Tag Archives: Bob Festa

Colorist Bob Festa on Yellowstone’s modern Western look

Paramount Network’s Yellowstone, from creator, writer and director Taylor Sheridan (Sicario, Hell or High Water), is a 10-episode modern-day Western starring Kevin Costner as the patriarch of the Duttons, owners of the largest ranch in the contiguous United States.

The Dutton family is in constant conflict with owners of the property surrounding their land, including developers, an Indian reservation and a national park. The series follows Costner’s character and his dysfunctional children as they navigate their bumpy road.

Cinematographer Ben Richardson and Efilm senior colorist Mitch Paulson already had a color lock on the pilot for Yellowstone, but brought on Encore senior colorist Bob Festa to work on the episodes. “As a Deluxe sister company, it was only natural to employ Encore Hollywood’s television resources,” explains Festa. “I was keen to collaborate with both Ben and Mitch. Mitch then served as supervising colorist.”

Let’s find out more from the veteran colorist.

How did you work with the director and DP?
Honestly, my first discussions with Ben were quite involved and fully articulated. For instance, while Ben’s work with Beasts of the Southern Wild and Wind River are wildly different looking projects —and shot on different formats — the fundamentals that he shared with me were fully in place in both of those projects, as well as with Yellowstone.

There is always a great deal of talking that goes on beforehand, but nothing replaces collaboration in the studio. I guess I auditioned for the job by spending a full day with Ben and Mitch at Encore. Talk is a cheap abstraction, and there is nothing like the feeling you get when you dim the lights, sit in the chair and communicate with pictures.

The only way I can describe it is it’s like improvising with another musician when you have never played together before. There’s this buildup of ideas and concepts that happens over a few shots, grades get thrown out or refined, layers are added, apprehension gives way to creativity, and a theme takes place. If you do this over 50 shots, you develop a language that is unique to a given project and a “look” is born.

What was your workflow for this project? What did you use tool-wise on Yellowstone?
ARRI RAW and Resolve were the foundation, but the major lifting came from using a Log Offset workflow, better known as the printer lights workflow. Although printer lights has its roots in a photochemical laboratory setting, it has tremendous real-world digital applications. Many feel this relationship to printer lights is very elementary, but the results can be scaled up very quickly to build an amazingly natural and beautiful grade.

The Resolve advanced panel can be remapped to use an additional fourth trackball as a fuel-injected printer light tool that is not only very fast and intuitive, but also exceptionally high quality. The quality angle comes from the fact that Log Offset grading works in a fashion that keeps all of the color channels moving together during a grade. All curves work in complete synchronicity, resulting in a very natural transition between the toe and the knee, and the shoulder and head of the grade.

This is all enhanced using pivot and contrast controls to establish the transfer characteristic of a scene. There is always a place for cross process, bleach bypass and other twisted aggressive grades, but this show demanded honest emotion and beauty from the outset. The Log Offset workflow delivered that.

What inspired the look of Yellowstone? Are there any specific film looks it is modeled after?
As a contemporary western, you can draw many correlations to cinematic looks from the past, from Sergio Leone to Deadwood, but the reality is the look is decidedly modern western.

In the classic film world, the look is very akin to a release print, or in the DI world it emulates a show print (generationally closer to the original negative). The look demands that the curves and saturation are very high quality. Ben has refined an ARRI LUT that really enhances the skies and flesh tones to create a very printy film laboratory look. We also use Livegrain for the most part using a 35mm 5219 emulation for night shots and a 5207 look for day exteriors to create texture. That is the Yellowstone recipe.

How did you approach the sweeping landscape shots?
Broad, cinematic and we let the corners bleed. Vignettes were never used on the wide vistas. The elements are simple: you have Kevin Costner on a horse in Montana. The best thing I can think of is to follow the medical credo of “do no harm.”

What was the most challenging aspect of coloring Yellowstone?
Really just the time constraints. Coordinating with the DP, the VFX teams and the post crew on a weekly basis for color review sessions is hard for everyone. The show is finished week by week, generally delivering just days before air. VFX shots are dropped in daily. Throw in the 150 promos, teasers and trailers, and scheduling that is a full-time job.

