Category Archives: dailies

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.

In growth mode, Deluxe NY hires features, episodic colorist Sam Daley

Senior colorist Sam Daley has joined Deluxe post operations in New York, where he will lead final color finishing for feature films and television. Daley has working in the New York post market for over 20 years.

Prior to joining Deluxe, Daley spent time at Technicolor, Postworks and Tapehouse. He began his career in color at Du Art, where he worked with Deluxe president/GM TV post production Dominic Rom, who says, “I am very excited to be working with him again. I’ve watched and shared his career growth since he first came into the New York market. He’s an ideal anchor for our growing final color roster with tremendous industry knowledge. More than ever, directors and DPs are working across formats and Sam’s multifaceted experience in features and television is invaluable.”

Daley’s recent feature credits include The Florida Project, Beirut and the upcoming Sorry to Bother You. Previously, he finished the first season of Girls, and season one of The Deuce, as well as the HBO miniseries Show Me a Hero, which earned him a 2015 HPA Award nomination for Best TV Series Color Correction. Daley brings a deep knowledge of color finishing techniques to Deluxe, including the nuances of working in Dolby Vision and HDR10.

Daley will be based out of Deluxe’s New York location on West 18th Street. In addition to final HDR and SDR color, the facility also provides dailies color (including UHD dailies), online editorial and various deliverables. Visual effects services are available through co-located sister company Method Studios.

DG 7.9.18

Light Iron opens in Atlanta, targets local film community

In order to support the thriving Georgia production community, post studio Light Iron has opened a new facility in Atlanta. The expansion is the fourth since Panavision acquired Light Iron in 2015, bringing Light Iron’s US locations to six total, including Los Angeles, New York, New Orleans, Albuquerque and Chicago.

“Light Iron has been supporting Georgia productions for years through our mobile dailies services,” explains CFO Peter Cioni. “Now with a team on the ground, productions can take advantage of our facility-based dailies with talent that brings the finishing perspective into the process.”

Clark Cofer

The company’s Atlanta staff recently provided dailies services to season one of Kevin (Probably) Saves the World, season three of Greenleaf and the features Uncle Drew and Superfly.

With a calibrated theater, the Light Iron Atlanta facility has hosted virtual DI sessions from its LA facility for cinematographers working in Atlanta. The theater is also available for projecting camera and lens tests, as well as private screenings for up to 45 guests.

The theater is outfitted with a TVIPS Nevion TBG480, which allows for a full bandwidth 2K signal from either their LA or NY facility for virtual DI sessions. For example, if a cinematographer is working another show in Atlanta, they can still connect with the colorist for the final look of their previous show.

The Light Iron Atlanta dailies team uses Colorfront Express Dailies, which is standard across their facility-based and mobile dailies services worldwide.

Cioni notes that the new location is led by director of business development Clark Cofer, a member of Atlanta’s production and post industry. “Clark brings years of local and state-wide relationships to Light Iron, and we are pleased to have him on our growing team.”

Cofer most recently represented Crawford Media Services, where he drove sales for their renowned content services to companies like Lionsgate, Fox and Marvel. He currently serves as co-president of the Georgia Production Partnership, and is on the board of directors for the DeKalb County Film and Entertainment Advisory Board.


The Beguiled’s DP and colorist discuss the film’s painterly look

Sofia Coppola’s The Beguiled, which took the best director prize at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival, is set in Virginia in the summer of 1864 and features a wounded and deserting Union soldier, played by Colin Farrell, taking refuge among the staff and students of a girl’s boarding school, among them Nicole Kidman and Kirsten Dunst.

Coppola was keen to heighten the drama by constraining the atmosphere, emphasizing the heat and humidity and by creating a very painterly sensibility. To help her, she recruited French cinematographer Philippe Le Sourd, who in turn brought colorist Damien Van Der Cruyssen. The two had first worked together at Mikros Images in Paris. Van Der Cruyssen is now colorist and director of DI at The Mill New York. (Check out our interview with the director about making the film.)

