Supervising Digital Colourist

Posts tagged “Zeiss

Never Hike AloneIn Never Hike Alone, director Vincent DiSanti dances on the fringes of the biggest horror franchise of all time, Friday the 13th. In this fan movie, we follow Kyle McLeod (Andrew Leighty), an adventure blogger on a mission to find the infamous camping grounds of Crystal Lake. Throughout the movie he documents his progress with his action camera, the entries of which become progressively grimmer, as his survival skills are put to the extreme test in a game of cat and mouse with the camp’s resident serial killer, Jason Voorhees.

stairway

The video diary style plays well to a younger audience brought up on Facebook Live and a ‘found footage’ approach to filmmaking popularized by another long running franchise, Paranormal Activity. At the same time there is plenty of meat for lifelong fans to sink their teeth into. Pun not intended!

From the sweeping camera angles to the locations to the design – Never Hike Alone screams of production values typically associated with a studio picture, not an Indie crafted together using blood, sweat and little help from Kickstarter. The result is a movie that adds to the horror lore of Friday the 13th, albeit in an ‘unofficial’ capacity.

The Hidden Location

Like any independent filmmaker knows, one of the hardest things to cheat on a project like this is the design. For a major studio picture, you have the funds and the means to build almost anything you can imagine, either practically or virtually. With Indies, you’re down to whatever you can put together on a shoestring budget, or, for the more resourceful filmmaker, what you can find.

Through a passing conversation with a couple Vince had been working with during the original trailer, they casually mentioned an abandoned camp up the road, College Camp, and whether he’d be shooting there. What followed was something akin to a real-life sleuth investigation that had Vince superimposing a phone image over a paper map, in search of the location equivalent to the holy grail. “I began zooming in and scanning a satellite view of the forest where I eventually found one of the buildings tucked between a grouping of trees. From there I traced a path that seemed like a road leading all the way back to the highway.”

college camp

All images courtesy of Womp Stomp Films, LLC

That path led him to College Camp; “from that moment, we knew we had struck gold”. The abandoned camp – with its cavernous main cabin hall, creepy attic and countless rooms and buildings – would fatefully become Camp Crystal Lake in Never Hike Alone, allowing Vince to expand the scope of the story he wanted to tell.

Toys of the Trade

As someone who’s graded a fair share of Indies, I’m used to dealing with cameras of all shapes and sizes. Whether it’s due to budgetary constraints, coverage needs over a compressed timescale, or just the desire to eek the best picture possible out of the most unlikely of cameras, Indie filmmakers have always pushed the boundaries in this area.

At the start of Never Hike Alone, the primary narrative camera was the Sony A7sii. This seemed like the best DSLR choice at the time, producing the most filmic images, but production is rarely just about the final result: “Its major downfall was that it was a difficult camera to rig as it required several accessories that never seemed to work together simultaneously. On top of that, the rig had trouble keeping up with the physical demands of the fight scenes and slowed us down a ton on set”, DiSanti recalls.

CAMERAS USED:

  • Red Epic 8K
  • Varicam 35
  • Sony FS7
  • Sony A7sii
  • DJI Phantom 3 Professional
  • (x2) Go Pro Hero 4 Blacks

ZEISS ZF LENSES:

  • 25mm f/2.0
  • 35mm f/1.4
  • 50mm f/1.4
  • 85mm f/1.4

But as luck would have it, cameraman Evan Butka, who’d been renting Vince his beautiful Zeiss lenses for the movie, became enamored with the project. He soon jumped onboard, bringing along his Red Epic 8K camera. “Shooting with the Red made life so much easier from a technical standpoint and of course gave us beautiful 8K images that would give us much more leeway in post.”

In another twist of kindness, Evan introduced Vince to Ben Meredith, another cameraman who would step in when Evan wasn’t available. And what do cameramen have? Cameras – this time a Varicam 35, ideal for low light situations; “We relied on the Varicam to capture a lot of our night and early morning scenes. Overall that camera is a workhorse that never let us down or gave us any issues.”

