Subscribe Online  


How Cinesite conjured up American Gods

Aymeric Perceval, Cinesite’s vfx supervisor on Amazon Prime’s 10 part adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, explains how the story of a battle between old and new gods was brought to the small screen

When did you get involved with the project?
Kevin Tod Haug, the client VFX Supervisor, contacted Cinesite Montreal initially in April 2016 to talk about ‘out of this world’ environments and ‘epic’ set extensions for an afterlife sequence which was going to be imminently filmed in Toronto and in Oklahoma. Very quickly, we also got involved in the look development of the storm, which is a character in itself, alongside other sequences. In total, we worked on 18 different sequences split over 5 episodes (1, 2, 3, 4 and 8). Although Cinesite’s work covered a good range of visual effects, they were predominantly driven by environment work.

What was the brief for the look, what were the references?
American Gods was a very interesting creative challenge for the crew. Fuller pitched it as “a cinematically aggressive show with tonal wonkiness”. The challenge was finding the balance between developing realistic effects to support the narrative whilst inviting the audience to believe in other visual possibilities and to be taken on a fantastical journey.

From the set extensions and constellations of the land of the dead to the evolution of the storms, the series allowed us immense freedom to invent, create and interpret concepts for which there was not always specific references we could draw from. Hopefully the end result is both rooted in realism and rife with otherworldly activity!

What were the most complex shots?
I have to be careful here to avoid spoilers! Complexity wise, some of the biggest shots we achieved for American Gods are no different from the ones we’d create for a blockbuster movie. However, a TV schedule and budget constraints forces you to work faster and around a smaller team of generalists. You do not have time to develop a full pipeline; this is where Cinesite’s experience and solutions developed for previous shows came in very handy.
One of the most demanding sequences we delivered was the audience’s introduction to Anubis and the afterlife.

How was this achieved?
The sequence starts with a typical Kevin ‘impossible camera move’ going through multiple apartment plates, each representing a faith, and joined together by CG transitions. This obviously represented quite a challenge as all the cameras needed to be stabilised, retimed and reanimated to give a straight but not continuous movement. CG elements were introduced to help the transitions.

After a few shots of blue screen cat comps, we jump into substantial set extensions where the cast exit a two-storey apartment (built on stage) and climb an infinite wall going back in time. Each shot had to be a continuation of the previous one with the exception of a different geometry containing several ages, construction styles and materials.

Celestin Salomon, our lead modelling and texture artist said: “It was a very interesting job to first match the original building floor, then to build the transition to different construction styles: bricks, old damaged bricks, medieval rock wall, big rock blocks and finally a sculpted cliff. We created finely detailed displacement maps which gave the multiple walls a richer and more realistic look.” This result was then topped up with a layer of matte painting to push the photo-realism further. In lighting and comp, we focused on giving grandeur and openness, avoiding a claustrophobic feeling, even though we were often looking flat at a wall, never getting the perspective points in frame and keeping the on-set lighting.

Finally after completing the climb, the actors enter Anubis’s kingdom: a fantastical desert, halfway in between Earth and another dimension. This part of the sequence was filmed on location in Oklahoma.

The reality of shooting across multiple days and different times of day meant that we initially had to heavily manipulate the scans so they matched each other. This adjustment had to be detailed because a neutral grade was not enough and yet we didn’t want to affect the original material too much.

Then we replaced the sand dunes because they were not as pristine as the showrunners wanted them to be (i.e. too many human footsteps / car tire marks). We completed the dune environment with blowing FX sand passes in order to give the shots a bit more life. For the sky, our lead compositor Remi Martin played with multiple layers of constellations and stars, using space and long exposure night photography as reference. We then added fx passes and other 2d elements to avoid it looking too familiar. Because there was no sun in this universe, we used the constellations as light sources matching the lighting on the actors. In the end, we had to design every angle differently in comp which allowed our compers to experiment and have fun with Remi’s set up, it also helped us fine tune each one of them up to the last minute.

Visual Effects Supervisor: Kevin Tod Haug

Visual Effects Producer: Bernice Howes

Cinesite Visual Effects Supervisor: Aymeric Perceval
VFX Executive Producer: Marc-Antoine Rousseau

VFX Producer: Alexandra Added

VFX Editor: Christopher Hills-Wright
2D Supervisor: Benjamin Ribière

CG Supervisor: Nicolas Dumay

Posted 04 May 2017 by Jon Creamer

Technicolor’s Peter Doyle on HDR colour finishing

Check out the video, it’s Technicolor’s supervising visual colourist Peter Doyle talking through his working process during production, the technology he uses and examples of his work on Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.

Posted 31 March 2017 by Jon Creamer

REPORT: The Top Ten Rental Cameras

Televisual’s annual top 10 listing of the UK’s most hired cameras is now in its eleventh year. 
Jon Creamer counts down the most rented models of 2016, and reveals the models everyone will be hiring in the year ahead

There’s been a change at the top of our survey of the most hired cameras this time. The Canon C300 has been supplanted by its nearest rival, Sony’s FS7 after four years at the top.

