline using the EDL, the processed VAM, and the temp audio, applies a one-light correction to all of the shots, and gets to work. As the color progresses, he drops in the visual effects, cleaned shots, composited elements, and some titles as they are delivered. Once the show is locked for color and VFX approval, he renders out a 3840×2160 UHD final 4:4:4 MXF color-timed master, which then goes back to the online editor for titling and delivery.

“Blue contaminated and lifted blacks, strong vignettes, film-grain emulation and warm, compressed filmic highlights are characteristics present in most of the show,” says Gregory. “We also created looks for Technicolor two-strip, sepia, black-and-white silent-era damaged print, and even an oversaturated, diffused, psychedelic drug trip scene.”

The looks for the flashback or “historical” sequences, usually somewhere in Act I, were created for the most part in Resolve. Many of these sequences or montages jump through different time periods. “I created a black-and-white damaged film look for the 1800s, Technicolor two-strip for the early 1900s, a faded-emulsion [Kodak] Ektachrome [film] look for the ’70s, and a more straightforward but chromatic look for the ’80s,” says Gregory.

Simien also wanted to use color “themes” for specific characters. This was reflected in not only the scenes that included the featured character for that particular show, but also in the title card at the head of the show. (The title card for each show has a unique color corresponding to the featured character of that episode.)

When coloring the series, Gregory inevitably encounters processing issues. “Using all the filters and VFX plug-ins that I do on this show and being in UHD resolution both eat up a lot of processing power. This slows down the software significantly, no matter what platform or GPUs are being used,” he says. In order to keep things up to speed, he decided to pre-render, or bake in, the grain and some of the filters that were to be used throughout each show.

“I then create a new timeline using the pre-rendered VAM and the EDL, and set a base correction,” Gregory explains. “This workflow frees up the hardware, so I can still get realtime playback, even with multiple color layers, composites and new effects plug-ins.”

Gregory is hardly new to color grading, having a long list of credits, including television series, full-length movies and short films. And while working on Seasons 1 and the recently released Season 2 of Dear White People, he appreciated the collaborative environment. “Justin is obviously very creative and has a discerning eye. I have really enjoyed the collaborative space in which he, Yvette, Jeffrey and Topher like to work,” he says. “Justin likes to experiment and go big. He wants the artists he works with to be a part of the creative process, and I think he believes that in the end, his final product will benefit from it. It makes for good times in the color bay and a show we are all very proud of.”


Karen Maierhofer is a longtime technical writer with more than two decades of experience in segments of the CG and post industries.


Kees van Oostrum weighs in on return as ASC president

The American Society of Cinematographers (ASC) has re-elected Kees van Oostrum as president. He will serve his third consecutive term at the organization.

The ASC board also re-upped its roster of officers for 2018-2019, including Bill Bennett, John Simmons and Cynthia Pusheck as vice presidents; Levie Isaacks as treasurer; David Darby as secretary; and Isidore Mankofsky as sergeant-at-arms.

Van Oostrum initiated and chairs the ASC Master Class program, which has expanded to locations worldwide under his presidency. The Master Classes take place several times a year and are taught by ASC members. The classes are designed for cinematographers with an intermediate-to-advanced skill set and incorporates practical, hands-on demonstrations of lighting and camera techniques with essential instruction in current workflow practices.

The ASC Vision Committee, founded during van Oostrum’s first term, continues to organize successful symposiums that encourage diversity and inclusion on camera crews, and also offers networking opportunities. The most recent was a standing-room-only event that explored practical and progressive ideas for changing the face of the industry. The ASC will continue to host more of these activities during the coming years.

Van Oostrum has earned two Primetime Emmy nominations for his work on the telefilms Miss Rose White and Return to Lonesome Dove. His peers chose the latter for a 1994 ASC Outstanding Achievement Award. Additional ASC Award nominations for his television credits came for The Burden of Proof, Medusa’s Child and Spartacus. He also shot the Emmy-winning documentary The Last Chance.

A native of Amsterdam, van Oostrum studied at the Dutch Film Academy with an emphasis on both cinematography and directing. He went on to earn a scholarship sponsored by the Dutch government, which enabled him to enroll in the American Film Institute (AFI). Van Oostrum broke into the industry shooting television documentaries for several years. He has subsequently compiled a wide range of some 80-plus credits, including movies for television and the cinema, such as Gettysburg, Gods and Generals and occasional documentaries. He recently wrapped the final season of TV series The Fosters.

