The first FilmLight Colour Awards celebrates the winners

The first FilmLight Colour Awards were presented at the EnergaCAMERIMAGE festival in Toruń, Poland, in November 2021. Each of the winners got a chance to showcase clips from the winning entries, and to talk about their projects, their relationships with the rest of the production team, and the future of grading.

Recreating 1930s Hollywood for ‘Mank’, the Netflix film from David Fincher

Ironically for the first Colour Awards, two of the winning projects featured black and white imagery. The award for grading a theatrical feature went to Eric Weidt for his work on Mank, a movie about the making of Citizen Kane. As Weidt said, “there was a little bit of pressure there from the start”.

The movie, shot by Eric Messerschmidt and directed by David Fincher, used an 8K monochrome RED camera which created pristine images, somewhat at odds with the 1941 Hollywood setting of the story.

“There was a whole series of things David [Fincher] wanted for an ‘artful degrading’ of the image,” according to Weidt. “Things like focus fall-off, grain, black blooming as well as highlight blooming, optical dissolves – all visual cues to movies of the time.

“Blooming of the blacks is probably what people notice the most: the hazy, crushed blacks,” he explained. “I achieved this by doing a luminance key of the shadows, blurring it and offsetting it against itself, and changing the amount of blurring involved. Then I just crushed those outlines.

“For the ‘optical dissolves’ – the fades to black or the fades between shots – David wanted to go haywire with excessive blooming and have the gamma blown out, the highlights to linger a bit. Many things like that were how we ‘vintaged’ the film.”

Eric Weidt also pointed to the day for night sequences, which involved a lot of VFX. “I asked ILM for alpha channels for all the effects, which meant I got two terabyte EXRs for each shot. But it that allowed every element that was added was able to be fine-tuned.”

Speaking of the awards, he said, “It’s an amazing feeling to be recognised. I want to encourage every colourist to remember that directors and cinematographers need to know that your work is good, because it’s in their service.”

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Winner for best colour grading in Theatrical Feature 2021: Eric Weidt with ‘Mank’

Grading the fourth instalment of ‘Fargo’, set in 1950s Kansas City

Much of episode 409, East/West, of Fargo for FX was also in black and white. This time, though, it was shot in colour, and graded by Tony D’Amore of Picture Shop in LA – winner of one of the two awards for grading on episodic television.

“For the whole of season four we wanted a stylised look: Kodachrome colour, and a high-contrast Tri-X look for the black and white episode,” he said. “In this episode Dana [Gonzales, series cinematographer] shot in colour and I did monochrome in the grade. I created Tri-X LUTs in pre-production for that gritty, deep look.

“While we graded in monochrome, all of the colour information was still there,” D’Amore explained. “That meant I could go into the RGB primaries and adjust the tonality. If I wanted faces to be brighter, I could lift the reds and that would give me a brighter face. I was able to get the tonality and the texture out of the black and white, which was critical in a project like that.”

In one memorable scene a character opens a door in his monochrome world and sees the world in full colour outside. “We had masks made so we could work on the monochrome on the A side,” D’Amore recalled. “I used windows to feather out the matte that was given to me so the colour light spreads across the floor. I wanted it to look as natural as possible as it blends with the black and white.”

Accepting the award, Tony D’Amore said, “The role of the colourist is the bridge between camera technology and post-production. We are the final creative point for directors and cinematographers, but also a person to collaborate with. Long-term, it’s becoming more and more important that DPs start recognising the technology they have once they are in post: Dana actually pushes me on Fargo because he knows the technology.”

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Joint winner, TV Series/Episodic: Tony D’Amore, Picture Shop, for Fargo S4 ‘East/West’

Depth in the darkness: grading ‘Lisey’s Story’, the eight-hour adaptation of Stephen King’s 2006
psychological horror novel

The jury could not choose just one winner in the episodic category, so they also presented a trophy to Damien Vandercruyssen for the Apple+ series Lisey’s Story, written by Stephen King from his own novel. The story sees Lisey set a ‘bool hunt’ – King’s term for a scavenger hunt, a search for clues – by her dead husband.

“The scenes in ‘reality’ are very colourful, with warm, golden highlights,” Vandercruyssen, of New York’s Harbor Pictures, said. “The bool hunt scenes have a dash of underwater, water colours. They’re foggy, mysterious and dark. This world is like a dream, but it can be real with surreal colours.”

