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

By Randi Altman

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

Natasha Leonnet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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