Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Anatomy of a Grade - Ep 14 - Carolina Panthers Product Shot Breakdown

Well we're in the midst of football season and in honor of the pigskin I thought it might be fun to take a look at a football-themed shot for the latest installment of "Anatomy of a Grade". This is a grade that I did a while back for the Mullen Lowe Agency and the North Carolina Education Lottery and their new line of Carolina Panthers lottery tickets. Product shots require a bit of a different "perspective" in the grading suite. Obviously with a shot like this, "it's all about the product" and making it look good! But there's also a lot more that goes into the decision making of a grade like this. This episode marks a slight "shift" in the Anatomy of a Grade Series as I'd like to start placing a stronger emphasis on "WHY" colorists make the decisions they do in grading a particular shot, as opposed to the "how" of the specific tools they used to get their result.

I've found that in my own education regarding color correction, the "HOW" of color grading is often very simple and straightforward and can be gleaned from a bit of education and practice. The "WHY" however, is MUCH more complicated and unique to each colorist, and in my opinion is the more important factor that leads to the particular results that a colorist gets out of an image and a project. The "WHY" is really what makes a grade, and explains why one colorist gets one result and another will get something entirely different with the same piece of footage. For myself, I always wished people would explain more of the decision making process that got them to their end result, moreso than the particulars of the software and tools they used to do it. And so, without further ado, here's my "WHY" on this particularly fun commercial grade. Enjoy!

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Anatomy of a Grade - Episode 13 - The Importance of Color Contrast

After a few months hiatus, I finally put together another episode of "Anatomy of a Grade", and this time I'm tackling the importance of "color contrast" in a shot. Often times, I hear DP's, directors, and producers talk about how important the "contrast" of a shot is... and while they're very correct in that the contrast of a shot is indeed very important in giving a shot its "look"; the "color contrast" of a shot or a look is often times overlooked or simply misunderstood by many as being EQUALLY AS IMPORTANT in getting the most out of a grade. In this example I look at a spin off of the ever popular "California" look and discuss how a simple attention to color contrast can really make all the difference in selling a heavily stylized look like this. Take a look!

Friday, October 30, 2015

Makin' the move to Trailblazer Studios

Well, it finally happened... I finally said goodbye to Los Angeles and headed for greener pastures... quite literally. After 3 really great years with the team at Prehistoric Digital, I've finally decided to get out of the city that has been my home (and my professional world) for more than a decade, and relocate back to the east coast. As of June 01, I officially became a "Tar Heel" and started work as a resident colorist at Trailblazer Studios in Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina.

Actually being able to leave Los Angeles was a bit of a pipedream for me over the past couple of years. As much as I love the people and the excitement of being in Hollywood, I've never truly been an urbanite at heart. I've always wanted a bit more "room to roam": so to speak, a little more greenery and fresh air... however I never thought that was going to be in the cards for me for a LONG time. After all, how does a colorist who primarily works in features and commercials, work outside the markets of Los Angeles, and New York (and do so relatively lucratively I might add)? I never thought it was possible... until the folks at Trailblazer offered to have me by for a visit and a talk!

Trailblazer has been an amazing mecca of creativity and production in the southeast for 15 years, and is currently in the midst of a huge boom of growth and expansion. With more than 40 full time employees and numerous freelance professionals scattered throughout the country, Trailblazer is a full scale production and post production house who also specializes in original content creation and development for film and television. Trailblazer posts numerous shows for TLC, Discovery, DIY network, Ovation, and PBS while also working on national commercial campaigns, and award-winning documentary films that have premiered at Sundance, Tribeca, and on HBO and PBS. And all from their home base of Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina, a thriving academic city, which is home to the esteemed Universities of UNC Chapel HIll, Duke, and North Carolina State.

Currently the big push at Trailblazer has been to court more commercial and theatrical finishing work (both for picture and sound), and bring that business to Raleigh where costs can be extremely competitive with houses in both NY and LA and can offer the same level of service and expertise without any sacrifices on quality or creative intent. With multiple broadcast color suites, mixing stages, and an offsite theatre for theatrical color and mixing, Trailblazer has everything you would expect from a finishing house in the major production centers, but does it in a much more relaxed, down to earth, and filmmaker friendly environment. And that is what I've been looking for ever since starting in this business 11 years ago!

I'm excited for this new chapter of my career and my hope is that my time at Trailblazer will continue to connect me with the talented filmmakers, producers, and artists from all over the country, making impacting visuals and telling great stories for years to come!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Fun in the Snow With Polaris' 2015 Lineup

In an honor of the "dumping" of snow received by the brave residents of Western New York last week, I thought I'd post a fun piece form this past year that I colored for clients "The Factory" and Polaris. Directed by Adam Brummond this piece features the new Polaris 2015 snowmobile lineup amidst some fantastic mountain backdrops captured with both the Phantom Flex and Red Epic cameras in some "oh-so smooth" slow motion photography. Western New Yorkers could've used a few of these bad boys last week battling the elements!