An early decision was that the movie would be shot on 35mm film, maximizing the use of celluloid with a 1.66:1 aspect ratio. The workflow was interesting — the film was shot in New Orleans and processed by Fotokem in Los Angeles with the digital rushes then having to cross the country for finishing in New York.
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“On 35mm the lights melt together,” explains DP Le Sourd. “We were able to get a look closer to sfumato from Renaissance painting and the pictorialist photographers like Edward Steichen.

“The 1.66 format helped to capture the loneliness and imprisonment of the women’s monastic life during the Civil War,” he adds. “In a medium shot, the camera could only focus on the gestures and body language, not the set or the landscape. The format captured the intimacy of the women’s gaze and perspective.”

The look of the film was set when director Coppola and her production designer, Anne Ross, researched the period. Le Sourd then joined them to discuss the characters and how they would be reflected in the imagery.

“The exteriors were shot at very specific times of the day,” Le Sourd recalls. “We shot at dusk and sunset to amplify the sense of immediate danger, for example. “At the same time, I had to duplicate the oppressive tone for the interior daylight, and for the night interiors with candlelight. I tried to use as few lights as possible to really capture the most natural aspect of a scene. The challenge was to keep a consistent look without an obvious digital color correction, to keep the sense of the 35mm film grain.”

Le Sourd and colorist Van Der Cruyssen first met in the early 2000s, when the latter was a telecine assistant at Mikros Images working with Bertrand Duval, who graded the commercials Le Sourd was working on. When Van Der Cruyssen moved to New York in 2009 the pair hooked up on a Davidoff commercial, and established a regular partnership.

The team was completed in 2016 when Coppola was invited to direct a production of La Traviata in Rome. She asked Le Sourd to film it. He asked Van Der Cruyssen to grade it. When The Beguiled was planned, everyone was excited to get involved.

How did the decision to shoot on 35mm affect the finish? “It added two days of pre-coloring to balance out the scans,” according to Van Der Cruyssen. “There was a lot of inconsistency in the scans that needed adjustments before Philippe could walk in the room.

“But the benefits of shooting film were great for the overall texture and natural contrast that negative stock has,” he added. “There is a richness in the skin tone that is very difficult to replicate with digital formats. For The Beguiled, Sofia had complete trust in Philippe regarding the final color, and most of the DI was just with Philippe attending,” says Le Sourd. “Sofia came in a few times. She was very discrete, yet very attentive.

“She has an excellent eye and sense of visual direction. I especially remember one comment for a scene that gave the tone to our collaboration: she told me to put my ‘elegance’ filter on. I took that to mean bring down the contrast, keeping it soft, moody yet natural and, well, elegant.”

The DP and colorist were regular collaborators on commercials. Did this mean they had a flying start on the grade for The Beguiled? “Not really,” says Van Der Cruyssen. “In many ways, I’d say I had to unlearn everything I do in commercials. In beauty commercials we always strive for a shiny picture, whereas one of the goals in this movie was to create a look that was painterly and matte,” he explains. “The look was done in camera, so we used very few windows or keys. Philippe and Sofia wanted a natural light, so we tried to avoid as much as possible any digital manipulation. Most of my layers were film grade, video grade, curves and six vectors.”

Both spoke of influences by painters and early photographers like Steichen and Julia Margaret Cameron as key influences on the look. Specific lenses were made and used on set to create a bokeh like a Petzval lens. A lot of smoke was used to soften the atmosphere.

The DP was present for much of the finishing. Le Sourd says, “Color grading is a very interesting process to review your work, and most important to polish it.”

Damien Van Der Cruyssen

For Van Der Cruyssen, the biggest challenge “was to make the exterior and interior scenes all belong to the same sweaty southern confined atmosphere. The exteriors often felt bright and sunny and too distant from the softer and darker moodiness of the interiors. We had to make the two meet elegantly.

“We chose to have neutral nights rather than cool, to help transition with the very warm candle-lit scenes. This movie is all about low contrast, so we had to find the sweet spot,” he continues. “Toward the end of the movie is a morning scene in the kitchen that we spent a lot of time on. We tried different things but we were not satisfied. It was Sofia with her fresh eyes that helped us to go back in the right direction. We warmed the scene up to fit better with the surrounding sequences.”

