Category Archives: post production

Sony creates sounds for Director X’s Superfly remake

Columbia Pictures’ Superfly is a reimagining of Gordon Parks Jr.’s classic 1972 blaxploitation film of the same name. Helmed by Director X and written by Alex Tse, this new version transports the story of Priest from Harlem to modern-day Atlanta.

Steven Ticknor

Superfly’s sound team from Sony Pictures Post Production Services — led by supervising sound editor Steven Ticknor, supervising sound editor and re-recording mixer Kevin O’Connell, re-recording mixer Greg Orloff and sound designer Tony Lamberti — was tasked with bringing the sonic elements of Priest’s world to life. That included everything from building soundscapes for Atlanta’s neighborhoods and nightclubs to supplying the sounds of fireworks, gun battles and car chases.

“Director X and Joel Silver — who produced the movie alongside hip-hop superstar Future, who also curated and produced the film’s soundtrack — wanted the film to have a big sound, as big and theatrical as possible,” says Ticknor. “The film is filled with fights and car chases, and we invested a lot of detail and creativity into each one to bring out their energy and emotion.”

One element that received special attention from the sound team was the Lexus LC500 that Priest (Trevor Jackson) drives in the film. As the sports car was brand new, no pre-recorded sounds were available, so Ticknor and Lamberti dispatched a recording crew and professional driver to the California desert to capture every aspect of its unique engine sounds, tire squeals, body mechanics and electronics. “Our job is to be authentic, so we couldn’t use a different Lexus,” Ticknor explains. “It had to be that car.”

In one of the film’s most thrilling scenes, Priest and the Lexus LC500 are involved in a high-speed chase with a Lamborghini and a Cadillac Escalade. Sound artists added to the excitement by preparing sounds for every screech, whine and gear shift made by the cars, as well as explosions and other events happening alongside them and movements made by the actors behind the wheels.

It’s all much larger than life, says Ticknor, but grounded in reality. “The richness of the sound is a result of all the elements that go into it, the way they are recorded, edited and mixed,” he explains. “We wanted to give each car its own identity, so when you cut from one car revving to another car revving, it sounds like they’re talking to each other. The audience may not be able to articulate it, but they feel the emotion.”

Fights received similarly detailed treatment. Lamberti points to an action sequence in a barber shop as one of several scenes rendered partially in extreme slow motion. “It starts off in realtime before gradually shifting to slo-mo through the finish,” he says. “We had fun slowing down sounds, and processing them in strange and interesting ways. In some instances, we used sounds that had no literal relation to what was happening on the screen but, when slowed down, added texture. Our aim was to support the visuals with the coolest possible sound.”

Re-recording mixing was accomplished in the 125-seat Anthony Quinn Theater on an Avid S6 console with O’Connell handling dialogue and music and Orloff tackling sound effects and Foley. Like its 1972 predecessor, which featured an iconic soundtrack from Curtis Mayfield, the new film employs music brilliantly. Atlanta-based rapper Future, who shares producer credit, assembled a soundtrack that features Young Thug, Lil Wayne, Miguel, H.E.R. and 21 Savage.

“We were fortunate to have in Kevin and Greg, a pair of Academy Award-winning mixers, who did a brilliant job in blending music, dialogue and sound effects,” says Ticknor. “The mix sessions were very collaborative, with a lot of experimentation to build intensity and make the movie feel bigger than life. Everyone was contributing ideas and challenging each other to make it better, and it all came together in the end.”

The score for YouTube Red’s Cobra Kai pays tribute to original Karate Kid

By Jennifer Walden

In the YouTube Red comedy series Cobra Kai, Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio), the young hero of the Karate Kid movies, has grown up to be a prosperous car salesman, while his nemesis Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka) just can’t seem to shake that loser label he earned long ago. Johnny can’t hold down his handy-man job. He lives alone in a dingy apartment, and his personality hasn’t benefited from maturity at all. He lives a very sad reality until one day he finds himself sticking up for a kid being bullied, and that redeeming bit of character makes you root for him. It’s an interesting dynamic that the series writers/showrunners have crafted, and it works.

L-R: Composers Leo Birenberg and Zack Robinson

Fans of the 1980’s film franchise will appreciate the soundtrack of the new Cobra Kai series. Los Angeles-based composers Leo Birenberg and Zach Robinson were tasked with capturing the essence of both composer Bill Conti’s original film scores and the popular music tracks that also defined the sound of the films.

To find that Karate Kid essence, Birenberg and Robinson listened to the original films and identified what audiences were likely latching onto sonically. “We concluded that it was mostly a color palette connection that people have. They hear a certain type of orchestral music with a Japanese flute sound, and they hear ‘80s rock,” says Birenberg. “It’s that palette of sounds that people connect with more so than any particular melody or theme from the original movies.”

Even though Conti’s themes and melodies for Karate Kid don’t provide the strongest sonic link to the films, Birenberg and Robinson did incorporate a few of them into their tracks at appropriate moments to create a feeling of continuity between the films and the series. “For example, there were a couple of specific Japanese flute phrases that we redid. And we found a recurring motif of a simple pizzicato string melody,” explains Birenberg. “It’s so simple that it was easy to find moments to insert it into our cues. We thought that was a really cool way to tie everything together and make it feel like it is all part of the same universe.”

Birenberg and Robinson needed to write a wide range of music for the show, which can be heard en masse on the Cobra Kai OST. There are the ’80s rock tracks that take over for licensed songs by bands like Poison and The Alan Parsons Project. This direction, as heard on the tracks “Strike First” and “Quiver,” covered the score for Johnny’s character.

The composers also needed to write orchestral tracks that incorporated Eastern influences, like the Japanese flutes, to cover Daniel as a karate teacher and to comment on his memories of Miyagi. A great example of this style is called, fittingly, “Miyagi Memories.”

There’s a third direction that Birenberg and Robinson covered for the new Cobra Kai students. “Their sound is a mixture of modern EDM and dance music with the heavier ‘80s rock and metal aesthetics that we used for Johnny,” explains Robinson. “So it’s like Johnny is imbuing the new students with his musical values. This style is best represented in the track ‘Slither.’”

Birenberg and Robinson typically work as separate composers, but they’ve collaborated on several projects before Cobra Kai. What makes their collaborations so successful is that their workflows and musical aesthetics are intrinsically similar. Both use Steinberg’s Cubase as their main DAW, while running Ableton Live in ReWire mode. Both like to work with MIDI notes while composing, as opposed to recording and cutting audio tracks.

Says Birenberg, “We don’t like working with audio from the get-go because TV and film are such a notes-driven process. You’re not writing music as much as you are re-writing it to specification and creative input. You want to be able to easily change every aspect of a track without having to dial in the same guitar sound or re-record the toms that you recorded yesterday.”