Other than color, did you perform any VFX shots?
Every VFX vendor supplied external mattes with their composites. We always color composite plates using a foreground and a background grade to serve the story. This is where the Resolves external matte node structure can be a lifesaver.

What is your favorite scene or scenes?
I have to go with episode one of the pilot. That opening shot sets the tone for the entire series. The first time I saw that opening shot, my jaw dropped both from a cinematography and story background. If you have seen the show, you know what I’m talking about.

Behind the Title: Encore Senior Colorist Bob Festa

NAME: Bob Festa

COMPANY: Encore

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
Situated in sunny Hollywood, Encore Hollywood offers file-based post services, including HDR Dolby Vision mastering, 4K workflows, near-set dailies and visual effects.

AS A COLORIST, WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
Modern color in the episodic television world means being prepared to contribute on any issue, none more important than beauty fixes. All of the contemporary color tools that we use today have handles for eye sharpening, skin softening, crow’s feet, baggage and mid-tone detail augmentation. Beauty work today can take 50% of the color session time. We help ensure that the actors look their best.

WHAT SYSTEM DO YOU WORK ON?
Primarily DaVinci Resolve and FilmLight Baselight.

Runaways

ARE YOU ASKED TO DO MORE THAN JUST COLOR ON PROJECTS?
Almost all projects are conformed or assembled before color even begins. That means all camera RAW shots are assembled on a timeline, in cut order, with transitions and effects. Beyond grading the color of a piece… things like composition, speed, and textural changes like “film grain” or softness are all routine on a daily basis.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
I never thought I’d say this, but people. Collaborating with people can be really rewarding and fun. They can really make your day. I’ve had days where 1,000 shots just seem to fly by because of the air in the room.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
People. Collaborating with people. Not everyone has a good day every day, and many times whatever attitude or phone call that enters the studio becomes my challenge for the day. Those are the days where it feels like you have been on a single shot all day long.

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THIS PROFESSION, WHAT WAS YOUR PATH?
After realizing that online editing was not for me, supervising feature film telecine sessions made me realize that I could do this. Not only was it highly creative, but it was a black art that had limitless areas where I could contribute. Many of the tools that I used back then, Topsy, Dubner, Prism and EPR were all highly customized, and no two were alike. Romancing color out of a Rank IIIC and threading a magna tech dubber was like wrestling an alligator; it was very physical and fun. It took about six months before I developed confidence and a reasonable eye for good color.

The Last Ship

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
Yes, executive producer Michael Bay’s The Last Ship (TNT) and Marvel’s Runaways (Hulu), for which I also handle the HDR grade.

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
It might not be the one I’m most proud of, but it’s one that had my jaw hit the floor in the ‘90s —Joe Pytka’s “Perrier… it’s perfect” commercial. Shot on Aaton 35mm in France, there was just something exceptional about the exposures, even in standard def. Many believe it was the light in Provence, or the quaint French villages or the quality of the water at the lab or Pytka’s genius. Whatever it was it all just worked. It’s still my guilty pleasure to this day. Ironically enough, I worked on this commercial the first time I worked at Encore Hollywood.

WHERE DO YOU FIND INSPIRATION? ART? PHOTOGRAPHY?
I have an expression: “I steal from the best.” I have been so lucky to work with the top creatives again and again. After working with so many talented people in a dark studio for so many years, it’s only natural to liberate some of these great techniques that have worked so well for others. It’s my job to recognize the opportunities to contribute some of those ideas and improvise and combine them for a given shot today.

I have an exercise that I share with young aspiring colorists where I ask them to look at a camera RAW shot and tell me what they see, and how they can contribute color wise. Invariably, they bring something from their past to their color approach. We all use our fields of experience when grading.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
Acrylic contemporary art, environmental conservancy or upright jazz bass.

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
Personally, I’d say digital audio reproduction for home HiFi. German cars for the hours of driving in Los Angeles and cellphones to stay in touch with my loved ones.

WHAT SOCIAL MEDIA CHANNELS DO YOU FOLLOW?
Instagram is a great source of color and composition. Existing rules are broken there every day. Larry Bridges a famous editor and owner of Red Car editorial used to say, “Today’s mistakes are tomorrows techniques.”

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
For a guy who really loves the outdoors, working in a dark studio makes me believe I need to be outside often. Mountain biking… the fun starts when you leave your comfort zone behind.