The whole project used the FilmLight Truelight color management system to ensure consistency of imagery between viewings and between deliverables. Toward the end of post, the Baselight system was upgraded with FilmLight’s latest 5.0 release, which allowed Van Der Cruyssen to take advantage of the new DRT Family feature in 5.0. This feature ensures that Baselight automatically selects the most appropriate version of a DRT for the particular viewing condition. By switching to the Truelight CAM family — FilmLight’s default Colour Appearance Model — Baselight easily generated the four separate delivery masters: theatrical DCP, theatrical print, Rec.709 video and HDR video.


Editor Sidney Wolinsky and Guillermo del Toro team on The Shape of Water

By Randi Altman

People love movies for their ability to transport us to another world, or another version of our world, and that’s exactly what Guillermo del Toro’s magical The Shape of Water does. And speaking of love, the film has been getting some now that awards season is upon us. The Shape of Water was nominated for seven Golden Globes and won two: Best Director — Motion Picture for del Toro and Best Original Score for Alexandre Desplat. It also got plenty of Academy Awards love as it was nominated for 13 awards, including Best Director and Best Film Editing.

This film takes place during the Cold War, at a government run lab in Baltimore and focuses on a cleaning lady who follows her heart and does the right thing.

We recently checked in with the film’s editor Sidney Wolinsky, ACE. An industry veteran, he has cut such acclaimed TV shows as The Sopranos, House of Cards and Ray Donovan, among many others.

Wolinsky was recently recognized by his peers, earning an ACE Eddie nomination from the American Cinema Editors for his work on Fox Searchlight’s The Shape of Water. Let’s find out more about the film, this editor’s second collaboration with del Toro and his process.

You have worked with Guillermo del Toro before?
Yes. About three years ago, I cut the pilot for a series called The Strain, which Guillermo created. He also directed the pilot.

How did you get involved in the film, and when did he bring you on?
The film’s producer reached out to my agent before it was greenlighted. I’m based in LA, but the film was shooting and cutting up in Toronto, so my wife and I found a place to stay and went up there about a week before they started shooting. I started cutting the second day of production when I got my first day of dailies.

Well you were near set, but were you ever onset?
Not really. The sets and the cutting room were at Cinespace Studios in Toronto, but Guillermo knows what he’s doing. He doesn’t need an editor there to talk to. Occasionally, I might have walked over to the set because I had a question to ask Guillermo or something to tell him, but primarily I was in the cutting room.

What kind of direction were you given in terms of the edit?
From day one, I had Guillermo in the room with me working on the material, and that continued throughout the production. He would come in before call, and on his lunch hour, and we’d work together. When they were shooting at local locations, my assistant and I would go out to the set on his lunch hour to show him cut footage on a MacBook and get notes. Guillermo and I worked together continuously throughout the production.

How did that relationship work?
Once I started getting film, I’d show him my cut of the scene and I’d modify it based on his notes. When we had two scenes that were contiguous we’d work on transitions. As the show grew we would watch whatever could be watched continuously and make changes. I’d get an idea and we’d try it, or he’d say, “Try this other thing.” It was very collaborative. I really felt like he was my partner throughout the whole cutting process. It wasn’t like in most shows where you finish your cut, you show it to the director and then you start working with him.

Does Guillermo shoot a lot of footage?
He does not. He’s very specific about what he wants, and he moves the camera all the time. That works against the possibility of shooting a lot of footage because you have to plan your setups based on where the camera starts and where the camera ends, and plan in conjunction with where you’re going to pick up the coverage next. So, often it’s interlocking coverage. He rarely shot multiple cameras.

The film’s two main characters don’t speak in the traditional way. Was that a challenge for your process?
It did not affect my editing per se, because regardless of having no speech, Sally Hawkins’ character Elisa has sign language. You had to let the person say their line, so to speak, even if Elisa was doing it with her hands and not her lips. The creature had gestures and expressions too, so you play a scene for what the scene is about. It’s the same way if people are talking or yelling at each other. You’re still playing that scene, and that’s the challenge of editing generally — just making the scenes work.