Virtual Instruments
For Cobra Kai, they first created demo songs using MIDI and virtual instruments. Drums and percussion sounds came from XLN Audio’s Addictive Drums. Spectrasonics Trilian was used for bass lines and Keyscape and Omnisphere 2 provided many soft-synth and keyboard sounds. Virtual guitar sounds came from MusicLab’s RealStrat and RealLPC, Orange Tree, and Ilya Efimov virtual instrument libraries. The orchestral sections were created using Native Instruments Kontakt, with samples coming from companies such as Spitfire, Cinesamples, Cinematic Strings, and Orchestral Tools.

“Both Zach and I put a high premium on virtual instruments that are very playable,” reports Birenberg. “When you’re in this line of work, you have to work superfast and you don’t want a virtual instrument that you have to spend forever tweaking. You want to be able to just play it in so that you can write quickly.”

For the final tracks, they recorded live guitar, bass and drums on every episode, as well as Japanese flute and small percussion parts. For the season finale, they recorded a live orchestra. “But,” says Birenberg, “all the orchestra and some Japanese percussion you hear earlier in the series, for the most part, are virtual instruments.”

Live Musicians
For the live orchestra, Robinson says they wrote 35 minutes of music in six days and immediately sent that to get orchestrated and recorded across the world with the Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra. The composing team didn’t even have to leave Los Angeles. “They sent us a link to a private live stream so we could listen to the session as it was going on, and we typed notes to them as we were listening. It sounds crazy but it’s pretty common. We’ve done that on numerous projects and it always turns out great.”

When it comes to dividing up the episodes — deciding who should score what scenes — the composing team likes to “go with gut and enthusiasm,” explains Birenberg. “We would leave the spotting session with the showrunners, and usually each of us would have a few ideas for particular spots.”

Since they don’t work in the same studio, the composers would split up and start work on the sections they chose. Once they had an idea down, they’d record a quick video of the track playing back to picture and share that with the other composer. Then they would trade tracks so they each got an opportunity to add in parts. Birenberg says, “We did a lot of sending iPhone videos back and forth. If it sounds good over an iPhone video, then it probably sounds pretty good!”

Both composers have different and diverse musical backgrounds, so they both feel comfortable diving right in and scoring orchestral parts or writing bass lines, for instance. “For the scope of this show, we felt at home in every aspect of the score,” says Birenberg. “That’s how we knew this show was for both of us. This score covers a lot of ground musically, and that ground happened to fit things that we understand and are excited about.” Luckily, they’re both excited about ‘80s rock (particularly Robinson) because writing music in that style effectively isn’t easy. “You can’t fake it,” he says.

Recreating ‘80s Rock
A big part of capturing the magic of ‘80s rock happened in the mix. On the track “King Cobra,” mix engineer Sean O’Brien harnessed the ‘80s hair metal style by crafting a drum sound that evoked Motley Crew and Bon Jovi. “I wanted to make the drums as bombastic and ‘80s as possible, with a really snappy kick drum and big reverbs on the kick and snare,” says O’Brien.

Using Massey DRT — a drum sample replacement plug-in for Avid Pro Tools, he swapped out the live drum parts with drum samples. Then on the snare, he added a gated reverb using Valhalla VintageVerb. He also used Valhalla Room to add a short plate sound to thicken up the kick and snare drums.

To get the toms to match the cavernous punchiness of the kick and snare, O’Brien augmented the live toms with compression and EQ. “I chopped up the toms so there wasn’t any noise in between each hit and then I sent those to the nonlinear short reverbs in Valhalla Room,” he says. “Next, I did parallel compression using the Waves SSL E-Channel plug-in to really squash the tom hits so they’re big and in your face. With EQ, I added more top end then I normally would to help the toms compete with the other elements in the mix. You can make the close mics sound really crispy with those SSL EQs.”

Next, he bussed all the drum tracks to a group aux track, which had a Neve 33609 plug-in by UAD and a Waves C4 multi-band compressor “to control the whole drum kit after the reverbs were laid in to make sure those tracks fit in with the other instruments.”

Sean O’Brien

On “Slither,” O’Brien also focused on the drums, but since this track is more ‘80s dance than ‘80s rock, O’Brien says he was careful to emphasize the composers’ ‘80s drum machine sounds (rather than the live drum kit), because that is where the character of the track was coming from. “My job on this track was to enhance the electric drum sounds; to give the drum machine focus. I used UAD’s Neve 1081 plug-in on the electronic drum elements to brighten them up.”

“Slither” also features Taiko drums, which make the track feel cinematic and big. O’Brien used Soundtoys Devil-Loc to make the taiko drums feel more aggressive, and added distortion using Decapitator from Soundtoys to help them cut through the other drums in the track. “I think the drums were the big thing that Zach [Robinson] and Leo [Birenberg] were looking to me for because the guitars and synths were already recorded the way the composers wanted them to sound.”

The Mix
Mix engineer Phil McGowan, who was responsible for mixing “Strike First,” agrees. He says, “The ‘80s sound for me was really based on drum sounds, effects and tape saturation. Most of the synth and guitar sounds that came from Zach and Leo were already very stylized so there wasn’t a whole lot to do there. Although I did use a Helios 69 EQ and Fairchild compressor on the bass along with a little Neve 1081 and Kramer PIE compression on the guitars, which are all models of gear that would have been used back then. I used some Lexicon 224 and EMT 250 on the synths, but otherwise there really wasn’t a whole lot of processing from me on those elements.”

Phil McGowan’s ‘Strike First’ Pro Tools session.

To get an ‘80s gated reverb sound for the snare and toms on “Strike First,” McGowan used an AMS RMX16 nonlinear reverb plug-in in Pro Tools. For bus processing, he mainly relied on a Pultec EQ, adding a bit of punch with the classic “Pultec Low End Trick” —which involves boosting and attenuating at the same frequency — plus adding a little bump at 8k for some extra snap. Next in line, he used an SSL G-Master buss compressor before going into UAD’s Studer A800 tape plug-in set to 456 tape at 30 ips and calibrated to +3 dB.

“I did end up using some parallel compression using a Distressor plug-in by Empirical Labs, which was not around back then, but it’s my go-to parallel compressor and it sounded fine, so I left it in my template. I also used a little channel EQ from FabFilter Pro-Q2 and the Neve 88RS Channel Strip,” concludes McGowan.


Jennifer Walden is a New Jersey-based audio engineer and writer. You can follow her on Twitter at @audiojeney.com.

DG 7.9.18

Quick Chat: Technicolor’s new finishing artist, VP Pankaj Bajpai

By Randi Altman

Veteran colorist Pankaj Bajpai will be joining Technicolor’s Los Angeles studio in August as VP, finishing artist and business development. He comes to Technicolor from his long-tenured position at Encore.

