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Exodus: Gods and Kings -- Grading Ridley Scott's 3D Epic

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CreativeCOW presents Exodus: Gods and Kings -- Grading Ridley Scott's 3D Epic -- DaVinci Resolve Editorial


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Exodus: Gods and Kings | Official Trailer [HD] | 20th Century FOX


Director Ridley Scott's 3D epic Exodus: Gods and Kings takes a gritty approach to the biblical story of Moses' escape from Egypt. Colorist Stephen Nakamura of Deluxe Creative Services' Company 3 helped expand the realistic look developed by Scott and DP Dariusz Wolski, ASC by using DaVinci Resolve 11 to grade the film, utilizing new tools that helped push the look further while still preserving necessary details for 3D. The film was shot on the RED Epic in 3D, graded in Los Angeles and London.

Nakamura's colorist credits are expansive, to say the least. He's worked with David Fincher, Kathryn Bigelow, Martin Scorcese, Quentin Tarantino – and that's just the start. His career started out in telecine, doing transfers for Warner Bros. cartoons in the early '90s, eventually moving onto telecine with other shows, commercials and music videos. In 2002, Technicolor started doing digital intermediates, so Nakamura jumped into grading Panic Room for Fincher and Confessions of a Dangerous Mind for George Clooney.

The transition to digital wasn't difficult for Nakamura. "I had been color correcting film to video in telecine, which is a film to video transfer, for over a decade. And then I'm doing a digital intermediate, which is color correcting scanned film. Even in the rudimentary days of the digital video revolution, we still made the images look filmic. It's much easier today, but even back then, we would create our own look-up tables and color correct it so it looks like a log-ish image."



Ramses (Joel Edgerton) and his army pursue the fleeing Hebrews. Photo: Kerry Brown. TM and © 2014 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation.  All Rights Reserved.  Not for sale or duplication.
Ramses (Joel Edgerton) and his army pursue the fleeing Hebrews. Photo: Kerry Brown


Creative COW: Having worked with director Ridley Scott a number of times in the past, how does that relationship work for you now?

Stephen Nakamura
Stephen Nakamura
Stephen Nakamura: Ridley is very very involved with color. Every movie is different for him, so it's not like he has one particular palette and all this movies look like that. Every movie he does has a selectively different palette according to the content and the feel he wants to convey to his audience. We have a session that's pretty early on where we build looks for the digital intermediate and visual effects, and we start sending palettes. Eventually they may end up reshooting, or certain visual effects will need grades, or marketing starts coming up, so I need to know what his vision is early on so I know where to go if he's too busy. I can get the looks he wants to the people that need them.


How do you translate what a director wants out of the color if they can't specifically tell you?

When I look at a movie, I start correcting the movie without any sound and direction for the most part. I kind of do a first pass of what I feel the movie should be, based on the way it was shot – and the costume design, the editing. At that point, I should kind of know what the scene is about: if it's a dramatic scene, or an edge of your seat scene. I put the color in that I think would look best for that. And usually when you work with a director a few times, you kind of know how they think.

Usually when I'm putting a grade on images, I'm not that far off right off the bat. Once you get into a relationship with a director and cinematographer, you know their aesthetic sensibilities. It's like somebody that cuts your hair, they know your taste, right? It's sort of the same thing. You know the people you work with, they know 'that guy knows what I like already.' And they have me change a bit, but the basic stuff is there. They don't have to micromanage every single shot.


You've done a lot of films where the color grade is more of a formal approach, like A Single Man. Exodus is considerably more realistic-looking, especially more so than other movies with similar content. What is your part in developing a formal or realistic color grade?

A scene from A Single Man
A scene from A Single Man


The cinematographer is very heavily involved with the look. So when a cinematographer decides with the director, 'I want to create this look for this movie', a bleach bypass or heavily saturated or contrasty look, that is getting conveyed all through production with the production designer, costume designer, and so on. I'm the last part of that chain. I'm trying to keep their vision and add my own feel to the color that can help them convey that message emotionally through the visuals.