The C300 is still an extremely popular camera, it’s an “industry workhorse” with the benefit of familiarity to most operators but “it has really fallen out of favour,” says VMI’s Barry Bassett, “with the C300 Mk2 and Sony FS7 taking its place.” The launch of the C300 Mk2 has inevitably taken some of the C300’s share with hire companies seeing a big rise in popularity for the Mk2 since its launch. The C300 Mk2 ranks at number seven this time.

Of course, Sony has now brought out its update to the FS7, the FS7 Mk2. Only recently released, the jury’s still out on its eventual impact. “It’ll be interesting to see if we have any demand,” says Finepoint’s Giles Bendig. “We don’t think it offers enough for the price but we will watch it closely.” It is though at the top of our list of cameras most hire cameras plan to buy next year.

2016 has also seen Arri’s Amira and Mini hold strong (the Mini is joint top of the list of cameras most hire companies will be buying in 2017). Arri remains the firm choice for drama productions but there are others challenging it to a small extent. “The Alexa family still ranks top in our drama portfolio however the Varicam 35 has sidelined the Alexa in a few productions,” says Provision’s Danny Howarth. VMI’s Barry Bassett also sees Panasonic as getting a toehold in drama: “The Panasonic VLT Varicam has its fans but drama remains an Arri choice.”

The Red Weapon with its 8K Helium sensor is also seen as a camera with a future: “With ProRes, less noise and great low light, it is one to watch out for,” says Visual Impact’s Nick Hill. “Red Weapon will make significant gains,” says No Drama’s James Jones, “especially as more 8K Helium equipped cameras arrive on the market and the options for more refined after-market accessories become the norm and enable solid on set workflow.” 4K continues its march. This year, camera hire firms report that the percentage of their business that is now 4k cameras is 42%, up from 33% last year. Not a huge shift, but a noticeable one.

1 Sony PMW–FS7

Average Day Rate £154
position last year - 2

Hired from, Bluefin, Finepoint, Hotcam, New Day, Procam, Pro Motion, Pro Vision, Run Hire, S+O, Shift 4, Shooting Partners, The Kit Room, Video Europe, Visual Impact, VMI

Hired for
Notting Hill Carnival (Finepoint) Take Me Out, Ex On The Beach, Not Rocket Science (Hotcam) Mysteries at the Museum (Bluefin) Gino’s Italian Escape, Hospital, Tales from Northumberland, Sam Faiers: The Mummy Diaries, Inside Britain’s Railways, Paul O’Grady: For the Love of Dogs, Katie Price’s Pony Club (ProVision) Alternative Cuba and Egypt Specials, corporates (Bluefin) All Round to Mrs Brown’s (New Day Pictures) Sex Pod (Run VT) Nick Kicks, Educating Joey Essex, Through The Keyhole, Don’t Tell the Bride, FIFA promo spots (S+O Media) Hunted 2, Bizarre ER (Shooting Partners) Heathrow: Britain’s Busiest Airport, Young, Gifted and Classical, Sean Conway: On the Edge (The Kit Room) Hairy Bikers, Bradley Wiggins, The Gadget Show, Fake, Falcon Force (VI Rental) 100% Hotter, Child Genius, Game of Clones (Pro Motion) Planet Earth: Mountains (VMI) Inside the Factory ( Let It Shine, Celebs Go Dating, Rookies, Motorheads, Food Unwrapped (Procam)

The FS7 has been a big hit for Sony since its launch, putting Sony back to the front and centre of the mainstream factual market. Rosemary Hill at The Kit Room describes it as “truly the camera of the year for the factual market. The fact that people can easily use their existing EF lenses, the internal slow-mo and better ergonomics mean it has really taken off for factual, docs and current affairs filmmakers.”

Olly Wiggins at S+O says the camera has become very popular with entertainment work too and “also very popular as a second camera to accompany the F5 and F55. Its versatility with mount options, frame rates and its small size have secured its application across a wide gamut of work.”

Josh Portwine at Shooting Partners, says that one of the key drivers of its popularity has been the “ergonomics of the camera. Whilst the C300 remains a quality camera and is still an industry work horse, you need a shoulder mount to comfortably shoot with it. The longer body and monocular feature of the FS7, combined with the ability to add v-lock batteries (via the XDCA adaptor) all combine to make a well-balanced camera.” New Day’s Brad Day points to the FS7 as a “lightweight” camera that has the added advantage of being “easy to operate and suitable for most productions. It also has 4k internal recording.”

Bob Mann at says 2017’s absence of the World Cup and the Olympics means broadcasters will need a lot more content and “the Sony FS7 will go from strength to strength to help fill the demand for this.” But, says Simon Hotchkin at Run Hire, the FS7 could now become a less popular hire camera. “Due to its reduction in price, more and more of our clients are buying the FS7 as an investment instead of hiring it out.”

