Tag Archives: Stephen Naka

Color grading IT Chapter Two’s terrifying return

In IT Chapter Two, the kids of the Losers’ Club are all grown up and find themselves lured back to their hometown of Derry. Still haunted both by the trauma that monstrous clown Pennywise let loose on the community and by each one’s own unique insecurities, the group (James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain, Bill Hader) find themselves up against even more terrifying forces than they faced in the first film, IT.

Stephen Nakamura

IT Chapter Two director Andy Muschietti called on cinematographer Checco Varese and colorist Stephen Nakamura of Company 3. Nakamura returned to the franchise, performing the final color grade at Efilm in Hollywood. “I felt the first one was going to be a big hit when we were working on it, because these kids’ stories were so compelling and the performances were so strong. It was more than just a regular horror movie. This second one, in my opinion, is just as powerful in terms of telling these characters’ stories. And, not surprisingly, it also takes the scary parts even further.”

According to Nakamura, Muschietti “is a very visually oriented director. When we were coloring both of the films, he was very aware of the kinds of things we can do in the DI to enhance the imagery and make things even more scary. He pushed me to take some scenes in Chapter Two in directions I’ve never gone with color. I think it’s always important, whether you’re a colorist or a chef or a doctor, to always push yourself and explore new aspects of your work. Andy’s enthusiasm encouraged me to try new approaches to working in DaVinci Resolve. I think the results are very effective.”

For one thing, the technique he used to bring up just the light level in the eyes of the shapeshifting clown Pennywise got even more use here because there were more frightening characters to use it on. In many cases, the companies that created the visual effects also provided mattes that let Nakamura easily isolate and adjust the luminance of each individual eye in Resolve. When such mattes weren’t available, he used Resolve to track each eyeball a frame at a time.

“Resolve has excellent tracking capabilities, but we were looking to isolate just the tiny whites of the characters’ eyes,” Nakamura explains, “and there just wasn’t enough information to track.” It was meticulous work, he recalls, “but it’s very effective. The audience doesn’t consciously know we’re doing anything, but it makes the eyes brighter in a very strange way, kind of like a cat’s eyes when they catch the light. It really enhances the eerie feeling.”

In addition, Nakamura and the filmmakers made use of Resolve’s Flicker tool in the OpenFX panel to enhance the flickering effect in a scene involving flashing lights, taking the throbbing light effects further than they did on set. Not long ago, this type of enhancement would have been a more involved process in which the shots would likely be sent to a visual effects house. “We were able to do it as part of the grading, and we all thought it looked completely realistic. They definitely appreciated the ability to make little enhancements like that in the final grade, when everyone can see the scenes with the grade in context and on a big screen.”

Portions of the film involve scenes of the Losers’ Club as children, which were comprised of newly shot material (not cut in from the production of the first It). Nakamura applied a very subtle amount of Resolve’s mid-tone detail tool over them primarily to help immediately and subliminally orient the audience in time.

But the most elaborate use of the color corrector involved one short sequence in which Hader’s character, walking in a local park on a pleasant, sunny day, has a sudden, terrifying interaction with a very frightening character. The shots involved a significant amount of CGI and compositing work, which was completed at several effects houses. Muschietti was pleased with the effects work, but he wanted Nakamura to bring in an overall quality to the look of the scene that made it feel a bit more otherworldly.

Says Nakamura, “Andy described something that reminded me of the old-school, two-strip color process, where essentially anything red would get pushed into being a kind of magenta, and something blue or green would become a kind of cyan.”

Nakamura, who colored Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator (shot by Robert Richardson, ASC), had designed something at that point to create more of a three-strip look, but this process was more challenging, as it involved constraining the color palette to an even greater degree — without, of course, losing definition in the imagery.

With a bit of trial and error, Nakamura came up with the notion of using the splitter/combiner node and recombined some nodes in the output, forcing the information from the green channel into the red and blue channels. He then used a second splitter/combiner node to control the output. “It’s almost like painting a scene with just two colors,” he explains. “Green grass and blue sky both become shades of cyan, while skin and anything with red in it goes into the magenta area.”

The work became even more complex because the red-haired Pennywise also makes an appearance; it was important for him to retain his color, despite the rest of the scene going two-tone. Nakamura treated this element as a complex chroma key, using a second splitter/combiner node and significantly boosting the saturation just to isolate Pennywise while preventing the two-tone correction from affecting him.

When it came time to complete the pass for HDR Dolby Cinema — designed for specialty projectors capable essentially of displaying brighter whites and darker blacks than normal cinema projectors — Muschietti was particularly interested in the format’s treatment of dark areas of the frame.

“Just like in the first one,” Nakamura explains, “we were able to make use of Dolby Cinema to enhance suspense. People usually talk about how bright the highlights can be in HDR. But, when you push more light through the picture than you do for the P3 version, we also have the ability to make shadowy areas of the image appear even darker while keeping the details in those really dark areas very clear. This can be very effective in a movie like this, where you have scary characters lurking in the shadows.

“The color grade always plays some kind of role in a movie’s storytelling,” Nakamura sums up, “but this was a fun example of how work we did in the color grade really helped scare the audience.”

You can check out our Q&A with Nakamura about his work on the original IT.