By Randi Altman
Who you gonna call? Well, in my case it was Deluxe’s Jill Bogdanowicz, the colorist on director Paul Feig’s new Ghostbusters. She took time out of her busy schedule — finishing up War Dogs — to walk us through her process on the VFX-heavy film, which is an updated version on the Ivan Reitman classic from 1984.
Bogdanowicz, who works at Deluxe’s Company 3, got involved on Ghostbusters early on, working on camera tests with DP Bob Yeoman — testing cameras, lenses and resolutions. The two had worked together before on Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel, even though they did it all remotely, with Bogdanowicz in London and Yeoman in New York.
“He was able to review Grand Budapest and the DCPs, and gave comments to Wes,” she says. “The first time I met him was at the ASC awards after the movie had come out, so it was a good thing that we got to work in the same city for Ghostbusters.”
The positive experience on Grand Budapest led Yeoman to ask Bogdanowicz to join him on Ghostbusters.
It was during those camera tests, which were done on the Sony lot, that Yeoman decided on the Arri Alexa. It was also during this time that both Yeoman and Feig decided they wanted Ghostbusters to feel very filmic, with rich colors and a lot of detail.
“It was also decided that the film would be lit in a way where Bob could do his thing and make it look beautiful, and then I would just enhance that wonderful photography,” explains Bogdanowicz. “You still see the characters’ eyes and faces really well, but we could shape the image in a way where there was nothing distracting the frame. We would make sure that the audience would be looking where you want them to look.”
Another early test they did was deciding on what color of slime would be used in the film.
After shooting began, Bogdanowicz began visual effects tests for Yeoman and his team. In addition, she started looking at different LEDs. “They actually used practical LEDs on a lot of the actors who were going to be playing the ghosts so they could see how that would translate into visual effects,” says Bogdanowicz. “After all those tests were done, I got an edit of the movie. I was able to have a couple days to start going through the movie, smoothing it out, and getting the look set.”
That’s when Yeoman came into her suite and they went through the movie. Shortly after that director Feig joined them. “Paul was very involved. After I started the DI, basically, I took over all the visual effect sessions, so all final visual effects went through me on the big screen. I actually colored them, and they could see what they looked like as a final. It’s part of a process for finishing the visual effects, so when they would need certain parts of visual effects brightened, or darkened, or the color tweaked, I was able to do that live and they would approve the visual effect, and move on, and I could apply that into my final list for the movie.”
Bogdanowicz calls the process on Ghostbusters fun, interactive and collaborative — including the visual effects team, Feig, his editor Brent White and Yeoman. “They were an amazingly fun, and professional team to work with,” she says.
Let’s dig a bit more into Bogdanowicz’s process on the film.
Were there any challenges when working with the VFX shots?
I guess the biggest challenge was making sure I had enough time after all the visual effects were completed and dropped in to be able to fine tune a scene. They did something very smart on this film, which helped my process: toward the end of the process they would fill the scene with all the visual effects, finished or not. They were close enough to be put into the show, and they would keep updating them with the minor changes.
In general, my color was set. They were super organized, and I always had enough time to be able to smooth it out, because usually I had something done ahead of time, before it was absolutely final. (Sony Imageworks was the main house on this one.)
What’s an example of a note that you would get about a scene?
Paul never wanted anything to be too flat or too bright. He always wanted it to feel very rich. It was wonderful to have somebody with such a high taste level working on such a big comedy. So a lot of notes would be like, “Make sure it feels filmic, and rich.” It was really fun for me to be able to find those looks.
Another note would be, “Make sure you can see their eyes.” Certain times we would just brighten the actors’ eyes, so you could see their expressions a little bit more. There was a lot of that happening as well.
Do you think that enhanced the comedy?
I definitely think so, because you catch all the little details. These actresses are awesome, and they have so many tiny little expressions that you don’t want to miss.
Looking back, was there a particular scene that you are most proud of?
The Time Square fight scene toward the end of the movie, which was a combination of the VFX team and me. It’s quite intricate, and there is a lot of detail with the visual effects — all the different ghosts, and all the colors, which we really celebrated. We are not afraid of color in this movie. We go for it, keeping it rich with an almost Technicolor-type of look.
It has sort of a three-strip type of feel, because it’s got all beautiful flesh tones, and we are not afraid of letting that saturation shine through without being overly saturated, flat and garish. It’s really rich and filmic.
That scene is a dark night scene, but it’s got a lot of detail in it. Nothing is crushed and nothing is clipped, it’s got all this wonderful detail and color, and there’s tons of stuff going on, including visual effects integrating with non-visual effects.
You use both DaVinci Resolve and FilmLight Baselight, but for this one it was Baselight. Can you talk about how it helped in the process?
The Baselight handles multiple resolutions on the timeline, from a workflow standpoint, very elegantly. So in that respect it was very nice because the movie was shot on Alexa. We had the native Alexa resolution (3414) mixed with some of the visual effects resolutions, which most of the time were some form of 2K… not quite 3414. It was nice to be able to have those seamlessly integrated and at the highest resolution possible.
I also did the compositing for all the titles — which you can also do with the Resolve — and it just made everything easy. I used a lot of the tracking tools while I opened up the eyes on the actresses, and the power windows stuck right on their eyes beautifully.
The last time we spoke was about two years ago, and I asked you about your philosophy of color. Has that changed at all?
My philosophy has grown, and I’ve been learning a lot here at Company 3. I find it fascinating to see how other colorists work, and here I work with Stefan Sonnenfeld, Stephen Nakamura and Siggy Ferstl.
I’ve always had the philosophy of creating a really solid base for the image. What I love to do now is I’ll go through, and balance the whole movie to a place where I have something that looks really solid, and then create a look based on how the director or cinematographer, or both, see it.
For Ghostbusters I kept everything really rich, and really elegant and filmic. With other movies I like to start with that as my building blocks; it’s almost like building a house. You have to build the foundation and then you slowly pick out the details like the drapes, faucets and things. That is kind of how I think about coloring. I always like to try to build a foundation, which means the most color separation and the richest image that I can create, and then on top of that you can go anywhere.
What’s next for you?
I’m finishing up War Dogs, right now. I recently finished a smaller movie by director Mark Pellington, starring Shirley MacLaine and Amanda Seyfried, called The Last Word. It’s an amazing little film. Mark sent me the script a long time ago, and really wanted my input. That was a great little project.
I also just finished Ouija Origin of Evil with director Michael Flanagan and cinematographer Michael Fimognari. It’s a beautifully shot film with a ‘70s look.