Tag Archives: Maxine Gervais

Colorist Christopher M. Ray talks workflow for Alexa 65-shot Alpha

By Randi Altman

Christopher M. Ray is a veteran colorist with a varied resume that includes many television and feature projects, including Tomorrowland, Warcraft, The Great Wall, The Crossing, Orange Is the New Black, Quantico, Code Black, The Crossing and Alpha. These projects have taken Ray all over the world, including remote places throughout North America, Europe, Asia and Africa.

We recently spoke with Ray, who is on staff at Burbank’s Picture Shop, to learn more about his workflow on the feature film Alpha, which focuses on a young man trying to survive alone in the wilderness after he’s left for dead during his first hunt with his Cro-Magnon tribe.

Ray was dailies colorist on the project, working with supervising DI colorist Maxine Gervais. Gervais of Technicolor won an HPA Award for her work on Alpha in the Outstanding Color Grading — Feature Film category.

Let’s find out more….

Chris Ray and Maxine Gervais at the HPA Awards.

How early did you get involved in Alpha?
I was approached about working on Alpha right before the start of principal photography. From the beginning I knew that it was going to be a groundbreaking workflow. I was told that we would be working with the ARRI Alexa 65 camera, mainly working in an on-set color grading trailer and we would be using FilmLight’s Daylight software.

Once I was on board, our main focus was to design a comprehensive workflow that could accommodate on-set grading and Daylight software while adapting to the ever-changing challenges that the industry brings. Being involved from the start was actually was a huge perk for me. It gave us the time we needed to design and really fine-tune the extensive workflow.

Can you talk about working with the final colorist Maxine Gervais and how everyone communicated?
It was a pleasure working with Maxine. She’s really dialed in to the demands of our industry. She was able to fly to Vancouver for a few days while we were shooting the hair/makeup tests, which is how we were able to form in-person communication. We were able to sit down and discuss creative approaches to the feature right away, which I appreciated as I’m the type of person that likes to dive right in.

At the film’s conception, we set in motion a plan to incorporate a Baselight Linked Grade (BLG) color workflow from FilmLight. This would allow my color grades in Daylight to transition smoothly into Maxine’s Baselight software. We knew from the get-go that there would be several complicated “day for night” scenes that Maxine and I would want to bring to fruition right away. Using the BLG workflow, I was able to send her single “Arriraw” frames that gave that “day for night” look we were searching for. She was able to then send them back to me via a BLG file. Even in remote locations, it was easy for me to access the BLG grade files via the Internet.

[Maxine Gervais weighs in on working with Ray: “Christopher was great to work with. As the workflow on the feature was created from scratch, he implemented great ideas. He was very keen on the whole project and was able to adapt to the ever-changing challenges of the show. It is always important to have on-set color dialed in correctly, as it can be problematic if it is not accurately established in production.”]

How did you work with the DP? What direction were you given?
Being on set, it was very easy for DP Martin Gschlacht to come over to the trailer and view the current grade I was working on. Like Maxine, Martin already had a very clear vision for the project, which made it easy to work with him. Oftentimes, he would call me over on set and explain his intent for the scene. We would brainstorm ways of how I could assist him in making his vision come to life. Audiences rarely see raw camera files, or the how important color can influence the story being told.

It also helps that Martin is a master of aesthetic. The content being captured was extremely striking; he has this natural intuition about what look is needed for each environment that he shoots. We shot in lush rain forests in British Columbia and arid badlands in Alberta, which each inspired very different aesthetics.

Whenever I had a bit of down time, I would walk over to set and just watch them shoot, like a fly on the wall quietly observing and seeing how the story was unfolding. As a colorist, it’s so special to be able to observe the locations on set. Seeing the natural desaturated hues of dead grass in the badlands or the vivid lush greens in the rain forest with your own eyes is an amazing opportunity many of us don’t get.

You were on set throughout? Is that common for you?
We were on set throughout the entire project as a lot of our filming locations were in remote areas of British Columbia and Alberta, Canada. One of our most demanding shooting locations included the Dinosaur Provincial Park in Brooks, Alberta. The park is a UNESCO World Heritage site that no one had been allowed to film at prior to this project. I needed to have easy access to the site in order to easily communicate with the film’s executive team and production crew. They were able to screen footage in their trailer and we had this seamless back-and-forth workflow. This also allowed them to view high-quality files in a comfortable and controlled environment. Also, the ability to flag any potential issues and address them immediately on set was incredibly valuable with a film of such size and complexity.