Finally, to round things off, Co-DP JD Martz brought with him his personal Sony FS7, which ended up becoming the B camera for the majority of the production. “It was great for guerrilla shooting when the main production cameras were not available. Most of the scene of Kyle running from camp with Jason giving chase was shot with that camera.”

Of Lin & Log

Working with many different cameras doesn’t have to be a nightmare; if all the material has a video gamma-style transfer curve (like Rec709), you can create a base by dialing out any differences using a primary grade, upon which you apply your Looks and other tweaks such as sharpness. This was my approach when matching the DJI Phantom shots with the Sony cameras throughout the extreme hiking scenes, as well as the night showdown between Kyle and Jason. For the ‘video diary’ footage though, the intention was to retain a visual difference between the punchy, ultra-sharp Go Pro material, and the more filmic narrative pictures from the Red Epic. As such, I kept the former bright and vivid and let any corrections ride in most instances, even if it meant blowing out highlights. However, for the latter I kept the contrast in check more than I normally would to create a softer look.

“Hiking Trails

A Softer, filmic look from the Red Epic

Hiking Trails - GoPro

The same shot through the eyes of the Go Pro

The real challenge arose when Log and Lin material were intercut. This happens throughout the movie, especially during the fight and chase scenes. In these instances it is important to consider the final deliverable. “Our original goal was to release the film for free on YouTube, however, we found ourselves with a unique opportunity to premiere at the Telluride Horror Show”, DiSanti informed us when we started testing the pipeline. With that information, I could make some decisions.

This setup for me meant a 709 world (sRGB on most computer screens), and thus I chose to convert my log images to video gamma using a base correction (versus using an output LUT). Since the conversion was ‘live’, I could always dig beneath it to retrieve any blown or crushed details, while reaping the benefits of a ‘homogenised’ timeline, allowing me to easily apply Looks between the Lin and Log material. Since the pictures were pretty much bang on in terms of exposure, we had minimal problems.

For the Red material specifically, the manufacturer gives you a plethora of choices for just about any occasion. Unlike other jobs where I typically choose to work in RedLogFilm space, for Never Hike Alone I chose RedColor2 / RedGamma2 for my colourspace and transfer curve. This gave me rich images with a slightly flatter look, perfect to use as a starting point.

Lake Gloom

Out of the can, the images looked beautiful, but lacked uniformity. This was purely down to the varying capabilities of the cameras, as well as the intercutting style between the video diary shots and the narrative footage. Before considering any specific Look treatments, it was essential to balance everything out.

From a colour perspective, I wanted to create a distinction between the time when Kyle is looking for Camp Crystal Lake, when he actually finds it, when Jason finds him, to the time the terror unfolds in and around the camp and beyond.

For the exteriors near the camp, there was a lot of warmth in the environment; this is Southern California in mid Spring, where any green ground cover can quickly dry out under the bright sun, casting russets and golden hues across the underbrush. Those colours impart a warm and inviting feel, the opposite of the foreboding Look I was aiming for.

no trespassing

Lake Gloom – a new take on my old June Gloom Look

To set that tone, I modified a Look I’d used for a past job – June Gloom. Basically, you start by selecting three colours – yellow, red and magenta – from the black point all the way up to the mid tone, with a good deal of feathering into the highlights. Those ranges are then desaturated, leaving behind the cooler colours, but also some life in the skin tones. On first glance the image appears to cool, but it’s misleading: the absence of warmth is what tricks your eye into thinking the image is much bluer. The modification I made to this Look was to further saturate the greens and blues left behind, as well as any warm colours left behind that were key story points.

The result is a creepy, ominous look that repels any inherent warmth in the image (like the fried underbrush). It’s especially effective on cloudier days, which are devoid of brighter highlights.

It’s in the Sky!

