This Cape Town, South Africa-based artist says that “working creatively with a director and DP to create art is a privilege.”
NAME: Colorist Kyle Stroebel
COMPANY: Refinery in Cape Town, South Africa
CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
We are a full-service post company in the heart of Cape Town. We specialize in front-end dailies and data solutions, and have a full finishing department with a VFX arm and audio division.
Our work varies from long-form feature and television programming to commercials and music video content. We are a relatively young team that loves what we do.
AS A COLORIST, WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
We are by far the most important members of the team and the creative success of a movie is largely based around our skills! Okay, honestly? I have a shot on my timeline that is currently on version 54, and my client still needs an additional eyelash painted out.
I think the surprising thing to the uninformed is the minute elements that we focus on in detail. It’s not all large brush strokes and emotional gesturing; the images you see have more often than not gone through painstaking hours of crafting and creative processing. For us the beauty is in the detail.
WHAT SYSTEM DO YOU WORK ON?
ARE YOU SOMETIMES ASKED TO DO MORE THAN JUST COLOR ON PROJECTS?
We are a small team handling multiple projects simultaneously, and our Baselight suites perform multiple functions as a result. My fellow colorist David Grant and I will get involved in our respective projects early on. We handle conform, VFX pulls and versioning and follow the pipe through until the film or project has cleared QC.
With Baselight’s enhanced toolset and paint functionality, we are now saving our clients both time and money by handling a variety of cleanups and corrections without farming the shots out to VFX or Flame.
Plus, the DI is pretty much the last element in the production process. We’re counselors, confidants and financial advisors. People skills come in really handy. (And a Spotify playlist for most tastes and moods is a prerequisite.)
WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
Making something amazing happen with a client’s footage. When they didn’t realize that their own footage could look like what the final product looks like… and sharing in that excitement when it happens.
WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
Insane deadlines. As our tools have improved, the expectation for lightning-fast turnarounds has increased. I’m a perfectionist with my work and would love to spend days molding certain shots and trying new things. Walking away from a grade and coming back to it is often very fruitful because looking at a complex shot with fresh eyes frequently produces new outlooks and better results. But with hard delivery dates this is becoming seldom-afforded.
IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
Scuba diving with manta rays in Bali; it’s a testament to how much I love what I do that I’m not doing that every day of my life.
WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THIS PROFESSION?
I sometimes wonder that myself when it’s 3am and I’m in a room with no windows for the 17th consecutive hour. Truthfully, I chose it because changing something from the banal to the magnificent gives me joy. Working creatively with a director and DP to create art is a privilege, and the fact that they must sweat and literally bleed to capture the images while I fiddle with the aircon in my catered suite doesn’t hurt.
I was in my third year of film school and brought one of my 16mm projects in to grade with a colorist in telecine. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I knew I wanted to do that.
CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
There have been a load of amazing projects recently. Our local industry has been very busy, and we have benefited greatly from that. I recently finished a remake of the cult classic Critters for Warner Bros.
Before that I completed a movie called Flatland that premiered at Berlinale and then went to Cannes. There are a few other movies that I can’t chat too much about right now. I also did a short piece by one of South Africa’s biggest directors, Kim Geldenhuys, for the largest blue diamond found in recent history.
Changing of the seasons has also meant a couple of amazing fashion pieces for different fashion houses’ new collections.
HOW DO YOU PREFER TO WORK WITH THE DP/DIRECTOR?
Depends on the project. Depends on the director and DP too, actually. With long-form work, I love to spend a day or two together with them in the beginning, and then I take a day or two to go over and play with a couple of scenes on my own. From there we should have reached a pretty cohesive vision as to what the directors wants and how I see the footage. Once that vision is aligned, I like to work on my own while listening to loud music and giving everything a more concrete look. Then, ideally, the director returns for a few days at the end, and we get stuck into the minutia.
With commercials, I like working with the director from early in the morning so that we know where we want to go before the agency has input and makes alterations! It’s a fine balancing act.
ANY SUGGESTIONS FOR GETTING THE MOST OUT OF A PROJECT FROM A COLOR PERSPECTIVE?
Have the colorist involved early on. When you begin shooting, have the colorist and DP develop a relationship so that the common vision develops during principal photography. That way, when the edit is locked, you have already experimented with ideas and the DP is shooting for a more precise look.
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT YOUR WORK ON THE WARNER BROS. FILM? EXPLAIN YOUR PROCESS ON THAT? ANY PARTICULARLY CHALLENGING SCENES?
Critters is a cult horror franchise from the late ’80 and early ‘90s. The challenge was to be really dark and moody but still stay true to the original and fit in with modern viewing devices without losing drastic detail. It centers on a lot of practical on-set special effects, something in increasing decline with advancements in CGI. Giving the puppets a lifelike appearance while still making them believable came with quite a few challenges.
HOW DO YOU PREFER THE DP OR DIRECTOR TO DESCRIBE THE LOOK THEY WANT? PHYSICAL EXAMPLES, FILMS TO EMULATE, ETC.?
Practical examples or references are very helpful. Matching something is easy, developing beyond that to give it a unique quality is what keeps it interesting. Certain directors find it easier to work with non-specifics and let me interpret the vibe and mood from more emotional explanations rather than technical jargon. While sometimes harder to initially interpret, that approach has benefits because it’s a bit more open-ended.
WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
I love and hate most of the things I work on for a variety of reasons. It’s hard to pick one. Gun to my head? Probably a short film for Red Bull Music by Petite Noir. It was shot by Deon Van Zyl in the Namib desert and had just the most exquisite visuals from the outset. I still watch it when I’m feeling down.
WHERE DO YOU FIND INSPIRATION? ART? PHOTOGRAPHY?
At the risk of sounding like a typical millennial, I use Instagram a heck of a lot. I get to see what the biggest and best colorists are doing around the world. Before Instagram, you would only see pieces of critical acclaim. Now, through Instagram and Vimeo, I get to see so many passion projects in which people are trying new things and pushing boundaries beyond what clients, brands and studios want. I can spend days in galleries and bask in the glory of Caravaggio and Vermeer, but I can also scroll quickly through very contemporary looks, innovations and trends.
NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
My phone. I hate it, but my life happens largely through that porthole. My NutriBullet. My Baselight. I’ve never loved an inanimate object like I love my Baselight.
WHAT SOCIAL MEDIA CHANNELS DO YOU FOLLOW?
Instagram as mentioned. I love the work of Joseph Bicknell, Kath Raisch, Sofie Borup, Craig Simonetti, Matt Osborne and then anything that comes from The Mill channel. Also, a wide range of directors and the associated Vimeo links. I can honestly get lost on an obscure Korean channel with magnificent images and languages I don’t understand.
WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
I run. Even If I’m breaking 90-hour weeks, I always make sure I run three or four times a week. And I love cooking. It’s expressive. I get to make meals for my partner Katherine, who tends to be very receptive.