Bajpai’s long list of television credits include House of Cards, Sex in the CityCarnivàle, The Newsroom, True Detective, Justified, Fear the Walking Dead, Genius: Einstein and Picasso, Snowfall and many more. He brings with him a background in both film cinematography and digital post.

Bajpai joins Technicolor’s roster of episodic colorists in Los Angeles who include Sparkle, Tim Vincent, Tony Dustin, Tom Forletta, Roy Vasich and Doug Delaney.

“I’m thrilled to start a new chapter at such a vibrant time in our industry’s landscape,” says Bajpai on joining Technicolor. “With the support of Sherri Potter (Technicolor’s president of worldwide post production), and the team of artists and engineers at Technicolor, I’m excited to continue to push the boundaries of technology and creativity to bring our clients’ vision and passion to all screens, in all formats, for all to enjoy.”

We reached out to Bajpai to find out more:

Why was now the right time to make this change, especially after being at one place for so long?
Consumers’ relationship with content has been disrupted, the entertainment industry has shifted, and as a result the dynamics of post are changing dramatically. Lines are blurring between “feature” and “episodic” content — the quality of the story and the production, the craft, the expectation by all stakeholders, etc. is now almost universally the same for all pieces of content regardless of distribution platform. I believe Technicolor understands this dynamic shift and is supporting the singular demand for stunning content regardless of distribution “genre,” and that made it the right time for me to join.

How do you divide your time between your colorist duties and your biz dev duties?
I believe that the role of the colorist is no longer a singular duty. It is my responsibility to be the center of collaboration across the post process — from a client perspective, a craft perspective and a workflow perspective. We no longer live in a silo’d industry with clear hand-offs. I must understand the demands that 4K, HDR and beyond have on workflows, the craft and the ever-tightening delivery deadlines.

I believe in being the catalyst for collaboration across the post process, uniting the technology and artistry to serve our clients’ visions. It’s not about wearing one hat at a time. It’s about taking my role as both artists and client ambassador seriously, ultimately ensuring that the experience is as flawless as possible, and the picture is stunning.

You are an artist first, but what do you get from doing the other parts as well?
We no longer work within independent processes. Being that center of collaboration that I referenced earlier influences my approach to color finishing as much as my role as an artist helps to bring perspective to the technology and operational demands of projects these days.

How does your background in cinematography inform you color work?
My work will always be informed by my clients, but my background in cinematography allows us to speak the same language — the language of lens and light, the language of photography. I find it is a very easy way of communicating visual ideas and gets us on the same page much faster. For instance, when a DP shares with me that they will be using a particular set of lenses and filters in combination with specific gels and lights, I’m able to visualize their creative intent quickly. Instinctively, we know what that image needs to be from the start without talking about it too much. Establishing such trust on demanding episodic shooting and finishing schedules is critical to stay true to my clients’ creative ideas.

Understanding and respecting the nuances of a cinematographer’s work in this way goes far in my ability to create a successful color finishing process in the end.

The world of color is thriving right now. How has the art changed since you started?
Art at its essence will always be about creative people seeing something come to life from within their own unique perspective. What has changed is the fact that the tools we now have at our disposal allow me as a finishing artist to create all new approaches to my craft. I can go deeper into an image and its color space now; it’s freeing and exciting because it allows for collaboration with cinematographers and directors on a continually deeper level.

What is the most exciting thing going on in color right now? HDR? Something else?
It really feels like the golden age of content across all platforms. Consumers’ expectations are understandably high across any type of content consumed in any environment or any screen. I think everyone involved on a show feels that and feels the excitement and continues to raise the bar for the quality of the storytelling, the craft and the overall consumer engagement. To be a contributor work, which is now easily seen globally, is very exciting.

Has the new technology changed the way you work or is your creative process essentially the same?
Technology will continue to change, workflows will be impacted and, as an industry, we’ll always be looking to challenge what is possible. My creative process continues to be influenced by the innovative tools that I get to explore.

For instance, it’s vital for me to understand an array of new digital cameras and the distinctive images they are capable of producing. I frequently use my toolset for creative options that can be deployed right within those cameras. To be able to help customize images non-destructively from the beginning of the shoot and to collaborate with directors and cinematographers to aid storytelling with a unique visual style all the way to the finish, is hugely satisfying. For innovation in the creative process today, the sky is the limit.


Review: HP DreamColor Z31x studio display for cinema 4K

By Mike McCarthy

Not long ago, HP sent me their newest high-end monitor to review, and I was eager to dig in. The DreamColor Z31x studio display is a 31-inch true 4K color-critical reference monitor. It has many new features that set it apart from its predecessors, which I have examined and will present here in as much depth as I can.

It is challenging to communicate the nuances of color quality through writing or any other form on the Internet, as some things can only be truly appreciated firsthand. But I will attempt to communicate the experience of using the new DreamColor as best I can.

First, we will start with a little context…

Some DreamColor History
HP revolutionized the world of color-critical displays with the release of the first DreamColor in June 2008. The LP2480zx was a 24-inch 1920×1200 display that had built-in color processing with profiles for standard color spaces and the ability to calibrate it to refine those profiles as the monitor aged. It was not the first display with any of these capabilities, but the first one that was affordable, by at least an order of magnitude.

It became very popular in the film industry, both sitting on desks in post facilities — as it was designed — and out in the field as a live camera monitor, which it was not designed for. It had a true 10-bit IPS pane and the ability to reproduce incredible detail in the darks. It could only display 10-bit sources from the brand-new DisplayPort input or the HDMI port, and the color gamut remapping only worked for non-interlaced RGB sources.

So many people using the DreamColor as a “video monitor” instead of a “computer monitor” weren’t even using the color engine — they were just taking advantage of the high-quality panel. It wasn’t just the color engine but the whole package, including the price, that led to its overwhelming success. This was helped by the lack of better options, even at much higher price points, since this was the period after CRT production ended but before OLED panels had reached the market. This was similar to (and in the same timeframe as) Canon’s 5D MarkII revolutionizing the world of independent filmmaking with its HDSLRs. The combination gave content creators amazing tools for moving into HD production at affordable price points.

It took six years for HP to release an update to the original model DreamColor in the form of the Z27x and Z24x. These had the same color engine but different panel technology. They never had the same impact on the industry as the original, because the panels didn’t “wow” people, and the competition was starting to catch up. Dell has PremierColor and Samsung and BenQ have models featuring color accuracy as well. The Z27x could display 4K sources by scaling them to its native 2560×1440 resolution, while the Z24x’s resolution was decreased to 1920×1080 with a panel that was even less impressive.