Nothing makes a picture look like a million dollars more than well timed aerial footage, and this movie has plenty of it. I purchased a [DJI Phantom 3 Professional] and learned to fly it on my own for the production.” DiSanti states. And watching the movie – from the breathtaking reveal over the lake to the epic crane as the ambulance races off leaving Jason in its wake – I would say he didn’t do a half bad job: “The hardest shot in the entire film was definitely the shot where Kyle runs across the log while the camera dollies forward over a large creek.” So if the director thing doesn’t work out Vince, then he can always be a drone operator!

the escape

Never Hike Alone premiered at Telluride Horror Show and simultaneously launched online on YouTube. Lifelong fans of the Friday the 13th series haven’t felt this good about a Friday film since the 80s. The movie has since been viewed over 50K times on YouTube and has received glowing reviews. “What seemed like a pipe dream early on in the process ended up being an experience I will certainly never forget”, DiSanti concludes.

The scope of the project is probably captured best by Greg Emerson, the online editor for the project: “Never Hike Alone was a full throttle 4K DI editorial job: six different camera types with variations in resolution, aspect ratio and bit depth. Digital FX, paint outs, variable re-speeds, reticule overlays…the show had everything that a $100M, big studio film would.”

You can check out the movie on YouTube, as well as more stills by going to the Never Hike Alone Gallery.

For my full interview with director Vincent DiSanti, check out The Search for Camp Crystal Lake.


Justin Bieber – “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town”

Justin Bieber gets into the festive spirit with this theatrically released music video, timed to coincide with the animated feature “Arthur Christmas”. Directed by Charles Oliver and shot in a warehouse in downtown Los Angeles, the music video meshes a Steampunk version of Santa’s Grotto complete with wind-up dolls reminiscent of the classic birthday party scene in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. This was my first time working with this creative team, and an ideal opportunity to combine my skills as both a colourist and stereo specialist.

“Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” by JUSTIN BIEBER © 2011

“Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” was shot and released theatrically in stereoscopic 3D. This was Charles’ second project shot in this medium: “I was very pleased to work in 3D again. The first project I did in 3D was a year earlier – a piece for The League of Extraordinary Dancers (LXD) called MATCHED“. No doubt Charles’ work on “The LXD” and his own dance background was the reason why Scooter Braun, Justin’s manager, approached Charles with the project. “As a young kid, I was in musical theater and toured various countries as part of a performing group. From there, I started teaching dance for a few summers as a way to not have to work for my father’s construction company. I don’t think there is film musical made that I haven’t seen, especially the old ones.”

Camera, Lights & Stereo Rigs

Cinematographer Alice Brooks was the eye behind the lens, continuing her collaboration with Charles Oliver, which started with The LXD series. The cameras used were Red Epics paired with Zeiss Ultra Prime lenses, ranging from 20mm to 85mm. To a large extent the selection of camera came down to choice of stereo rig, which in this case was the Helios Rig provided by ParadiseFX. “It’s a great rig, very reliable. We only had it go down once on a two-day shoot, which is rare for 3D”, Alice recalls. The Red Epic’s small form factor also makes it the perfect choice for smaller, more lightweight stereo rigs, which is a good thing since 99% of the music video was shot on steadicam, with Nick Franco operating. Supervising the stereo onset was veteran stereographer Max Penner.

Helios Stereo Rig by PARADISE FX

The camera was rated at 800 ISO and 5000 Kelvin, yielding an overall rusty warm palette in the original photography. “We were going for a desaturated, industrial feel, while intending to make the color red pop.” The warehouse itself was dressed in a very monochromatic way, with cold concrete floors and cinder blocks, but there was enough red in the costumes that I was able to isolate and create good colour contrast. However, the surrounding brick walls were also red, which I wanted to treat in order to bring the focus to the dancers. The lighting Alice designed helped hugely in this respect, giving the dancers good separation from the background: “We used lots of large backlights that were rigged in the ceiling and we skip-bounced all of our front light into the concrete floor. The floor was very dirty and the concrete was grey. It gave this really beautiful cool glow. We brought in smaller sources to cross-light and edge-light from time to time too.”

From RAW to Real

When it comes to ‘transferring’ RAW images into something that will give you flexibility in the timing suite, there are literally thousands of permutations. Answering some basic questions allows you to make the right choices at this critical stage. The most important variable for me is what the final deliverable will be, followed by the nature of the material itself. Regardless of whether you are going out to film or not, I always like to start with a Log-like image. In cases where the primary deliverable is a DCP vs. film (more and more these days), I rely on a small number of density curves I have built that emulate an Input LUT. The nature of the material dictates which curve I use to get the image to a good starting point.