2 Canon C300

Average Day Rate £140
position last year 1st

hired from, Bluefin, Hotcam, New Day, Pro Motion, Pro Vision, Run Hire, S+O, Shooting Partners, The Kit Room, Visual Impact, VMI, Procam

hired for
The X Factor, Ex On The Beach, Celebs Go Dating, First Dates (Hotcam) Fortitude doc (New Day Pictures) Nightmare Neighbours, First Dates, Operation Gold Rush (Pro Motion) Dance, Dance Dance VTs, Piers Morgan, Exposure (ProVision) Watchdog, Pretty Little Pageant Queens, Sex Pod (Run VT) Swim The Channel, Very British Problems (S+O Media) Great British Railways, The Mosque (Shooting Partners) American Justice, Dispatches: The Great Benefits Rows (The Kit Room) Sewing Bee, Eat Well for Less, Muslims Like Us (VI Rental) Saving Lives at Sea (VMI) Mysteries at the Museum (Bluefin) Question Jury, The Jump, The Stunt, Ancient Assassin, The Real Story, The Hot Seat, Selling Houses (Procam)

Despite the emergence of the C300 mk2 and the FS7, the C300 is still hugely popular. “It’s still pulling its weight,” says The Kit Room’s Rosemary Hill. “A camera we all know and love.”

3 Arri Alexa Mini
Average Day Rate £444
position last year 10

hired from
247, No Drama, Procam, 
Pro Motion, Pro Vision, S+O, Shift 4, 
Video Europe

Hired for
Warp Films’ Ghost Stories, Smuggler’s British Army ad, Beautiful Productions’ Umbro Velocita ad (No Drama) Boots Beauty TVC, Crackanory, Drunk History, Jamie and Jimmy’s Friday Night Feast, Charlie Brooker’s Yearly Wipe (S+O Media)  live music events, commercials (Pro Motion) Troy, Izzy Bizu promo, Sky: Sports & News (Procam)

The Alexa Mini has shot up the chart this year, in part due to its ability to give the Alexa look for a low daily rate. “It’s on 90% of camera lists for commercials,” says No Drama’s James Jones. “Arri have completely nailed it, as long as you accessorise it with the right kit it covers you for almost every situation.” It’s the camera’s small size that makes it a winner too. “Whether it’s with the use of gimbals or filming in confined spaces. The camera allows you to achieve shots that you wouldn’t be able to get with a larger camera,” says S+O’s Wiggins.

4 Arri Amira
Average Day Rate £356
position last year 3rd

hired from
Procam, Pro Motion, S+O, 
Shift 4, Video Europe, VMI, 
Visual Impact

hired for
Witless, Drunk History, Jamie Oliver’s Superfood, Jamie and Jimmy’s Friday Night Feast, Cunk on Christmas (S+O Media) Elephant Family and Me, Travelman (Vi Rental)live music events, feature doc (Pro Motion) Josh II, Man Down III (VMI) Made In Chelsea, Needles and Pins, SAS, 12 Days of Christmas (Procam)

The Arri Amira is going from strength to strength at the high end, says Shift 4 md, Alex Thompson. “2016 has seen the Amira continue to dominate the higher end work.” As 4K continues to bed in, its popularity has come about “not only because of the price point, but the lens flexibility and quality of image too.” Similarly, Olly Wiggins at S+O points to the Amira’s popularity in drama and ads. “The camera is still so popular due to the images it can produce and its versatility across a whole range of applications.”

5 Sony PMW-F55

Average Day Rate £263
position last year 6th

hired from

247, Bluefin, HotCam, New Day, Pro Motion, Procam, Pro Vision, Shift 4, Visual Impact

hired for
The Voice, TOWIE, BGT, Saturday Night Takeaway (Hotcam) Top Gear (New Day) King Tutankhamen (Bluefin) Gino’s Italian Escape, Hat Hair (ProVision) Portrait Artist of the Year, Ladies of London, All at Sea, Twisted Tales, The Big Picture (Procam)

6 Canon XF-305

Average Day Rate £102
position last year 9th

hired from

HotCam, Run Hire, 
The Kit Room

hired for
Britain’s Got Talent, First Dates, Celebs Go Dating, The Voice Kids (Hotcam) Diva Brides, Britain’s Horror Homes,
Baby Faced Brides/Mums (Run VT)

7 Canon C300 mk2

Average Day Rate £188
position last year n/a

hired from

Finepoint, No Drama, S+O, Shift 4, The Kit Room, VMI

hired for
MOBO Awards, London Food Festival (Finepoint) Car Share, Maker Projects, Interxion (No Drama) Duck Quacks Don’t Echo VTs, McDonalds - Good Times TVC (S+O) Women Who Kill (The Kit Room) Febreze commercial (VMI) The Last Miners (

8 Arri Alexa
Average Day Rate £538
position last year 4th

hired from

Finepoint, Pro Vision, Video Europe, VMI

hired for
Red Bull Freestyle Football (Finepoint) Bentley Productions’ Midsomer Murders, Hillbilly Films’ The Level (VMI)

9 Sony PDW-f800
Average Day Rate £258
position last year 4th

hired from

Finepoint, HotCam

hired for
FA Cup, Premiership Rugby (Finepoint);
The X Factor, BGT, Take Me Out, TOWIE (Hotcam)

10 Red Dragon
Average Day Rate £582
position last year 7th

hired from

New Day, No Drama, Visual Impact

hired for
GBA (New Day); Loki Productions, Bentley ad; Nomad Films, Nissan ad, (No Drama); Changing World, Wild West (VI Rental)