Fast forward a few more years, and the Z24x was updated to Gen2, and the Z32x was released with UHD resolution. This was four times the resolution of the original DreamColor and at half the price. But with lots of competition in the market, I don’t think it has had the reach of the original DreamColor, and the industry has matured to the point where people aren’t hooking them to 4K cameras because there are other options better suited to that environment, specifically battery powered OLED units.

DreamColor at 4K
Fast forward a bit and HP has released the Z31x DreamColor studio display. The big feature that this unit brings to the table is true cinema 4K resolution. The label 4K gets thrown around a lot these days, but most “4K” products are actually UHD resolution, at 3840×2160, instead of the full 4096×2160. This means that true 4K content is scaled to fit the UHD screen, or in the case of Sony TVs, cropped off the sides. When doing color critical work, you need to be able to see every pixel, with no scaling, which could hide issues. So the Z31x’s 4096×2160 native resolution will be an important feature for anyone working on modern feature films, from editing and VFX to grading and QC.

The 10-bit 4K Panel
The true 10-bit IPS panel is the cornerstone of what makes a DreamColor such a good monitor. IPS monitor prices have fallen dramatically since they were first introduced over a decade ago, and some of that is the natural progression of technology, but some of that has come at the expense of quality. Most displays offering 10-bit color are accomplishing that by flickering the pixels of an 8-bit panel in an attempt to fill in the remaining gradations with a technique called frame rate control (FRC). And cheaper panels are as low as 6-bit color with FRC to make them close to 8-bit. There are a variety of other ways to reduce cost with cheaper materials, and lower-quality backlights.

HP claims that the underlying architecture of this panel returns to the quality of the original IPS panel designs, but then adds the technological advances developed since then, without cutting any corners in the process. In order to fully take advantage of the 10-bit panel, you need to feed it 10-bit source content, which is easier than it used to be but not a forgone conclusion. Make sure you select 10-bit output color in your GPU settings.

In addition to a true 10-bit color display, it also natively refreshes at the rate of the source image, from 48Hz-60Hz, because displaying every frame at the right time is as important as displaying it in the right color. They say that the darker blacks are achieved by better crystal alignment in the LCD (Liquid Crystal Display) blocking out the backlight more fully. This also gives a wider viewing angle, since washing out the blacks is usually the main issue with off-axis viewing. I can move about 45 degrees off center, vertically or horizontally, without seeing any shift in the picture brightness or color. Past that I start to see the mid levels getting darker.

Speaking of brighter and darker, the backlight gives the display a native brightness of 250 nits. That is over twice the brightness needed to display SDR content, but this not an HDR display. It can be adjusted anywhere from 48 to 250 nits, depending on the usage requirements and environment. It is not designed to be the brightest display available, it is aiming to be the most accurate.

Much effort was put into the front surface, to get the proper balance of reducing glare and reflections as much as possible. I can’t independently verify some of their other claims without a microscope and more knowledge than I currently have, but I can easily see that the matte surface of the display is much better than other monitors in regards to fewer reflections and less glare for the surrounding environment, allowing you to better see the image on the screen. That is one of the most apparent strengths of the monitor, obviously visible at first glance.

Color Calibration
The other new headline feature is an integrated colorimeter for display calibration and verification, located in the top of the bezel. It can swing down and measure the color parameters of the true 10-bit IPS panel, to adjust the color space profiles, allowing the monitor to more accurately reproduce colors. This is a fully automatic feature, independent of any software or configuration on the host computer system. It can be controlled from the display’s menu interface, and the settings will persist between multiple systems. This can be used to create new color profiles, or optimize the included ones for DCI P3, BT.709, BT.2020, sRGB and Adobe RGB. It also includes some low-blue-light modes for use as an interface monitor, but this negates its color accurate functionality. It can also input and output color profiles and all other configuration settings through USB and its network connection.

The integrated color processor also supports using external colorimeters and spectroradiometers to calibrate the display, and even allows the integrated XYZ colorimeter itself to be calibrated by those external devices. And this is all accomplished internally in the display, independent of using any software on the workstation side. The supported external devices currently include:
– Klein Instruments: K10, K10-A (colorimeters)
– Photo Research: PR-655, PR-670, PR-680, PR-730, PR-740, PR-788 (spectroradiometers)
– Konica Minolta: CA-310 (colorimeter)
– X-Rite: i1Pro 2 (spectrophotometer), i1Display (colorimeter)
– Colorimetry Research: CR-250 (spectroradiometer)

Inputs and Ports
There are five main display inputs on the monitor: two DisplayPort 1.2, two HDMI 2.0 and one DisplayPort over USB-C. All support HDCP and full 4K resolution at up to 60 frames per second. It also has an 1/8-inch sound jack and a variety of USB options. There are four USB 3.0 ports that are shared via KVM switching technology between the USB-C host connection and a separate USB-B port to a host system. These are controlled by another dedicated USB keyboard port, giving the monitor direct access to the keystrokes. There are two more USB ports that connect to the integrated DreamColor hardware engine, for connecting external calibration instruments, and for loading settings from USB devices.

My only complaint is that while the many USB ports are well labeled, the video ports are not. I can tell which ones are HDMI without the existing labels, but what I really need is to know which one the display views as HDMI1 and which is HDMI2. The Video Input Menu doesn’t tell you which inputs are active, which is another oversight, given all of the other features they added to ease the process of sharing the display between multiple inputs. So I recommend labeling them yourself.

Full-Screen Monitoring Features
I expect the Z31x will most frequently be used as a dedicated full-resolution playback monitor, and HP has developed a bunch of new features that are very useful and applicable for that use case. The Z31x can overlay mattes (with variable opacity) for Flat and Scope cinema aspect ratios (1.85 and 2.39). It also can display onscreen markers for those sizes, as well as 16×9 or 3×4, including action and title safe, including further options for center and thirds markers with various colors available. The markers can be further customized with HP’s StudioCal.XML files. I created a preset that gives you 2.76:1 aspect ratio markers that you are welcome to download and use or modify. These customized XMLs are easy to create and are loaded automatically when you insert a USB stick containing them into the color engine port.

The display also gives users full control over the picture scaling, and has a unique 2:1 pixel scaling for reviewing 2K and HD images at pixel-for-pixel accuracy. It also offers compensation for video levels and overscan and controls for de-interlacing, cadence detection, panel overdrive and blue-channel-only output. You can even control the function of each bezel button, and their color and brightness. These image control features will definitely be significant to professional users in the film and video space. Combined with the accurate reproduction of color, resolution and frame rate, this makes for an ideal display for monitoring nearly any film or video content at the highest level of precision.

