Tag Archives: color grading

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. 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 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.

Color grading The Favourite

Yorgos Lanthimos’ historical comedy, The Favourite, has become an awards show darling. In addition to winning 10 British Independent Film Awards, it also dominated the BAFTA nominations with 12 nods, including Best Film, Best Director, Best Editing, and Best Cinematography for Robbie Ryan, BSC, ISC, who scored an ASC Award nom as well.

Final picture post on the black comedy was completed by Goldcrest Post in London using DaVinci Resolve Studio. The Century Fox film’s DI was overseen by Goldcrest producer Jonathan Collard, with senior colorist Rob Pizzey providing the grade. He was assisted by Maria Chamberlain, while Russell White completed the online edit.

The film stars Olivia Colman (who one a Golden Globe for her role), Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz.

Lensed by Ryan, The Favourite was shot on a mixture of Kodak 500T 5219 and 200T 5207 film stocks with Timothy Jones of Digital Film Bureau scanning the 35mm film negative for the grade at Goldcrest. To capture the full dynamic range of modern film stock, the 2K ARRI scanner was set to 2.5 density range with drama scanning beginning once the edit was locked.

According to colorist Pizzey, once scanned almost everything seen on-screen exposure-wise is what came straight out of the camera. “Robbie did such an amazing job; there were only a handful of shots where I had to tweak the film grain back a little bit.

“In some respects, grading on film can be harder,” he continues. “It does take a lot more balancing because of variations in the scanning process and film stocks. Conversely, with digital capture you have a pretty good balance to begin with, if you start with the CDL values from the digital rushes process.”

Rob Pizzey

He says the way the director worked was very interesting. “Basically, we kept the images very natural and didn’t rely on too many secondaries. Instead, we focused on manipulating the palette using primary color correction to achieve an organic, naturalistic look. It sounds easy, but in truth, it is quite difficult. We started early testing on some of the dailies, a mix of interior and exterior shots, both day and night, to get an idea of where the director and DP wanted to go. We then pushed on with that into the DI.”

DP Ryan wasn’t able to attend the grade, so it was just Pizzey and the director.

“There was a lot of colorization going on in the bottom end of the picture, whether it’s in the shadows and deep blacks or playing with the highlights to create something that looked interesting,” says Pizzey. “We were ultimately still creating a look, it is just a lot more subtle, which is where the challenge lies.”

Most of the film was shot relying on available light only. “There was hardly any artificial lighting used at all during principal photography,” he reports. “The candlelit scenes at night relied solely on the candles themselves and, as you can imagine, there were a lot of candles. The blacks in those scenes are really inky.”

The night scenes were especially tough to complete, with Pizzey relying on Resolve’s primary grading toolset. “Those scenes are very rich and very warm, so we automatically backed off the warmth and tried to dial it down by adding some desaturation. However, it just didn’t look right,” he explains. “We then stripped the grade back and tried to stay as close to what had come out of the camera as we could, with only a few subtle tweaks here and there.”

Looking to embrace the contrast of the film stock, everything about the grade was all very natural and subtle. “For the first couple of weeks everything was about the primaries, and it was only toward the end of the DI that we began to use window shapes and keys on shots that we couldn’t otherwise get to work using primaries alone.

“There was one scene in particular where Yorgos and Robbie had to go back and shoot it five weeks later. Coming into the grade, there were a number of notable differences between the trees, moving from winter into spring, which meant the trees were beginning to bud.”

The Favourite is in theaters now.

Review: Picture Instruments’ plugin and app, Color Cone 2

By Brady Betzel

There are a lot of different ways to color correct an image. Typically, colorists will start by adjusting contrast and saturation followed by adjusting the lift, gamma and gain (a.k.a. shadows, midtones and highlights). For video, waveforms and vectorscopes are great ways of measuring color values and are about the only way to get the most accurate scientific facts on the colors you are manipulating.

Whether you are in Blackmagic Resolve, Avid Media Composer, Adobe Premiere Pro, Apple FCP X or any other nonlinear editor or color correction app, you usually have similar color correction tools across apps — whether you color based on curves, wheels, sliders or even interactively on screen. So when I heard about the way that Picture Instruments Color Cone 2 color corrects — via a Cone (or really a bicone) — I was immediately intrigued.