The 2018-2019 board who voted in this election includes John Bailey, Paul Cameron, Russell Carpenter, Curtis Clark, Dean Cundey, George Spiro Dibie, Stephen Lighthill, Lowell Peterson, Roberto Schaefer, John Toll and Amelia Vincent. Alternate Board members are Karl-Walter Lindenlaub, Stephen Burum, David Darby, Charlie Lieberman and Eric Steelberg.

The ASC has over 20 committees driving the organization’s initiatives, such as the award-winning Motion Imaging Technology Council (MITC), and the Educational and Outreach committee.

We reached out to Van Oostrum to find out more:

How fulfilling has being ASC President been —either personally or professionally (or both)?
My presidency has been a tremendously fulfilling experience. The ASC grew its educational programs. The masterclass expanded from domestic to international locations, and currently eight to 10 classes a year are being held based on demand (up from four to five from the inaugural year of the master class). Our public outreach activities have brought in over 7,000 students in the last two years, giving them a chance to meet ASC members and ask questions about cinematography and filmmaking.

Our digital presence has also grown, and the ASC and American Cinematographer websites are some of the most visited sites in our industry. Interest from the vendor community has expanded as well, introducing a broader range of companies who are involved in the image pipeline to our members. Then, our efforts to support ASC’s heritage, research and museum acquisitions have taken huge steps forward. I believe the ASC has grown into a relevant organization for people to watch.

What do you hope to accomplish in the coming year?
We will complete our Educational Center, a new building behind the historic ASC clubhouse in Hollywood; produce several online master classes about cinematography; and we also are set to produce two major documentaries about cinematography and will continue to strengthen our role as a technology partner through the efforts of our Motion Imaging Technology Council (formerly the ASC Technology Committee).

What are your proudest achievements from previous years?
I’m most proud of the success of the Master Classes, as well as the support and growth in the number of activities by the Vision Committee. I’m also pleased with the Chinese language edition of our magazine, and having cinematography stories shared in a global way. We’ve also beefed up our overall internal communications so members feel more connected.


Indie film Hoax calls on ACES

By Debra Kaufman

Shot in the remote mountains of southwestern Colorado, Hoax follows a brilliant primate specialist and ruthless TV producer as they investigate the site of a camping trip gone terribly wrong. They soon find themselves fighting to survive — and coming to grips with the fact that Big Foot may not be a legend after all. The movie, which will complete post production in mid-June, is the brainchild of Matt Allen, who wrote and directed it. His friend, freelance editor and colorist Peder Morgenthaler wore many hats, starting with multiple readings of the script. “As Matt was pulling the production together, he asked if I’d like to edit and color grade,” says Morgenthaler. “I ended up post supervising too.”

Peder Morgenthaler

The Academy Color Encoding System (ACES) was already on Morgenthaler’s radar. He’d followed its early development and began experimenting with it as soon as he could. As a result, he immediately thought ACES would be ideal for the Hoax, which would be shot with Red Helium and Monstro cameras. “We wanted to work with the Red RAW data instead of baking in a look,” he says. “The challenge would be how to maintain the full dynamic range present in the camera originals all the way through every step of post production — from dailies to visual effects — so that when the footage came to the color grade none of the information would have been flattened out or lost.”

He also was aware that High Dynamic Range was being discussed as a new display format. “In my research about ACES it became clear that it was a really good way to be able to make an HDR master down the road,” says Morgenthaler. “That would be a big advantage for an indie film. We don’t have access to image scientists or an advanced image processing pipeline. ACES offers us opportunities we wouldn’t otherwise have because of our limited resources.”

Because the production was going to take place in a remote area, with no opportunity for a DIT station, Allen and Morgenthaler made the decision that ACES would only be implemented in post. “We weren’t doing all the on-set color grading and look previewing that you would do in a full ACES pipeline,” notes Morgenthaler. Cinematographer Scott Park shot at 6K and 8K resolution, framing for a 2.39:1 widescreen aspect ratio while shooting 1.78:1 to give enough room for reframing in post. “In addition, we shot segments on ENG and Flir infrared and night vision cameras, so we had several codecs and color spaces in the workflow,” Morgenthaler says. “We also had 120 VFX shots — mostly invisible ones — planned, so we needed a color pipeline that could handle that component as well.”

