Colourist Isaac Molina Steps Into 'The House of Flowers' at Oxido
Isaac Molina is senior colourist at Oxido post facility in Mexico City, where he has been working for the last nine years. His grading experience includes TV commercials and the roles of colourist and DI supervisor on over 30 feature films. Most recently, Isaac worked on the grade of the first Latin American TV series for Netflix finished in HDR, 'The House of Flowers'.
He studied audiovisual communication, aiming to focus on post-production and always preferring to work on the creative, hands-on side of projects. On his first job he worked as an editor in a digital advertising agency at about the time that Apple Color was launched. “It is difficult to describe, but that was the part of the process that I really enjoyed, where I found a combination between creativity and technique. So at that point, it wasn't hard to decide to put all my enthusiasm into becoming a colourist.”
Keeping It Simple
Technically, he has learned many things since those days, but believes that the way he now communicates with clients, and understands what they need, is something he handles better. He considers himself a very practical colourist, always remembering to 'keep it simple' when approaching new projects.
“What that means is that, depending on the result clients want to achieve, I try to do it in the most direct way,” he said. “I create a balance and a very solid base, and understand the intention of the DOP, never going against the material we have to work with. I consider it a part of my style to communicate as best I can with the Director and the DOP, so that they obtain the image they want, and the image that the script needs.
“The looks my clients are looking for depend mostly on the type of project. For advertising, I usually seek colourful, natural looks with great care given to skin tone, high contrasts and special care in the product shots. In cinema projects, the range of looks is very diverse. Almost always, the DOP already has a specific look in mind relating to the story or the genre.”
Isaac contrasted the pace of work required for feature films and episodic television. “Initially, you have less time to invest in a TV series than in a movie, so you tend to use tools that save your resources and your time. You take firmer steps and have a solid, consistent look for all situations so that you can work quickly and decisively through each episode. On the other hand, in a TV series you have the opportunity to perfect the way you approach the material, since you are working on the same project over a longer period of time.”
Colourist Isaac Molina
House of Flowers
When the chance to grade 'The House of Flowers' came to OxidoTV, their CEO Marco Rodríguez put Isaac forward as colourist. “I am usually able to resolve any technical aspects in the grade, and this series had several technical challenges,” he said. “We spent the first three months or so on implementing the necessary resources for this project, and started by making adjustments to the colour correction room for Dolby Vision.
“Because the Sony X300 monitor that we had to work on the HDR was much smaller than the monitor that we used for previews, the room underwent some modifications to set the X300 at an workable distance. Then we had to work on the issue of certification with Dolby, which involved both the installation of the CMU (Content Mapping Unit) and some training.”
They also had to work collaboratively with Colorfront, developers of Transkoder mastering software, and with FilmLight who develop the Baselight grading system Isaac uses at Oxido. Both Transkoder and Baselight are Dolby Vision-certified but, as HDR calls for a new workflow, cross-platform information on HDR post production was essential.
Dolbt Vision workflow
Another practical challenge for the project was the need to finish the series within a single system. Since Dolby Vision works with dynamic metadata contained in an XML, the editing software is not able to edit that metadata. Isaac said, “We usually do the colour correction in Baselight and the online in Smoke, but in this case, we had to complete the whole process inside Baselight. We were surprised to find that we could playback a whole episode in real-time in our Baselight ONE system, with all layers of colour, 5.1 audio in 16-bit 4K and HDR.”
A short period of testing followed when they took the opportunity to set up the whole workflow pipeline from conforming in Baselight CONFORM until the IMF went up to the Netflix Backlot. Once those tests were made, the development of the series occurred in a typical way.
'The House of Flowers'
“The first weeks were spent with Director Manolo Caro and DOP Pedro Gomez Millan, defining the look of the series and revisions were made periodically from there,” said Isaac. “The show's signature grade is full of life and colour, and makes all of the actors look radiant. The locations are full of flowers and we took special care to make the entire cast look good.
“Working on Baselight meant I had a great deal of flexibility and a great variety of tools that gave me enough confidence to take some risks in the grade. For my training, I learned about VideoGrade and FilmGrade, which I often use to fine-tune the hue shift.
“For this particular Netflix series, the Soften tool was also very useful for cosmetic adjustments. It has two parameters – Amount defines how much gauzy softness to apply to an image, and Detail defines how much of the original sharpness to preserve.”