Planned investments next 12 months
247 Arri Amira, Arri Alexa Mini, Sony FS7, Canon C300 mk2, Sony A7S Mk2, Canon 5D Mk4

BlueFin TV
Canon C300 Mk2, Sony FS7, Sony F55

Finepoint Canon C300, Sony HDC4300, Sony FS7

New Day Pictures Arri Alexa Mini, Canon C700, Sony FS7 Mk2

No Drama Alexa Mini, Red Weapon

Procam Arri Alexa SXT, RED Helium, Sony FS-5

Pro Motion hire Arri Amira, Canon C300 Mk2, Sony FS7, Sony FS7 Mk2

Pro Vision Arri Alexa Mini, Sony A7S Mk2, Sony FS7 Mk2

Run Hire Sony FS7

S+O Canon C700, Sony FS7 Mk2

Shift 4 Arri Amira, Arri Alexa Mini, Canon C300 Mk2, Canon C700, Sony A7S Mk2, Sony FS7, Sony FS7 Mk2

Shooting Partners Canon C300 Mk2

The Kit Room Arri Alexa Mini, Canon C700, Sony FS7 Mk2

Video Europe Sony HDC 4300, Sony FS7 Mk2, Red Raven

Visual Impact Red Weapon Helium 8k

VMI Arri Alexa Mini, Canon C300 Mk2, Canon ME20F-SH, Panasonic VLT, Red Epic W

At the beginning of the year, Televisual sent survey forms to a wide range of camera hire companies, both large and small. Each was asked to list their five most rented cameras of 2016, along with the percentage of hires each model received. An overall ranking of the UK’s most rented models was then created by multiplying the average percentage usage of each model by how many hire companies listed it in their top five. Many thanks to the hire companies who took part.

This artice is taken from the February edition of Televisual. To subscribe, visit

Posted 02 March 2017 by Jon Creamer

The art of the drama grade

Drama report: The grade provides a stylish and consistent ‘look’ to a drama, but a great grade can enhance mood, focus and narrative flow. Jon Creamer asks the experts

Simone Grattarola
Time Based Arts
War and Peace, Peaky Blinders, Black Mirror: White Christmas, Marvellous, War Book

Because we’re more of a commercials facility we tend to get involved in TV dramas when they’re being made by a director or director of photography that knows us. So because I have that close relationship with them already I’m often involved quite early in the process at the point of doing camera tests. So we’ll contribute at an early stage with references and creating LUTs [Lookup tables]. The DoP will ask my advice on things like what the resolution is like on a particular camera when you make it more ‘contrasty’? Is it still holding up? is there detail in the highlights? Essentially they are trusting your eyes as well as their own. You become part of their camera department.

We’ll spend a day grading a 60-second commercial and we’ll only get two days to grade a 60-minute programme for broadcast. But I can bring some of the attention to detail that is involved with commercial grading to longer form work. You have to temper it though because the budget isn’t there all the time in the broadcast work and you have to work at a faster pace than in commercials. Also television drama is narrative driven, you’re not crafting a look from every single frame. People appreciate that it’s a moving image. Also, it’s often been crafted more by the lighting cameraman on set. On Peaky Blinders, for instance, it’s beautifully crafted already so you’re standing on the shoulders of giants on a show like that. It is all in the lighting so you’re an enhancer as much as anything. On War and Peace there were a lot more set ups and a lot more exterior daytime shots so I was contributing more on that. I have a relationship with (DoP) George Steel so he would send me stills during shooting. That meant that we had quite a firm idea of what we wanted before we got into the nuts and bolts of the grade.

You have to have a bit more empathy when you approach long form grading. You have to position yourself as an audience member. We have a projection suite as well now and we look at that as well as the monitor. It gives us a different way of looking at the drama on a larger canvas.

What makes a good grade is being prepared and being involved early on in the process. You prepare well so that when you come to the work you bring your ideas but you don’t necessarily run with just one idea, you try things and you experiment. I like to try to build in a day before the actual grade for a playtime grade. For me that prep allows me to be instinctive in the grade itself. In commercials you’re sat down in front of the client and you’ve got to pull something out of the hat in an hour or two. You can’t do that in broadcast work. You have to be well prepared. That building block is essential. From then on you’re using your experience and appreciating the subject matter and appreciating subtlety.

To be a good colourist you have got to be a good listener and a good interpreter of other people’s visions whilst also having one yourself. There’s an art in interpreting other people’s visions. Also, when I’m teaching assistants I always teach them that grading is also about being able to match things, to be able to analyse reference frames and be an amazing mimic. You have to understand what is in that particular frame: What colours are there in the blacks? What colours are there in the highlights? What the skin tone is doing in that shot and how do I match it to the next shot? You need to have the ability to analyse all those things really quickly as well but that takes a lot of experience. The more work you do the better you get.

