Grading Frankenweenie at Company 3
COW Library : DaVinci Resolve : Debra Kaufman : Grading Frankenweenie at Company 3
For Company 3 colorist Rob Pizzey, who worked with Burton before on Sweeney Todd, it was a thrill to work again with this innovative director on Frankenweenie, a stop-motion animated, B&W 3D story of a boy who brings his beloved dog back from death. "Working with Tim Burton is great," says Pizzey, who did the "color bible" for Sweeney Todd, helping to set looks, started the grade (before it went to Company 3 in Los Angeles) and then finished it. "He's really one of the best, a genius."
Burton and cinematographer Peter Zorg came in to Company 3's London facilities in Summer 2010. "We did some test images," explains Pizzey. "Peter came in first and we set some looks, and then Tim came in and explained more what he liked: quite contrasty, trying to make the characters stand out. Bearing in mind that it's B&W, so there's not a lot of color separation. We worked with many shades of gray to get that separation."
"FRANKENWEENIE" Victor checks to make sure his worse-for-wear but beloved dog Sparky is in his rightful place under the bed in "Frankenweenie," a new stop-motion, animated comedy from the creative genius of director Tim Burton.
Pizzey reports that every six to eight months, the Frankenweenie creative team came in with a couple of shots to test. "We'd spend a couple of days looking at it and trying different film-out tests," he said.
(L-R) PERSEPHONE, EDGAR "E" GORE, ELSA VAN HELSING and WERE-RAT.
Frankenweenie came in for its full-on Digital Intermediate in early summer this year. Pizzey notes the complexities of creating separation with B&W images. "You emphasize shades of gray," he said. "Night scenes are tricky because everything is a lot darker, and you have to spend a bit more time to try to pull out the highlights more to get the contrast going. At the same time, you can't push it too far."
Finished film frame of the roof of the Frankenstein house.
Victor summons life back to his beloved pet in Frankenweenie.
Working with DaVinci Resolve made Pizzey's task easier and more seamless. "We had to draw a lot of intricate shapes to pull out the characters for different scenes, and Resolve's auto-tracking function was just outstanding and saved me a lot of time," he says Pizzey, who reports he's been using DaVinci to grade since the first feature he did in 2004. "I did have to hand-animate a few things, but auto-track is a pretty cool function."
A couple of weeks before Pizzey started the Frankenweenie grade, Burton had dropped in and the two graded a couple of shots. "He didn't want the film to look too dark," reports Pizzey. "He wanted it dark but punchy. So I picked a few shots to show him what I was doing and he really liked it. Going forward, I used those as a reference."
Sparky - the beloved dog.
... and Persephone.
Starting the grade two weeks after that collaborative session, Pizzey worked unattended for two weeks until the editor Chris Lebenzon came in to look at his first pass on the film. "Chris and Tim work very closely together, and Chris knows exactly what Tim wants," says Pizzey. "So I spent a couple of days with Chris, tweaking some scenes. When Chris was happy, we brought Tim in and he signed off on the 2D version."
With the 2D version done, Pizzey took the 3D timelines and copied the grading information to the 3D. "There's a big difference in 3D," he says. "If you display the 2D grade in 3D, it's very, very dark. So I went through the whole film again. First I did a global change and then went over it again, scene by scene."
Pizzey reports that, although it sounds challenging, the 3D version ended up being a simpler task than one might expect. "Resolve has all the tools you need for stereo grading," he says. "You grade the left eye and then copy it over to the right and converge it. The hardest thing was to not push it too far or we'd get into strobing artifacts. We found the right level fairly easily. Mostly it was straightforward partly because of the previous relationship working with Tim."
Victor and Sparky.
Pizzey also spent time creating the LUT for the film-out, for a final delivery of color negative to color print for the B&W. "As you can imagine, it was really difficult to get it to look great, but the technical team at Company 3 nailed it and the prints look stunning."
Pizzey is happy with the results. "It's really a great film," he says. "It's a film for all ages, and Tim Burton at his best."
I'm also looking forward to seeing the film. I love the mix of B&W with 3D, and look forward to seeing how the color palette -- or perhaps more accurately, the colorless palette -- works with 3D's emphasis on z space. That's not to say that I'm also looking forward to seeing another Burton oeuvre, one that promises to mix darkness and whimsy, humor and heart.
Special consideration to Disney Enterprises, Inc. for images. ©2012 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Presented by Walt Disney Pictures, "Frankenweenie" opens in theaters on October 5, 2012.
Title image: from "Frankenweenie" (L-R) SPARKY and VICTOR. ©2012 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.