DI: I, Frankenstein with Siggy Ferstl
COW Library : Art of the Edit : Tim Wilson : DI: I, Frankenstein with Siggy Ferstl
While I, Frankenstein may not have resonated with US audiences as much as its makers would have liked, it is faring well overseas, and in any case, looks fantastic. Colorist and DI guru Siggy Ferstl had the opportunity to reteam with Underworld VFX supervisor and Executive Producer James McQuaide to create a look based on combining film noir and supernatural elements into today's scientific, skeptical world.
Siggy also had to combine the work of multiple VFX houses, animators and compositing with live-action filmmaking. In his conversation with Creative COW Editor-in-Chief Tim Wilson, Siggy offers unique insights into a daunting process calling on a wide range of creativity.
Creative COW: Since we're talking about the DI, start by talking about your file-based workflow.
Siggy Ferstl: I started on the film working out of Company 3's sister facility, Deluxe Digital Pictures [DDP], in Sydney, in the same facility where the production was doing sound and editorial. Visual effects work was spread between Sydney, where our sister company Method Studios handled a portion of the work, and Melbourne, where Iloura did many of the shots.
Ross Emery shot I, Frankenstein in 2D at 5K resolution with the RED Epic. Our conform department in Sydney used Autodesk Smoke to conform the edited files into a timeline of 2560x1350 DPX files, making these files contain more information than a standard 2K scan. DPX was the working file format. Color and visual effects work was all done at the 2560x1350 resolution and we used the files as the basis for our various deliverables, including d-cinema 2D, 3D and IMAX.
Once that was completed, Prime Focus sent the stereoscopic files to Company 3 in Los Angeles, where we re-applied the color from the 2D version to the left and right "eye" of the film. Also, as usual, I did additional color adjustments specifically to translate the corrections designed for 2D projection for the much more limited brightness range that exists in 3D projection, which puts far less light on the screen.
What was your overall approach to the grade?
With I, Frankenstein, one of the interesting things I played around with and thought it worked really well was using various LUTs -- but not necessarily in the traditional way, where they're used for calibration and monitoring. For example, film emulation LUTs have always been part of the DI process so that colorists and clients could see projected what the final, colored work would look like once it was recorded out to film print. That's less important today from a technical standpoint but I used various LUTs as part of the creative process.
The movie starts in the days that Frankenstein first created his monster, then moves to current times. Even in current time, though, there are still two "worlds." There's a cathedral world that is still stuck in the past, and much of that is lit with candles. Then you have a modern lab with all high-tech equipment. I used a film emulation LUT that clamped the colors and contrast into "film space" to suggest the past and the that kind of old feel we went inside the cathedral. Then I went with a the more modern d-cinema-based P3 LUT to show the modern laboratory. It gave me a more neutral white point and a wider range of colors and some more saturated colors than can occur within the film emulation LUT. I thought it went really well to contrast the two worlds in a creative sense.
The movie starts in the days that Frankenstein first created his monster, played by Aaron Eckhart (seen here), then moves to current times. Even in current time, there are still two "worlds." There's a cathedral world that is still stuck in the past and is primarily lit by candles. I, Frankenstein images courtesy of Lionsgate, Hopscotch Features and Lakeshore Entertainment.
You worked with executive producer/VFX supervisor James McQuaide on I, Frankenstein, and before that, you had worked with him on films including the Underworld series. How do you two work together? Specifically, what was the dynamic between visual effects, grading and DI on I, Frankenstein?
We're always looking to streamline the process, and to squeeze the most out of what we have, without going for a cookie cutter workflow. We try to push the envelope. Because we were working in a file format that was larger than the 2K deliverable spec, we were able to create some "camera moves" in the DI out of what had started out as a static shot, in order to follow the natural action of the scene.
For instance, there is a shot of one of the gargoyles, looking up at the moon, and you see demons streaming off the roof of the building. There's a lot of action going on in that scene, so one of the benefits of having the extra vertical resolution is that we can create natural-looking "tilt up". The shot started with the character looking down as he's spearing one of the demons and continues as he turns to look up. It really helped to have that extra information in the files.
"There's a lot of action going on in this scene [shown above], so one of the benefits of having the extra vertical resolution is that we can create natural-looking 'tilt up,'" notes Siggy.
That shot is also an example of the visual effects team being able to deliver us matte layers with some of the elements already isolated, so that we don't have to roto and create windows within the DI. We had a matte shape delivered for the sky, where we were able to easily manipulate the brightness and density independently from the gargoyle and building in the foreground. I was able to color correct these elements independently within Resolve.
As we work through these options, James and I really are on the same page for every part of the DI. If he's tied up with editorial and I'm in the DI judging visual effects from various vendors for the first time, I have a sense of what James would like or not like, what he would accept or not accept. I have a sense, too, of what I can help to fine-tune in color and what we need to send back for reworking.
I, Frankenstein is obviously a big visual effects film. There's a lot of animation and compositing, and some shots that were 100% visual effects. There are a number of things we did to maintain color consistency, especially when there are a number of visual effects vendors involved. Sometimes the vendors end up working on the same sequence, and the elements can come in slightly different. It's up to me to determine whether I can fix these differences in the DI or whether the shots need to go back to the vendors.
