Cinnafilm 6.6.19

Category Archives: Colorist Chat

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Whitakers on set

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sean Coleman

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

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

Assimilate Scratch 9.1: productivity updates, updated VFX workflow

Assimilate’s Scratch 9.1, a dailies and finishing software, now includes new and extensive performance and productivity features, including integration with Foundry Nuke and Adobe After Effects. It’s available now.

“A primary goal for us is to quickly respond to the needs of DITs and post artists, whether it’s for more advanced features, new format support, or realtime bug-fixes,” said Mazze Aderhold, Scratch product manager at Assimilate. “Every feature introduced in Scratch 9.1 is based on feedback we received from our users before and during the beta cycle.”

The software now features native touch controls for grading by clicking and dragging directly on the image. Thanks to this intuitive way to color and manipulate images, an artist can grade the overall image or even control curves and secondaries — all without a panel and directly where the cursor is dragging.

There is also a redesigned color management system, enabling deep control over how camera-specific gamut and gamma spaces are handled and converted. Additionally, there is a new color-space conversion plugin (any color space to any other) that can be applied at any stage of the color/mastering process.

Also new is integration with After Effects and Nuke. Within Scratch, users can now seamlessly send shots to and from Nuke and After Effects, including transparencies and alphas. This opens up Scratch to high-end tracking, compositing, 3D models, advanced stabilization, motion graphics and more.

Within the VFX pipeline, Scratch can act as a central hub for all finishing needs. It provides realtime tools for any format, data management, playback and all color management in a timeline with audio, including to and from After Effects and Nuke.

Other new features include:

• Integration with Avid, including all metadata in the Avid MXF. Additionally, Scratch includes all the source-shot metadata, such as the genuine Sound TC in Avid MXF, which is important later on in post for something like a Pro Tools roundtrip
• Per-frame metadata on ARRIRAW files, allowing camera departments to pass through camera roll and tilt, lens focus distance metadata items, and more. Editorial and VFX teams can benefit from per-frame info later in the post process.
• Faster playback and rendering
• Realtime, full-res Red 8K DeBayer on GPU
• A deep set of options to load media, including sizing options, LUTs and automatic audio-sync, speeding up the organizational process when dealing with large amounts of disparate media
• A LUT cycler that allows for quick preview and testing of large numbers of looks on footage
• Preset outputs for Pix, Dax, MediaSilo and Copra, simplifying the delivery of industry-standard web dailies


• Vector tool for advanced color remapping using a color grid
• Automatic installation of free Matchbox Shaders, opening Scratch up to a wealth of realtime VFX effects, including glows, lens effects, grain add/remove, as well as more advanced creative FX
• Built-in highlight glow, diffusion, de-noise and time-warp FX
• Added support for AJA’s Io 4K Plus and Kona 5 SDI output devices using the latest SDKs.
• Support for Apple’s new ProRes RAW compressed-acquisition format and Blackmagic RAW support on both OS X and Windows

Scratch 9.1 starts at $89 monthly and $695 annually.

Cinnafilm 6.6.19

Behind the Title: DigitalFilm Tree colorist Patrick Woodard

This colorist, who works on episodic TV series, says, “There are so many talented colorists and photographers on Instagram. It’s where I get my daily inspiration.”

NAME: Patrick Woodard

COMPANY: DigitalFilm Tree (@digitalfilmtree)

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
Independently owned DigitalFilm Tree is a post, consulting and software development company. DFT has played a role in designing post and IT workflows for the media and entertainment industry since 1998.

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THE COLORIST TITLE?
People often think colorists are the finishing artists, but we are often brought on early in the process — during preproduction meetings — to get involved with the other creatives (DPs, directors, producers). Key decisions such as general visual aesthetic, camera choices and on-set lookup tables are typically developed with the colorist input.

WHAT SYSTEM DO YOU WORK ON?
I work on a custom-built Linux workstation running Blackmagic’s DaVinci Resolve.

ARE YOU SOMETIMES ASKED TO DO MORE THAN JUST COLOR ON PROJECTS?
Yes. I get requests that are outside the traditional color category on every job. Requests such as stabilizes, paint-outs, wrinkle removal/beauty, sky replacements and minor compositing have become very common. The challenge is managing time and staying within the color budget.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
I love photography, and as a kid I loved the excitement of seeing a roll of film developed. I get that same satisfaction when a scene comes together and everything is working. In addition, I love overcoming creative or technological challenges.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
Most positions in post require a lot of hours and strict deadlines. I have two young children, and it can be challenging juggling work and family life.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
I love editing and still photography and would be happy doing either.

HOW EARLY ON DID YOU KNOW THIS WOULD BE YOUR PATH?Editing was my main focus, but I found my way to color through my interest in photography. Once I started it felt very natural, and by my second year the two shows I worked on had nominations for Emmys in single-camera cinematography.

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
NCIS Los Angeles, American Housewife, I Feel Bad, UnReal and Angie Tribeca.

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
NCIS Los Angeles just passed its 10th season, and I feel very fortunate to have worked on it during its run.

WHERE DO YOU FIND INSPIRATION?
I try to watch as many movies and scripted series as possible, and I follow the work of a lot of gifted photographers who also inspire me.

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
Blackmagic DaVinci Resolve, Boris FX Mocha Pro and Adobe Photoshop.

WHAT SOCIAL MEDIA CHANNELS DO YOU FOLLOW?
Instagram. There are so many talented colorists and photographers on Instagram. It’s where I get my daily inspiration.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
Outside of work, my life revolves mostly around being in the ocean or hanging at the beach.


Color Chat: Light Iron’s Sean Dunckley

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

NAME: Sean Dunckley

COMPANY: LA- and NYC-based Light Iron

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

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

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

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

Hulu’s Fyre Fraud doc.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Late Night with Emma Thompson. Photo by Emily Aragones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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