Color Cone 2 is a standalone app but also, more importantly, a plugin for Adobe After Effects, Adobe Premiere Pro and FCP X. In this review I am focusing on the Premiere Pro plugin, but keep in mind that the standalone version works on still images and allows you to export a 3dl or cube LUTs — a great way for a client to see what type of result you can get quickly from just a still image.

Color Cone 2 is literally a color corrector when used as a plugin for Adobe Premiere. There are no contrast and saturation adjustments, just the ability to select a color and transform it. For instance, you can select a blue sky and adjust the hue, chromanance (saturation) and/or luminance of the resulting color inside of the Color Cone plugin.

To get started you apply the Color Cone 2 plugin to your clip — the plugin is located under Picture Instruments in the Effects tab. Then you click the little square icon in the effect editor panel to open up the Color Cone 2 interface. The interface contains the bicone image representation of the color correction, presets to set up a split-tone color map or a three-point color correct, and the radius slider to adjust the effect your correction has on surrounding color.

Once you are set on a look you can jump out of the Color Cone interface and back into the effect editor inside of Premiere. There you can keyframe all of the parameters you adjusted in the Color Cone interface. This allows for a nice and easy way to transition from no color correction to color correction.

The Cone
The Cone itself is the most interesting part of this plugin. Think of the bicone as the 3D side view of a vectorscope. In other words, if the vectorscope view from a traditional scope is the top view — the bicone in Color Cone would be a side view. Moving your target color from the top cone to the bottom cone will adjust your lightness to darkness (or luminance). At the intersection of the cones is the saturation (or chromanance) and when moving from the center outwards saturation is increased. When a color is selected using the eye dropper you will see a square, which represents the source color selection, a circle representing the target color and an “x” with a line for reference on the middle section.

Additionally, there is a black circle on the saturation section in the middle that shows the boundaries of how far you can push your chromanance. There is a light circle that represents the radius of how surrounding colors are affected. Each video clip can have effects layered on them and one instance of the plugin can handle five colors. If you need more than five, you can add another instance of the plugin to the same clip.

If you are looking to export 3dl and Cube LUTs of your work you will need to use the standalone Color Cone 2 app. The one caveat to using the standalone app is that you can only apply color to still images. Once you do that you can export the LUT to be used in any modern NLE/color correction app.

Summing Up
To be honest, working in Color Cone 2 was a little weird for me. It’s not your usual color correction workflow, so I would need to sit with the plugin for a while to get used to its setup. That being said, it has some interesting components that I wish other color correction apps would use, such as the Cone view. The bicone is a phenomenal way to visualize color correction in realtime.

In my opinion, if Picture Instruments would sell just the Cone as a color measurement tool to work in conjunction with Lumetri, they would have another solid tool. Color Cone 2 has a very unique and interesting way to color correct in Premiere that acts as an advanced secondary color correct tool to the Lumetri color correction tools.

The Color Cone 2 standalone app and plugin costs $139 when purchased together, or $88 individually. In my opinion, video people should probably just stick to the plugin version. Check out Picture Instrument’s website for more info on Color Cone 2 as well as their other products. And check them out on Twitter @Pic_instruments.


Brady Betzel is an Emmy-nominated online editor at Margarita Mix in Hollywood, working on Life Below Zero and Cutthroat Kitchen. You can email Brady at bradybetzel@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @allbetzroff.

Veteran colorist Walter Volpatto joins Efilm

Walter Volpatto, a colorist with 15 years under his belt, has joined LA’s Efilm. His long list of credits includes Dunkirk, Star Wars: The Last Jedi and, most recently, Amazon Studios’ series Homecoming.

As a colorist, Volpatto’s style gravitates toward an aesthetic of realism, though his projects span genres from drama and action to comedy and documentary, such as just-released Green Book, directed by Peter Farrelly; Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight; Independence Day: Resurgence, directed by Roland Emmerich; and Bad Moms, directed by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore.

He joins Efilm from Fotokem, where he started in digital intermediate before progressively shifting toward fully digital workflows while navigating emerging technologies such as HDR. (Watch our interview with him about his work on The Last Jedi.)

Volpatto found his way into color finishing by way of visual effects, a career he initially pursued as an outlet for his passion for photography. He began working as a digital intermediate artist at Cinecitta in Rome in 2002, before relocating to Los Angeles the following year. Since then, he’s continued honing his skillset for both film and digital, while also expanding his knowledge of color science.

