Soundfirm Gets the Look for ‘The Dressmaker’

The recent film ‘The Dressmaker’ was graded and finished at post production facility Soundfirm in Melbourne and Sydney, Australia. The story, based on a book by Rosalie Ham, takes place in the 1950s in a small country town in the outback of Australia.
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The look of the film needed to be true to the dry, open landscape it is set in, but it also needed to remain rich and beautiful. Soundfirm’s colourist Trish Cahill used Blackmagic Design DaVinci Resolve Studio and said the cinematographer Don McAlpine, shooting on the RED Epic in Redcode RAW, had captured excellent images for her to work with.

Colour and Contrast

“After the initial balance was in place, we looked for little things to enhance each frame, such as the sky at the top of frame here or an extra bit of sunshine on a patch of grass there,” she said. “There was definitely a focus on the environment. We had the opportunity to experiment a little with the memory scenes when the main character Tilly remembers moments from her childhood, which needed to look different from the present. In that case, we ended up with a moody, contrasting look with a desaturated, ashy palette. Wherever we had skies and trees to silhouette, we graded, keyed and dropped the mids.”


The film includes day for night shots as well. In one of these, the camera is on a dolly moving towards a silo, and Trish needed to maintain this camera movement while creating a starry nighttime sky. Trish said, “The very next shot shows the two main characters gazing up at the stars and talking about the night sky, so both shots needed a starry sky. I started by making numerous one pixel windows with a slight blur and lots of brightness and placed them all across the sky, occasionally making some brighter than others to recreate the randomness of real stars.”

This worked well in a still shot, however, once the scene was played back, the stars needed more integration into the images as the camera dollied forward. “Using Resolve’s shape tracker and the keyer to control and stabilise the various areas of the image, it fell into place fairly quickly. After a run-through at real time with default settings on the stabilizer tool, I could make the stars sit perfectly into the night sky without any loss of the romantic dolly effect,” said Trish.

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Feature Tracking

DaVinci Resolve Studio’s tracker also proved beneficial when protecting the performances and subtlety of the actors’ eyes and faces while maintaining the rich tones for the film. “We have gorgeous actors with beautiful blue eyes, which were sometimes a challenge to maintain in warmly lit scenes. This is where the tracker also came in handy,” said Trish.

“To be able to go through the film and highlight the moments and selected colours we needed and yet keep the whole frame rich, vivid and inviting was a case of having our cake and eating it too. Furthermore, without an intelligent, fast tool like the tracker, you would have to keep a very strict priorities list of what could be achieved within your schedule, because these things can take time. Now I find myself leaping through such challenges without having to do mental calculations as to whether they will blow out the schedule.”

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DI Post Workflow

DaVinci Resolve Studio was also used for the online edit of the film at Soundfirm, which has several Resolve Studio suites in both its Melbourne and Sydney facilities. According to Jonathan Burton, digital imaging supervisor at Soundfirm, “The flexibility of the system allowed us to use it as the backbone of the DI post workflow. This was especially important because the production wanted to retain the 4K RAW files all the way to the final mastering of the film.”

Resolve was used as the primary conform tool. They could conform the film as the edit progressed, allowing the production to move between the online and offline versions of the cut and continuously make adjustments until the final picture lock off. Pulling together the two stages of editing – offline, the creative assembly of the film, and online, the re-assembly or conform of the offline edit back to the full quality, original camera footage – while the edit is progressing has certain advantages. Jonathan said, “This is especially true when the facility has large screening rooms because, normally, the offline version of the cut usually refers to lower quality, smaller file-size versions of the footage used by the editors to cut the film.

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Offline to Online – and Back Again

“But if the filmmakers can see their work at full quality on a big screen, as we could for ‘The Dressmaker’, they are in a better position to make critical decisions on the creative process, and make technical judgments on the shots they are using in the cut. Often, a production will want to see how a certain take will look in full quality or if it will work creatively with a certain look or treatment applied. This is where the ability to move from offline to online, uninterrupted within the one facility, comes into its own.

“This ability doesn’t actually change the overall online process too much. Once the film edit is locked we receive a number of edl files - typically one for each reel of the film plus edls for additional material that needs to be pulled such as the visual effects shots and so on. In many ways, doing smaller conforms of certain portions of the film as the edit progresses makes the final conform easier. Any potential technical issues can be found earlier, and areas can be identified that might be more challenging in the grade or require different optical or VFX treatments.”

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Visual Effects I/O

Resolve was used to handle all of the visual effects shots as well, creating deliveries to go to the VFX team along with temp grades, reviews and returns of VFX finals to go back into the online. Visual effects turnovers were created in conjunction with the editorial department from a pre-identified VFX database that holds all of the VFX elements required for the film. The creation of such a database was another example of the advantages of moving between offline and online, particularly during the early stages of the cut.

“Often a shot will be flagged as a potential one for visual effects, which will then either be confirmed or scratched from the VFX list via a review of the online material projected in a theatre. Whatever working/mastering resolution is established at the beginning of the picture workflow – in this case 4K RAW - to match delivery requirements and specifications set by the production, the VFX turnovers and returns all adhere to this specification,” Jonathan said.

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DaVinci Resolve was used for the majority of the online/DI process, from the initial tasks such as reviewing and projecting camera tests, to looking at test grades, optical effects and all the way through to the final conform, colour grade and digital mastering. Some tools for other specialised effects and treatments were used such as SGO Mistika, which Soundfirm also runs in-house. VFX turnovers were also managed through Resolve as well as VFX review sessions and conforming back final approved VFX into the online for the grade. Resolve then output a number of the final mastering files and deliverables.

Data Management and Storage

“The final conformed Resolve projects were then sent up to Soundfirm’s grading theatre at Fox Studios in Sydney. DaVinci Resolve was used to move all the media and manage the transition between facilities,” said Jonathan. “Resolve Consolidate was used as part of the data management plan during the conform, primarily to condense down the amount of camera original media kept on storage once the cut was locked. Once the film was conformed from all of the camera original media on our shared storage, using Resolve Consolidate reduced it down to only the media needed for the final online edit. This process was also used in the transfer of the conformed online project between our Melbourne and Sydney facilities.”


Good data management was, of course, one of the key factors in successfully maintaining camera RAW data through the workflow. Soundfirm have a large system of shared high-speed storage which can be accessed by all of the Resolve suites in the building, opening up an appreciable degree of flexibility at the conform and management stages.

“Once the cut is locked, as described, the media is consolidated so that only the footage that has made the edit is kept on our storage, while the rest is on archival LTO tape and can be pulled back to our shared storage at a later stage if required,” Jonathan said. “Hardware factors such as CPU and GPU also all play a big role, but it really comes down to having a facility setup to handle these kinds of high-data, high-computational workflows. Because Soundfirm aims to maintain the highest possible quality throughout post, we continuously update and grow the pipeline.”