For instance, there are a lot of flames. When the gargoyles kill the demons, they burst into flames. One of the things we found is that the flame's color and luminosity were slightly different between the vendors. Often, I would isolate and manipulate flames to keep consistency throughout the film. We also wanted the flames to leap off the screen, because we are in this darker environment, and the scenes are set in the cold outside.
The flame's color and luminosity were slightly different between the vendors, so efforts were made to create consistency throughout the film.
You're dealing with a movie that's set in a lot of dark places. What are the challenges that that presents for you for grading in general?
It's not just about the scenery and enhancing the environment -- it's about telling the story. The pacing makes a big difference in your approach.
If you're holding on to a shot a little longer, you can generally push things a little further into the darkness. But in a quick-cut sequence, you may want to brighten up certain parts of the action to get the audience to look at a specific place within the frame. You want to make sure you're seeing faces, seeing reflections in the eyes, and you use windows and subtle contrast alterations to direct the viewers' eyes without their actually realizing that's happening.
There's a balance, though. You need to have the same looking film no matter what the medium is. This particular film, we were locked into doing the 2D first and then the work is really about "translating" that film to all the deliverable formats -- d-Cinema, film, and to IMAX.
Can you elaborate about the things you have to take into account for 3D in particular?
The first step was to dial an offset to compensate for the lack of light. In 2D, we work for a projection environment where the brightest white on the screen reflects a certain amount of light -- 14 foot lamberts. But in stereo it's only around 4. The same files and color correction from the 2D version are going to look dimmer projected in a 3D theater. So we need to apply an offset that gets us about 80% of the way there, but you have to work with each shot to fine-tune that last 20%.
Now that we were working in stereo, we also had to adjust the power windows within Resolve that I'd created to isolate particular portions of an image. That is, if you've created a window, essentially "rotoing" around a character, for instance. The windows no longer aligned with the picture once the dimensionalization had been applied. So if I put a window tight around Aaron Eckhart in 2D, when the footage is converted to 3D, the left "eye" and right "eye" will be in slightly different positions, compared to the 2D. So now I'll reposition the window I'd made to compensate and create convergence for the windows.
Did the fact that so much of the film was dark add to the difficulty of translating the images for the darker stereoscopic environment?
Having done a dark 3D film before, Underworld, I feel it's almost a benefit to be working with a darker palette in stereo. The trickiest kinds of shots to match between 2D and 3D are those that use very bright palettes. That's where you're pushing the range of what you can put on the screen at 14 foot lamberts for 2D and and you then have to take the same image and try to achieve the same feel with only 4 foot lamberts.
That's when you have to really start building windows specifically for the stereoscopic pass where you isolate the bright and dark portions of the frame and re-create the contrast for the 3D environment. If you're working with a mostly dark palette you have more headroom in the brightness to work with when you make the translation from 2D to 3D.
That's counterintuitive to me. I would think it would make it harder to work with a dark image, when the 3D experience itself tends to have more light sucked out of it.
If you're starting with a film that's quite bright already -- big open skies, clouds, -- a lot of the range of the film is in the top end. To brighten that up, there's no room to move. You can't make it any brighter. If you're dealing with a movie that's predominantly in the mid to lower range, there's a lot more headroom to brighten it up.
Were there also differences between the theatrical 2D and the IMAX versions?
The aspect ratio of the original files was 2:1 and the 2.40:1 theatrical version was extracted from that. But all the color and visual effects work was done in that full 2:1 aspect ratio and we used the full 2:1 frame for the IMAX version.
The full size frame is slightly looser, but you have to remember that with IMAX, your attention really is focused on the center of the screen. Because of the size of the screen, the image at the extreme edges of your vision is just peripheral. You don't want to be looking around the screen or moving your head in IMAX for extra detail. So the 2:1 version that would look like it had very loosely framed compositions in a normal theater actually works quite well in IMAX.
Luke Wilson stars as Henry Poole and Cheryl Hines stars as Meg in Overture Films' Henry Poole Is Here (2008). Siggy Ferstl once again handled Digital Intermediate Color Grading for Company 3.
One of the movies you worked on that really jumped out at me was Henry Poole Is Here, which you also did for Company 3. It's obviously a very quiet indie film, with very subtle grading. Sometimes you were even sucking the color out of the picture for a sun-bleached look that paralleled the character's inner state. It was such a different look, such a different kind of movie. How different is your approach for movies like this?
I don't think there's any common approach, but in another way, not a completely different approach either. I don't know if other colorists do this, but when I see films the first time, I immediately start to visualize what the images should look like. Of course I speak with the director and cinematographer and take all that in. Sometimes I have that conversation prior to seeing it, sometimes after I've seen it -- but I start visualizing immediately.
I love letting my imagination in terms of color take over, and start coming up with ideas straightaway.
How has your ability to visualize been affected by changes in technology?
Oh wow! One of the reasons why I love color correction so much -- I've been doing it 32 years -- is that technology is changing so rapidly. I'm constantly learning! It's not a static thing at all. Some of the basics don't change, but on top of new tools and new technologies, there are even new color spaces and new delivery specs. The constantly changing technology is one of the things that makes my work so exciting.
I, Frankenstein trailer
I, Frankenstein images courtesy of Lionsgate, Hopscotch Features, and Lakeshore Entertainment, and ©2013 Lionsgate