You’ll Never Know I Was Here; Invisible Effects

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“I take considerable pride in invisible effects, in knowing that at the end of the day, my work is appreciated, but you don’t really know what I did. You never knew I was there. That’s how I know it’s a job well done.”

Jason Bowdach is a renowned colorist & finishing artist; he runs Cinetic Studios, a boutique-style color and finishing studio that was created to provide easier access to high-end color grading and finishing services that most assume are out of their reach. They have a philosophy; an underlying credo that drives everything they do. And their philosophy is simple: We tell stories with color.

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Source courtesy of Phil Arntz

I spoke with Jason recently about his work. Here’s what he shared with me:

Telling stories with color – it’s a philosophy that’s deeply rooted everything we do. We truly believe that color is a very powerful narrative tool that shouldn’t be overlooked. And today, we have the technology that empowers us to dive really deep into color, really experiment in ways that really drive a story forward. We can do it now in a cost effective way – so we can provide affordable services – but with uncompromising quality and with stunning results.

Finishing with Color; The Last Word

In our view, the colorist plays an all encompassing role as the very last person to look at the footage. This is a departure from the norm, and maybe for some, counter intuitive. But we also realize that not everyone is aware of the process – the color workflow, what it is we do and how we do it.

Recently we finished work on an independent horror film. Sadly, the VFX company who did all the effects went out of business after they delivered the project. The filmmakers brought the project to us to see what we could do to enhance the shots. We ended up touching just about every VFX shot. Think about that – 10 years ago, this kind of finishing work on VFX shots would never happen in a color bay. Today, with all the evolution in software, we have a lot of power under the hood, such as an open effects engine. A tons of tools have recently come on the scene – from Red Giant, Boris, Rampant Design, to name a few. Companies like this have delivered a slew of tools to help enhance the imagery.

At the end of the day, our underlying attitude is that we’re here to please the client. So we do what it takes. But we’re a little different.

Most colorist come from an editing background. Which makes sense. As an editor, as you’re cutting, you’re tweaking, adjusting and enhancing the shot – including color. But we come from a VFX background – we started as VFX artists. So we have a different perspective. And it’s subtle, but that perspective enables us to look at sequence and understand exactly what to do to enhance the shot, without diminishing or ‘cheapening’ the original intent of the shot.

I have a fascination with, and I take great pride in, the notion of invisible VFX. If I’ve done my job well, you’ll never know I was here. And that’s hard to do. There are so many complex components in storytelling in a film. But I do believe – and I stake my work in it – that color tells the story. Where do we go with color, how do we redirect the eye, or set a mood or a tone. And we believe we’re setting a trend.

Thanks to the software tools that are available to us and our desire to tell stories using visuals, we’re pushing that trend with all we’ve got. That’s where companies like Rampant Design comes in. Founders Sean and Stef Mullen are also VFX artists, so they get it. They understand the delicate balance of visual effects, color and their impact on storytelling. They make it so easy for us to enhance our shots with a unique quality. Not to mention, being platform agnostic means that we can bring our library of Style Effects to any platform, any color bay. They’re fast, they’re natural and quite realistic. They make it easier for us to create amazing effects, so subtly, you’d never know it was an effect.

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The film we recently completed is an independent horror film called “The Shades.” It was shot entirely at 4k DCI resolution using a RED Epic – gorgeously captured by Director of Photography Ray Wongchinda. Naturally, all finishing was completed at 4k as well. The interesting part is, and what I was alluding to earlier, we touched every VFX shot in the color bay, making them more stylized and natural – not just adjusting color. Although color still played a big role. The filmmakers wanted to darken things down a bit; see less and infer more. There’s another big trend rising in the horror genre, stemming from a nostalgia from horror films from the 70s and 80s. Before high end VFX and CGI, there was only so much you could do without it looking too phony and fake. So filmmakers embraced the unseen – the terror you couldn’t see lurking in the dark. John Carpenter’s The Thing was very influential. Rob Bottin created all the practical special effects in the film. If he had his way, every monster would be shot in a pitch dark room so you’d never really see it. But you knew it was there. And it was terrifying!

That’s the style & look they were going for in The Shades. We needed to darken things down, make things grittier. Using color, glows, flares and other lens abnormalities, we were able to tell a compelling, scary story.

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However, when you’re shooting in 4k with a RED Epic, your imagery tends to look a bit too perfect & sharp. All the imperfections, color, and tone were all added back in post. It’s kind of ironic as DPs usually don’t want abnormalities coming out of the camera, but the entire visual story is shaped in the color bay, using Rampant’s glow effects, lens flares and distortion and grunge effects. Whatever we have at our disposal to make things work – it’s what we love about tools like Rampant’s Style Effects.

We worked really hard on this film, using effects to add a unique look and mood, which shaped the story. And you’ll never know we were even there. Mission accomplished.

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The Shades: Credits

Release Date: TBD

Filmmakers: Directed by Jeff Sun, Produced by Rodrigo Mattos & Jeff Sun, Director of Photography Ray Wongchinda, Written by Jeff Sun & Rodrigo Mattos

Production Tools/Cameras: Shot on RED at 4k DCI. Edited in Adobe Premiere Pro. Colored in DaVinci Resolve Studio

Post Production Tools: Rampant Design Effects, Red Giant Universe, Boris Continum Complete 10, Digital Anarchy Flicker Free, NeatVideo

Post Production Team: Jeff Sun, Ray Wongchinda, Katina Zinner ACE, Jason Bowdach C.S.I, Dosa Lim, David St. Alexander , Amie Doherty, Waymon Boone, Jon Seizinger

Full Credits: IMDB Link

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