I never felt that I was slowing things down because of the sign language. For example, if you think of that scene where Sally tries to persuade Giles (Richard Jenkins’ character) to help her free the creature, it’s a giant dialog scene in which Giles speaks for both of them by repeating what Elisa says in sign language back to her. Elisa only talks in sign language, but you never miss a word.

That was an intense scene.
It was. The editing challenge was to coordinate his saying the line with her signing it, and make sure they were more or less in sync.

Is there a scene that is your favorite or most challenging?
The scene I just described with Sally and Richard is one of my favorite scenes in the movie. Those two actors are so good. That scene is so moving, and they both give such a good performance. They really nailed it.

The most challenging sequence is the heist, because it involves all of the characters. They start off in different locations and come toward each other leading up to the clash at the end. That’s really the most challenging part of the movie, in terms of pacing and making sure everything’s working and the people following it … it’s not too slow, and stuff like that.

You used Media Composer for the editing. What is it about that system that you like?
I’ve cut on Avid for years, so I know it really, really well. It has so many ways of doing the same thing that can be used for different situations. It’s an amazing tool.

The heist.

How do you work with your assistant editor?
It depends on the show and who it is. On this one I had a first assistant, Cam McLaughlin, and a second assistant, Mary Juric. I had worked with both of them on The Strain pilot, and was glad to work with them again. Mary was on the show through a couple of weeks beyond the end of shooting. Her primary job was setting up the dailies in ScriptSync, which is a fabulous tool within Media Composer. She also did a lot of the complicated temp effects. She also created most of the Russian and ASL subtitles.

My first assistant, Cam, primarily put together the dailies … although Mary helped with that as well. He also did the temp effects and chose and cut most of the temp music. My assistant editor is always an ally, somebody I show cuts to, ask for feedback from and bounce my ideas off. Cam’s a wonderful colleague in the cutting room. He’s very smart and talented. I believe he is cutting a feature right now.

Let’s change gears. You’ve cut a lot of television, a lot of really good television. Do you wear a different hat when you’re cutting one over the other?
The nice thing about features is the shooting schedules are longer. And what you’re doing is a unique piece; it’s one of a kind. You show it to audiences, you get feedback and you work on it. Usually, you work closely with the director until the project is completed.

In some ways this is very much like a television pilot — it’s never been done before and a lot is riding on its success. Depending on the project, the director of the pilot will follow it through to the end. This was true for The Strain, where I believe Guillermo had final cut. In series, you usually work with the director through the end of his cut, and then you begin working with the show runner and the studio, and finally the network to complete the project.

I always hope to be working with someone who has a clear vision of what the project should be and the stature to make the final decision. On features it is usually the director, in television if is the showrunner. However, as an editor I always must retain my own vision of the best way to edit scenes, solve story problems and be prepared to work with anyone who is shepherding the show to its completion.

The edit suite.

Do you prefer one over the other?
I prefer features because of the time that’s taken and the close relationship you have with the director. That said, I’m proud of the work I’ve done in television, and the most important thing to me is to be able to use my skills to help realize the projects I’m working on.

What’s next for you?
I just got back from a trip to Italy to visit my son and his family, who live there, so really just taking some time off. I’m hoping that this film will help me another film. In this industry, it’s easy to get buttonholed as a television editor, so hoping another film opportunity comes my way soon.

Based on the attention this film has been getting, and your recent ACE Eddie nom, I think you’ll have that opportunity. One last thing before I let you go. Do you have any advice for an editor just starting out?
Most editors who are starting out have already been assistants and are trying to make the transition to editing. You have to be careful to make sure people perceive you as an editor and not as an assistant, and that could be tough because it could mean turning assistant jobs down. Obviously, if you need the money you may not be able to, but the most important thing is to grab any cutting opportunity that comes along. Don’t be picky. If you want to become an editor you have to be cutting. Also you never know where something will lead, and you want the people you meet along the way to see you as an editor — and hopefully, the editor of their next production.

Main Image: (L-R) Golden Globe-winner Guillermo del Toro and editor Sidney Wolinksy.