Alpha was actually the first time I worked in an on-set grading trailer. In the past I usually worked out of the production office. I have heard of other films working with an on-set trailer, but I don’t think I would say that it is overly common. Sometimes, I wish I could be stationed on set more often.

The film was shot mostly with the Alexa 65, but included footage from other formats. Can you talk about that workflow?
The film was mostly shot on the Alexa 65, but there were also several other formats it was shot on. For most of the shoot there was a second unit that was shooting with Alexa XT and Red Weapon cameras, with a splinter unit shooting B-roll footage on Canon 1D, 5D and Sony A7S. In addition to these, there were units in Iceland and South Africa shooting VFX plates on a Red Dragon.

By the end of the shoot, there were several different camera formats and over 10 different resolutions. We used the 6.5K Alexa 65 resolution as the master resolution and mapped all the others into it.

The Alexa 65 camera cards were backed up to 8TB “sled” transfer drives using a Codex Vault S system. The 8TB transfer drives were then sent to the trailer where I had two Codex Vault XL systems — one was used for ingesting all of the footage into my SAN and the second was used to prepare footage for LTO archival. All of the other unit footage was sent to the trailer via shuttle drives or Internet transfer.

After the footage was successfully ingested to the SAN with a checksum verification, it was ready to be colored, processed, and then archived. We had eight LTO6 decks running 24/7, as the main focus was to archive the exorbitant amounts of high-res camera footage that we were receiving. Just the Alexa 65 alone was about 2.8TB per hour for each camera.

Had you worked with Alexa 65 footage previously?
Many times. A few year ago, I was in China for seven months working on The Great Wall, which was one of the first films to shoot with the Alexa 65. I had a month of in-depth pre-production with the camera testing, shooting and honing the camera’s technology. Working very closely with Arri and Codex technicians during this time, I was able to design the most efficient workflow possible. Even as the shoot progressed, I continued to communicate closely with both companies. As new challenges arose, we developed and implemented solutions that kept production running smoothly.

The workflow we designed for The Great Wall was very close to the workflow we ended up using on Alpha, so it was a great advantage that I had previous experience working in-depth with the camera.

What were some of the challenges you faced on this film?
To be honest, I love a challenge. As a colorist, we are thrown into tricky situations every day. I am thankful for these challenges; they improve my craft and enable me to become more efficient at problem solving. One of the largest challenges that I faced in this particular project was working with so many different units, given the number of units shooting, the size of the footage alone and the dozens of format types needed.

We had to be accessible around the clock, most of us working 24 hours a day. Needless to say, I made great friends with the transportation driving team and the generator operators. I think they would agree that my grading trailer was one of their largest challenges on the film since I constantly needed to be on set and my work was being imported/exported in such high resolutions.

In the end, as I was watching this absolutely gorgeous film in the theater it made sense. Working those crazy hours was absolutely worth it — I am thankful to have worked with such a cohesive team and the experience is one I will never forget.

A colorist weighs in on ‘the new world’ of HDR

By Maxine Gervais

HDR is on many people’s minds these days. Some embrace it, some are hesitant and some simply do not like the idea.

But what is HDR really? I find that manufacturers often use the term too loosely. Anything that offers higher dynamic range can fall into the HDR category, but let’s focus on the luminance and greater contrast ratio brought by HDR.

We have come a long way in the last 12 years — from film prints to digital projection. This was a huge shift, and one could argue it happened relatively fast. Since then, technology has been on the fast forward.

Film allows incredible capture of detail information in large formats, and when digital was first introduced we couldn’t say the same. At the time, cameras were barely capable of capturing true 2K and wide dynamic range. Many would shoot film and scan it into digital files hoping to preserve more of the dynamic range offered by film. Eventually, cameras got better and film started to disappear, mostly for convenience and cost reasons.

Through all this, target devices (projectors and monitors) stayed pretty much the same. Monitors went from CRT to plasma to LCD, but kept the same characteristics. For monitors, everything was in a Rec.709 color space and a luminance of 100 nits. Projectors were in the P3 colors space, but with a lower luminance of about 48 nits.

Maxine at work on the FilmLight Baselight.

Philosophically, one could argue that all creative intent was in some ways limited by the display. The files might of held much more information than the display was able to show. So, the aesthetics we learned to love were a direct result of the displays’ limitations.