I'm glad you mentioned [A Single Man]. I love all the movies I work on and all the stuff I do, but as far as color correction goes, I was really proud of the way that movie looked at the end. To create that kind of Life Magazine look from moving images? I had to experiment like crazy to come up with that look. That was about as difficult as a color correction gets. I used DaVinci tools on that too, very similar to what I use today.


Christian Bale as Moses leads the Egyptians into battle. Photo: Courtesy Twentieth Century Fox. TM and © 2014 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation.  All Rights Reserved.  Not for sale or duplication.
Christian Bale as Moses leads the Egyptians into battle.


What do you think about a colorist having a style?

I feel like a colorist shouldn't have a style. If you have a style, that might be too rigid. Every director has a different vision for a particular movie, whether it's a drama or action or romantic comedy. Everyone has a different vision of how they want the movie to feel, so as a colorist, you need to be like a chameleon. If you have a look, you don't want to impose that on everyone as a blanket thing on every movie. You need to examine the images and have a conversation with the director and cinematographer, get the feel of the story, then build a look that can help them tell their story. It's completely project by project basis.


What is the process of grading a film shot in 3D? How many grades are there?

We grade the movie in 3D first, and we're grading it at 3.5 foot lamberts (fL). Typically the standard is 4fL, and [20th Century] FOX likes the ability to grade at 3.5fL just in case theaters are a little darker. We make the picture look as good as we can at 3.5fL and if the theaters can go to 4 or 4.5fL then it looks fantastic, even better. We do a 3.5 grade, then we do a 6 fL grade, and a 14 fL 2D pass. We're doing three transfers, but really the bulk of theaters will get the 3.5 (3D) and 14 fL (2D) passes.


Christian Bale (left) stars as Moses and Joel Edgerton stars as Ramses. Photo: Kerry Brown. TM and © 2014 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation.  All Rights Reserved.  Not for sale or duplication.
Christian Bale (left) stars as Moses and Joel Edgerton stars as Ramses. Photo: Kerry Brown.


What tools inside DaVinci Resolve helped you accomplish this color grade?

There's a highlight adjustment tool in the Color Match function that was recently added which was extremely helpful on this movie. What it basically does is it allows you to suppress the highlights to an extent, preserving details while we're brightening the picture to make it look appropriately bright for actors' faces at 3.5 fL in 3D. Typically we grade in 3D at 3.5 fL and when you're grading people, the key side of the actor's faces is what needs to look good.


A shocking hailstorm plagues Ramses (Joel Edgerton). Photo: Courtesy Twentieth Century Fox Corp. TM and © 2014 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation.  All Rights Reserved.  Not for sale or duplication.
A shocking hailstorm plagues Ramses (Joel Edgerton).


What happens, especially with daylight exteriors, is a lot of the highlights get very blown out. The highlight tool kind of pulls it down. You can dial it down in a really subtle and beautiful way, and it looks really fantastic at 3.5 fL in 3D. That tool is amazing in 3D. It works differently than using a typical highlight key or from using a soft clip. It's a really clever design. That tool by itself in Resolve 11 was a real game changer as far as how hard I can push the grade and maintain the feel of having the highlights being saved while not looking compressed.






What's a foot-lambert and why does it matter?

A foot-lambert (fL) is a unit used to measure the luminance of images on a projection screen. The Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE) recommends commercial movie theaters project at 16 fL. But a 3D film can lose as much as 80% of the light from a 2D system on the same screen, depending on the system. Consider how 3D works – two separate images, with half the light for each, reducing the luminance to something like 7 fL.

... And remember the glasses you're wearing? That reduces the light even further! You've probably heard people complain that their 3D films felt dark or "muddy" because the format didn't leave enough light for the visual experience. That's why colorists grading at 3.5fL is a big deal: using new tools to make the film look as bright or dark as the director intended, no matter the luminance of the projection.









Photos: Courtesy Twentieth Century Fox. TM and © 2014 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All Rights Reserved. Not for sale or duplication.

Comments

Re: Exodus: Gods and Kings -- Grading Ridley Scott's 3D Epic
by Deborah Voorhees
Fabulous interview. Thanks!

Deborah Voorhees
director/writer


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