Interface Display Features
Most people won’t be using this as an interface monitor, due to the price and because the existing Z32x should suffice when not dealing with film content at full resolution. Even more than the original DreamColor, I expect it will primarily be used as a dedicated full-screen playback monitor and users will have other displays for their user interface and controls. That said, HP has included some amazing interface and sharing functionality in the monitor, integrating a KVM switch for controlling two systems on any of the five available inputs. They also have picture-in-picture and split screen modes that are both usable and useful. HD or 2K input can be displayed at full resolution over any corner of the 4K master shot.

The split view supports two full-resolution 2048×2160 inputs side by side and from separate sources. That resolution has been added as a default preset for the OS to use in that mode, but it is probably only worth configuring for extended use. (You won’t be flipping between full screen and split very easily in that mode.) The integrated KVM is even more useful in these configurations. It can also scale any other input sizes in either mode but at a decrease in visual fidelity.

HP has included every option that I could imagine needing for sharing a display between two systems. The only problem is that I need that functionality on my “other” monitor for the application UI, not on my color critical review monitor. When sharing a monitor like this, I would just want to be able to switch between inputs easily to always view them at full screen and full resolution. On a related note, I would recommend using DisplayPort over HDMI anytime you have a choice between the two, as HDMI 2.0 is pickier about 18Gb cables, occasionally preventing you from sending RGB input and other potential issues.

Other Functionality
The monitor has an RJ-45 port allowing it to be configured over the network. Normally, I would consider this to be overkill but with so many features to control and so many sub-menus to navigate through, this is actually more useful than it would be on any other display. I found myself wishing it came with a remote control as I was doing my various tests, until I realized the network configuration options would offer even better functionality than a remote control would have. I should have configured that feature first, as it would have made the rest of the tests much easier to execute. It offers simple HTTP access to the controls, with a variety of security options.

I also had some issues when using the monitor on a switched power outlet on my SmartUPS battery backup system, so I would recommend using an un-switched outlet whenever possible. The display will go to sleep automatically when the source feed is shut off, so power saving should be less of an issue that other peripherals.

Pricing and Options
The DreamColor Z31x is expected to retail for $4,000 in the US market. If that is a bit out of your price range, the other option is the new Z27x G2 for half of that price. While I have not tested it myself, I have been assured that the newly updated 27-inch model has all of the same processing functionality, just in a smaller form-factor, with a lower-resolution panel. The 2560×1440 panel is still 10-bit, with all of the same color and frame rate options, just at a lower resolution. They even plan to support scaling 4K inputs in the next firmware update, similar to the original Z27x.

The new DreamColor studio displays are top-quality monitors, and probably the most accurate SDR monitors in their price range. It is worth noting that with a native brightness of 250 nits, this is not an HDR display. While HDR is an important consideration when selecting a forward-looking display solution, there is still a need for accurate monitoring in SDR, regardless of whether your content is HDR compatible. And the Z31x would be my first choice for monitoring full 4K images in SDR, regardless of the color space you are working in.


Mike McCarthy is an online editor/workflow consultant with 10 years of experience on feature films and commercials. He has been involved in pioneering new solutions for tapeless workflows, DSLR filmmaking and multi-screen and surround video experiences. Check out his site.


Behind the Title: Sim LA’s VP of Post LA Greg Ciaccio

Name: Greg Ciaccio

Company: Sim

Can you describe your company?
We’re a full-service company providing studio space, lighting and grip, cameras, dailies and finishing in Los Angeles, New York, Toronto, Vancouver and Atlanta with outposts in New Mexico and Texas.

What’s your job title?
VP, Post Los Angeles

What does that entail?
Essentially, I’m the GM of our dailies and rentals and finishing businesses — the 2nd and 3rd floor of our building — formerly Kodak Cinesite. The first floor houses our camera rental business.

What would surprise people the most about what falls under that title?
I coproduce our SimLab industry events with Bill Russell in our camera department.

What’s your favorite part of the job?
Having camera, dailies, editorial and finishing under one roof — the workflows that tie them all together provide meaningful solutions for our clients.

What’s your least favorite?
Like most facility heads, business constraints. There’s not much of it, which is great, but running any successful company relies on managing the magic.

What is your favorite time of the day?
The early mornings when I can power through management work so I can spend time with staff and clients.

If you didn’t have this job, what would you be doing instead?
Probably a post sound mixer. I teach post production management one night a week at CSUN, so that provides a fresh perspective on my role in the industry.

How early on did you know this would be your path?
I really started back in the 4th grade in lighting. I then ran and designed lighting in high school and college, moving into radio-TV-film halfway through. I then moved into production sound. The move from production to post came out of a desire for (fairly) regular hours and consistent employment.

Can you name some recent projects you have worked on?
TV series: Game of Thrones, The Gifted, Krypton, The Son, Madam Secretary, Jane the Virgin. On the feature dailies and DI side: Amy Poehler’s Wine Country.

We’re also posting Netflix’ Best Worst Weekend Ever in ACES (Academy Color Encoding System) in UHD/Dolby Vision HDR.

Game of Thrones

What is the project that you are most proud of?
Game of Thrones. The quality bar which HBO has set is evident in the look of the show. It’s so well-produced — the production design, cinematography, editing and visual effects are stunning.

Name three pieces of technology that you can’t live without.
My iPhone X, my Sony Z9D HDR TV and my Apple Watch.

What social media channels do you follow?
Instagram for DP/other creative photography interests; LinkedIn for general socially/influencer-driven news; Facebook for peripheral news/personal insights; and channels, which include ETCentric — USC ETC; ACES Central for ACES-related community info; and Digital Cinema Society for industry events

Do you listen to music while you work? Care to share your favorite music to work to?
I listen to Pandora. The Thievery Corporation station.

What do you do to de-stress from it all?
Getting out for lunch and walking when possible. I visit our staff and clients throughout the day. Morning yoga. And the music helps!


Understanding and partnering on HDR workflows

By Karen Maierhofer

Every now and then a new format or technology comes along that has a profound effect on post production. Currently, that tech is high dynamic range, or HDR, which offers a heightened visual experience through a greater dynamic range of luminosity.

Michel Suissa

So why is HDR important to the industry? “That is a massive question to answer, but to make a pretty long story relatively short, it is by far one of the recent technologies to emerge with the greatest potential to change how images are affecting audiences,” says Michel Suissa, manager of professional solutions at The Studio–B&H. “Regardless of the market and the medium used to distribute programming, irrelevant to where and how these images are consumed, it is a clearly noticeable enhancement, and at the same time a real marketing gold mine for manufacturers as well as content producers, since a premium can be attached to offering HDR as a feature.”

And he should know. Suissa has been helping a multitude of post studios navigate the HDR waters in their quest for the equipment necessary to meet their high dynamic range needs.

Suissa started seeing a growing appetite for HDR roughly three years ago, both in the consumer and professional markets and at about the same time. “Three years ago, if someone had said they were creating HDR content, a very small percentage of the community would have known what they were talking about,” he notes. “Now, if you don’t know what HDR is and you’re in the industry, then you are probably behind the times.”