Paul Staples
Humans, Broadchurch, Ripper Street, Mr Selfridge, Murdered By My Boyfriend, The Suspicions of Mr Whicher

I very much enjoy being involved in the creative process from the beginning and generally, being engaged from the pre-production stage onwards is a successful way to work. The DP and/or director will shoot camera tests prior to production filming. Along with this test footage, they will share with me stills from films, fine art, and photographs that act as a mood board. This gives me a sense of what they are aiming for and informs the look I develop as I get to work on the test footage. Sometimes the look will come in our first session together, otherwise the DP and I will continue to work on it as the series moves in to production. Whilst shooting the DP and I will share shots and feedback and continue to develop the look until we reach and hopefully even surpass his vision for the project.

Principally I listen to what the client is trying to achieve and enable it. So much of our job is listening and engaging with a creative dialogue surrounding colour and aesthetics and drawing out the vision of the filmmaker. To do so, I may offer ideas and suggestions but ultimately I do feel strongly that we are here to enable the filmmaker’s vision, not swamp it.

The first stage is establishing a general look that we are happy with. Then we will spot through the episode, getting a better feel for the show. I’ll then go back and start to fine tune. I then tend to work in a linear way, getting each scene and shot as I want it before progressing. However, going back to a shot or scene several times is also common. I wouldn’t suggest that there are too many hard rules in reference to process, I think it’s just that the way you are taught stays with you.

I feel that I work quite instinctively but that has been primed by a lifetime of visual study. I studied photography and just loved being in the darkroom. Moving in to grading was a very natural extension of that training. Of course you continue to absorb and analyse. My clients also keep me primed as to the shows to watch out for.

A key question is if the grade will need to reflect a change of period during the series. Recently I graded Undercover for the BBC. The series included flashbacks, however there was also a whole episode that was in flashback. It was vital that I knew this as it would massively inform the grade. The look of the flashback sequences had to be different enough for the audience to register that they were in different period but as an entire episode would be in flashback, the look also had to be not too distracting resulting in it becoming tiring to watch.

To become a good colourist you need a combination of both hard and soft skills. I’d say a good pair of ears and the ability to pick up on non-verbal communication are essential. You need to have the ability to read between the lines and understand what the client is asking for even if they may not be asking for it in technically literal terms. Also of importance, is the ability to deliver a grade that wouldn’t perhaps adhere to your first instincts but is one that suits the piece.

Gareth Spensley
The Tunnel, The Durrells in Corfu, Doctor Who, London Spy, The A Word

I always try and get involved in a project during prep. At the prep stage we’re often initially talking about base LUTs for a show, general concepts of contrast, saturation, tints and tones. On most of the larger budget projects we’ve had a dailies colourist or an experienced DIT doing a leveling pass through the rushes so they are the ones worrying about any exposure shifts; such as from sunny to overcast takes. 

The real starting point of the final grade for me is when I sit down to watch the offline edit. I generally try to let this be the first time I see the narrative run through in its entirety. I’m looking to see where the rushes are working and where I feel I can help the flow of the story. This is my first view and I try to hold on to any ideas I form about characters and plot points; instances like important lines of dialogue where my eye took a while to find the speaking character in a wide shot. This is my chance to establish when I think background details like windows and lamps are adding depth or becoming distracting. I’ll use these thoughts later when I’m in the grade to shift the emphasis from the backgrounds to the characters.

The brief from the director and DoP can take the form of a purely technical conversation or set of notes, or it may range to detailed creative references and swapping of mood boards. I believe in thorough testing and grade setup time. Creating a ‘look bible’ on selected scenes can be invaluable in focusing the production before we commit our efforts to grading a long running series. Allowing everyone in the process to take a copy of the test scenes away to watch over a few weeks really helps make sure the final grade will go smoothly.

I believe in doing several passes of the grade. I find a brisk first pass based on instincts often yields a great starting point. Then I like to watch this through and decide what’s flowing or what is jumping out, adding layers of secondaries in subsequent passes once I have a solid base grade. At this stage I’ll be looking to get the director and DoPs detailed notes on where we’re at. I often prefer to do this in run time rather than in a stop start manner. For me it’s about assessing the grade as a viewer rather than falling into the trap of over analysing a still frame.
It’s about consistency - anyone with an interest in Photoshop can make a single image look great. The toughest part of the job is taking a “look” and imparting that creative idea to all the locations and setups in a narrative.
For The Tunnel we found a great look for low-light interiors that needed some careful consideration when adapting it to a bright, sunny exteriors. This becomes trickier on multi-part series that may be shooting across seasons and we’re often asked to lock down a look while the series is still being shot.

Great grades come from collaboration. I think the best grades I’ve been involved in come from good production design, good costume choices and great photography. 

Posted 15 December 2016 by Jon Creamer

True colours: delivering in HDR

High Dynamic Range offers incredible creative possibilities for filmmakers but, at this stage, few have delivered an HDR project. Jon Creamer talks to some of those that have about their experiences with the medium so far

High Dynamic Range content allows filmmakers to show the world on the screen almost as the human eye sees it in real life, with vibrant colours, dazzling light  and incredible detail. Right now though, HDR content that the viewing public can tap into is fairly limited. Amazon and Netflix are broadcasting a selection of shows in full HDR glory, Blu-ray is another outlet and the BBC, Sky and BT are all experimenting with HDR. HDR content will ramp up, but at the moment very few producers and post producers have been asked to deliver in HDR. Those that have often become cheerleaders for the medium, describing it as a step change from SDR. We’ve asked a selection of production pros how they’ve approached HDR so far.

