Wednesday, November 26, 2014
Wednesday, November 5, 2014
Shooting daytime exteriors is always a dicey game especially in the world of independent production where budgets are tight and extra crew and equipment are often hard to come by. When clouds start to suddenly roll into a scene and everything becomes gray and overcast, the cinematographer is presented with the unfortunate reality that production demands: "we gotta shoot now, but it can't look flat!" Luckily for the 21st century DP the colorist "has his back" in this particular situation and there's quite a bit we can do to an overcast scene to give it more dimension, color, and contrast.
This particular shot was done for a feature on an Arri Alexa camera and provided me with a broad dynamic range of detail to push and pull the image around and morph it into something completely different (and hopefully more visually interesting). This is not the most complicated of grades, but sometimes the best solutions aren't the most complicated. You'll see that a colorist can do quite a bit with a simple primary color correction and little help from the simple "vignette". Enjoy!
Friday, June 20, 2014
It was a pleasure to work on this film, and the jury at the LA Film Festival awarded Man From Reno with its jury prize for Best Narrative Film. A short clip from the film is above, and be sure to be on the lookout for Man from Reno in theaters very soon as well!
Monday, May 26, 2014
In this episode of Anatomy of a Grade I decided to take a look at more a "grading concept" than an actual technique. Often times I find myself in the color suite with a client who is unsure of what they want out of a specific shot or scene. I'll usually show them a very basic primary grade at first to get the wheels turning inside our heads around what's possible with the footage and where its ideal "natural balance" lies. Often times, just adding a bit of contrast and balancing out some overall color casts can greatly enhance an image and garner that "wow" from the client couch that all colorists secretly relish - and sometimes, that's it, that's all a shot needs. It looks "better", you've done your job as a colorist by enhancing the image in front of you and satisfying the client's desires - mission accomplished. But sometimes just making an image "look better" can be missing the bigger picture. Often times, in long form content, one has to step back and take a look at the visual design of the entire piece as a whole and ask the question, "Is this right for the movie? Or, more specifically, is this right for this scene or this character or this point in the story?" Is simply "making it better" the "right" grade or correction for a shot? The answer quite often is, no, it may not be. Although you've made a shot look better by enhancing it, you may have "missed the boat" on the overall visual scheme and arc of the project in its entirety. And this is the difference between "Color Correction" and "Color Grading" in my book.
Simple color correction brings out the full visual potential of an image and balances out any impurities or imperfections that might exist in the original photography. Color grading, however, adds an intentional color/contrast bias or "look" to a shot or scene based on an overall visual design and scheme for an entire film or piece of work. Often times the "right" grade is very different from even the most "visually pleasing" grade. The "right" grade should still look good, but it needs to "fit" with the rest of the movie or piece in terms of its palette and feel. Now, this is of course completely subjective between you and the filmmaker, but I often times find that when I'm stuck on how to grade a particular shot or scene its most likely because I've become a bit myopic in my view and I'm not looking at the shot or scene from the perspective of the whole film. Usually the "right" grade for a shot is staring you right in the face and can be as clear as day once you have a better grasp of where the whole film is going visually.
In this particular example, from the feature film "The Scribbler", the "right" grade for the shot was based on keeping things consistent chromatically across the entire film. Once I was able to bring in the right color palette, the shot felt much more intentional in its appearance and design. The answer here was to grade for color consistency to keep a coherent visual feel from scene to scene. That was the answer this time at least...
Monday, February 17, 2014
Tuesday, January 14, 2014
As a colorist I send up seeing A LOT of content throughout the year. Movies, commercials, music videos, short films, PSA's, web spots... you name it - I grade it. Unfortunately because a colorist has the unique position of being on a project for such a comparatively short period of time than other crew positions, that means that we go through many projects in a relatively short span of time. And sometimes... its very easy to become immune to the content of what you're actually grading. In many ways you become a bit more callously engaged with the content your grading... you look at it as 1 and 0's, pixels, bits of data that need to be molded into visual uniformity... you stop seeing things as unique stories and instead view them as well... "just another pretty picture to make better." As a result I sometimes find myself needing to step back and re-watch many of the feature films that I grade to "re-ground" myself in the emotional arch of the story and the characters and get a better feel for the mood and tone of the story that I'm trying enhance visually. For some films this can be a difficult task... as watching and re-watching sometimes less than exciting material can just become... well tedious. However, very rarely, a colorist is offered a true gem... a film that is so emotionally stirring and visceral that one can't help but want to watch the film again and again to live in the world of its characters one more time. These are rare treats, and I have to say they don't come around often. But this year I had the privilege of working on a few films that were just that, and Rich Hill was one of my personal favorite.