Fotokem posts Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Burbank-based post house FotoKem provided creative and technical services for the Disney/Lucasfilm movie Star Wars: The Last Jedi. The facility built advanced solutions that supported the creative team from production to dailies to color grade. Services included a customized workflow for dailies, editorial and VFX support, conform and a color pipeline that incorporated all camera formats (film and file-based).

The long-established post house worked directly with director Rian Johnson; DP Steve Yedlin, ASC; producer Ram Bergman; Lucasfilm head of post Pippa Anderson; and Lucasfilm director of post Mike Blanchard.

FotoKem was brought on prior to the beginning of principal photography and designed an intricate workflow tailored to accommodate the goals of production. A remote post facility was assembled near-set in London where film technician Simone Appleby operated two real-time Scanity film scanners, digitizing up to 15,000 feet a day of 35mm footage at full-aperture 4K resolution. Supported by a highly secure network, FotoKem NextLab systems ingested the digitized film and file-based camera footage, providing “scan once instant-access” to everything, and creating a singular workflow for every unit’s footage. By the end of production over one petabyte of data was managed by NextLab. This allowed the filmmakers, visual effects teams, editors and studio access to securely and easily share large volumes of assets for any part of the workflow.

“I worked with FotoKem previously and knew their capabilities. This project clearly required a high level of support to handle global locations with multiple units and production partners,” says Bergman. “We had a lot of requirements at this scale to create a consistent workflow for all the teams using the footage, from production viewing dailies to the specific editorial deliverables, visual effects plates, marketing and finishing, with no delays or security concerns.”

Before shooting began, Yedlin worked with FotoKem’s film and digital lab to create specialized scanner profiles and custom Look Up Tables (LUTs). FotoKem implemented the algorithms devised by Yedlin into their NextLab software to obtain a seamless match between digital footage and film scans. Yedlin also received full-resolution stills, which served as a communication funnel for color and quality control checks. This color workflow was devised in collaboration with FotoKem color scientist Joseph Slomka, and executed by NextLab software developer Eric Cameron and dailies colorist Jon Rocke, who were on site throughout the entire production.

“As cinematographers, we work hard to create looks, and FotoKem made it possible for me to take control of each step in the process and know exactly what was happening,” says Yedlin. The color science support I received made true image control a realized concept.”

Calibrated 4K monitoring via the Sony X300 and the high availability SAN on site, managed by NextLAB, enabled a real time workflow for dailies. Visual effects and editorial teams, via high density NAS, were allowed instant access to full fidelity footage during and after production for all VFX pulls and conform pulls. The NAS acted as a back-up for all source content, and was live throughout production. Through the system’s interface, they could procure footage, pull shots as needed, and maintain exact color and metadata integration between any step.

For the color grade, FotoKem colorist Walter Volpatto used Blackmagic Resolve to fine-tune raw images, as well as those from ILM, with Johnson and Yedlin using the color and imaging pipeline established from day one. FotoKem also set up remote grading suites at Skywalker Sound and Disney so the teams could work during the sound mix, and later while grading for HDR and other specialty theatrical deliverables. They used a Barco 4K projector for final finishing.

“The film emulation LUT that Steve (Yedlin) created carried nuances he wanted in the final image and he was mindful of this while shooting, lighting both the film and digital scenes so that minimal manipulation was required in the color grade,” Volpatto explains. “Steve’s mastery of lighting for both formats, as well as his extensive understanding of color science, helped to make the blended footage look more cohesive.”

Volpatto also oversaw the HDR pass and IMAX versions. Ultimately, multiple deliverables were created by FotoKem including standard DCP, HDR10, Dolby Vision, HLG, 3D (in standard, stereo Dolby and 2D Dolby HDR) and home video formats. FotoKem worked with IMAX to align the color science pipeline with their Xenon and laser DCPs and 15-perf 70mm prints as well.

“It’s not every day that we would ship scanners to remote locations and integrate a real-time post environment that would rival many permanent installations,” concludes Mike Brodersen, FotoKem’s chief strategy officer.