Nevertheless, HDR is demanding in terms of the knowledge one needs to create HDR content and distribute it, as well as make sure people can consume it in a way that’s satisfying, Suissa points out. “And there’s still a lot of technical requirements that people have to carefully navigate through because it is hardly trivial,” he says.

How does a company like B&H go about helping a post studio select the right tools for their individual workflow needs? “The basic yet critically important task is understanding their workflow, their existing tool set and what is expected of them in terms of delivery to their clients,” says Suissa.

To assist studios and content creators working in post, The Studio–B&H team follows a blueprint that’s based on engaging customers about the nature of the work they do, asking questions like: Which camera material do they work from? In which form is the original camera material used? What platform do they use for editing? What is the preferred application to master HDR images? What is the storage and network infrastructure? What are the master delivery specifications they must adhere to (what flavor of HDR)?

“People have the most difficulty understanding the nature of the workflow: Do the images need to be captured differently from a camera? Do they need to be ingested in the post system differently? Do they need to be viewed differently? Do they need to be formatted differently? Do they need to be mastered differently? All those things created a new set of specifications that people have to learn, and this is where it has changed the way people handle post production,” Suissa contends. “There’s a lot of intricacies, and you have to understand what it is you’re looking at in order to make sure you’re making the correct decisions — not just technically, but creatively as well.”

When adding an HDR workflow, studios typically approach B&H looking for equipment across their entire pipeline. However, Suissa states that similar parameters apply for HDR work as for other high-performance environments. People will continue to need decent workstations, powerful GPUs, professional storage for performance and increased capacity, and an excellent understanding of monitoring. “Other aspects of a traditional pipeline can sometimes remain in play, but it is truly a case-by-case analysis,” he says.

The most critical aspect of working with HDR is the viewing experience, Suissa says, so selecting an appropriate monitoring solution is vital — as is knowing the output specifications that will be used for final delivery of the content.

Without question, Suissa has seen an increase in the number of studios asking about HDR equipment of late. “Generally speaking, the demand by people wanting to at least understand what they need in order to deliver HDR content is growing, and that’s because the demand for content is growing,” he says.

Yes, there are compromises that studios are making in terms of HDR that are based on budget. Nevertheless, there is a tipping point that can lead to the rejection of a project if it is not up to HDR standards. In fact, Suissa foresees in the next six months or so the tightening of standards on the delivery side, whether for Amazon, Netflix or the networks, and the issuance of mandates by over-the-air distribution channels in order for content to be approved as HDR.

B&H/Light Iron Collaboration
Among the studios that have purchased HDR equipment from B&H is Light Iron, a Panavision company with six facilities spanning the US that offer a range of post solutions, including dailies and DI. According to Light Iron co-founder Katie Fellion, the number of their clients requesting HDR finishing has increased in the past year. She estimates that one out of every three clients is considering HDR finishing, and in some cases, they are doing so even if they don’t have distribution in place yet.

Suissa and Light Iron SVP of innovation Michael Cioni gradually began forging a fruitful collaboration during the last few years, partnering a number of times at various industry events. “At the same time, we doubled up on our relationship of providing technology to them,” Suissa adds, whether for demonstrations or for Light Iron’s commercial production environment.

Katie Fellion

For some time, Light Iron has been moving toward HDR, purchasing equipment from various vendors along the way. In fact, Light Iron was one of the very first vendors to become involved with HDR finishing when Amazon introduced HDR-10 mastering for the second season of one of its flagship shows, Transparent, in 2015.

“Shortly after Transparent, we had several theatrical releases that also began to remaster in both HDR-10 and Dolby Vision, but the requests were not necessarily the norm,” says Fellion. “Over the last three years, that has steadily changed, as more studios are selling content to platforms that offer HDR distribution. Now, we have several shows that started their Season 1 with a traditional HD finish, but then transitioned to 4K HDR finishes in order to accommodate these additional distribution platform requirements.”

Some of the more recent HDR-finished projects at Light Iron include Glow (Season 2) and Thirteen Reasons Why (Season 2) for Netflix, Uncle Drew for Lionsgate, Life Itself for Amazon, Baskets (Season 3) and Better Things (Season 2) for FX and Action Point for Paramount.

Without question, HDR is important to today’s finishing, but one cannot just step blindly into this new, highly detailed world. There are important factors to consider. For instance, the source requirements for HDR mastering — 4K 16-bit files — require more robust tools and storage. “A show that was previously shot and mastered in 2K or HD may now require three or four times the amount of storage in a 4K HDR workflow. Since older post facilities had been previously designed around a 2K/HD infrastructure, newer companies that had fewer issues with legacy infrastructure were able to adopt 4K HDR faster,” says Fellion. Light Iron was designed around a 4K+ infrastructure from day one, she adds, allowing the post house to much more easily integrate HDR at a time when other facilities were still transitioning from 2K to 4K.

Nevertheless, this adoption required changes to the post house’s workflow. Fellion explains: “In a theatrical world, because HDR color is set in a much larger color gamut than P3, the technically correct way to master is to start with the HDR color first and then trim down for P3. However, since HDR theatrical exhibition is still in its infancy, there are not options for most feature films to monitor in a projected environment — which, in a feature workflow, is an expected part of the finishing process. As a result, we often use color-managed workflows that allow us to master first in a P3 theatrical projection environment and then to version for HDR as a secondary pass.”

Light-Iron-NY colorist-Steven Bodner grading music video Picture-Day in HDR on a Sony BVM X300.

In the episodic world, if a project is delivering in HDR, unless creative preference determines otherwise, Light Iron will typically start with the HDR version first and then trim down for the SDR Rec.709 versions.

For either, versioning and delivery have to be considered. For Dolby Vision, this starts with an analysis of the timeline to output an XML for the 709 derivative, explains Fellion of Light Iron’s workflow. And then from that 709 derivative, the colorist will review and tweak the XML values as necessary, sometimes going back to the HDR version and re-analyzing if a larger adjustment needs to be made for the Rec.709 version. For an HDR-10 workflow, this usually involves a different color pass and delivered file set, as well as analysis of the final HDR sequence, to create metadata values, she adds.

Needless to say, embracing HDR is not without challenges. Currently, HDR is only used in the final color process since there’s not many workflows to support HDR throughout the dailies or editorial process, says Fellion. “This can certainly be a challenge to creatives who have spent the past few months staring at images in SDR only to have a different reaction when they first view them in HDR.” Also, in HDR there may be elements on screen that weren’t previously visible in SDR dailies or offline (such as outside a window or production cables under a table), which creates new VFX requirements in order to adjust those elements.