In post, Morgenthaler used Adobe Premiere Pro for editing, Adobe After Effects with the OpenColorIO plug-in for visual effects and Blackmagic Resolve for dailies, color grading and finishing. “All this software can work in an ACES environment,” he says. “Our goals were to enable a responsive and efficient editorial workflow; maintain image quality, resolution and dynamic range; simplify color management between VFX artists and the colorist; and generate deliverables for multiple display standards with minimal additional grading.”

For dailies, assistant editor Ricardo Cozzolino worked in Resolve, syncing dual-system sound to picture and performing a quick color balance using the Red RAW controls, then exporting the shots as Rec. 709 HD ProRes 422 proxies. “During the edit, I’d apply temp color correction, compositing and stabilization in the Premiere timeline for preview purposes, knowing I would likely have to rebuild those effects in Resolve during the finishing process,” Morgenthaler says. “There were no ACES operations required during editorial; we just worked with the color corrected dailies in Rec. 709 space.”

One unexpected challenge was getting the After Effects compositors up to speed working in ACES scene linear space. “It wasn’t familiar to them,” he says. “They’re used to working in Rec. 709, and since After Effects doesn’t support an ACES pipeline natively you have to use a third-party plug in like OpenColorIO, which has been developed for a number of platforms including AE to enable the ACES color transformations.” The plug-in allows the user to disable AE’s internal color management functions and replace them with the proper ACES color transforms.

Using Resolve, the editorial team exported each plate at 4K as an ACES 16-bit OpenEXR image sequence in linear space. The visual effect artists then executed their shots in After Effects, using the OpenColorIO (OCIO) plugin. In the end, the ACES process worked for VFX exactly like he hoped it would. “All the dynamic range is there,” Morgenthaler says. “I just conformed the completed VFX shots into my color timeline and it worked perfectly, seamlessly replacing the original footage. The shots look wonderful, and they grade exactly like the camera-original R3D files.”

In color grading, Morgenthaler conformed back to the original 6K and 8K Red files inside Resolve, targeting a DCI Scope 4K finish. “After the master grade is completed, we’ll create additional versions targeting various display technologies simply by switching the ACES Output Transform,” he explains. “We can easily create versions for digital cinema, HDR and streaming, which is one of the huge benefits of the ACES process.”

Having the right storage is important to the ACES workflow, since 16-bit OpenEXR at 4K is around 45MB per frame, or just over 1,000MBps at 24 fps to play back in realtime, says Morgenthaler. “Not all storage can do that.” Morgenthaler, who consults with Seagate on their storage systems for post, relied on a Seagate RealStor shared storage system with 144TB of fibre channel storage. “The file sharing is based off of Tiger Technology’s Tigerstore, which enables simultaneous access for all users on the network at full quality and resolution,” he says “That greatly increased the efficiency of our workflow. It meant instant collaboration between team members, with no syncing of separate drives required to maintain collaboration.” In total, the production generated 44 hours of footage and ended up with 19.5TB of total data, not including visual effects.

“We may be on the front edge of using ACES in indie films, but it’ll be more important for indie filmmakers going forward,” he predicts. “There are real benefits to doing so. It’s a powerful tool for maintaining dynamic range and quality, and the pre-built color management pipeline simplifies complex VFX processes. It also increases the film’s desirability to distributors by enabling generation of additional versions such as HDR.

“I don’t know that we could have achieved what we did on this film without ACES,” concludes Morgenthaler. “Large films have access to color scientists and secret sauce, and ACES gives you that in a turnkey package, which is really powerful for a small film.”


Debra Kaufman has covered media and entertainment for 30 years for publications including Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, American Cinematographer, International Cinematographer, Wired and others. She currently also writes for USC’s Entertainment Technology Center’s daily newsletter, ETCentric.


MPC directs, provides VFX, color for Fiji Water spot

To launch the new Fiji Sports Cap bottle, Wonderful Agency came up with the concept of a drop of rain from the clouds high above Fiji making its way down through the pristine environment to showcase the source of their water. The story then transitions to the Fiji Water Sports Cap bottle being used by athletes during a tough workout.

To bring that idea to life, Wonderful Agency turned to MPC with creative director Michael Gregory, who made making his MPC directorial debut, helming both spots while also leading his VFX team. These spots will air on primetime television.