Planet Earth 2

Bristol’s Films@59 delivered the SDR version of the BBC’s epic Planet Earth II series and was also asked to deliver an HDR version of the programme. Post producer Miles Hall and inhouse colourist Christian Short explain how they did it

What were you asked for?
MH The decision to deliver in HDR was taken relatively late in the day which meant we had to think carefully about the workflow as the series was predominantly an SDR delivery. We had to adopt the HLG standard which is the BBC and NHK devised Hybrid Log Gamma rather than using a Dolby PQ or Dolby Vision method.

What did the grade have to achieve?
CS The SDR version was graded by Adam Inglis and the key thing was to make sure the original grade translated through into the HDR grade while using as much of the ‘HDR-ness’ of some of the imagery to make those shots pop. Some scenes are shot in flat light and some are in dappled light under forest canopies and so on. We could achieve an overall lifting on the flatter light stuff but the stuff that was shot in HDR-centric environments really did pop and we could play with masking areas to bring certain highlights out. It’s the first HDR experience we’ve had. We’ve done a lot of tests and seen a lot of examples but we were feeling our way on the first programmes. Certain scenes you can do a lot with, others you just lift them and bring them into HDR space

What was different about working in HDR?
CS From my perspective, the environment I’m working in now has to have much brighter ambient lighting than it would do if I was grading in SDR. Frequent eye breaks are needed too because it is super bright and it does fatigue you. You feel smashed at the end of the day compared to grading in SDR though I imagine if I was grading in HDR all the time I’d get used to the muscle strain. Also, when you’re grading an HDR version and then grading something in SDR, as a colourist you need a good clear day to reset your eyes. It’s a good idea not to bolt those sessions back to back.
MH What’s tricky is when you go from the HDR to the SDR version, it’s a bit of a let down. That’s something for producers and post producers to get their heads around because when something looks amazing in HDR, when you come back to it in SDR you might think it’s a bit disappointing.

What needs to be thought about beforehand?
MH You need to plan your workflow carefully and talk to your post house about what the deliverable is because there is more than one flavor of HDR. There might be more than one HDR deliverable so while you might deliver HLG through the BBC, when you go to Blu-ray they might require PQ, so there are additional processes you might have to go through to transform your HDR between standards. You will have to repeat processes. We’re working very hard to try to establish a workflow that will minimise the repeating of vfx work and so on. Noise reduction is very important when delivering in UHD, not just HDR. What you can get away with in SDR HD is a lot more than you can in UHD HDR. There’s definitely an uplift on top of the SDR version, at the bare minimum you have to grade for the HDR. It’s not something you can do as an after thought.

Ex Machina

Molinare colourist Asa Shoul created the original grade for Ex Machina and returned this year to grade the film in HDR

What was the brief?
To recreate the film in 4K and to reflect the original graded look and feel as closely as possible. Creatively we needed to represent the original film but, in 4K, there were several scenes that lost the key characteristics of look and feel when using the original grade settings.  We revisited these, taking advantage of the wider range of colour space and contrast to deliver the original look and feel but taking it to a new level. We were conscious of the danger that all our options might accidentally lead to a completely new look, however to avoid this we constantly referred to the original material.  On a standard Rec709 monitor we had the original grade so that we could use this as reference when doing the HDR.

What was the creative upside of HDR?
HDR offers greater freedom and choice in the creative process.  The opportunity to highlight key sections of the image, bring greater depth of field, underpin the emotion and excitement of sequences is even greater.  We can achieve even more during post production than before.  However, used unwisely, HDR can be unforgiving. Its power needs to be harnessed. There is a danger of overwhelming the viewer, thus losing the creative intent but, with sensitive use and a creatively controlled approach, it offers fantastic new creative choices.

Did any scenes really lend themselves to HDR?
In the scenes where there was a power cut and the red safety lights came on,  when grading in P3 and Rec709, we found that the saturation of the red was never quite as rich as we would like, whereas in HDR it was stunningly rich and vibrant.  Also because of the extended greens in Rec2020 (HDR) exterior forest scenes took on a more realistic quality, transporting you to that environment.

What advice would you give to others working in HDR?
HDR offers real creative opportunities but it can be too powerful. The enhanced colour and contrast offer so much more for storytelling.  However it needs to be used with care. DoPs and colourists need to fully understand what it offers and apply their experience to harness the capabilities in a measured and creative way. With both a creative instinct and a technical understanding these tools offer fantastic freedom in post for filmmakers.