What About Now?
Now, we are at the break in the revolution of these displays. With the introduction of OLEDs for monitors and laser projection for theaters, the contrast ratios, color spaces and luminance are now larger than before. It is now possible to see the details captured by cameras and or film. This allows for greater artistic freedom: since there is less limitation one can push the aesthetic to a new level.

However, that doesn’t mean all of a sudden everything is brighter and more colorful. It is very easy to create the same aesthetic one used to love, but it is now possible to bring to the screens details in shadows and highlights that were never an option prior. This even means better color separation. What creatives can do with “HDR” is still very much in their control.

The more difficult part is that HDR has not yet taken over theaters and or homes. If someone has set their look in a P3 48-nits world and is now asked to take this look into a 4000-nits P3 PQ display, it might be difficult to decide how to approach it. How do we maintain the original intent yet embrace what HDR has to offer? There are many ways to go about it, and not one is better than the other. You can redefine your look for the new displays, and in some ways have a new look that becomes its own entity, or you can mimic your original look, taking advantage of only a few elements of HDR.

The more we start using brighter luminance, bigger contrast ratio and color cube as our starting point, the more we will be able to future-proof and protect the creative intent. The afterthought of HDR, in terms of never having planned for it, is still something difficult to do and controversial in some cases.

The key is to have those philosophical discussions with creatives ahead of time and come up with a workflow that will have the expected results.

Main Image: Maxine Gervais working director Albert Hughes on his upcoming film, Alpha.


Maxine Gervais is a senior supervising colorist at Technicolor Hollywood.  Her past credits include Black Panther; The 15:17 to Paris; Pitch Perfect 3 and American Sniper.

Technicolor’s Maxine Gervais colors Sully

Warner Bros.’s Sully, which had its US premiere last month and opens in the UK next, tells the story of pilot Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, who famously landed US Airways Flight 1549 in the Hudson River in 2009, saving everyone on board.

Director Clint Eastwood once again called on long-time collaborator and cinematographer Tom Stern to shoot the film. He used Arri Alexa 65 large-format cameras at 6K resolution. Sully was then finished in 4K and readied for distribution, including to IMAX HDR theaters.

Maxine Gervais at work.

Technicolor colorist Maxine Gervais, who supervised dailies and provided the grade, helped develop the overall aesthetic of the film and helped established a look of photorealism with a “very current feel,” working closely with Stern and director Eastwood. Because the emergency landing took place on a cold January morning, it was important that the visual tones reflected how cold the river temperatures were along with the tension and urgency of the situation.

“Because it was freezing that day, we wanted to make sure that it looked and felt that way — and that’s what you experience when you see the movie,” says Gervais, who used FilmLight’s Baselight on the project.

Sully also features several flashback scenes, for which Gervais used Baselight’s compositing tools. “I love the composite grading capability where you can blend layers in additive, subtractive and other modes — each layer becomes an element. It can serve a creative yet intricate look as well as some basic VFX, and it just keeps getting better.”

Composite grading also enables precise control when grading VFX shots. “The 4K VFX shots were sometimes delivered with up to eight element mattes. It gave me the ability to stack and treat every element from the plane, the water, the background and foreground to create a unique set of creative grades to work with and manipulate in realtime, without processing or rendering,” she explains.

Technicolor’s MPC provided key visual effects. As the VFX shots were brought into the Baselight timeline, the evolving grade was applied so the film could be continually reviewed with Eastwood and Stern in an IMAX environment. “This is my third collaboration with the Malpaso team [Eastwood’s production company],” says Gervais, who also worked on Jersey Boys and American Sniper. “Sully is definitely high-tech in every sense of the word from a DI point of view. We had to ensure that the look would hold up, that the VFX and non-VFX shots would balance out, the blacks and the highlights would be pristine, and that the resolution was perfectly preserved to meet the exacting standards of IMAX.”

Gervais worked closely with the IMAX team, “especially with Lee Wimer, who had been a lab-timer at Technicolor for many years. Bob Peichel produced the Sully color finishing and Erik Kauffman delivered editorial conform, along with Jeff Pantaleo who was Gervais’ color assist. Technicolor also delivered theatrical marketing color for the film’s theatrical and broadcast trailers. In addition to color grading and color finishing at Technicolor Hollywood, Technicolor Toronto’s sound team created IMAX Audio DRM for the film’s theatrical release.

Check out Gervais discussing some of her work: