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Enhancing color at ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’

By Randi Altman

When colorist Jill Bogdanowicz got a call last spring from Wes Anderson’s producer asking her to work on the director’s next film, she said, “Yes!” Wouldn’t you?

Bogdanowicz, now at Modern Videofilm in Hollywood, first got to work with the inventive and highly visual director toward the end of post on Moonrise Kingdom (2012). This time, while Tim Stipen was finishing the film’s grade at Technicolor in New York, the director was in Los Angeles. As a solution, Anderson and Bogdanowicz sat together at Technicolor in LA (where she worked at the time) to watch a mirrored session. As a result, Anderson could approve the newest changes on calibrated monitors in realtime.

“There were a lot of visual effects sequences being dropped in at the last moment,” explains Bogdanowicz, “and it was just easier for me, who was sitting in a room with Wes, to be able to color them.”

Jill Bogdanowicz

Jill Bogdanowicz

The two worked so well together, Anderson wanted to repeat that experience. “It was a great honor to be asked back,” she says.

The Grand Budapest Hotel, like all of Anderson’s films, is filled with color … colorful costumes, colorful locales, colorful characters, and colorful time periods. Three decades were represented in the movie, and each had its own distinctive look.

Anderson was based in London while the grade was being worked on. So Bogdanowicz and a team from Modern — engineer Walt Bigelow and producer Zara Park — traveled to London and set up their Linux-based DaVinci Resolve in a theater at Molinare. All in all, the team traveled there three times between June and December 2013, spending a week or more there each time.

“I was able to bring all the color correction files with me to review with him, then I’d come back to LA and work on them,” she explains. “We set it up so I could send Wes QuickTimes or still frames to view on his iPad, and me on mine — so that’s how we communicated back and forth.”

DP Bob Yeoman — who shot a beautiful movie, says Bogdanowicz — was working on another film in New York during this part of the post process. “So, it was mostly me and Wes making the decisions, but Wes showed Bob a DCP toward the end of the process and we got a few notes from him.”

Bogdanowicz says this is becoming more typical with particularly visual directors, like Anderson, and those who have trusting relationships with their cinematographers. “From what I surmised, there was a great understanding of what was expected, and Wes is specific and well versed in color correction, so he was quite comfortable.”

Three Looks for The Grand Budapest Hotel
The movie, which was shot on film, spans three time periods, and each of those had its own distinctive look. One is shot in 4×3 and takes place in the 1930s; one was shot with true anamorphic lenses and represents the 1960s; and the last, which was given a more present-day feel, was shot 1:8:5 and takes place in the 1980s.

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The 1930s

Anderson, as you could imagine, had very specific ideas about how each time period should look. Bogdanowicz’s first trip to London was about experimenting with different looks. “One thing he asked about was a Photochrom look — he sent me a lot of photos from the Library of Congress and the Photochrom online library. He said, ‘These are the types of looks I am considering for the opening sequence.’ Then it was jumping off from there to what could we do with these types of looks throughout the film.”

An interesting side note: Bogdanowicz’s father, Mitchell, is a color scientist who freelances for Modern Videofilm, creating 3D LUTs. He was well aware of the Photochrom look and techniques, so he built a set of looks through 3D LUTs that traveled to London with his daughter. One of those LUTs ended up in the opening sequence. “It’s more of a subtle Photochrom look,” she describes, “but using a 3D look-up table helped mold it into something that felt just a little more unique, and something Wes really liked.”

Anderson wanted a desaturated look for the 1930s, and it was, says Bogdanowicz, at least in comparison to the film’s ’60s period. They did “quite a bit” of color separation to be able to focus on all the details that were put in during production, including red rugs, light pink walls and purple suits. “We experimented with desaturating it, as well as [using] different types of vignettes. We had fun experimenting with how do we make it feel distinctive without taking you out of the movie.”

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The 1960s

They ended up with what Bogdanowicz calls “a really beautiful look,” something she describes as “saturated, but super-separated colors with an almost old Technicolor 3 Strip feel to it. It’s got all these amazing colors, but when you compare it to what we did for the anamorphic feel in the ’60s, which is filled with greens, golds and yellows that are rich and saturated and strong, it is a little less saturated.”

For the 1980s, which was shot 1:8:5, it was pretty straightforward, with more of a neutral cine-type palette, Bogdanowicz says. “Nothing too saturated on that. Just nice color saturation and pretty color.”

Tools, Challenges, VFX
Bogdanowicz’s tool of choice is the Resolve; it allows her to be creative without any technical distractions. And it’s fast, which helped when working with Anderson. “Wes is quite specific, so there were certain shots where we would have 10 to 20, sometimes more, little detailed Power Windows. And we had to use the tracking tools in the Resolve, so if the camera or a character moved, the Window would track accurately with them. The tracking tool is imperative.”

Because the Resolve allows her to put layer on top of layer, she never had to stop and render anything. “It was really important to be able to maximize our time in London and maximize the collaborative flow we had going on. If Wes wanted to try something, I was able to do it quickly without having to stop, render or do anything technical. It was just seamless.”

There were a few scenes in The Grand Budapest Hotel that were “day-for-dusk,” and we really did quite a bit of work in the DI to make it feel like it was later in the day.”

Bogdanowicz also had to work closely with visual effects house Look Effects. “They would send me mattes for shots that were a little more complicated, and I could layer on as many alpha channel mattes as I wanted to isolate skies or windows or things in a complicated moving shot. The Resolve was powerful enough to layer five or six alpha channel mattes, plus 10 to 15 Power Windows, all live.”

Bogdanowicz also used the Resolve to add grain on some shots — even though it was shot on film, Anderson wanted some bits more grainy, for instance, in a B&W scene toward the end of the movie. Another place where grain was added via the Resolve was helping the CG chapter markers that show up throughout the film match what came before and after.

I think it’s fair to say that Bogdanowicz’s stay at The Grand Budapest Hotel was a good one.

 

 

 

 


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