Company 3

Company 3 colourist Greg Fisher on the HDR delivery for DaVinci Code sequel, Inferno

What was your approach to delivering in HDR?
I was actually a little wary of HDR before actually trying to grade it. The first demos I had seen were basically just the same images, but brighter, so I wasn’t too impressed. Today I think it is understood that you are trying to deliver more dynamic range but maintain an image suitable for its display scenario, which is what I found worked well whilst grading Inferno. In terms of my workflow, I would first use DaVinci Resolve to make sure that the HDR frames appeared similar to the SDR version. I then used Resolve’s grading tools, including log grade, highlight and soft clip controls, to carefully control the roll off. Ultimately, this made the images much more lifelike, with a significant improvement in sharpness despite no change in pixel resolution or file size.
Are there any scenes that really lent themselves to HDR?
The first time we meet the lead, he is in hospital,  disorientated, confused and suffering from amnesia. This is emphasised by lights flickering on and off while he’s in his bed. When watching on the 4000 Nit Pulsar monitor, you actually feel the heat of the flashes in your eye and your iris playing catchup. This puts the audience with him in his state of mind to a far greater extent than is normally possible.
What advice would you give other colourists?
Embrace it. Real black in a cinema is a revelation, as is the extra sharpness. It feels like a significant progression.

Various film projects

Technicolor’s senior supervising colourist, Peter Doyle has delivered features in HDR including Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

What do you need to look out for when working in HDR?
Poor image processing techniques and “dirty” LUTs and transforms are exposed to a much greater degree in HDR. Noise and grain take on a less attractive sensibility, it’s not so easy to hide a less than perfect key or colour separation behind grain. LUT and transforms need to be as wide and deep as possible.

What do you have to think about when delivering in HDR?
Does one reproduce the Rec709 grade on a HDR monitor, or do you take advantage of the extended dynamic range and colour gamut? Does the original photography have the dynamic range to justify opening up the contrast ratio? When grading on a 14 F/L xenon what was felt to be a compromise from a dynamic range stance and should HDR be used to put it back?
What are the difficulties you encounter? Locking down display device specifications and coordination between the various studios differing specs and requirements creatively…it’s always about maintaining the patina and look of the 14 F/L xenon grade. This takes more than a LUT and trimming the colour. It’s about reproducing the flare, cross-colour distortions and the very experience of seeing an image reflected on a white screen to an image reproduced by an light emitting device.

What’s the creative upside of HDR?
Greater dynamic range and colour gamut and finally getting away from Rec709. 709 has served us well, but it had its issues, that have become an accepted look. To be able to take your DCI XYZ grade and reproduce in rec 2020 for a video deliverable is almost an epiphany.
HDR is not just a technology, it’s a toolset for the creatives.Skin tones stay intact, specular’s and highlight modeling are reproduced without compromise. Indeed there is a subtlety returned to the reproduction of the lighting that’s fantastic. It gives great access to performance. Delicate reflections and colour hues can be displayed without needing the sledge hammer that’s needed for Rec 709.

The Look

The Look colourist Thomas Urbye graded BBC3 and Amazon sitcom Fleabag which also had to be delivered in HDR

As the vast majority of the audience will be seeing Fleabag in SDR it was important to me and DP Tony Miller that we got sign off in Rec709 on each episode. We then moved on to the HDR version where I was trusted to keep the integrity of the image intact. The whole series was shot on the Arri Alexa in ProRes 444 at 2880x2160 with anamorphic lenses and the entire workflow was maintained at this resolution.
Once the SDR version was signed off our attention moved to the HDR versions.  Amazon had specced Rec2020/2084 (PQ) and we were told to use the Sony BVM X300 monitor in UHD.  Thankfully the Quantel Rio uses transfer curves at 16bit float to move you from the Rec709 colour space in to Rec2020 & PQ and the image and grade is essentially maintained. However, at this stage, any clamping on highlights and colour saturation is released and the image visually comes alive in highlight areas. Detail that was formerly lacking outside windows and in bulbs suddenly takes on real shape and even skin tones seem to have a new sense of life about them. I had a Sony OLED in Rec709 showing me the episode in SDR and then simultaneously on the Sony BVM X300, the HDR grade. It was important to me that I maintained the same feel in HDR and to not fall in to the trap of pushing contrast or over-saturating the image.  Contrast ratios do increase by the nature of the highlights being unclamped in PQ, so care has to be taken that mid tones in the image are lifted slightly to create the same visual intention.

Posted 13 December 2016 by Jon Creamer

The Christmas ads: who's made what?

All the big brands have now released their Christmas spectaculars and, as usual, very little expense has been spared. Here’s a quick rundown of the biggest ads and who directed, produced and post produced them.

The big focus at this time of year is always on the John Lewis offering and the retailer’s agency Adam & Eve/DDB brought back Blink’s Dougal Wilson to direct his fourth Christmas spot for the brand. Buster The Boxer and his animal chums were created by MPC with Jean Clement Soret providing the grade.

Sainsbury’s stop frame spectacular The Greatest Gift, set to a song written by Flight of the Conchords’ Bret McKenzie and sung by James Corden, was ordered through Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO and was directed by Sam Fell and an army of animators at Passion. The puppets were made by Mackinnon and Saunders of course.

Marks and Spencer’s cinematic effort was directed by The King’s Speech and The Danish Girl director Tom Hooper of Smuggler. Post was at The Mill with Seamus O’Kane the colourist, The Quarry’s Paul Watts cut the spot and the score was composed by Rachel Portman.

Waitrose’s tale of a returning Robin was directed by Rogue’s Sam Brown with post-production by The Mill. The agency was Adam & Eve/DDB.