“As more options are developed for on-set monitoring — such as Light Iron’s HDR Video Village System — productions are given an opportunity to see HDR earlier in the process and make mental and physical adjustments to help accommodate for the final HDR picture,” Fellion says.

Having an HDR monitor on set can aid in flagging potential issues that might not be seen in SDR. Currently, however, for dailies and editorial, HDR monitoring is not really used, according to Fellion, who hopes to see that change in the future. Conversely, in the finishing world, “an HDR monitor capable of a minimum 1,000-nit display, such as the Sony [BVM] X300, as well as a consumer-grade HDR UHD TV for client reviews, are part of our standard tool set for mastering,” she notes.

In fact, several months ago, Light Iron purchased new high-end HDR mastering monitors from B&H. The studio also sourced AJA Hi5 4K Plus converter boxes from B&H for its HDR workflow.

And, no doubt, there will be additional HDR equipment needs in Light Iron’s future, as delivery of HDR content continues to ramp up. But there’s a hefty cost involved in moving to HDR. Depending on whether a facility’s DI systems already had the capacity to play back 4K 16-bit files — a key requirement for HDR mastering — the cost can range from a few thousand dollars for a consumer-grade monitor to tens of thousands for professional reference monitoring, DI system, storage and network upgrades, as well as licensing and training for the Dolby Vision platform, according to Fellion.

That is one reason why it’s important for suppliers and vendors to form relationships. But there are other reasons, too. “Those leading the charge [in HDR] are innovators and people you want to be associated with,” Suissa explains. “You learn a lot by associating yourself with professionals on the other side of things. We provide technology. We understand it. We learn it. But we also practice it differently than people who create content. The exchange of knowledge is critical, and it enables us to help our customers better understand the technology they are purchasing.”

Main Image: Netflix’s Glow


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


Colorist Arianna Shining Star joins Apache

Santa Monica-based color and finishing boutique Apache has added colorist Arianna Shining Star to its roster at this Santa Monica color and finishing boutique. She is the studio’s first woman colorist.

Star’s commercial work includes spots and branded shorts for Apple, Nike, Porsche, Budweiser, Tommy Hilfiger, Spotify and Coca-Cola. Her music video credits include the MTV VMA-nominated videos Wild Thoughts for Rihanna and Justin Bieber’s visual album for Purpose. Her longform work includes newly released Netflix feature film Ibiza, a comedy co-produced by Adam McKay and Will Ferrell’s Gary Sanchez Productions.

After studying Cinematic Arts and Psychology at USC, Shining Star cut her teeth at Company 3 as an assistant colorist. She then worked as a Baselight specialist for FilmLight before joining Paramount Pictures, where she remastered feature films in HDR. She was then brought on as colorist at Velem to spearhead the post production department of Milk Studios.

“Arianna worked with us before, and we’ve always had our eye on her,” says managing partner LaRue Anderson. “She’s super-talented and a true go-getter who’s amassed an awesome body of work in a relatively short time.”

With Northern California roots, Arianna’s distinctive middle name (she goes by her first and middle names professionally) comes from her parents, who met at a Grateful Dead concert during a performance of the Jerry Garcia classic song, “Shining Star.” Something of a next-gen Dead Head herself, she admits to having seen the current iteration of the band over 30 times.

Her background and interest in psychology is clear as she explains what attracts her most to color grading: “It has the ability to elevate not only production value and overall aesthetic, but can help guide the viewers’ emotional journey through the piece,” Star says.  “I love the opportunity to put the finishing touches on a piece, too. After countless people have poured their heart and soul into crafting a film, it’s an immense privilege to have the last creative touch.”

On adding the first woman colorist to the Apache roster, Anderson says it’s a testament to Star’s creative skills that she’s flourished in what’s largely a male-dominated category of post production. “There’s a lack of role models for women coming up in the creative ranks of color and visual effects,” she explains. “Women have to work hard to get on the playing field. Arianna is not only on the field, she owns the field. She’s established herself as a specialist who DPs and directors lean on for creative collaboration.”

“I want to be seen for the quality of my work and nothing else,” she says. “What makes me unique as a colorist is not my gender, but my aesthetic and approach to collaboration — my style runs the gamut from big and bold to soft and subtle.”

She cites her work on Ibiza as an example of this versatility. “Comedies typically play it safe with color, but from day one we sought to do something different and color outside the lines,” she says. “Director Alex Richanbach and cinematographer Danny Modor set me up with an incredibly diverse palette that allowed us to go bold and use color to further enhance the three different worlds seen in the film: New York, Barcelona and Ibiza. Narrative work really allows you to take your viewer on a journey with the color grade.”

At Apache, Star says she’s found a home where she can continue to learn the craft. “They’re true veterans who know the ins and outs of this wild industry and are incredible leaders,” she says of Anderson and her partners, Shane Reed and Steve Rodriguez. “And their three key core tenets drew me. One, we’re a creatively driven company. Two, we’re consistently re-evaluating the playbook and figuring out what works and what we can improve. And three, we truly operate like a family and support one another. We’ve got a crew of talented artists, and it’s a privilege to work alongside them.”


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.


Behind the Title: Deluxe Senior Finishing Editor Samantha Uber

NAME: Samantha Uber (@samanthauber)

COMPANY: Deluxe NY

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
Deluxe NY is the New York City branch of the classic film lab founded in 1915. Today, we are a huge multimedia international empire for all types of content creation and delivery. My favorite part of working for this company is that we manage to serve our clients in a personalized, boutique environment but with the support of a worldwide network of both technology and ideas.

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
Senior Finishing Editor

CAN YOU EXPLAIN WHAT YOU DO?
I am a Flame finishing editor/VFX artist, and I come from an Avid online and offline editorial background. I also use Blackmagic Resolve, Adobe Premiere and Apple FCP for their various abilities for different projects. While I always fully finish (conform/online) episodic and film projects in Flame, I also always use a unique mix of those applications listed above for each project to get me to that point in the highest quality and most efficient way possible. I am very interested in the building of the computer I am working on, the specialized scripts to make data organized, the debayer/color science process and, of course, the actual editing and delivery of the project.

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
In my job as a finishing editor, I am surprisingly super-involved in dailies, mainly because I know what will make the job easier on the finishing editor if certain metadata is retained and organized in dailies. Seeing how the metadata coming from the dailies process is actually implemented in finishing allows me to have a unique perspective, and I teach dailies techs about this to give them a better understanding of how their work is being used.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
Everyone who knows me, knows my favorite thing is a reconform. I love them. They are challenging, like giant Tetris puzzles — my favorite game growing up was Tetris. I love getting in the zone for hours and hours, moving the pieces of the timeline around, relying on the metadata the Flame gives me to do it more efficiently, and sometimes, not even looking at the actual picture until the end.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
For me, my least favorite thing is working on something that doesn’t challenge me. I like to constantly be thinking about ways to process new camera formats and new workflows, and understanding/being involved in the entire online process from start to finish. I love the “hard” jobs… the tough ones to figure out, even if that means I lose quite a bit of sleep (she laughs). There is always a limit to that, of course, but if I’m not involved in research and development on a project, I’m not happy. For this reason, I love working in episodic television the most because I can R&D a workflow and then use it and perfect it over time, all while building a close relationship with my clients and feeling ownership of my show.