While known for his feature film work, Volpatto periodically works in episodic television. Based at Efilm’s Hollywood facility, will be working at many of Deluxe’s color grading suites, including the newly opened Stage One. He will be working on Blackmagic’s DaVinci Resolve.

Technicolor welcomes colorists Trent Johnson and Andrew Francis

Technicolor in Los Angeles will be beefing up its color department in January with the addition of colorists Andrew Francis and Trent Johnson.

Francis joins Technicolor after spending the last three years building the digital intermediate department of Sixteen19 in New York. With recent credits that include Second Act, Night School, Hereditary and Girls Trip. Francis is a trained fine artist who has established a strong reputation of integrating the bleeding edge of technology in support of the craft of color.

Johnson, a Technicolor alumnus, returns after stints as a digital colorist at MTI, Deluxe and Sony Colorworks. His recent credits include horror hits Slender Man and The Possession of Hannah Grace, as well as comedies Overboard and Ted 2.

Johnson will be using FilmLight and Resolve for his work, while Francis will toggle between Resolve, BaseLight and Lustre, depending on the project.

Francis and Johnson join Technicolor LA’s roster, which includes Pankaj Bajpai, Tony Dustin, Doug Delaney, Jason Fabbro, recent HPA award-winner Maxine Gervais, Michael Hatzer, Roy Vasich, Tim Vincent, Sparkle and others.

Main Image: Trent Johnson and Andrew Francis

Post house Cinematic Media opens in Mexico City, targets film, TV

Mexico City is now home to Cinematic Media, a full-service post production finishing facility focused on television and cinema content   Located on the lot at Estudios GGM, the facility offers dailies, look development, editorial finishing, color grading and other services, and aims to capitalize on entertainment media production in Mexico and throughout Central and South America.

Scot Evans

In its first project, Cinematic Media provided finishing services for the second season of the Netflix series Ingobernable.

CEO Scot Evans brings more than 25 years of post experience and has managed large-scale post production operations in the United States, Mexico and Canada. His recent posts include executive VP at Technicolor PostWorks in New York, managing director of Technicolor in Vancouver and managing director of Moving Picture Company (MPC) in Mexico City.

“We’re excited about the future for entertainment production in Mexico,” says Evans. “Netflix opened the door and now Amazon is in Mexico. We expect film production to also grow. Through its geographic location, strong infrastructure and cinematic history, Mexico is well-positioned to become a strong producer of content for the world market.”

Cinematic Media has been built from the ground up with a workflow modeled after top-tier facilities in Hollywood and geared toward television and cinema finishing. Engineering design was supervised by John Stevens, whose four decades of post experience includes stints at Cinesite, Efilm, The Post Group, Encore Hollywood, MTI Film and, currently, the Foundation.

Resources include a DI theater with DaVinci Resolve, 4K projection and 7.1 surround sound, four color suites supporting 2K, 4K and HDR, multiple editorial finishing suites, and a Colorfront On-Set Dailies system. The facility also offers look development services to assist productions in creating end-to-end color pipelines, as well as quality control and deliverable services for streaming, broadcast and cinema. Plans to add visual effects services are in the works.

“We can handle six or seven series simultaneously,” says Evans. “There is a lot of redundancy built into our pipeline, making it incredibly efficient and virtually eliminating downtime. A lot of facilities in Hollywood would be envious of what we have here.”

Cinematic Media features high-speed connectivity via the private network Sohonet. It will be employed to share media with studios, producers and distributors around the globe securely and efficiently. It will also be used to facilitate remote collaboration with directors, cinematographers, editors, colorists and other production partners.

Evans cites as a further plus Cinematic Media’s location within Estudios GGM, which has six sound stages, production and editorial office space, grip and lighting resources and more. Producers can take projects from concept to the screen from within the confines of the site. “We can literally walk down a flight of stairs to support a project shooting on one of the stages,” he says. “Proximity is important. We expect many productions to locate their offices and editorial teams here.”

Managing director Arturo Sedano will oversee day-to-day operations. He has supervised post for thousands of hours of television and cinema content on behalf of studios and producers from around the globe, including Netflix, Telemundo, Sony Pictures, Viacom, Lionsgate, HBO, TV Azteca, Grupo Imagen and Fox.

