Sealed Off scene featuring a man and woman on a train, Graded in DaVinci Resolve Studio

Tribeca Film Festival Entry Sealed Off Graded in DaVinci Resolve Studio

Blackmagic Design today announced that the short film “Sealed Off,” which is in competition at the 2023 Tribeca Film Festival, was graded by colorist Aaron Peak with DaVinci Resolve Studio editing, grading, visual effects (VFX) and audio post production software.

Set during the late 1930s in Shanghai, “Sealed Off” depicts a city invaded and controlled by the Japanese government during World War II. Frequent lockdowns, foreshadowing potential air strikes or military actions, could have meant the demise of the city and its residents. During one of these periods, two people share a moment of humanity amongst the encompassing fear around them. “Sealed Off” was directed by John Jiang and stars Zhenfei Chen and Shijiu Liu.

Shot at Shanghai Chedun Film Park over a period of four days, Jiang found that with limited resources the production had to accept difficult conditions in order to capture the drama within the short window of filming. “The most significant challenge was dealing with the continuity of the environment, the constantly changing weather, and the orientation of the sun,” said Jiang. “We ended up with footage that was very inconsistent. Luckily we had planned a lot of black and white sequences, and we knew that the color sequences set inside a trolley car would be less challenging.”

Jiang knew the grading process would be critical, and he used his professional contacts to find colorist Aaron Peak. “Aaron and I were introduced by my mentor, director and cinematographer Kees Van Oostrum,” added Jiang. “I think Aaron and I were immediately on the same page when discussing the aesthetics for the film. Aaron had a vision for the visuals right after he saw the rough cut. So rather than looking for any reference, we let our intuition guide us.”

Early discussions between Peak and Jiang involved the complexity of balancing shots with different lighting conditions. “The hope was we could balance things in post,” said Jiang. “Aaron’s understanding of DaVinci Resolve really made the difference.”

Aaron dove into the black and white sequences and began designing the planned transitions from black and white to color, then back again. “I love the velvety black and white sequences,” said Peak. “We worked the transitions into color multiple times in multiple ways, aiming at different shots to start and finish the transitions based on the emotion of the storyline. In the end, the transitions happen across a series of shots, and colors were individually controlled throughout.”

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Peak, a longtime DaVinci Resolve Studio user, applied a wide range of tools to the “Sealed Off” grade, including various VFX shots. “I’ve happily used Resolve for 10 to 12 years now,” said Peak. “I know that Fusion is powerful, but I was able to accomplish most of what we needed within the color page in Resolve. For example, the overhead shots of an intersection are composites to direct the crowd action in and out. I used glow, selective keying, grain and stabilization throughout. We replaced the colors outside the train windows, and the cross shot animations to color transition were all done in Resolve.”

Jiang was pleased with how well the color transitions worked, hoping to use them as critical story elements driving the characters and their journeys. “With the first transition from black and white to color, while the interior is colored, the exterior is still monochrome. This is a perfect transitional moment as the story unfolds. For me, some of the iconic shots of the film are when colors are the most vibrant, coinciding with the rising tension between the two characters,” described Jiang. “Then later, as the connection slowly fades between them, some colors fade away with it too. Taking the story into context, this shot looks even more beautiful with less color. Finally, the moment when we return to black and white from color, implying the eventual closure of their humanity, feels like paint fading away on an oil painting.”

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