Tag Archives: Stephen Nakamura

Company 3 ups Jill Bogdanowicz to co-creative head, feature post  

Company 3 senior colorist Jill Bogdanowicz will now share the title of creative head, feature post with senior colorist Stephen Nakamura. In this new role she will collaborate with Nakamura working to foster communication among artists, operations and management in designing and implementing workflows to meet the ever-changing needs of feature post clients.

“Company 3 has been and will always be guided by artists,” says senior colorist/president Stefan Sonnenfeld. “As we continue to grow, we have been formalizing our intra-company communication to ensure that our artists communicate among themselves and with the company as a whole. I’m excited that Jill will be joining Stephen as a representative of our feature colorists. Her years of excellent work and her deep understanding of color science makes her a perfect choice for this position.”

Among the kinds of issues Bogdanowicz and Nakamura will address: Mentorship within the company, artist recruitment and training and adapting for emerging workflows and client expectations.

Says Bogdanowicz, “As the company continues to expand, both in size and workload, I think it’s more important than ever to have Stephen and me in a position to provide guidance to help the features department grow efficiently while also maintaining the level of quality our clients expect. I intend to listen closely to clients and the other artists to make sure that their ideas and concerns are heard.”

Bogdanowicz has been a leading feature film colorist since the early 2000s. Recent work includes Joker, Spider-Man: Far From Home and Dr. Sleep, to name a few.

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.

The A-List: ‘Miles Ahead’ director/lead actor Don Cheadle

By Iain Blair

The multi-faceted Don Cheadle has starred in some 80 movies, both big (Avengers: Age of Ultron, the Ocean’s and Iron Man franchises) and small (Hotel Rwanda), and produced various TV shows and films.

Now he can add director to his resume, thanks to his passion project and labor of love, Miles Ahead, a wild — and wildly entertaining — free form biopic of jazz legend Miles Davis. Cheadle not only co-wrote, produced and directed the film, he also stars as the raspy-voiced pioneering musician whose improvisational approach and ambitious forays into rock-jazz fusion helped define modern jazz.

Set in the late ‘70s over the course of a five-year period, Miles Ahead paints a no-holds portrait of the mercurial Davis battling drug addiction and ghosts from the past as he embarks on an adventure with a music reporter (played by Ewan McGregor) to recover a stolen tape of his latest compositions.

Don Cheadle and Iain Blair

I recently met with Cheadle to talk about making the film, which was shot on a combination of film and digital formats.

You certainly jumped in the deep end for your first film as director — a period piece, about jazz, starring a black trumpeter. Financing must have been so easy (smiles).
So easy! No problem! We were very fortunate at the beginning… In 2006, we set it up at HBO — it was also going to get a theatrical release — but then the recession hit in 2008 and it was a disaster. That deal fell apart, the writers went away and we were back to square one with me playing Miles. That was it. But then I met (co-writer) Steve Baigelman, who co-wrote the James Brown biopic Get On Up, who understood what I wanted to do, and we got the script in shape. It was still years of stopping and starting, and deals falling apart, before it finally happened.

What did you envision for the film when you set out on this journey?
I wanted to make a film that really captures Miles’ raw energy and forward movement. I didn’t want to make the conventional biopic that tries to cover a whole life. The period we chose was this time when he was going through various personal and creative crises, and basically disappeared from view. That seemed like a great place to start and explore this very complicated man. I never met him, but I saw him perform and talked to everyone who worked with him. He was constantly looking for the next thing to say through his art, and that’s what drove him.

How did you prepare to direct your first feature?
I had directed TV and commercials, and I told myself this would just be a bigger stage. No need to freak out. And I’ve never been the dude who goes back to the trailer. I always liked to hang out on sets, watch people work, talk to DPs about lighting and the sound mixer and so on. I was trying to learn as much as I could. I talked to all my director friends, like Warren Beatty and Carl Franklin, and they basically said the same thing: “It’s the same, just bigger.” And I’d ask, “Really?” And they would say, “No. It’s much more than that. It’s like dealing with an army. Shooting is so stressful and you never sleep — and on top of that, you’re playing the lead and are in nearly every scene. Good luck with that!”

George Clooney, who has also directed himself, had great advice: “Do your pushups.” Meaning, you trust your script, you’ve got a good team around you — but you have to stay healthy to get through it all. It was tough. We actually shot most of it in Cincinnati, where Todd Haynes had just shot Carol, so they were very welcoming.