Stitch cuts down 200+ hours of footage for TalkTalk Xmas spot

Can you feel it? The holidays are here, and seasonal ads have begun. One UK company, TalkTalk — which provides pay television, telecommunications, Internet and mobile services — is featuring genuine footage of a family Christmas. Documenting a real family during last year’s holiday, this totally unscripted, fly-on-the-wall commercial sees the return of the Merwick Street family and their dog, Elvis, in This is Christmas.

Directed by Park Pictures’ Tom Tagholm and cut by Stitch’s Tim Hardy, the team used the same multi-camera techniques that were used on their 2016 This Stuff Matters campaign.

Seventeen cameras — a combination of Blackmagic Micro Studio 4K, a remote Panasonic AW-UE70WP and Go Pros — were used over the four-day festive period, located across eight rooms and including a remote controlled car. The cameras were rolling from 6:50am on Christmas Eve and typically rolled until midnight on most days, accumulating in over 200 hours of rushes that were edited down into this 60-second spot.

In lessons learned from the last year’s shoot, which was shot continuously, this time video loggers were in place to to identify moments the rooms were empty.

“I think we had pretty much perfected our system for organizing and managing the rushes in Talk Talk’s summer campaign, so we were in a good position to start off with,” explains editor Hardy, who cut the piece on an Avid Media Composer. “The big difference this time around was that the whole family were in the house at the same time, meaning that quite often there were conversations going on between two or three different rooms at once. Although it did get a little confusing, it was often very funny as they are not the quietest of families!”

Director Tagholm decided to add a few extra cameras, such as the toy remote-controlled car that crashes into the Christmas tree. “This extra layer of complexity added a certain feel to the Christmas film that we didn’t have in the previous ones,” says Hardy.


Evoking the beauty and power of Dunkirk with 65mm

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

By Adrian Pennington

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

Christopher Nolan on set.

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Walter Volpatto

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

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

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

Joseph Slomka

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

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

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


Dailies and post for IFC’s Brockmire

By Randi Altman

When the name Brockmire first entered my vocabulary, it was thanks to a very naughty and extremely funny short video that I saw on YouTube, starring Hank Azaria. It made me laugh-cry.

Fast forward about seven years and the tale of the plaid-jacket-wearing, old-school baseball play-by-play man — who discovers his beloved wife’s infidelity and melts down in an incredibly dirty and curse-fueled way on air — is picked up by IFC, in the series aptly named Brockmire. It stars Azaria, Amanda Peet and features cameos from sportscasters like Joe Buck and Tim Kurkjian.

The Sim Group was called on to provide multiple services for Brockmire: Sim provided camera rentals, Bling Digital provided dailies and workflow services, and Chainsaw provided offline editorial facilities, post finishing services, and deliverables.

We reached out to Chainsaw’s VP of business development, Michael Levy, and Bling Digital’s workflow producer, James Koon, with some questions about workflow. First up is Levy.

Michael Levy

How early did you get involved on Brockmire?
Our role with Brockmire started from the very beginning stages of the project. This was through a working relationship I had with Elizabeth Baquet, who is a production executive at Funny or Die (which produces the show).

What challenges did you have to overcome?
One of the biggest challenges was related to scaling a short to a multi-episode series and having multiple episodes in both production and in post at the same time. However, all the companies that make up Sim Group have worked on many episodic series over the years, so we were in a really good position to offer advice in terms of how to plan a workflow strategy, how to document things properly and how to coordinate getting their camera and dailies offline media from Atlanta to Post Editorial in Los Angeles.

What tools did they need for post and how involved was Chainsaw?
Chainsaw worked very hard with our Sim Group colleagues in Atlanta to provide a level of coordination that I believe made life much simpler for the Brockmire production/editorial team.

Offline editing for the series was done on our Avid Media composer systems in cutting rooms here in the Chainsaw/SIM Group studio in Los Angeles at the Las Palmas Building.

The Avid dailies media created by Bling-Atlanta, our partner company in the SimGroup, was piped over the Internet each day to Chainsaw. When the Brockmire editorial crew walked into their cutting rooms, their offline dailies media was ready to edit with on their Avid Isis server workspace. Whenever needed, they were also able to access their Arri Alexa full-rez dailies media that had been shipped on Bling drives from Atlanta.

