My collaboration with Cinematographer Salvador Lleo continues with Tsuyako, a story set in postwar Japan, where a factory worker and mother must decide between duty and love, her family and freedom. The short was directed by Mitsuyo Miyazaki in her home town back in Japan.
The five and a half day shoot was a gruelling one, with 14 hours of footage for a running time of 27 minutes. Capturing that amount of footage in that short amount of time also meant that compromises had to be made, specifically with the lighting setups of each scene. Welcome to the world of Indy filmmaking!
The images that Salvador has captured for Tsuyako do justice to the textures and the nuances that come from hundreds of years of aging. This is the kind of stuff that is hard to reproduce on a soundstage, and from the images below you can see why. The weathered wood, the scratched steel, the dirt and grime and hard graft are all on display. For Tsuyako, Salvador used a set of standard speed Zeiss lenses T2.1, along with his Red One camera. He felt that “the low contrast and soft quality of the glass helps to round off the ‘digital edge’ of a super high resolution digital camera such as the Red One”. And he’s right, because in the absence of film stocks, you need to make the glass work harder in order to create the images that you want. Salvador’s philosophy is that “the pairing of old and new was optimal for creating a more organic and filmic image that is in tune with the period piece”.
The factory scenes were a lot of fun to colour time, specifically because of the way that Salvador used fluorescent lighting: as a fill light to his warmer tungsten key light. The secret to working with any fluorescent source from a colour timing perspective is avoiding clipping. Although this may sound like common sense, it is even more profound when using this kind of light source, because fluorescents tend to leave a horrible green ‘residue’ around the clipped areas vs. daylight or tungsten. Keep the whites legal though and you will get some strong yellow/green seeping through the image that will add body to any industrial-type setting.
Tsuyako recently won the Future Filmmaker Award at the 2011 Palm Spring International Shortfest. You can read about the awards in the festival press release here, as well as in the Hollywood Reporter and Variety.
For more stills from the movie, visit the Gallery.
You can reach Salvador Lleo’s personal website here.
Australian hard rock band Airbourne give it everything they have in this music video, which pits two unlikely contestants against each other.
The music video was shot by Salvador Lleo in Los Angeles on a Red One MX camera using Zeiss T2.1 lenses. Four main setups – the band’s performance, the two contrasting training scenes and the final boxing match – were given a distinct look.
Hot and Cold
Every good boxing match is preceded by training scenes of the boxers preparing for the fight. To accentuate the different training styles and psychology of the fighters, we decided on two contrasting looks: a warmer, more natural look for ‘Average Joe’ Washowsky, while going for an uninviting, fluorescent-lit feel for Rich ‘The Machine’ Ballard. It’s always easier to push an image towards a specific look when it’s already leaning in that direction.
For the warmer scenes, I used the joyballs to push some red in the shadows and yellow in the mid tones. This gave the image an overall warm feel but kept the highlights clean. I then used a luminance map to select just the blacks, pulling down the gamma and desaturating them. I usually try not to use the lift when targeting just the blacks because I like to retain some of the subtle details in the shadows. Finally, any greens or blues were neutralised by bringing down the saturation and density.
For the cooler look, I started off by reducing the gamma and snapping the highlights to add contrast. Whenever you have fluorescent lighting in a scene, usually just adding contrast will bring out some of that green in the image. I went further by pushing cyan in the gain, but cooling off an image in this way can inadvertently tint highlights in an unnatural way. The way I fixed this was by using a hicon to key back to the base layer and recover some of the original colour.
Both of these treatments worked very well on most of the shots, with very few tweaks needed to even them out.
A Guinness Moment
The climax of this music video is the boxing match between ‘Average Joe’ and ‘The Machine’. The boxing ring was built on a stage, and lit with nine 6K skylights using 4×8 bounce cards for fill light. This gave the images a very cinematic feel.
Both Salvador and the Director initially wanted a black and white look reminiscent of Raging Bull. I’m a big lover of Black and White photography, but felt that it would feel pretentious for this application. However, I understood the desire for a classic style, and suggested a ‘weathered’ look along the lines of those UK Guinness commercials from the nineties. Going more in this direction would give us the same ‘classic’ feel, without having to get rid of all the colour!
I used a different technique for this one. The idea came from some cross-processing experiments I was trying out a few weeks earlier using the Curves in PhotoForge2 – a cool little iPad app.
