Shooting a film with an international storyline under pandemic restrictions created interesting continuity, VFX and grading challenges, efficiently solved with liberal use of Resolve Studio.

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‘Red Notice’ is an adventure comedy intended to take advantage of its high profile stars and exotic locations. But the shoot had to be accomplished at a point in the COVID pandemic when travelling overseas wasn’t possible. Markus Förderer, ASC, the movie’s cinematographer, and his crew had to rethink how to shoot a film with an intensely international story line.

“Unable to travel, we ended up building the majority of our sets on very large stages and on a back lot in Atlanta,” he said. “These scenes were always intercut with wide establishing shots we were able to capture with a reduced crew on the actual locations around the world.”

Continuity Challenge

The challenge between principal photography, visual effects and finishing was to ensure that the various elements that made up each scene, which might only be single shots, matched perfectly. “Matching the colours and lighting was a big task,” said Markus. He worked with the colourist Walter Volpatto of Company 3 early in pre production to help plan for the coming challenges. Walter and Markus were comfortable during the collaboration, having worked together on five other films before. “I really like his shooting style and the way he works,” said Walter about Markus.

Likewise, Markus said, “Walter has a great eye, which we needed to bring all those pieces together and also match VFX shots with our live action photography. This is always a tricky process and, in my experience, a crucial step. No matter how good the VFX shots are, we can always do something in the grade to make them appear as if they were captured through an actual lens. We can emulate certain lens characteristics like flaring and edge contrast, for instance.”

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A Single LUT

In early discussions, Markus and the director Rawson Marshall Thurber had established a colour palette based on red, gold and warm brown tones to complement the spectacular locations in the script. Walter found two scenes to serve as specific motivation for the range of looks.

“A lot of the action takes place inside the ‘Red Room’,” said Walter. “The room itself and Gal Gadot's red dress had to read a very pure red. We had the opposite look in a Russian jail, where it’s literally a cold place and would need a cooler colour palette. So, these two major colours pop up throughout the movie.”

Early camera tests helped them create a single show LUT in Blackmagic Design DaVinci Resolve Studio that helped shape the various tones while helping to represent skin tones in a gentle, natural way. “We both like to prepare a look ahead of time in Resolve so that Markus can work on set almost as if he was shooting a customised film stock, setting the lighting with the characteristics of that single LUT in mind instead of carrying multiple LUTs,” said Walter.

“That way, he only has to think about his light meter and the lights, and he doesn't even have to look at the monitor. It's closer to the work method cinematographers used formerly, when they would get to know everything about a particular stock, and then understand exactly how to get the look they want. For the final grade, we can sit together and shape the scenes and adjust the details, but the overall attributes of the image are set in advance so we’re not reinventing the wheel in the final grade.”

Pulling It All Together

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Despite the pre planning, the pandemic-style shooting they were forced to adopt created challenges at every level, including the grade. “Instead of being in a location with all the main talent, where you shoot and then go to a different location, they often filmed in different sections,” Walter said. “Some scenes were shot on location, but then after the pandemic hit, further elements were shot in Atlanta and then more sections were added with some pickups.”

The result was a need for far more VFX than initially anticipated. “Sometimes, they would have to shoot without extras, and then shoot the extras separately and composite them and the backgrounds in as effects,” Walter said. The approach also affected scheduling. “Sometimes they shot part of a scene with only one actor while the other one was busy doing something else. In other words, they might shoot all the shots for the lead actress Gal Gadot and then all the shots of actor Dwayne Johnson, and then we’d have to blend them together in post,” he said.

While VFX handled the bulk of the compositing, Walter found himself blending elements as well to create a smooth marriage of VFX and non VFX shots. He said, “We may have shots that were shot beautifully but would still need work to blend together with the surrounding material. A lot was done in VFX and sent to us as we worked on the colour, but we used some tools just to refine looks when different parts of the same scene had been shot many months apart.”

Using Color Space Transform

Using DaVinci Resolve Studio, Walter was able to create a DCI/P3 colour space project while also reviewing quickly for high dynamic range (HDR). “The Colour Space Transform in Resolve allowed me to look at the P3 and the HDR of the same image with literally a couple of clicks. So, I could complete the colour correction for a scene and then review it immediately in HDR and do whatever trims I needed to do,” he said.

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Using in-house collaboration tools also helped Walter work quickly and efficiently, even as the expansive pickups and VFX shots continued to come in. “My finishing editor Chris Doerr and I both worked on the same project within Resolve, which meant he was able to very quickly flag any shots that were going to be replaced, drop in the replacements and take care of some of the light VFX work that finishing editors do.

“He was on a workstation where he only had access to the Rec. 709 version, but I could immediately look at the new shot in my theatre and, using the Color Space Transform, immediately see the new shot in Rec. 709, P3 and HDR without having to drop in LUTs or do anything else to the node tree. I only had to adjust the outputs in the Color Space Transform. It was very efficient and we never had to stop working for a moment.”

‘Red Notice’ is streaming now on Netflix.