For this music video, I used a REDlogFilm gamma curve and picked REDcolor over REDcolor2 as my colour space. REDcolor gives me a little more saturation in the ‘negative’, which is better than adding it later on with the potential of introducing noise. As usual, from here I established my base contrast and density level. Again, the choices here are endless, but generally at this stage I try to confine myself to using density and gain controls: limiting my options helps me get to where I am going faster.

RAW Image with Density Curve

Steampunk Look

The Steampunk Look

We tried various grades with Alice that we would present to Charles the next day. We generally pushed towards a much cooler palette, with varying degrees of blue. After experimenting with half a dozen looks, we settled on what we referred to as our ‘Steampunk Look’ – a cool, shadowy image with glowing highlights and red costumes bleeding through. Our coolness didn’t come in the form of a blue tint though, we simply added ‘white’ to the scene. Care was taken to ensure that the image didn’t feel ‘monochromatic’ by retaining enough colour in the image.

Neutralising the colours involved adding a ton of blue gain, as well as taking out blue points using printer lights (printer lights work in reverse as you are theoretically working on the negative). This got rid of the rusty tint, but left us with a desaturated image. From there I began sculpting, using a luminance key to select and suppress the shadows and low mid tones, which was also where the background fell. On the other end of the scale, I used a hicon key to pick off the highlights and really bloom them, adding both gain and defocus. For the red costumes and skin tones, I selected the upper range of reds (leaving out the darker red bricks) and slowly eased them back into the picture, pushing the saturation a little further. A final S-curve pulled it all together and gave the image more ‘snap’.

Every music video has challenges, especially when you add the element of stereo into the mix. However, not having the talent available until the day before the shoot presented a unique challenge, especially for a dance-based video. Charles approached the problem from a different angle: “we knew we would not be able to teach Justin any choreography before the day of the shoot. Alice and I worked with Tom (Production Designer) to create a space that could be broken up and shot in sections, each covering different parts of the song. Then I worked with Galen (Choreographer) to create both freestyle and tightly choreographed sections that would work in that space. The result gave us plenty of options when it came time to cutting the video. It’s actually not my preferred method of working – I would much rather create a fluid piece with contiguous choreography and have our lead in the center of that dance the whole time. But frankly, I was surprised to see how pleased I was with the result of this different approach.”

You can check out the final music video on my Vimeo site by following this link and more stunning visuals by visiting the Gallery.

For more work from the creative team, please visit the respective websites of Charles Oliver and Alice Brooks.


King Fantastic – “On Q”

Hip-Hop Artist King Fantastic spins the loaded gun in this daring music video as seen through the eyes of director Randal Kirk II. On Q is the follow-up to “Why? Where? What?”, a video about a maid who vandalizes the home she is tasked with cleaning while dancing to King Fantastic’s song. That video got over a million hits, so the pressure was on for Randal to deliver another blockbuster. He recalls “when I started coming up with the concept, I was fond of all the gun sounds in the audio production of the track and the sexy female vocals.” Randal eventually decided on using famous alternative pin-up models, engaged in a game of Russian strip roulette. “The song glorifies the gangster lifestyle. My message in the video is that you love the lifestyle so much you that you die for it and enjoy every minute!”

“On Q” by KING FANTASTIC © 2011

On Q was shot on a Red One MX camera using Zeiss Super Speed lenses. It is a pairing that a number of DPs I have worked with prefer, as they combine the softer qualities of these older lenses with the ultra-high resolution of modern cameras. Brett Pawlak elaborates: “These days for me it really comes down to the aesthetic of lenses, how they hold flares and how they shoot wide open. That is where you really see the characteristics of the lens and get interesting looks”. That is perhaps the reason why the raw images already had a natural ‘grit’ to them.

