Tag Archives: Pankaj Bajpai

Quick Chat: Technicolor’s new finishing artist, VP Pankaj Bajpai

By Randi Altman

Veteran colorist Pankaj Bajpai will be joining Technicolor’s Los Angeles studio in August as VP, finishing artist and business development. He comes to Technicolor from his long-tenured position at Encore.

Bajpai’s long list of television credits include House of Cards, Sex in the CityCarnivàle, The Newsroom, True Detective, Justified, Fear the Walking Dead, Genius: Einstein and Picasso, Snowfall and many more. He brings with him a background in both film cinematography and digital post.

Bajpai joins Technicolor’s roster of episodic colorists in Los Angeles who include Sparkle, Tim Vincent, Tony Dustin, Tom Forletta, Roy Vasich and Doug Delaney.

“I’m thrilled to start a new chapter at such a vibrant time in our industry’s landscape,” says Bajpai on joining Technicolor. “With the support of Sherri Potter (Technicolor’s president of worldwide post production), and the team of artists and engineers at Technicolor, I’m excited to continue to push the boundaries of technology and creativity to bring our clients’ vision and passion to all screens, in all formats, for all to enjoy.”

We reached out to Bajpai to find out more:

Why was now the right time to make this change, especially after being at one place for so long?
Consumers’ relationship with content has been disrupted, the entertainment industry has shifted, and as a result the dynamics of post are changing dramatically. Lines are blurring between “feature” and “episodic” content — the quality of the story and the production, the craft, the expectation by all stakeholders, etc. is now almost universally the same for all pieces of content regardless of distribution platform. I believe Technicolor understands this dynamic shift and is supporting the singular demand for stunning content regardless of distribution “genre,” and that made it the right time for me to join.

How do you divide your time between your colorist duties and your biz dev duties?
I believe that the role of the colorist is no longer a singular duty. It is my responsibility to be the center of collaboration across the post process — from a client perspective, a craft perspective and a workflow perspective. We no longer live in a silo’d industry with clear hand-offs. I must understand the demands that 4K, HDR and beyond have on workflows, the craft and the ever-tightening delivery deadlines.

I believe in being the catalyst for collaboration across the post process, uniting the technology and artistry to serve our clients’ visions. It’s not about wearing one hat at a time. It’s about taking my role as both artists and client ambassador seriously, ultimately ensuring that the experience is as flawless as possible, and the picture is stunning.

You are an artist first, but what do you get from doing the other parts as well?
We no longer work within independent processes. Being that center of collaboration that I referenced earlier influences my approach to color finishing as much as my role as an artist helps to bring perspective to the technology and operational demands of projects these days.

How does your background in cinematography inform you color work?
My work will always be informed by my clients, but my background in cinematography allows us to speak the same language — the language of lens and light, the language of photography. I find it is a very easy way of communicating visual ideas and gets us on the same page much faster. For instance, when a DP shares with me that they will be using a particular set of lenses and filters in combination with specific gels and lights, I’m able to visualize their creative intent quickly. Instinctively, we know what that image needs to be from the start without talking about it too much. Establishing such trust on demanding episodic shooting and finishing schedules is critical to stay true to my clients’ creative ideas.

Understanding and respecting the nuances of a cinematographer’s work in this way goes far in my ability to create a successful color finishing process in the end.

The world of color is thriving right now. How has the art changed since you started?
Art at its essence will always be about creative people seeing something come to life from within their own unique perspective. What has changed is the fact that the tools we now have at our disposal allow me as a finishing artist to create all new approaches to my craft. I can go deeper into an image and its color space now; it’s freeing and exciting because it allows for collaboration with cinematographers and directors on a continually deeper level.

What is the most exciting thing going on in color right now? HDR? Something else?
It really feels like the golden age of content across all platforms. Consumers’ expectations are understandably high across any type of content consumed in any environment or any screen. I think everyone involved on a show feels that and feels the excitement and continues to raise the bar for the quality of the storytelling, the craft and the overall consumer engagement. To be a contributor work, which is now easily seen globally, is very exciting.

Has the new technology changed the way you work or is your creative process essentially the same?
Technology will continue to change, workflows will be impacted and, as an industry, we’ll always be looking to challenge what is possible. My creative process continues to be influenced by the innovative tools that I get to explore.

