By Randi Altman
London — MPC’s Richard Fearon, a London Film School graduate, became a full-time colorist back in 2006 when the company he was with (Blue Post) asked him to go to Mumbai to grade commercials.
The move made sense. He was trained as a junior — grading promos and short films. “Luckily for me, back then people were still shooting mainly on 16mm and 35mm film, which gave me a great base to build upon on as a colorist.”
When Fearon returned from Mumbai after six weeks, he had gained invaluable experience that could only be found in a color grading suite and on real-world jobs.
What was your path to this career?
After graduating from university, I started as a camera assistant on feature films before moving into post as a runner. From here I moved into VT — online assisting and caption generating on an Aston. I was then fortunate enough to meet George K (who is now at MPC, and who goes only by George K) in 2003 when we were both working at Blue post. George asked me to be his assistant and taught me all the basics in order to become a colorist.
What is your tool of choice, or do you use different systems depending on projects?
The grading platform I work on at MPC is Filmlight Baselight. Its intuitive interface allows me to concentrate on creativity in the suite and to work with relative ease and speed.
Many of the new grading tools offer the ability to do basic VFX, fixes, etc. Are you being asked to do that more and more?
Yes absolutely, the lines between color grading and online VFX are continuing to blur. In a grading session these days it is not uncommon to add grain, sharpness or defuse tools to help create the look you are trying to achieve. We are also creating more accurate, sophisticated hand-drawn garbage mattes that can be auto tracked and then keyframed and used not only for color grading but VFX tools as well.
The projects you work on are varied. Can you talk about the differences in grading commercials versus films?
Obviously, the basic principles of operation are the same but I would say the major difference is the time you get to spend on each shot. For example, with commercials you can spend several hours grading 30 seconds. This gives you the opportunity to really get into the finer details and finesse the picture. With feature films you have to start with broader strokes and set your looks for each scene leaving the final details until the end.
What is a recent commercial project you worked on? What were you tasked with on that particular project?
I recently finished a Lexus commercial with (the French directing team) Jonas and Francois, and the challenge here was to tie together deliberately random images into one flowing 60-second spot. At the same time it was important to keep the car looking sharp and clean, and to bring out all the detail and shape. I worked closely with the VFX supervisor and acquired as many alpha channels from them to use in the grade as possible. Not only did this save me time in the grade, but it also allowed me to be more accurate with shapes and tracking.
You also recently worked with Terry Gilliam on his sci-fi film The Zero Theorem. Can you tell us about the film and how you worked with director Gilliam?
It’s about a data processor (Christoph Waltz) and his struggle to cope with the pace of modern life. In a parallel universe it reflects some of the modern-day issues we all find ourselves caught-up in. From the constant stream of advertising to the ever-present need to update our status on social networking sites.
Working with Terry on this project was an absolute honor. His energy, creative eye and attention to detail did not falter for a second throughout the entire DI process. Once Nicola (Pecorini, the DP) and I had set the grade and tone for all the scenes, Terry then joined us in the DI to work on many of the finer details within the film.
One of the challenges at the beginning of the film was to surround the main protagonist with chaos and color while keeping him dark, drab and monotone. This was done using a skin tone key and tracking a shape around the character throughout the duration of the shot.
How much did you work with the DP?
I know Nicola Pecorini well as I have worked with him in the past. Communication with him started weeks before the DI was due to start. He sent over a color bible, which he had produced for the shoot. This was used during the DI to help set color tones and temperatures for time of day and time of year, as the main protagonist was stuck in his home for long periods of time.
We didn’t want the audience to get tired of this beautiful setting in the chapel, so we constantly changed the grade throughout the film and Nicola did an amazing job with the light.
For the projects you work on, are many coming in with looks that have been set on-set? How does that change the way you work?
No, I haven’t experienced this yet. On set the DIT will apply a LUT from LOG to REC709 (or which ever color space they are mastering in), so the DOP and director can see a closer representation of the color space they will be working in, but I have never imported these into a session.
That’s not to say that it can’t be done, but by working from RAW LOG files the colorist has more freedom to maneuver in the grade and is not locked into a color space, plus we might come up with a look that the director was not always intending.