The grade for this was inspired by the product line of the snowmobiles themselves. Our color scheme: black, white, and red, with a hint of blue in the shadows to contrast with the saturated red tones of the snowmobiles. Simple in concept, this color scheme is always difficult to pull off well, as mother nature always give you a much broader palette to work with in location photography (ie greens in foliage, browns in the terrain, blues in the sky, etc). We controlled things with secondary keys and plenty of power windows to try and hold the palette for most of our shots. But occasionally we let some others shine through when they just looked to good to kill (hey, sometimes you gotta roll with the punches and let a concept or color scheme "evolve" a little bit to prevent monotony from taking hold). My favorite part about this look... notice how things aren't quite totally black and white with the bold reds? The slight shift towards a deep blue in the shadows and mids gives things some extra "color contrast" to play against the reds. This was an evolution of a similar concept that I used a few years ago for a Yokohama Tire Commercial I did with Bandito Brothers in Culver City.

But with that look, we left things mainly black and white. For the Polaris look, I wanted to push the color contrast a bit further and so I went with the blue/black/white look which contrasts the Reds of the snowmobile even further than just black and white (remember, look at the color wheel, black and white resides in the center with no chroma, while the color blue lies opposite red on the wheel, thereby creating a larger inherent color contrast for the viewer). I was really pleased with how this project came out. This is what can happen when a production executes on a concept soundly from pre-production all the way through post, and then has the guts to to push it even further when it comes down to finishing time. You'd be surprised at how many people "wimp out" at this point and go conservative with a look. Kudos to Adam and his team for going aggressive all the way to the finish line!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Anatomy of a Grade - Episode 12 - Bringing Dimension to an Overcast Day

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

"Man From Reno" wins Jury Award for best Narrative Film at the LA Film Festival

Earlier this year I had the privilege of working on the Japanese/American murder/mystery film "Man From Reno" directed by Dave Boyle, and shot by DP Richard Wong. This film was a favorite of mine as Dave and Richard had a strong vision for the film coming in to the grading session. They wanted a desaturated/low-con look with "silky" blacks and "creamy pastel" tones. Using the Sony F5 and a very unique style of exposing for the Slog2 gamma profile on set, Richard and Dave had developed a very solid image to start with that didn't take a lot of "goosing" in post so to speak to get it into this dark, yet extremely "creamy and soft" world. Our biggest challenge was getting things DARK, while still keeping detail and information in the shadows. Using some luma keys and a lot of soft clipping and rolling off of the bottom end allowed us to keep things dark, yet still retain all that wonderful shadow detail that was inherently there in the footage.

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

Anatomy of a Grade - Episode 11 - Keepin' It Consistent and Grading for the Bigger Picture

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

The Mad Hatter

Here's a spot that I graded a few months ago with Director Bruno Miotto for Hogan Rebel's "Dream, Believe, and Create" instadiary series. Shot by DP Benjamin Kitchens, on the Red Epic, the piece is a poetic and whimsical look at hatter Nick Fouquet and his process in creating custom hats in Venice California. Part fashion showcase, part doc, part music video, this piece was a true joy to color as it is all about pure visual poetry. The look we created in the grading suite can best be described as "vintage, low-con, fashion" (or at least that's what I call it). I found myself creating false flares, and reducing contrast wherever possible to better accentuate the vintage feel of the piece and the overall softness of the original photography. I also found myself using a few different selective keys to pump a bit of blue into the shadows, some magenta into the mids, and some dull yellow in the highlights to give everything a clear and consistent color tonality while keeping overall saturation relatively low. What evolved was a look that is full of soft pastels, silky smooth skin tones, and very soft blacks. I love it when directors want to push the envelope and embrace a strong look. In this particular case the original photography lent itself purposefully to this direction and the subject matter fit perfectly with the visual tone. What more could a colorist ask for?

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Grading "Rich Hill" for Sundance 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

Anatomy of a Grade - Episode 10 - Gettin' that "Cyan Swing"

Well spring is here with summer soon around the corner and although business has been bristling as of late, I've finally found a bit of time to add the latest edition of "Anatomy of a Grade". Its hard to believe this series has been 2 years in the making and at 10 episodes is still going strong on both youtube and vimeo. Thank you to everyone who's subscribed via those services and via the blog as well. You have my promise that there are many more in the making!

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, 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.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Grading "Anita" - Sundance 2013

Earlier this year, I got the chance to work with the team at Bandito Brothers and Oscar winning documentary director Freida Lee Mock on her latest documentary entitled "Anita" destined for its Sundance 2013 premiere! The film takes a retrospective look at the story of Anita Hill more than 12 years after her testimony at the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings, regarding the sexual harassment allegations aimed at the soon-to-be Supreme Court Justice during her years working under him. This is Freida's 12th film, and her strength and passion for the subject is as strong as ever (Freida won the Oscar for her 1995 documentary "Maya Lin: A strong Clear Vision").