For instance, it’s vital for me to understand an array of new digital cameras and the distinctive images they are capable of producing. I frequently use my toolset for creative options that can be deployed right within those cameras. To be able to help customize images non-destructively from the beginning of the shoot and to collaborate with directors and cinematographers to aid storytelling with a unique visual style all the way to the finish, is hugely satisfying. For innovation in the creative process today, the sky is the limit.

Fear the Walking Dead: Encore colorist teams with DPs for parched look

The action of AMC’s zombie-infused Fear the Walking Dead this season is set in a brittle, drought-plagued environment, which becomes progressively more parched as the story unfolds. So when production was about to commence, the show’s principals were concerned that the normally-arid shoot locations in Mexico had undergone record rainfall and were suffused with verdant vegetation as far as the eye could see.

Pankaj Bajpai of Encore, who has color graded the series from the start, and the two new cinematographers hired for this season — Christopher LaVasseur and Scott Peck — conferred early on about how best to handle this surprising development.

It wouldn’t have been practical to move locations or try to “dress” the scenes to look as described on the page, nor would the budget allow for addressing the issue through VFX. Bajpai, who, in addition to his colorist work also oversees new workflows for Encore, realized that although he could produce the desired effect in his FilmLight Baselight toolset through multiple keys and windows, that too would be less than practical.

Instead, he proposed using a technique that’s far from standard operating procedure for a series. “We got ‘under the hood’ of the Baselight,” he says, “and set up color suppression matrices,” which essentially use mathematical equations to define the degree to which each of the primary colors — red, green and blue — can be represented in an image. The technique, he explains, “allows you to be much more specific about suppressing certain hues without affecting everything else as much as you would by keying a color or manipulating saturation.”

Once designed, these restrictions on the green within the imagery could be dialed up or down, primarily affecting just the colors in the foliage that the filmmakers wanted to re-define, without collateral damage to skin tones and other elements that they didn’t want effects. “I knew that the cinematographers could shoot in the location and we could alter the environment as necessary in the grade,” Bajpai says. He showed the DPs how effective the technique was, and they quickly got on board. Peck, who was able to sit in on the grading for the first episode, recalls, “One of the things I was concerned with was this whole question about the green [foliage] because I knew in the story as the season progresses, water becomes less available. So this idea of changing the greens had to be a gradual process up to around episode nine. There was still a lot of discussion about how we are going to do this. But I knew just working with Pankaj at Encore for a day, that we could do it in the color grade.”

Of course, there was more to work out between Bajpai and the cinematographers, who’d been charged by the producers with taking the look in a somewhat new direction. “Wherever possible I wanted to plan as much with the cinematographers early on so that we’re all working toward a common goal,” he says.

Prior to this season’s start of production, Bajpai and the two DPs developed a shooting LUT to use in conjunction with the specific combination of lenses and the Arri sensors they would use to shoot the season. “Scott recommended using the Hawk T1 prime lenses,” says LaVasseur, “and I suggested going with a fairly low-contrast LUT.” Borrowing language from the photochemical days, he explains, “We wanted to start with a soft image and then ‘print’ really hard,” to yield the show’s edgy, contrasty type of look.

Bajpai calibrated the DPs’ laptops so that they’d be able to get the most out of sample-graded images that he would send them as he started coloring episodes. “We would provide notes when Pankaj had completed a pass,” says LaVasseur, but it was usually just a few very small tweaks I was asking for. We were all working toward the same goal so there weren’t surprises in the way he graded anything.”

“Pankaj had it done very quickly, especially the handling of the green,” Peck adds. “The show needed that look to build to a certain point and then stay there, but the actual locations weren’t cooperative. We were able to just shoot and we all knew what it needed to look like after Pankaj worked on it.”

“Communication is so important,” LaVasseur stresses. “You need to have the DPs, production designer and costume designer working together on the look. You need to know that your colorist is part of the discussion so they’re not taking the images in some other direction than intended. I come from the film days and we would always say, ‘Plan your shoot. Shoot your plan.’ That’s how we approached this season, and I think it paid off.”