Was post a steep learning curve?
I have been around post a bit and in the editing room, but when it’s your own project and all the decisions are now yours, it’s very daunting. When I saw the first rough assembly I was so shocked that I left. I told the editor, “I’m out. I can’t even watch this. All I can see is everything I wasn’t able to accomplish, all of the mistakes, my performance is terrible — I don’t ever want to see this again!” He said, “That’s a very normal reaction, it’s okay.” It was a couple of weeks before I could come back and get into the process again.

Do you like the post process?
By the end, once I got over myself and into it all, I loved it. I had to focus on what was there, not the missing stuff, and then the magic of post happened — where it’s your third chance to write your movie. It was really rewarding, especially when you can magically create a moment in post that wasn’t there on the day.

Where did you post?
We did post in two sections. We did it at Tribeca West, for two months, and also some back east at Warner Bros. Sound in New York on West 55th. That’s where we did our sound mix. We also shot the last concert scene in New York and finished it up there. We did have a few visual effects, like when Miles is shot in the hip, and VFX to just sweeten stuff and paint out lights, but nothing major. Lit Post in Burbank did the VFX.

John Axelrad (Crazy Heart, The Immigrant) edited the film with Kayla Emter. Tell us about that relationship and how it worked.
Kayla was his assistant, and as I was so focused on playing Miles I told them, “Take the reins, and don’t wait for me to dictate how to cut scenes.” It was like when Herbie Hancock first played with Miles — he was terrified and said to Miles, “I don’t know what to play.” And Miles just said, “Piano, motherf***er.” (Laughs hard) That’s exactly how I felt with them. I didn’t need them to explain it all, just show it to me. Kayla really took that on and she cut a couple of great sequences that were all hers. So when John told us he wanted to make her his co-editor and that she deserved it, I agreed immediately.

They didn’t come to the set. They got the dailies in LA and then New York, and cut as we shot. We didn’t waste any footage. Our first assembly was 104 minutes, and the final movie is 100! We only cut one scene in the whole thing.

Obviously, music and sound were crucial. Can you talk about the importance of it in the film, and working with sound designer/editor Skip Lievsay?
It was an interesting mix, especially the music, because we wanted to use source and Miles wherever we could, and not try to do “sounds-like.” So I’d play to playback of Miles and all his solos, but when we had to bridge or figure out ways to make the magic happen, we did different things. There’s a scene where Miles is upstairs and the band is playing in the basement, and I walk downstairs and you hear the music break apart. I tell them to start another song in another tempo, and the shot goes over and around all the musicians as I start playing.  They had to play over all that to picture and match every breath and bit of phrasing. That was very tricky to do, but it’s seamless.

Where did you mix the sound?
At Warners in New York, and Skip did a brilliant job.

How important was the DI on this, and where did you do it?
Hugely important, and I did it with the DP at Company 3 with colorist Stephen Nakamura (who uses DaVinci Resolve). I wanted a look that echoed his music — brash, tender, moody, happy, the whole thing. It all turned out the way I pictured it in my head. [Says Nakamura, “Roberto and I based the look in the grade on the 16mm portions of the film by adding some grain to the digital images, just a subtle amount. And then we also wanted to give some scenes a bit of a ‘vintage’ feel. A lot of that comes from the costumes and hair styles and the older lenses he used but we also infused those images with a look inspired by photographs in magazines from the ’50s and ’60s that had more contrast than the pictures we’re used to seeing today.”]

Do you want to direct again?
After I go into a coffin for a while and recover. But it’s so hard directing and starring. Next time I don’t need to be in it. It’s too much.

What’s next?
More of my Showtime series House of Lies, then a big rest before I commit to anything.

Industry insider Iain Blair has been interviewing the biggest directors in Hollywood and around the world for years. He is a regular contributor to Variety and has written for such outlets as Reuters, The Chicago Tribune, The Los Angeles Times and the Boston Globe.

 

 

Quick Chat: CO3’s Stephen Nakamura on grading ‘The Martian’

Ridley Scott’s The Martian tells the story of an astronaut left behind on Mars. The director, who created that world, called on Company 3’s Stephen Nakamura for the color grade, which he completed in London to be closer to Scott and the production.

We checked in with Nakamura to find out more about his process on The Martian.