Other key staff includes senior colorist Ana Montaño whose experience as a digital colorist spans facilities in Mexico City, Barcelona, London, Dublin and Rome; producer and post supervisor Cyntia Navarro, previously with Lejana Films and Instituto Mexicano de Cinematografía (IMCINE). Her credits span episodic television, feature film and documentaries, and include projects for IFC Films, Canal Once, UPI, Discovery Channel, Netflix and Amazon.

Additional staff includes chief technology officer Oliver De Gante, previously with Ollin VFX, where his credits included the hit films Chappie, Her, Tron: Legacy and The Social Network, as well as the Netflix series House of Cards; technical director Gabriel Kerlegand, a workflow specialist and digital imaging technologist with 18 years of experience in cinema and television; and coordinator and senior conform editor Humberto Flores, formerly senior editor at Zenith Adventure Media.

Mike Sowa joins Fotokem as senior DI colorist

FotoKem in Burbank has added post vet Mike Sowa as senior digital intermediate colorist. Sowa brings over 25 years of experience to his new role, and an impressive resume that includes stints at Modern VideoFilm, Universal High Def Center and jobs at other facilities in Hollywood, including LaserPacific and Technicolor.

His past work includes Kubo and the Two Strings, The Jungle Book, Oblivion, Home of the Brave and The Other Side of the Wind. Sowa is an associate member of the American Society of Cinematographers (ASC).  “I am thrilled to be on board at FotoKem, reuniting with talented people that I have worked with in the past and with new collaborators,” says Sowa.

Sowa becomes part of a color roster that includes Alastor Arnold, David Cole, Mark Griffith, George Koran, Kostas Theodosiou, and Walter Volpatto. Contributions from the team include Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Lemon, The Nun, The Spy Who Dumped Me, Twin Peaks: The Return and The Predator, among many others.

He will be using Lustre and Resolve.

Industry vets launch hybrid studio, Olio Creative

Colorist Marshall Plante, producer Natalie Westerfield and director/creative director Justin Purser founded hybrid studio Olio Creative, which has opened its doors in Venice, California.

Olio features vintage-style décor and an open floor plan and the space is adaptable for freelancers, mobile artists and traveling talent, with two color suites and a suite set up to toggle between editorial and Flame work.

Marshall Plante is a well-known colorist who has built his career at shops such as Digital Magic, Riot, Syndicate and, most recently, at Ntropic where he headed up the color department. His commercial credits include Samsung, Audi, Olay, Nike, Honda, Budweiser, and direct-to-brand projects for Apple and Riot Games. Recently, the Nick Jr. Girls in Charge: Girl Power campaign he graded won an Emmy for Outstanding Daytime Promo Announcement Brand Image Campaign, and the Uber campaign he graded, Rolling With the Champion with Lebron James, won a bronze Cannes Lion.

Marshall’s long-time producer, Natalie Westerfield, has over 10 years of experience producing at companies including The Mill and Ntropic. As executive producer, Westerfield will provide oversight to guide all projects that come through Olio’s pipeline.

The third member of the team is director/creative director Justin Purser. As a director, Purser has worked at production companies A Band Apart and Anonymous Content. He was one of the original creators and directors behind Maker Studios (acquired by Walt Disney Corp.) that pioneered the multi-channel YouTube-centric companies of today.

The three partners will bring an element of experimentation and collaboration to the post production field. “The ability to be chameleons within the industry keeps us open to fresh ideas,” says Pursur. “Our motto is, ‘Try it. If it doesn’t work, pivot.’ And if we thrive in a new way of working, we’re going to share that with everyone. We want to not only make noise for ourselves, but for others in the same business.”

Senior colorist Nicholas Hasson joins Light Iron’s LA team

Post house Light Iron has added senior colorist Nicholas Hasson to its roster. He will be based in the company’s Los Angeles studio.

Hasson colored the upcoming Tiffany Haddish feature Nobody’s Fool and Season 2 of HBO’s Room 104. Additional past credits include Boo 2! A Madea Halloween, Masterminds, All About Nina and commercial campaigns for Apple, Samsung and Google. He worked most recently at Technicolor, but his long career has included time at ILM, Company 3 and Modern VideoFilm.

“Nicholas has a wealth of experience that makes him a great fit with our team,” says Light Iron GM Peter Cioni. “His background in color, online and VFX ensures success in meeting clients’ creative objectives and enables flexibility in working across both episodic and feature projects.”

Like Lightiron’s other LA-based colorists, led by Ian Vertovec, Hasson is able to support cinematographers working in other regions through virtual DI sessions in Panavision’s network of connected facilities. (Light Iron is a Panavision company.)