Rich Hill, which is in competition this year at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival in the Documentary category, tells the stories of 3 youths growing up in the rural landscape of Rich Hill, Missouri, a small forgotten town that has experienced its share of economic hardship throughout the years. Directors Andrew Droz Palermo and Tracy Droz Tragos both grew up in Rich Hill and decided that they needed to tell the often times forgotten story of the effects of urban poverty on today's youth. The film that Andrew and Tracy have pieced together over more than 2 years worth of filming is one of incredible intimacy with families that desperately want their stories to be heard. Poignant in both its narrative structure and its hauntingly beautiful yet painful visuals, Rich Hill was film that left off the screen and into my heart for two weeks in November as we graded the final cut. Check out this clip from the Sundance Film Festival's website as Andrew and Tracy talk about their film:
Shot on Red's Scarlet camera, Rich Hill posed a number of unique challenges from a colorist's perspective as much of the footage was very free-form in nature using only available lighting and single camera coverage to cover what often becomes very visually complex scenes spanning huge lengths of time. Often the footage was shot at very low light levels in the interiors of many of the film's locations which really played havoc with the colorimetry of the camera and led to some very unique grading tasks in the DI suite. This was a film where the color grade needed to be subtle and refined as the movie itself was already such a powerful vehicle both visually and narratively. My job was to make everything seamless, and as clean as possible. Whether it was reducing noise in a low-light interior or counteracting the effects of an untreated fluorescent light dominating a scene, I tried to make Rich Hill flow seamlessly from shot to shot and more importantly scene to scene. Ultimately I was very pleased with the grade that Tracy, Andrew, and I came up with huddled in our little theater in Santa Monica for two weeks. Having watched Rich Hill about 20 times now I can honestly say that it is one of my favorite films of 2014, not just from a coloring perspective but as a fantastic piece of film-making plain and simple. Rich Hill was truly a privilege to be a part of.
Monday, April 29, 2013
For this episode I finally decided to tackle the rather popular topic of the "cyan/orange" look, which I like to refer to as the "Cyan Swing" (just sounds classier doesn't it?). This look has been made popular by numerous hollywood films such as Michael Bay's "Transformers", and this year's action/crime thriller "Gangster Squad", amongst many others. This is definitely a look that is "in vogue" in the world of color correction nowadays, and I have to say, I get asked to do this one quite a bit in the color suite. My usual tendency is to try steer clients towards a more customized version of the look that is inspired by the visual design and aesthetic that they hopefully started in the initial photography and production design of the film. The "Cyan Swing" works best when a shot has been conceived or photographed in such a way to take advantage of the use of complimentary cool shadows and warmer highlights and/or skin tones. The look works great, when you're enhancing a basic palette of colors that's already there inherently in the image, or in an image that might be more tonally neutral that could be "nudged" into this world from a more muted palette. Where it doesn't work so well... when slapping on an aggressive color preset or "look" with no regard for customization to the actual footage in front of you; and with no clear choice for visual interpretation and aesthetic by the filmmakers.
I truly believe that a colorist's job is to enhance and further refine the visual aesthetic set by the director and cinematographer during principle photography and NOT to completely rebuild the ship so to speak from the ground up (although it seems now more than ever we're being asked to do this more and more). Great looks in the color suite BEGIN IN PRINCIPLE PHOTOGRAPHY, period. Every element of the picture from costumes, to lighting, to makeup, to filtration, to production design, to shot composition establishes a "look" from the very moment the camera rolls. If forethought hasn't gone into these elements, then cohesiveness in the color suite can become a bit underwhelming as the "look" of a movie is unfortunately simply "stumbled upon" during the grade. Usually this process happens more by happy accident than by intentional choice. Although we must always leave room for "happy accidents and discoveries" at every stage of a film's development; depending upon them can often times lead to lackluster results when the creative sparks aren't igniting, so to speak. A look like the "Cyan Swing" works best when its implanted in the minds of every department from the beginning of production.
This particular example from a commercial spot that I did for company Metis Creative http://www.metiscreative.tv/, demonstrates how simply this look can be achieved when the elements are there in the beginning thanks to a well conceived plan from production. Take a look at the finished piece here as well and you'll see how multiple locations utilize the key colors in the look in different ways (its not always cool shadows and warm highlights, but its always blue and orange in some combo!). You can see how customizing this look to bring out specific element of the principle photography that was already there (ie the blue of the "Giant" logos, and warm skintones) made the grading process very clear and allowed us to get REALLY specific on the day instead of spending time trying to impose a look on the piece.
Giant Propel Advanced SL from Metis Creative on Vimeo.