Bling-Atlanta’s workflow supervisor for Brockmire, James Koon, remained fully involved, and was able to supervise the pulling of any clips needed for VFX, or respond to any other dailies related needs.

Deb Wolfe, Funny or Die’s post producer for Brockmire, also had an office here at Chainsaw. She consulted regularly with Annalise Kurinsky (Chainsaw’s in-house producer for Brockmire) and I as they moved along locking cuts and getting ready for post finishing.

In preparation for the finishing work, we were able to set-up color tests with Chainsaw senior colorist Andy Lichtstein, who handled final color for the series in one of our FilmLight Baselight color suites. I should note that all of our Chainsaw finishing rooms were right downstairs on the second floor of the same Sim Group Las Palmas Building.

How closely did you work with Deb Wolfe?
Very closely, especially in dealing with an unexpected production problem. Co-star Amanda Peet was accidentally hit in the head by a thrown beer can (how Brockmire! as they would say in the series). We quickly called in Boyd Stepan, Chainsaw’s Senior VFX artist, and came up with a game plan to do Flame paint fixes on all of the affected Amanda Peet shots. We also provided additional VFX compositing for other planned VFX shots in several of their episodes.

What about the HD online finish?
That was done on Avid Symphony and Baselight by staff online editor Jon Pehlke, making full use of Chainsaw’s Avid/Baselight clip-based AAF workflow.

The last stop in the post process was the Chainsaw Deliverables Department, which took care of QC and requested videotape dubs and creation and digital upload of specified delivery files.

James Koon

Now for James Koon…

James, what challenges did you have to overcome if any?
I would say that the biggest challenge overall with Brockmire was the timeframe. Twenty-four days to shoot eight episodes is ambitious. While in general this doesn’t pose a specific problem in dailies, the tight shooting schedule meant that certain elements of the workflow were going to need more attention. The color workflow, in particular, was one that created a fair amount of discussion — with the tight schedules on set, the DP (Jeffrey Waldron) wanted to get his look, but wasn’t going to have much time, if any, on-set coloring. So we worked with the DP to set up looks before they started shooting that could be stored in the camera and monitored on set and would be applied and tweaked as needed back at the dailies lab with notes from the DP.

Episode information from set to editorial was also an important consideration as they were shooting material from all eight episodes at once. Making sure to cross reference and double check which episode a shot was for was important to make sure that editorial could quickly find what they needed.

Can you walk us through the workflow, and how you worked with the producers?
They shot with the Arri’s Amira and Alexa Mini, monitoring with the LUTs created before production. This material was offloaded to an on-set back-up and a shuttle drive  — we generally use G-Tech G-RAID 4TB Thunderbolt or USB3 and  for local storage a Promise Pegasus drive and a back up on our Facilis Terrablock SAN — that was sent to the lab along with camera notes and any notes from the DP and/or the DIT regarding the look for the material. Once received at the lab we would offload the footage to our local storage and process the footage in the dailies software, syncing the material to the audio mixers recording and logging the episode, scene and take information for every take, using camera notes, script notes and audio logs to make sure that the information was correct and consistent.

We also applied the correct LUT based on camera reports and tweaked color as needed to match cameras and make any adjustments needed from the DPs notes. Once all of that was completed, we would render Avid materials for editorial, create Internet streaming files for IFC’s Box service, as well as creating DVDs.

We would bring in the Avid files and organize them into bins per the editorial specs, and upload the files and bins to the editorial location in LA. These files were delivered directly to a dailies partition on their Isis, so once editorial arrived in the morning, everything was waiting for them.

Once dailies were completed, LTO backups of the media and dailies were written as well as additional temporary backups of the source material as a safety. These final backups were completed and verified by the following morning, and editorial and production were both notified, allowing production to clear cards from the previous day if needed.

What tools did you use for dailies?
We used DaVinci Resolve to set original looks with the DP before the show began shooting, Colorfront Express Dailies for dailies processing, Media Composer for Avid editorial prep and bin organization and Imagine’s PreRoll Post for LTO writing and verification.