How did you start out in post and become a colourist?
Originally I was focused on visual effects, working as a visual effects supervisor and compositor, and in the mid-90s I took on some consulting work with Kodak in Rochester on a new system that they were developing for film scanning and recording back to film. That later became the Cineon Digital Intermediate system.
Part of the project was the ability to manipulate colour, and this proved to be a turning point for me. My work as a compositor was always very colour or design orientated.The high-resolution digitisation of film made the idea of extensive colour grading for film possible. Because of that, my colleagues and I took on various colour intensive visual effects work, one of which was Dark City for Alex Proyas, involving grading an end sequence of the film for a hyper-real perfect sun rise, then The Matrix for the Wachowskis.
Andy and Lana wanted to bleach by-pass the camera negative. That’s somewhat of a permanent thing to do, and the studio WB wasn’t necessarily comfortable with the idea. I suggested we could digitally emulate that process.We ran a proof of concept against the Lab process, proved it was possible and graded an entire reel of the filmThe producer, Barrie Osborne, then moved on to The Lord of the Rings with Peter Jackson.
I had also worked with the Australian DoP Andrew Lesnie, on various colour effects for Babe: Pig in the City. He needed quite a lot of colour work to match time of day and weather: not colour grading in terms of look, it was more in terms of authenticity and consistency.Andrew Lesnie also moved on to The Lord of the Rings. We were all talking with Peter, and creatively there was the question about how to make New Zealand, with its southern hemisphere light, match England, with its soft northern European light. So based on Barrie’s experience of what I had done with The Matrix and Andrew’s experience with Babe, we came up with the idea that we could colour grade a feature film, but there was no existing software that could handle the demands of a full feature film.We all went to New Zealand, had some custom code built, and sat down to decide what was colour grading and what was visual effects – what specifically was it we would expect to do when sat in front of this particular workstation. With a brief of what we wanted to do, I commissioned the package to be built.Because The Lord of the Rings was so intense in terms of colour design we had a team of three colourists grading. I would set the look with Peter and Andrew and define how we would go about the process, and the team would come in and grade the sequences. So ultimately that’s how I ended up being a colourist, in that we went about treating The Lord of the Rings with a kind of visual effects mindset, but it was really about colour.
When did you start using Baselight? What does it bring to you as a colourist?
We took on Harry Potter 5 with DoP Sławomir Idziak, and it was very important for the rushes to reflect his creative intent. To that end I put together a pipeline for the studio where we could do a DI style colour grade on the rushes. We built a theatre with a very large screen and every morning we would grade our rushes with the DoP.As there were over a 1,000 VFX shots with creatures and set extensions, it was important for VFX to have the film shot without in-camera filters. Slawomir is possibly the world's master at using filters, and has over 600 of his own custom made filters.So, we set about rebuilding these looks digitally to be applied after the VFX was complete. It also meant we could supply VFX with an emulation of how their shots would look with their work still in progress.That meant that when we sat down for the final DI we would call up all those grades and build and refine the looks from there. It also meant we could control VFX. At that time, we looked around the market for a grading package that could offer extreme colour manipulation tools and the ability to integrate custom tools, whatever they may be (because you don’t know what you need until you get there), and be able to carry a database of these grades and to access and control the looks.This was a 120-day shoot, so we logged over 1.5 million feet of neg, which meant we had on occasions over 30-35 thousand individual grade settings.
There are not too many packages around that could really handle this without basically blowing up. And Baselight proved to be the tool of choice as it has the whole colour management concept, advanced grading tools, colour spaces, and it is reasonably open so if we desperately needed something the R&D team could turn it around.Baselight’s really big plus is the marriage of the colour grading and conforming streams, plus the straight-up data management.Because grading for me is such a design-intensive process it is common to carry two or three grades of different scenes inthe film right until delivery. It is also common to want to be able run these three versions at the same time. Baselight is the only system around that can handle that without being incredibly painful.Almost all my deliveries include Imax, 2d, 3d and now HDR. Baselight is the only package that allows me to carry the one timeline and reversion for the different mediums, both in resolution, ratio and colour space.
How does Baselight increase your productivity and creativity?
It does, mainly because it is so customisable. I don’t use a Slate or a Blackboard panel, but that’s OK because for me personally I can work much faster this way. I work quite uniquely, I guess.And also because of the approach to the system – with the colour management tools and unified colour spaces, I can grade in certain spaces and render, and it is very efficient. For example, we monitor in XYZ colour space and I don’t have to do a render and separate conversion – we’re able to render direct.
In terms of process, it is also absolutely able to increase productivity. And when interacting with clients, yes, I would say so definitely, mainly in being able to carry multiple versions and being able to move between multiple versions of the same film with ease.
How did Baselight contribute to this?
With regards to the grade, I don’t consider colour grading to be just about changing colour. It’s also about changing the sharpness of the image, the density, the texture - the film’s patina. It’s doing something to the image to evoke a certain mood, to try and give the image physicality.
With Baselight, I’m able to work in various colour spaces and have tools such as log blur and sharpen that allow me to manipulate the image in a very compelling way.
For example, FilmLight’s Richard Kirk modified a LAB space for me, which formed the base tool that allowed me to build the colour arc within Theory.And it might sound nerdy, but the blur in Baselight is incredibly beautiful. You could say we went overboard on The Theory of Everything as there are blurs and flares and all sorts of things that we added to the image. This started in the camera and lenses, and we carried on in Baselight.
From about halfway through the film our lead actor does not speak so the performance was really in the eyes. We were pulling everything we possibly could out of the box to keep the focus on Eddie Redmayne’s eyes. We were sharpening eyes, dropping down backgrounds and more. Because of the way that Baselight does this, it’s a lot less work to get a decent image in those kind of tools. It helped considerably.