All eight episodes were directed by Pablo Larrain and shot by Darius Khondji, which allowed Vandercruyssen to treat it like a six-hour movie. “I’m very glad Darius and I found each other – it’s an ongoing collaboration.

“He likes to involve the colourist early in any project. I’ve been building LUTs and establishing looks,” he said. “We have a distinctive look on Julianne Moore’s skin tone, for example, because we wanted a strong separation between faces and backgrounds. We isolated a lot of the faces, sometimes to neutralise high contrast from the strong lighting, so as not to wash them out.

“Towards the end of post Darius went off to shoot his next project, so the weight was on me to maintain his vision. It’s a good thing to have all the LUTs and the looks built early on.

“I’m very flattered and honoured to receive this award,” he added. “I hope it is going to become an industry standard. Thank you, FilmLight.”

The stunning colours of ‘Dior Spring Summer 2021 Collection’, shot by Benoît Delhomme

For the best grade on a commercial, the award went to Tim Masick of Company 3 New York, for his work on the Dior Spring Summer 2021 Collection, shot by Benoît Delhomme. The result is a visually lush exercise in chiaroscuro.

“It was built off the great light that Benoît used,” Masick explained. “We focused on particular colours to draw out the oil painting look. We introduced different colours into the base layers, like some browns and blues to contrast with the colours of the sets.

“Part of the emulation of an oil painting is the sensation of light bouncing off the surface so you can feel the texture of the paint in the black and in the shadows,” he said. “The skin tones are the core of things, making sure the models look beautiful and have that kind of light that reflects off the skin and has that luminosity, while still retaining the shape. That’s where everything started:
looking at skin tone.”

Masick praised the approach of the cinematographer. “Benoît has an experimental approach, of trying out different things. As you’re developing a grade, you can see ‘oh, he’s doing that kind of thing: that allows me to enhance in this kind of direction’. What he is capturing inspires me to think about what different things I can add.”

Talking to the EnergaCAMERIMAGE session he said how pleasing it was to be recognised for creative work. “When I started in the 90s, the role of the colourist was just a process that happened at the back end. It’s far more integrated into the production process now. If you are trying to achieve something you will engage the colourist early on in the process. Otherwise, mistakes will be made and you will not get the result that you want.”

Innovating for the Zazi Films production ‘Miss’

While most award categories were open to colourists working on any platform – and indeed were won by users of other systems – there was a final trophy for the most innovative use of the Baselight grading platform. This went to Le Labo in Paris for their collaborative developments in shaders, as seen on the Zazi Films production Miss.

Technical lead on the project is Arnaud Caréo. “In France, we say ‘when you have a hammer, you see every problem as a nail’. That is why we developed tools to address specific problems, a set of three shaders to manipulate the gamut of the image.

“The first shader is dedicated to gamut limitation. HDR adds a lot of possibilities in terms of colour, but sometimes we want to limit what is possible, to define the look of an image”, he continued.

“The second tool moves the primary colours of the gamut to be able to set the primaries to create a look. The third tool permits us to change and to move part of the gamut from the inside. Together, they enable us to create a look bypassing the use of existing LUTs.”

Gilles Granier and Fabien Napoli shared colourist duties on Miss, and have been friends and collaborators for more than a decade. “With Le Labo Paris we have the opportunity to share our tips and tricks together”, said Granier. “We tried the tools that Arnaud had coded, and gained confidence on single shots, then on whole scenes. Now it is a part of the process, making it very easy to reproduce and reference what the DP wants for a film.”

Napoli added, “Arnaud is like a free electron! This is the way we spread information. With the user interface on screen you can share information with the DPs, and that is where the fun begins. Then you can get more creative.”

Caréo said, “We can develop these things quickly because of the way shaders are implemented in Baselight. You can iterate very quickly because when you are updating to a new version, you can have it in production and not worry about backwards compatibility, because each shader is stored in the shot.

“I think it’s really great to recognise the work that we do away from the light,” he continued. “This category of innovative use is really important too because I hope it will motivate people to go further in the discussion about what our tools do, and how we can improve.”

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Winner for best colour grading in Innovative Use of Baselight 2021: Le Labo Paris with ‘Miss’

Congratulations to all winners of the 2021 FilmLight Colour Awards. Plans are already underway for 2022!


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