After desaturating the overall image, I brought down the density to hide a lot of the spectators in the background and bring out the boxer. I then used RGB curves to push contrast into the Red and Green channels, while at the same time applying an inverse contrast curve to the Blue channel. This has the effect of cooling off the low to mid range, while keeping the highlights (skin tones) unaffected. Curves are great in that you can easily slide the points along the scale, until you literally ‘mix’ in the colour you want. The end result is almost a monochromatic version of the original image. However, unlike a black and white treatment, this look retains a lot of the subtleties of the original colour.
After establishing the look, it’s down to finessing; I used an asymmetrical shape to sink the boxer further into the darkness, animating it off as he lunges forward. I also then decided to bleed back some of the original blue and red from the fighters’ boxing gloves, adding a little spice to the ‘tinted’ look. You can see some examples of this in the Gallery.
You can watch the HD version of “Bottom Of The Well” on YouTube.
It’s hard to believe that the sweeping fields in The Smell Of Success are nothing more than soundstages at Melody Ranch Studios in Santa Clarita! Expertly lensed by David Mullen, ASC, the story is about a manure salesman in 1960s heartland America, and even though the gags are overdone at times, the images ooze quality. Pun intended ;)
Timing this movie was challenging, especially because the DP was not available during the DI. As a starting point David had sent me a handful of stills, which evoked the overall ‘feel’ of the picture. A further challenge was the fact that the movie had already gone through a lengthy preview process, which left it with a lifeless sepia look and little colour separation. This was far from the painterly look both the DP and the Production Design department had planned for.
After untangling what had already been done, I started with a clean slate. This movie was shot on the Red One camera long before the upgraded MX sensor became available, and as such before Red’s FLUT colour science offerings. I picked RedLog for my gamma curve, giving me maximum detail in the highlights. The Zeiss Ultra Primes and Angenieux zooms David used gave me crisp images with excellent definition – a good starting point.
I started by discovering what was in the image, playing mostly with contrast and density and pulling out all the nuances that I knew existed in the ‘negative’; I was right – David had captured some remarkable, ‘filmic’ images, tempering the sharpness of digital cinematography with Classic Soft Blacks and Smoque filters. Through his lighting he created a soft overhead skylight for the outdoor farm scenes, using a combination of daylight Kinos, HMI lighting balloons or Lumapanels, the effects of which can be seen in the ‘Midday’ and ‘Afternoon’ images below.
Even though the gorgeous images had a well designed earthen palette, I still felt that some subtle accents could be used to signify the different times of day.
Seeing the same colour tint over the course of an entire movie soon nulls the effect, and so to keep the eye ‘entertained’ I experimented by adding graduated pinks into the dramatic skies earlier on in the day. This combined well with the hard sunlight being simulated by the 18K HMI. I qualified the clouds and pulled back on the luminance so that I wouldn’t tint the brightest parts. I then brought the gamma down to expose a little more detail in the clouds, and offset the colour by adding a hint of orange. This created a nice transition between the horizon and the clouds.
For later on in the day, I followed the same technique but used less pink. I also wanted to make the clouds feel heavy, almost like they’re engulfing the foreground. I turned to S-curves for this, giving me contrast in the ‘body’ of the clouds while snapping the highlights and deepening the blacks. At times the clouds almost look like they’re touching the ground!
For the afternoon I replaced the pink with orange, especially in the mids and the blacks, giving the ground a sweltering and humid feel. This worked well with David’s afternoon setup – a tungsten 12-light HPL MaxiBrute to simulate the warmer sunlight late in the day. By the time we reach ‘golden hour’, the sky is on fire, with the dipping sun blasting through the trees. For this I actually composited two identical layers over each other, blew out the base layer and blurred the whites. I then used a Soft Light blending mode on the top layer, which I also keyed through to reveal the base. The blending mode provides a nice transition between the two layers.
The whole treatment is in keeping with the whimsical nature of the story, and despite the added ‘texture’, I feel remains true to the cinematography.
I also had a little fun with the ‘high-on-mushrooms’ night scene, where I played with a stylized violet-blue wash and stark contrast. I also kept the blacks a little cooler than I normally would. This is one example of where you can use saturation to really fill in an image in the absence of mid tones. Overall, the movie has a very painterly quality.
For more stills from The Smell Of Success, click here.
To see more of David Mullen’s work, check out his website.