While the Red One has become a staple of music videos and commercials due to its affordability, availability and the great images it can expose, Brett also explains that “it is a camera that I know well, and there is no question as to what it can do when pushed. It’s very good at holding saturation, and since Randal was looking for a pop look, I picked the Red as I knew that it would POP”.

Brett’s lighting package consisted of a couple of 4x Kinos, 2′ Kinos and a handful of Par Cans. “Those lights give me the most variety that I know I can work with, on a budget”. He also had some HMIs and regular tungsten units, but prefers open-faced lights over fresnels: “I’d rather start with more light since I can always diffuse and shape with flags. An open-faced 2K is close to the output of a 4K, so when you need light, on a budget, that means a whole lot!”

The Club Looks

Blood Red Look

For the Club Scene, Randal really wanted something special. He and Brett had spent some time studying a similar scene in the film “Black Swan” and concluded that those colour changes were being achieved in post – “we lit [the scene] with one solid gel colour.  I decided to light the club up blood-red. It wasn’t until we transcoded the footage and Brett played with the colour and achieved a rough black light colour by pulling out the red.” This gave Randal the confidence that the look they wanted could be achieved in post. Despite this, Randal still pushed for some in-camera effects, such as placing a prism over the lens to distort the image. From there the images were treated by Chad Simcox, the editor and motion graphics artist, augmenting the camera effects with a custom filter similar to a kaleidoscope effect.

This became the starting point for the four looks I would go on to create, the most interesting of which was my ‘Neon Look’. As we started to push the colours, this ended up being Randal’s favorite look in the entire video!

I started out by setting my contrast level, with my blacks pretty rich to play against the saturated colours I was planning on creating. The second step was the interesting one, which basically added a ton of blue to the highlights and a good amount to the mid tone. This skewed the already present red towards a magenta tone, creating some interesting interactions between the original red and the added blue.

Raw Image

Neon Look

Now, with a new ‘electric’ base, I picked a broad range of reds/magentas as the inputs colours and boosted the saturation by over 300%. This made the cooler foreground stand out against the much warmer ‘background’. The next step was a technique that I use from time to time: ‘phased vignettes’. This is the name I give to a vignette which has had it’s hue (phase) rotated. I pulled the red background almost back to my manufactured blue and darkened it. An additional layer of colour boosting the saturation really made the colours pop, much to Randal’s satisfaction!

Glamorizing Violence

Randal was clear with his crew from the start: “I wanted the Russian roulette scene to feel like a room that Dexter would make, but with showy lighting to glamorize the violence.” That location ended up being a grimy dark dungeon of a warehouse in downtown Los Angeles. The desire to beautify the violence went as far as the instructions he gave to JusticeFX, the guys doing the VFX. Randal jokes “these kids are incredible. I told them I wanted realistic violence while making it sexy. That’s a hard task to do. These guys really nailed it though!”

For me, it was about creating colour tension, which is something I have written about before. I wanted the warehouse to feel cooler, so I pushed a ton of blue across the board while pulling down hard on the blacks. The saturation in the blue created an almost electric look, while the deep blacks gave the feel that the performers were coming out of the shadows.

Colour Tension

From there onwards I treated it like a ‘beauty’ video, focussing on soft, healthy skin tones for the models, creating natural glows around the highlights in their faces and hair, while bringing out the detail in the intricate tattoos they were each adorned with. The juxtaposition between the cool environment and warm and inviting faces creates drama, which is what this music video is all about.

On Q was intended to be a viral video created to promote the brand. Because of the graphic and violent content, it would never air on TV, but Randal is not particularly concerned since he designed it to live on Vimeo. Brett broadly agrees: “If the only version that exists lives on the internet, then that is where it belongs.” This train of thought is not necessarily consigned to just music videos, as our industry shifts from a broadcast-style way of distributing content to niche-casting, delivered either by streaming platforms like Netflix or Hulu, or directly from the web itself through sites such as YouTube and Vimeo.

You can check out the final music video on my Vimeo site by following this link and more stunning visuals by visiting the Gallery.

For more work from the creative team, please visit their respective websites: Randal KirkBrett Pawlak and Chad Simcox.