Because Lift, Gamma, Gain and Saturation are still among the primary tools for colourists, they are located in the VideoGrade operator in Baselight. The colourist adjusts the black level of the video signal with Lift and the white level with Gain. On a Curves graph, Lift sets the starting point at the bottom-left and Gain the end point at the top-right. The Gamma function determines the curvature of the gradation curve between the two endpoints and controls a combination of brightness and contrast. Gamma is also used to put a colour tone on the picture, in order to keep the black and white clean.
FilmGrade emulates the new grading tools that manufacturers developed for DI processing, based on lab colour-timing for film. After colour correction, the image is converted into a display colour space, like DCI P3, using a LUT. FilmGrade has six tools - Exposure, Contrast and Saturation, plus Shadows, Midtones and Highlights. The main tool is Exposure, which controls the general brightness and colour of the image. Also, because the contrast in all of the colour channels are basically retained during Exposure changes, the image remains very natural as the colourist works.
New Workflows at Oxido
Oxido has begun to take advantage of FilmLight's BLG (Baselight grade) workflow, starting on set with three DIT units that employ both Daylight and FLIP applications and progressing through the pipeline to the grading suite.
“In the cases that we have been able to implement this workflow, the DP is the first to feel that what he has asked for on the set is being mirrored in the creative grade. That gives him a lot of reassurance, and for us as colourists, makes us understand all the nuances much more easily,” Isaac said.
BLG is a multi-track OpenEXR file format that you can use to create, transfer and review looks. Different to a LUT or a restricted grade, the look defined within the BLG records the full creative intent with all grade information, conform metadata and keyframes.
FilmLight develops tools that are used to manage colour from production on set, through post, to output of deliverables. The FLIP and Daylight software used at Oxido exports metadata as BLG files directly from on-set to offline, online and VFX applications via Baselight Editions for Avid, FCP and NUKE, and from there to the final grade. The exchange of data between systems is fast and efficient - FilmLight's tools do not need third-party hardware to transcode or transport files.
Daylight is a grading decision tool and dailies platform made for DPs and directors to establish looks and visualise what they have shot, on set or on location. Users can author and apply complete Baselight looks to all shots using a compact grading interface. As well, Daylight can read data from the headers of camera and audio files and display relevant metadata fields.
Beyond dailies, the software's support for nearly any camera and deliverable format, as well as rescaling, filtering, masking and burn-in operations, and colour transforms, means that all of a project's deliverable requirements can be met by the one application.
FilmLight developed FLIP on-set preview system to give directors and DPs a chance to be more creative while they are still on set, and then channel their creative decisions through to finishing. The production's colourist first generates a database of looks on Baselight, and loads them into FLIP as BLG files, which hold all of the grading metadata for each look. FLIP is then used on the set to apply the looks to live camera HD-SDI monitoring feeds, which can then be adjusted using FLIP's Baselight grading tools.
Colouring the Future
Isaac has advice for people who have recently started to learn grading tools, including the downloadable Baselight STUDENT software. He said, “Colour correction is not only about the technique. For me, the most compelling factor is that of observing the world, nature and art. So when a moment comes in which you have to make an aesthetic judgment, you have all of that in mind to support you as you sit in front of the software.”
“I would also like to point out to student colourists today that they are a very fortunate generation to have a grading system like FilmLight on their computers to practice and experiment with. Until very recently, the only way for someone to have access to such a system was to be an assistant and wait for the end of each day for a chance to practice.”
He notes it can be difficult to reply to people outside the industry who ask exactly what colourists do. He usually says that he helps tell stories through the manipulation of colour, similar to the work of the impressionist painters, whom he especially admires.
“I like the use of colour in Annie Leibovitz's photography also, but I think I find much more inspiration in my observations of the world. After all, what we do in colour correction is not done on a blank canvas but always starts with a given image that we manipulate with the references to our chromatic memory.
“I am working on an article now that talks about the coincidences of harmony in music and colour, which for me is how to explain the order of the universe, beauty in nature and how we are inherent within it. To me, the most important endeavour is to never to stop learning. So, over the coming years I see myself becoming a better colourist with opportunities to work on diverse, international projects.” www.filmlight.ltd.uk