We had so much fun doing our recent re-grade of an old short film (that we're still kinda proud of) that I thought I'd share a bit about why we did it and how we achieved the look.
I'd been wanting to revisit our film The Burdened Ass for years; myself, DP Aadel Nodeh-Farahani and Colourist Pat Wintersgill were all about 22 when we did the original transfer (a telecine) and completely inexperienced and naive - although of course we didn't think it at the time… we thought we were hot sh*t. I've compared the shots from the 2002 transfer to the new 2010 one at the end of the demo.
I was inspired by the Criterion Collection's recent transfer of Days Of Heaven on Bluray. See a comparison of the old DVD with the new DVD and Bluray here: dvdbeaver.com/film/dvdreviews9/days-of-heaven.htm and here, colourist Lee Klein writes about their approach and Terrence Malik's desire to play down the hazy warmth the film was famous for and instead make more of each shot's natural qualities: criterion.com/current/posts/736-striking-gold (The bluray is truly beautiful in motion - if you're thinking about getting it, don't hesitate for a moment longer).
Anyway, our old film school grade was garish, harsh and pushed saturation and contrast to ridiculous levels. Inspired by Malik's approach of complete re-evaluation I started looking for any colour photography from the period of the Great War (when The Burdened Ass is set) and was surprised to find that the Lumiere Brother's Autochrome colour process was used a lot during the war and in the trenches. Some of the images are shown below - here are some links to more: spiegel.de/fotostrecke/fotostrecke-37025.html and alphabeticgadgets.blogspot.com/2009/11/great-war-in-colour.html The early technique used makes them look like they've been colourized later, but they haven't. Unlike Malik's brilliant film, not every shot in our film had fantastic natural qualities (the lighting continuity in the main, central sequence jumps from overcast to direct sunlight and back again). So I was looking for a style which would help us patch over the lighting inconsistencies in the central, continuous sequences, but which would allow us to make the most of individual shots in the well exposed montage sequences.
Pat scanned the images at 10 bit logarithmic from the super16mm neg and loaded it into Quantel’s iQ in linear space with no LUT. With the autochrome images in mind but also with a desire to make the most of each shot's natural qualities, we pumped in a lot of contrast, pulled back the overall colour saturation a little and dialled in some warm browns to give it that slightly faded feel.
We also used graduated shapes to give density variation from the centre of the frame to the edges. This meant that where the image was darker around the edges the saturation we'd subdued was revealed, but only in specific areas and spots. Older lens' abilities to allow uniform light penetration wasn't as good as it is now - meaning that if a lens is spherical it will allow more light through the centre of the lens than it does at the sides, with some light being lost by reflection/glass absorption. (Imagine if you will drawing a rectangle within a round shooting target. The bulls eye will receive the greatest amount if light while the edges will receive less.)
We applied that approach to each scene, attempting to make the most of each image's qualities whilst also attempting to give each a unified look. The central sequence feature a more obvious sepia tone to unify it. then in the montage sequences that bookend the film and in which time is compressed, the grade jumps around from shot to shot as we attempt to make the best we can of each.
And here is the end result: vimeo.com/11786852