WHAT IS YOUR MOST PRODUCTIVE TIME OF THE DAY?
I’d say mid-afternoon and around 9pm at night. After the morning fires are put out and everything gets going, the middle of the afternoon gets a lot of work done. Also, around 9pm I enjoy working because the formal working day has pretty much ended and I can just zero in on a project and work quietly, without distractions.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
I really love restoring antiques, whether it’s furniture or the 100-year-old Victorian home I live in. I am always working with my hands — either at work or at home — building, painting, grooming dogs, veggie-gardening, cooking, sculpting, etc. I appreciate the craftsmanship that went into antique pieces. I feel that type of work is lost in today’s disposable world.

What I do for films as a finishing editor is quite like the restoration work I do at home — taking something and realizing it to its full potential and giving it a new life. For these reasons I think I could possibly be an architect/designer, specializing in the mostly period-accurate restoration of antique homes. I still may end up doing this many years from now.

HOW EARLY ON DID YOU KNOW THIS WOULD BE YOUR PATH?
I knew very early on that I wanted to be a film editor of some sort. I was 16 yrs old when the film Moulin Rouge came out, and my best friend Michelle and I saw it in the theater. We both knew we wanted to do something technical and creative from that point. She became a computer engineer, and I became a senior finishing editor. I loved the editing and pacing of that film, how it was so much like the music videos I grew up watching, and I wanted to be able to tell a story with VFX and editing. I actually practiced on the Moulin Rouge DVD extras re-editing the scenes on the ISOs of the cameras they provided.

I was 16 when I applied to NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. It was my only choice for college. I initially went for a summer between my junior and senior year of high school and continued after high school for three more years until I graduated. I was working as a freelance editor for students, working at MTV as a junior editor, and teaching Avid editing at NYU during that time — always working!

Moulin Rouge is still my favorite film, and my dream is to work with director Baz Lurhmann one day.

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
I have worked as senior finishing editor on Paterno, High Maintenance, Girls, Vinyl and Boardwalk Empire for HBO, The Knick for Cinemax, Blue Bloods for CBS, The Americans for FX, Jesus Christ Superstar for NBC and Mr. Robot for USA. I worked on the film All These Small Moments for the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival, as well as the films Beasts of No Nation and Moonrise Kingdom in recent years.

YOU HAVE WORKED ON ALL SORTS OF PROJECTS. DO YOU PUT ON A DIFFERENT HAT WHEN CUTTING FOR A SPECIFIC GENRE?
I certainly put on a different workflow hat for the different parts of my job. It actually feels like different jobs sometimes —  painting a visual effect, building a computer, making a finishing workflow, conforming a show, debayering footage, designing a dailies workflow, etc. I think that keeps it interesting; doing something different every day.

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
The project I am most proud of is The Knick. I was involved in the process of creating the workflow of the show with Steven Soderbergh’s team for one year before it actually began. I believe it was the first show to use the Red Dragon camera at 5K, finishing at UHD. I worked intensely with the Red team to develop the software, color workflow and computer for debayering the footage.

I also worked closely with colorist Martin Zeichner and Steven’s team to retain the exact onset look of color immediately and efficiently, while also giving them the full latitude of the Red format in the DI. The result was beautiful, and I really enjoyed the show. I felt like the plot of the show — innovation in the surgical field — was being mirrored in the innovation in the actual finishing of the show, which was super awesome!

CAN YOU TALK MORE ABOUT THE TOOLS YOU USE?
For all final finishing, I use Autodesk Flame. I am proficient in nearly all platforms, but to me, nothing is better than the unique timeline in Flame, where layers see each other and tracks do not. This allows you to have many versions of a cut in one timeline, and is ideal for finishing. Also, the VFX capability of the Flame is unparalleled in an editing system, and it allows me to start working on anything in moments at the client’s request. However, Avid will always be my favorite for metadata and database management, and I usually start every project with a peek at the metadata in the Avid, and frequently a full reorganization.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE PLUGIN?
My favorite and most frequently used plugin is Re:Vision’s Twixtor, for the tons and tons of timewarps I do. This plugin helps me paint less frames than most. Close runners-up are Autodesk’s Autostabilize, which is actually highly customizable, and Furnace’s F-WireRemoval for all sorts of purposes.

ARE YOU OFTEN ASKED TO DO MORE THAN EDIT? 
Being a finishing editor means you are the last person to touch the project before it airs, so you are the last stop in everything. For that reason, I am often asked to anything and everything in session — re-mix sound, creatively re-edit, give advice on VFX shots and deliverables, do VFX shots, make masters, QC masters. You name it and I do it in session. I think that’s what the job really entails; being able to give the client what they are looking for at the last possible moment, especially now that they are seeing the final product in high-resolution and color corrected.

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
I could not live without my iPhone, as it connects me to the outside world as well as my job. It’s like my whole life is on my phone. I could also not live without my Wacom tablet. Finishing an edit is a whole lot easier on a tablet. Also, my super-fast cylinder Mac, outfitted so that every application and high-resolution footage can be processed extremely quickly. I still do wish my Mac was square, however, (she laughs), for more equipment compatibility, but I cannot complain about its high-speed processing ability. Engineering has kindly given me a Mac that I can play on and try new software, often before it is rolled into production throughout the facility. Th is keeps me in the know on new developments in our industry. This computer is totally separate from my super powerful Linux Flame system.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
Yes, this is a high-stress job! I feel very responsible for all of the people who have put their hard work into a project to make sure it is shown in its best light and everything is as perfect as possible on often-tight deadlines. After a project leaves my hands it goes to QC, and my final work is what they see and what airs.

Because everything I do is on computers, I try to spend as little time on a computer outside of work as possible. As I mentioned before, I live in a 100-year-old house that I am restoring myself. What is nice is that I feel like I’m using the same part of my brain as I do at my job, however it is usually outdoors and involving physical labor. That is a great de-stressor from working on a computer in a windowless and darkened room all week.

I live far outside the city by the beach, and when I’m home, I’m really home and work seems a world away. I have two beautiful Afghan Hound sister dogs, Ginny and Trill, and a 1974 VW bus named Buddy. I honestly don’t like to rest. I always like to be working on my projects and pushing forward in my life, and I am just your typical Jersey girl at heart.

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.