From a color grading perspective, the film offered some unique challenges as it combined recent interview footage of Anita and other subjects shot on Panasonic cameras, as well as numerous amounts of archival material pulled from every imaginable analog format from the early 90's. The footage ranged from Betacam SP broadcast tapes to master-less VHS grabs from the time. From a visual continuity standpoint there was a lack of cohesion in the original un-color corrected cut. Working with Freida, we decided to bring the dull and colorless archival footage too life, by giving it a gamma curve and color palette that more matched the feel of the modern interview footage. While each and every format took a different technique to get there, we were able to greatly enhance the older news footage to give it a "more filmic" contrast along with "punchier," "more saturated", colors that brought it more to life. What we found that there was actually an incredible amount of information available in these old analog formats and we were really able to make shots that had seemed so lifeless on C-SPAN and other news outlets, really come to life with a vibrancy that I think surprised me more than anyone else!

For the interviews we employed a number of techniques to enhance the interview lighting to really flatter the subjects even more. Using power windows, highlight retention techniques, and even a subtle "post pro-mist" filter or two, we were really able to give all the interviews a much softer feel than was achievable on set at the time of production. Overall, I have to say this project was one of my favorite projects of 2012/2013. Working with Freida the post team at Bandito was an absolute joy, and being able to work on a film that I believe contains major relevance to our cultural and social perceptions today was truly a gratifying experience.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Basher Films Joins Prehistoric Digital!

After 4 years of working out of Pasadena, first with founding partner Phan Tran, and then on my own for the past 2 years; I've finally decided to join forces, so to speak, with a larger operation! After a lot of contemplation and discussion with numerous folks, I've committed to joining the team of colorist Kevin Canon, producer Will Adashek, and assistant Joe Sipkins at Prehistoric Digital in Santa Monica. Basher Films will officially become part of Prehistoric Digital and merge its operations under its roof! Although it means a big move for me across town, I couldn't be more excited about the chance to work with a larger team in a bigger, better, space! The facility that Kevin and Will have set up on Colorado Ave is a beautiful, custom-designed theatrical grading house, specifically tailored to do precisely what I believe a boutique, client-oriented, post-house should do; make clients comfortable, keep overhead low, provide the highest level of technical and artistic service possible, and do so in an environment that encourages creative decision-making at every step of the process.

I started Basher Films wanting to "buck the system" of expensive over-priced post houses and work "one on one" with clients, providing the attention to their projects that they deserved for a price that was a fraction of the bloated fees that the large color grading houses have to charge due to unnecessary equipment, overhead, and staff costs. Kevin and Will had started Prehistoric Digital with the same notion, and had originally run it out of a guest house as a single theater for 2 years! Eventually, they, like me, had reached over-capacity with their work, and needed to expand to a larger facility. When they stumbled on a recently vacated former "finishing" space in Santa Monica, they asked me if I might be interested in joining them and bringing my clients along as well; and needless to say, I jumped at the chance.

The two grading theaters at the Santa Monica location are absolutely beautiful and feature first class digital projection in both 2K DCI, and 1080P Rec709 depending upon client budget. I also brought along my plasma suite, upgrading my monitoring in the process as well, and added what we now call "color suite 3" to feature 3 total grading suites for clients. We offer three different grading environments from 2K DCI on a Barco Projector, all the way to a 55" Panasonic Plasma, with different size rooms for different size projects with varying needs. I really love the fact that we have a solution for every project at the new space and can literally accommodate larger budget theatrical release films as well as the lowest budget student films and shorts. That excites me as a colorist, and allows us to work with a wide variety of clients. So check out the new website at and take a look at the new grading theaters, and feel free to give me a call or come by and take a tour of the new space. We give tours all the time and would love to have you over to show what we're all about. No pressure, no sales pitches, no "BS", you can get a feel for how we do things over at "PhD".

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Black and White for Eboost

I really enjoy getting the chance to work in black and white every once in a while, and I got the opportunity to do so a few months ago on a commercial project with Malibu based photographer Jack Guy Jack has been one of my favorite clients to work with over the past year as he has a fabulous eye, and always bring incredibly strong images into the grading suite on every project. Amongst his vast array of work, Jack has a knack for the human form and capturing vibrant and dramatic portraiture, and I'm always excited to see what he's brought in because, quite literally, every shot will stand on its own two feet as an incredibly strong image. Jack's projects are always immensly enjoyable in the color suite as we can really "tweak" and "maximize" the image instead of wasting time trying to correct "mistakes" or just "balance it". Jack's images are always so strong and striking to begin with that we really just end up adding additional "punch" and "enhancement" to what he's already started withe lighting and composition. In this spot, we added some heavy contrast, a bit of grit, and some deep blacks to create a very dynamic look for this energy drink spot. Check it out, and enjoy!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Free Samples

Earlier this year I had the privilege of working with director Jay Gammill and cinematographer Reed Morano (Frozen River) on the indie feature "Free Samples" that recently made its debut at the Tribeca Film Festival. The films stars, actress Jess Weixler (who made a name for herself with the indie feature "Teeth" a few years ago), Jesse Eisenberg (Social Network), Jason Ritter (NBC's parenthood), Halley Feiffer, and veteran actress Tippi Hedron (yes, THE TIPPI HEDRON from Hitchcock's classic "The Birds"). The film takes place over the course of one day, in a hot frozen yogurt truck in central LA. Check out the trailer below!