You and Ridley have collaborated in the past. We assume you have developed a short hand of sorts?
There are definitely things I know he likes and doesn’t like, but each project is also a little bit different. Obviously, he is very interested in the visuals of every shot. The Martian was relatively straightforward. Something like Exodus: Gods and Kings was much more complex because of the kinds of things we were looking at, like the sea parting. On Prometheus, it was about helping to bring shape and definition to scenes that were really dark. Of course, he’s worked with [Dariusz Wolski, ASC], so a lot of the shaping has already happened between the two of them.

How early does he bring you on a film?

We speak very early on. I know before I see any images what kind of look he’s interested in.

Can you talk about the look of Mars? He referenced the terra cotta/orange look in our recent interview with him.
It was something that we all had a sense of conceptually but it took a lot of work with Ridley, the visual effects supervisor Richard Stammers and me in the DI theater to get it to all look the way it does in the final film. Quite a few shots involved a lot of sky replacements and the addition of mountains in the background. Richard’s team created these additional elements with a combination of CGI practical plates shot in Jordan and combined them with the first unit photography of Matt Damon.

So then when I added the heavy color correction Ridley wanted for that kind of orange look he talks about, it would have an effect on every element in the shot. It’s impossible to know in advance exactly how that correction for the planet’s surface is going to look in context and in a theater until you actually see it. I could get some elements of some shots where we needed them using Power Windows [in the DaVinci Resolve] but sometimes that heavy correction was too much and the effects elements would have to be altered. Maybe the sky needed to be darkened or we needed more separation in the mountains. We might make a change to the foreground, and the background would “break,” or vice versa.

So we had quite a few sessions where Richard would sit with Ridley and me and we would figure that out shot by shot.

You work with Resolve. What is it about that system helps your creative process?
I’ve worked in it as long as it’s been around. I like the way it’s laid out. I like the way I can work… the node-based corrections. I can get to the tools that most colorists use on a normal basis very quickly, and with very few keystrokes or buttons to push. That kind of time saving adds up to a really big deal when you’re coloring complicated movies.

I know there are other great color correctors out there too, but so far Resolve is just the most comfortable for me.

(from left) Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Sebastian Stan, Kate Mara, and Aksel Hennie portray the crewmembers of the fateful mission to Mars.

Was there one particular scene that was more challenging than others, or a scene that you are most proud of?
There are a number of shots set outside the ship Jessica Chastain’s character commands where we see the ship and some characters in the foreground and the surface of Mars further away and then blackness and stars in the far background.

Here again, we all have a strong conceptual sense of the look, but ultimately it’s something you can’t get to without seeing it in a theater and in context. How saturated should the color of Mars be? How sharp should the focus be on the planet’s surface, on the distant stars? It’s not simply a question of having it look “real.” Ridley’s the kind of filmmaker who wants it feel right for the story. And so I might use Resolve’s aperture correction function to make the stars appear more vibrant, the way Ridley wants it, and that could “break” another part of the shot. And then it’s a question of whether I can use power windows to address that issue or if the VFX team needs to re-render and composite the element.

That kind of massaging of every shot takes a lot of time, but when it’s done you really see the results on the screen.

Can you talk about grading for the brighter Dolby Vision 3D?
It definitely gets rid of one of the major issues in 3D when you can effectively put a stereoscopic image onscreen at the traditional 2D spec of 14-foot lamberts. Previously, doing a stereoscopic pass always involved putting a darker image on screen, and when you have that much less light to work with it affects the whole image. That’s particularly true with highlights that might have plenty of detail at 14 but will blow out when you’re working at 3.5.

Of course, we still did a pass for traditional 3D, since there are very few theaters currently able to show Dolby Vision 3D.

Does that involve a whole different pass or a trim pass, or is it just a LUT that translates everything from the 14-foot lambert world to 3.5?
Company 3’s technology team is always building and updating LUTs that get us a lot of the way there. But when there’s never 100 percent “translation” from the one set of display parameters to the other, image characteristics change. The relative brightness of that practical in the background to the character in the shadows may not feel the same at 14 as it does at 3.5.

So which pass would you do first?
The way I work when we’re doing multiple theatrical deliverables like this is to start with the most “constricted” version [the 3.5 fl 3D] and get that where we want it. Then we go and “open it up” for the wider space. It’s important to be consistent. Very often, it’s a question of building Power Windows around bright parts of the frame and bringing them down for the regular 3D version and then either taking them off or lessening the corrections for the brighter projection spec.


For more on The Martian, read our interview with director Ridley Scott.