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Warner Bros. MPI Facilitates Fast Finish for Red Riding Hood

Color is not only in the title but also at the core of Catherine Hardwicke’s Red Riding Hood, and the director worked with the film’s cinematographer, Mandy Walker, ACS, and colorist, Maxine Gervais of Warner Bros. Motion Picture Imaging, to achieve what she had in mind. Hardwicke suggests the trio’s close collaboration was particularly crucial in light of the picture’s short schedule: 43 days of principal photography and 10 weeks’ less post time than originally planned.

“We were supposed to have 31 weeks [for post], but that was shortened to 21 after Warner Bros. secured a great release date in March,” says Hardwicke. “It was handy to do the color timing on the lot, where everyone else was. I had never worked with Maxine before, and she’s a real artist. You barely give her an idea, and she’s quickly making a cool little matte and tracking it. She’s a real rock star on that console, and that’s what Mandy and I needed to get what we wanted on our schedule.”

When they spoke to AC (in separate interviews), the team was still putting the finishing touches on the picture. All three emphasized their intent to create a magical world in which the titular heroine (played by Amanda Seyfried) encounters dark forces and enjoys a passionate love affair in a mysterious forest.

“It’s definitely not a horror film,” says Walker. “It’s a thriller and romance [wrapped] in a fairytale. Our forest scenes are magical, with lots of shafts of light, lots of color and lots of atmosphere.”

Hardwicke, a former production designer, based the look on reams of designs, pictures and drawings from medieval times to the present, and had long talks with Walker about the colors she had in mind. Walker, who shot on Kodak Vision3 500T 5219 and 250D 5207, jokes that the two of them turned to Gervais “to sprinkle fairy dust on top of some of our images. Maxine was really able to compliment what we did in-camera and also push a bit further things we couldn’t achieve fully in-camera, such as giving the skies stronger contrast and color, and doing some beauty touch-ups.”

Gervais was involved earlier than usual on the production, working on various tests and timing several preview screenings herself. “That helped because we could really put the filmmakers’ vision into the previews,” notes Gervais. “Many previews come straight out of the Avid, but in this case, we did intricate, full-on digital grades. We’d take an HD DNx 115 output [from Avid] to HDCam-SR tape, ingest that tape into [the Filmlight Baselight 4.2 color-correction system], scene-detect it to break it into cuts, and time it in Rec 709. We timed the previews as if they were the final DI, except for the fact that it was compressed HD.

“Because of that, by the time we finally scanned the negative to start final color correction, I already had a strong direction from the filmmakers and could go through the first pass before Mandy and Catherine came in to do final tweaks,” she continues. “Then we could spend the rest of the time refining it. This enabled us to bring it all home in crunch time with our tight schedule.”

“Color is very important in this film, especially with the art direction, costumes and lighting,” notes Walker. “During both the shooting and the timing, we were mindful of the contrast of colors, and in particular of how that red cloak would show up in the frame. We were doing tests with Maxine on the cloak and other colors very early on, soon after we started post.”

Red’s iconic cloak is a central visual device in the story. “In fact, it’s the only red in the movie!” notes Hardwicke. A variety of fabrics and shades of red were tested early on, and Hardwicke and costume designer Cindy Evans eventually chose a specially embroidered silk fabric from India. “Mandy shot a test to show how we could enhance the color,” Hardwicke recalls. “You can see how it really pops from the background, especially against the white snow. Mandy was very careful in her balancing and lighting, and we then enhanced when necessary in the DI.”

The philosophy of highlighting particular colors was carried over to other aspects of the visuals. The priest (played by Gary Oldman) wears rich purple robes that were likewise designed to stand out. “Warner Bros. actually mandated vibrant colors,” says Hardwicke. “They didn’t want muted grays, blacks or whites, or too much desaturation. So we were constantly thinking about how to make specific colors pop.”

Gervais credits the Baselight system with allowing her to solve certain kinds of visual-effects challenges in the DI suite. Red Riding Hood has 300 visual-effects shots, supervised by Jeffrey Okun, and the artists creating them were laboring on many of those shots up to the last possible minute. But, says Hardwicke, “there are certain things that Maxine could do very rapidly in the DI, and I don’t just mean cosmetic fixes.”

In particular, Gervais helped Hardwicke achieve the colorful sky the director originally planned when she captured helicopter footage for the movie’s opening titles one day early in the shoot. The day that footage was captured “was not perfect, and we had been working on this idea that the sky could be better than reality,” says Hardwicke. “So Jeff Okun’s team put in some clouds, a CG mountain range and things like that, and then Maxine gave it a hint more color and dimension.”

“Basically, I was creating something in the sky that was not there when it was photographed,” says Gervais. “In Baselight, I pulled a matte of the sky and created a shape that would simulate sun rays glowing out of the clouds and sky. With keys, shapes, transforms, softening and glows, I was able to achieve a visual-effects-like effect. It was done to match later [shots] that had natural sunrays piercing the sky. This sequence is also where the main titles are, so I asked the title house [PIC Agency] to deliver titles with a matte channel, so I could build them in Baselight on top of the color-corrected images. There are a lot of things like that in this movie that go beyond the usual DI work, but by doing it in the DI suite, we gave Mandy and Catherine more control, and we helped the visual-effects team when they were [up against deadline].”

Hardwicke notes that Gervais also assisted with the film’s central visual effect: the monstrous wolf that prowls the dark woods. The creature was created by Rhythm & Hues, whose artists built mattes for the wolf’s body, fur and eyes as separate elements, permitting Gervais to isolate different parts of the creature and adjust them to fit specific cut and scene requirements.

“That way Catherine was able to bring up details wherever she felt it needed it,” says Gervais. “For example, we could bring up the eyes to add drama.”

Red Riding Hood was also conformed at MPI entirely in Baselight by DI editor/assistant colorist Katie Largay. Gervais notes that this was another advantage on a project that was on such a fast track. “Nothing had to leave the DI room and then come back,” she says. “Everything happened in front of me, Catherine and Mandy. Everything moved super fast, but with great quality control.”

For more on Hardwicke and Walker’s collaboration, see the author’s blog, “Art of the Craft.”


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