Hasson joins Light Iron during a time of high-profile streaming releases including Netflix’s Maniac and Facebook’s Sorry For Your Loss, as well as feature releases garnering awards buzz, such as Can You Ever Forgive Me? and What They Had.

“This is a significant time of growth for Panavision’s post production creative services,” concludes Cioni. “We are thrilled to have Nicholas with us as we enter this next chapter of expansion.”

Digital Domain Shanghai’s Simon Astbury talks color, projects

England-born Simon Astbury’s path to color grading wasn’t a straight one. He earned a degree in music and had vague ambitions about working in A&R. “I started working in this industry briefly in the early ‘90s and pretty much hated it,” he shares.

One day, Astbury went to sound sync and dialogue edit in a small facility in Twickenham Film Studios where they had two MkIII Rank Cintel telecines. “It was love at first sight,” he says. “The ‘Heath Robinson’ craziness of these systems, with their very limited color tools in those days, PEC master control (operated with a tweaker) and primaries.

Simon Astbury

“There was no machine control or editing, so no stopping once you’d started. It was a great way to learn the craft, to hone an instinctive reaction to an image that still serves me well today. The green radioactive glow from the tube, the smell of film all went to make grading a much more visceral experience! The early ‘90s was a period of huge change in post. Avid was this new thing that the editors mistrusted, most of them were using Steenbecks at that time.”

Astbury’s path was officially changed and he went on to work on many films, including Shakespeare in Love, Sense and Sensibility and Notting Hill. “I also worked with a bunch of film legends including Roger Pratt, Jack Cardiff, Richard Attenborough, Alan Parker, Franco Zeferelli… and The Spice Girls!”

Astbury has worked in a wide range of genres, from Oscar-winning films to iconic ad campaigns and pop promos. He has collaborated with people like Jack Cardiff, Roger Pratt, Tony Kaye, Paul WS Anderson and many more. Today, he is the head of color at Digital Domain in Shanghai.

Let’s find out more…

You’ve recently moved to Shanghai. Why the move, and are your clients’ requests or expectations there different than in London?
I felt it was time to leave my Soho comfort zone. I’d always intended to travel with the job, but the right opportunity never came up. Then when the offer to relocate came somewhat out of the blue, I consulted my family and we decided to go for it.

Digital Domain has an incredible body of work and a global presence. It was also an opportunity to develop and grow a grading department worldwide in a company that is primarily focused on VFX.

Managing client expectations is always very important, but in China the client really is king or queen. Making sure that the work remains good and not diluted by overthinking and over-tweaking is sometimes a very delicate negotiation.

How have you gone about building or enhancing the grading department at Digital Domain China?
So far I’ve introduced some enhanced workflows and defined training for the juniors and assistants. I’m also attempting to make remote grading available to any of our other offices around the world. Additionally, I’m promoting increased co-operation between our Shanghai and Beijing offices.

You’ve worked on all sorts of projects, from documentaries to features to commercials. Is there a genre you enjoy grading the most?
If it doesn’t sound trite, I would say that good, well-executed work is the most enjoyable to grade. I love commercials because they afford the opportunity to go into detail and occasionally push things creatively.

I love documentaries because the grade can enhance the story in so many different ways. I love dramas because the story arc and mood can be helped immensely by a good grade. I love movies because in my heart I’m a film nut and the opportunity to have your work in a cinema is an incredible buzz that will never ever get old.

What work are you most proud of?
There are a few things that stand out for me, most recently a grade for the wonderful director Nieto at Stink for Wu Fang Zhai. It was great fun to throw away the rulebook and do some crazy stuff.

There are a bunch of things that I’ve done over the years that I remember fondly, a travelogue for BBC4 called Travels With a Tangerine, which was amazingly well shot on SD DVCAM. Also some beautiful films for Volvo directed by Martin Swift, and some epic stuff for Audi directed by Paul WS Anderson. There is also the amazing multi-screen art installation “Mother’s Day” for artist Smadar Dreyfuss about dispossessed stateless children in Israel.

Working with younger directors like Stella Scott has been a great experience for me. Passing on knowledge and at the same time learning new visual languages helps to keep everything fresh. At the other end of the spectrum is The Human Centipede trilogy — it’s not often that you get to be involved in a cultural phenomenon.