Aldi’s animated Kevin the Carrot ad was directed by Todd Mueller and Kylie Matulick at Psyop/Stink through McCannUK. John Mayes at Marshall Street cut the ad

Argos went with a team of iceskating Yetis this time. The ad was directed by Caviar’s Henry Scholfield through CHI. Electric Theatre Collective provided post.

Burberry has really gone for a big screen treatment with The tale of Thomas Burberry with a cast including Sienna Miller, Lily James, Dominic West and Domhnall Gleeson. It was directed by Asif Kapadia at production house Black Label and posted at The Mill.

TK Maxx brought in Andreas Nilsson of Biscuit Filmworks to direct The Sing Song in which a family bash out an a capella version of The Pulp Fiction theme. Electric Theatre Collective took on the post production. Ben Campbell at Cut and Run edited the ad.

Posted 14 November 2016 by Jon Creamer

Interview: Dimitri Doganis of Raw TV

Best known for its factual output, Raw TV’s latest is a big budget 
US drama. but, Dimitri Doganis tells Jon Creamer, story is just story

At the time of this interview, Raw TV’s founder Dimitri Doganis is ensconced at Molinare putting the finishing touches to Harley and the Davidsons, a three part drama about the founding fathers of iconic American motorcycle brand, Harley Davidson for Raw’s parent company Discovery.

It’s Raw TV’s biggest scripted show by far and a big budget drama bet for an indie perhaps best known for its long running factual shows like Gold Rush.

But it’s not so much of a leap, says Doganis. “This is our first big US mini series but we have done one-offs in the UK” including Cyberbully starring Game of Thrones’ Maisie Williams as well as drama/doc hybrids like Blackout. “And we have a significant film slate in the wake of The Imposter [Raw’s successful theatrical doc).”

But there was still a lot to grasp, he says. “For me personally it has been a fantastic learning curve. What we did of course was find and partner with really great experienced people to make sure that learning curve wasn’t at the expense of the project itself.”

Whether it’s factual or drama or something in between “story is story,” he says. “What was the most powerful thing abou t the experience for me was that sense in which everything comes down to the strength of the story and the strength of the characters.”

Big budget drama, says Doganis, is just the next logical step for the now 15 year old company that was acquired by Discovery back in 2014. “Bart [Layton, Raw’s co founder] and I had always wanted to do it. We both come from factual and documentary backgrounds but that has never been the limit of our ambition.” And he says, a lot of Raw’s factual output is inspired by film. “We’ve take a lot of those ambitions and those sensibilities and applied it to factual storytelling.” Locked Up Abroad and The Imposter are examples. “It doesn’t feel like a leap into the unknown. It feels like the next step on a continuous journey and one which feels very natural.”

And inevitable given the huge wealth of stuff in the development bank. “Many of the projects we’re developing in the scripted space are based on true stories. After The Imposter we realised we had this huge repository of fantastic stories many of which been developed as possible factual programmes that could work in the scripted space. It has felt like a continuum of ideas generation and creative thought that really goes back to our very early days.”

And blurring the boundaries of genre is what Raw has always done, he says “We’ve always tried to ignore the artificial boundaries between genre” because “innovation comes from taking either people or methods from one discipline and applying them to another.”

The success of the company has come from resolutely following its creative rather than commercial nose, says Doganis. “Bart and I have never believed that you chase the money. We believe if you do good work the money should chase you. It’s almost a mental jujitsu you have to do. Running a production company requires you to live with financial risk as an ambient hum. We have always taken refuge in the notion that if you do great work there will be a way in which you can make a living from that. We have never done a project because we thought it would make us money.”

Even Gold Rush, now on episode 137 and counting, started as a way to tell the story of the death of the American dream after the financial meltdown of 2008, he says. “It grew in to something else because of the way we told the story but it didn’t start with ‘hey we should have a long running American reality TV series that would finance other things.’”

Risk is essential for success, says Doganis “partly because you never know where the next long running series is going to come from. You have to keep trying new things and taking risks otherwise you’re just rehashing old things. I’m not remotely interested in rehashing things other people have done before.”

And that means following the instincts of Raw’s staff rather than calculating what the market wants. “Trying to second guess broadcasters has not been a particularly good development strategy for us. What’s been more productive is finding stories we are passionate about and finding characters we are fascinated by. We can be a bit unworldly in that way.”

That’s despite Raw being part of a very large business since its acquisition by Discovery two years ago. But the Discovery deal has been a big positive says Doganis. Not least in aiding its move into drama. “They have trusted us with big projects like Harley and the Davidsons. They have been fantastic in being encouraging of our scripted ambitions” and importantly “The deal was shaped in a way that wasn’t driven by our profit margins, it was driven by the success of the shows we made and it enabled us to keep doing the thing we’d been doing since we set up which was to try to tell great stories about characters that feel relevant to an audience.”

Doganis started out in 24-hour TV news, as a producer and cameraman, going on to make current affairs shows and docs as a freelance producer and director for the BBC, C4 and C5. He set up Raw in 2001 with a small development deal from Channel 4. Initially he continued to direct docs alongside running the company but since 2004 he has concentrated on running Raw and exec-ing on much of Raw’s output including producing theatrical doc The Imposter. Raw’s shows include Banged Up Abroad, