Blackmagic Design today announced that the short film “The Legend of King Kang-Mi” was shot with the Blackmagic URSA Mini Pro 12K digital film camera and completed post production using DaVinci Resolve Studio editing, color grading, visual effects (VFX) and audio post production software.
In the film, a half frozen tracker’s arrival sparks fear and doubt as his horrifying tales unfold, leaving everyone to wonder who the true threat is. Developed in collaboration with Strong Water Anaheim, a popular Tiki Bar located in Southern California, the film was a sequel to “The Zombie King of Balacombe,” as part of a series of creative short films designed to promote the business and its unique drink offerings. Unlike a commercial, Strong Water Anaheim’s goal was to create a world around their brand.
Director Brian Ulrich was approached by the company’s Creative Visionary Robert Adamson. “Robert came to me with this idea of ‘King Kang-Mi,’ which is Tibetan for snowman,” said Ulrich. “From the start, I had this image in my mind: smash cutting from the title to a ship frozen in ice at the foot of the Himalayan mountains, with a Tibetan fishing village in the background.”
Cinematographer Townsend Dixen, a longtime collaborator of Ulrich’s, joined the team early on, bringing his own visual style to the piece. “The ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ franchise was a big inspiration for me, especially since they were not afraid to lean into a more stylized look with the lighting,” said Dixen. “I really wanted this short to feel a bit magical and surreal, so playing with colors and contrast were big factors in how I approached the visuals.”
The team immediately selected the URSA Mini Pro 12K as their A camera.
“I personally own a Pocket Cinema Camera 4K and have worked with Blackmagic cameras countless times on set, so I was excited to use the 12K on the project,” added Dixen, “We found that the 12K sensor handles shadows very well, and paired with some vintage Zeiss Super Speeds lenses, I was confident to push the contrast and lean into a darker, moody look for this film.”
Ulrich agreed with the choice, having shot with Blackmagic Design cameras on past projects. “I’ve been shooting on Blackmagic cameras since 2020, and I love how easy and flexible they are,” said Ulrich. “We also wanted to shoot in 8K for visual effects versatility in post, which we knew we could do with the 12K without any sensor cropping. Townsend and I have Pocket cameras, so if we needed to shoot inserts and pickups after principal photography, we knew the quality would match. It just made sense to shoot this on the URSA 12K, and we’re very happy with the result.”
Early work on the establishing VFX shots, which placed the ship in ice at sunset, helped provide motivation for Dixen’s practical lighting approach on set. “I really wanted to create some kind of lighting change throughout the film,” added Dixen. “I worked with my gaffer, JD Elliott, to establish three separate lighting cues to create a sunset effect, starting the scene with warmer hard light and gradually shifting to a dimmer ‘moonlit’ look. This also helps with the story, as it grows more and more eerie while the Tracker tells his harrowing tale.”
Once principal photography was finished, Ulrich took on the task of editing, using DaVinci Resolve Studio. “This was a beast to edit,” said Ulrich. “I think in the end we crossed the stage line 18 times, which we planned for, but in editorial we had to make sure every eyeline was right, and every cut worked. And with the lighting progression, every shot had to be taken from its unique lighting look to stay consistent. Very little ‘fixing it in post’ was possible with how we committed to shooting this.”
Having used DaVinci Resolve Studio for editing previous projects, Ulrich found the tools and workflow liberating for such a complex project. “Resolve is pretty intuitive once you get into it,” continued Ulrich. “And having the ability to jump into other toolsets, such as Fusion, Fairlight and color, with just a click, gave me so many tools at my fingertips, with no exporting or round tripping with entirely different programs.”
Colorist Gunnar Goding, who graded the short in DaVinci Resolve Studio, enjoyed the challenge of managing the gradual yet specific lighting changes Dixen created on set. “I think the biggest challenge for me was finding the timing of the color change over the course of the film,” said Goding. “The beginning of the film is very warm and inviting, but as the story progresses it gets darker and cooler in color temperature to reflect the ominous story.”
Goding used a number of tools at the timeline level to keep the grade as simple and streamlined as possible. “I used a custom luminance and split tone curve to get the general contrast level, along with a shadow adjustment, hue vs hue curve, saturation, noise reduction, and film grain,” added Goding. “For individual clips I did general exposure, contrast, white balance, and saturation, along with Power Windows for specific objects that needed attention.”
The dark and dramatic story had its own unique challenges for Goding. “One example was getting a bloody head the right color red,” continued Goding. “The timeline node tree alone tones down the blood color to be a little too dark, so I worked with clip based HSL selections to really make the color feel bright but also natural.”
Ulrich and his client Strong Water Anaheim were pleased with the product and found the award for Best Cinematography at the Blackmagic Collective FilmFest to be icing on the cake. “It was just a perfect concert of collaboration, pushing each other to be better filmmakers. Choosing the right team, the right tools and having a good story is the key. We were lucky to have all of them.”
“The Legend of King Kang-Mi” recently won Best Cinematography at the 2023 Blackmagic Collective FilmFest competition. You can watch the film at www.strongwateranaheim.com.
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