Wu Fang Zha

Can you describe a recent project and what tools were particularly beneficial?
The Wu Fang Zhai project was shot on greenscreen with matte-painted backgrounds and sometimes with complicated comps. It was really easy to assemble rough comps in my FilmLight Baselight to ensure the grade looked correct. Layer mode composite settings were particularly useful.

Baselight Editions is also a brilliant tool for VFX-heavy jobs. We have a top-secret project on at the moment and the ability to have a renderless workflow between Baselight and Nuke is invaluable.

As a colorist what are your biggest strengths?
I’ve been doing it for a long time and can come up with creative solutions for most eventualities. Sometimes the client wants you to drive the session and come up with all the ideas, sometimes they want you to do as you are told, and sometimes they want it to be a collaboration. I’m comfortable with any of these scenarios, but the client is paying for my eyes and my interpretation, so sometimes you have to be the guide, even when the client has very definite ideas.

You also have to be the arbiter of taste. So on occasion you have to be firm, particularly when bad decisions are being made. I try to separate my ego from the work and create a calm-but-creative atmosphere in the grade suite. Music is hugely important, as well as a fully stocked drink trolley!

The wonderful colorist Bob Festa has said that he asks people what they want their films to say, rather than how they want them to look, and that’s pretty much my approach. I’ve been compared to an airline pilot or cruise ship captain more than once….I’ll take that (he smiles).

You’ve been a colorist for over 20 years and witnessed the time when color correction was processed in film labs. What are your thoughts today about film versus digital?
I worked exclusively in film for about half my career and I love it. It is tactile, it smells great, it feels good in your hands and, of course, many of the most memorable images in cinema were shot on it. The soft detail, intensity and richness of color, the roll off into the whites and blacks is something that digital still finds hard to replicate.

Gucci commercial

Also, the recent resurgence in Europe and the USA of film in shorts, commercials and promos is great to see. However, I find myself thinking about all those things I don’t miss about film, such as weave, cell scratches, grain, wet gate TK and that buttock-clenching moment when the lab manager tells you the reel had broken in the bath and 300 feet of neg had been destroyed. X-ray fogging! Oh my goodness, I have so many film horror stories.

Modern cameras produce amazingly clear images with great color and response to light with far less in the way of insurmountable problems, and I don’t see either as particularly better. Actually, I think decent glass and proper lighting are just as important as what camera or format you shoot on.

What are the biggest challenges you face today as a colorist?
There are a few, but I don’t think they’re specific to colorists. Content is becoming continually more disposable. It’s more important than ever that respect for the craft — not only of color grading but the whole production and post process — becomes central to every production. The proliferation of display devices is also a big subject, making sure that the grade looks good on phones, tablets, laptops and TVs is an issue that will only get more challenging.

Do you have a routine when grading?
Yes, definitely. Although color is incredibly subjective, I personally think that your process shouldn’t be. I strongly believe there’s a right and wrong way of going about a grade. Every colorist has a different process but there are definitely ways that work and ways that don’t.

The longer I do the job, the more important the psychological aspect of it becomes — how your choices in the grade affect the thoughts and emotions of the viewer… what really matters and what doesn’t. I’m always on a quest to distil the essence of a grade. A lot of the content I see now, in my opinion, is over-graded. We have such comprehensive tools now, so you don’t have to throw the kitchen sink at every shot. “Keep it simple” is a mantra I try to impress upon my juniors.

Baselight is your main tool?
I’ve been working on Baselight for just shy of a decade. My favorite thing about Baselight is what I call “redundancy of process,” by which I mean there are multiple ways of doing most grading operations — hue angle not working? Then try Dkey. Dkey no good? Then try RGB key or curves, etc, etc.

What advice would you give to a junior colorist starting out today?
Be patient, there are no shortcuts, although I think it takes less time nowadays than it did due to the absence of telecines. Be a geek about your industry, cameras, lighting and lenses. Watch movies, ads and everything that’s good. Study art and artists, if only to have common points of reference. Remember that the grading part is only a portion of what makes a good colorist. You’re the host, therapist, barman and ringmaster.

You have to be someone people don’t mind spending 12 hours in a dark room with or they’ll never use you again. With difficult client requests try to say yes and then work out how you’re going to do it; if you can’t do it, suggest an alternative rather than saying no. Social media, especially Instagram is a brilliant medium for colorists, but be careful not to post things just for the sake of it.

Main Image Caption: Wu Fang Zhai