Gregory’s skills in visual effects made him the perfect fit as director of the spots, since it was essential to seamlessly depict the raindrop’s fast-paced journey through the different environments. MPC was tasked with building the CG water droplet that falls from the sky, while reflecting and magnifying the beauty of the scenes shot in Fiji.

“It was key to film in low light, cloudy conditions in Fiji,” explains Gregory. “We shot over five days with a drone in the most remote parts of the main island, taking the drone above the clouds and shooting many different angles on the descent, so we had all the textures and plates we needed.”

For the Fiji section, Gregory and team used the Zenmuse X7 camera that sits on a DJI Inspire 2 drone. “We chose this because logistically it was easier to get it to Fiji by plane. It’s a much smaller drone and isn’t as battery-hungry. You can only travel with a certain amount of batteries on a plane, and the larger drones that carry the Reds and Alexas would need the batteries shipped by sea. Being smaller meant it had much longer flying times. That meant we could have it in the air at height for much longer periods. The footage was edited in Adobe Premiere.”

MPC’s VFX team then got to work. According to lead compositor Oliver Caiden, “The raindrop itself was simulated CG geometry that then had all of the different textures refracted through the UV map. This process was also applied to the droplet reflections, mapping high dynamic range skies onto the outside, so we could achieve a more immersive and richer effect.”

This process enabled the compositors to animate the raindrops and have full control over motion blur, depth of focus, refraction and reflections, making them as realistic and multifaceted as possible. The shots were a mixture of multiple plates, matte painting, 2D and CG clouds, which ultimately created a sequence that felt seamless with reality. The spot was graded by MPC’s colorist Ricky Gausis.

The tools used by MPC were Autodesk Maya, Side Effects Houdini, Adobe Photoshop as well as Foundry Nuke for the VFX and FilmLight Baselight for color.

The latest Fiji campaign marks a continued partnership between MPC and Wonderful Agency — they previously handled VFX for Wonderful Pistachios and Wonderful Halos spots — but this latest campaign sees MPC managing the production from start to finish.

Therapy Studios provided the final audio mix.

 

Sim and the ASC partner on educational events, more

During Cine Gear recently, Sim announced a 30-year sponsorship with the American Society of Cinematographers (ASC). Sim offers end-to-end solutions for creatives in film and television, and the ASC is a nonprofit focusing on the art of cinematography. As part of the relationship, the ASC Clubhouse courtyard will now be renamed Sim Plaza.

Sim and the ASC have worked together frequently on events that educate industry professionals on current technology and its application to their evolving craft. As part of this sponsorship, Sim will expand its involvement with the ASC Master Classes, SimLabs, and conferences and seminars in Hollywood and beyond.

During an official ceremony, a commemorative plaque was unveiled and embedded into the walkway of what is now Sim Plaza in Hollywood. Sim will also host a celebration of the ASC’s 100th anniversary in 2019 at Sim’s Hollywood location.

What else does this partnership entail?
• The two organizations will work together closely over the next 30 years on educational events for the cinematography community. Sim’s sponsorship will help fund society programs and events to educate industry professionals (both practicing and aspiring) on current technology and its application to the evolving craft.
• The ASC Master Class program, SimLabs and other conferences and seminars will continue on over these 30 years with Sim increasing its involvement. Sim is not telling the ASC what kind of initiatives they should be doing, but is rather lending a helping hand to drive visual storytelling forward. For example, they have already hosted ASC Master Class sessions in Toronto and Hollywood, sponsored the annual ASC BBQ for the last couple of years, and founder Rob Sim himself is an ASC associate member.

How will the partnership will increase programming and resources to support the film and television community for the long term?
• It has a large focus on three things: financial resources, programming assistance and facility support.
• It will provide access and training with world-class technology in film and television.
• It will offer training directly from industry leaders in Hollywood and beyond
• It will develop new programs for people who can’t attend ASC Master Class sessions, such as an online experience, which is something ASC and Sim are working on together.
• It will expand SimLabs beyond Hollywood —with the potential to bring it to Vancouver, Atlanta, New York and Toronto with the goal of creating new avenues for people who are associated with the ASC and who know they can call on Sim.
• It will bring volunteers. Sim has many volunteers on ASC committees, including the Motion Imaging Technology Council and its Lens committee.

Main Image: L-R: Sim President/CEO James Haggarty, Sim founder and ASC associate member Rob Sim,ASC events coordinator Patty Armacost and ASC president Kees van Oostrum.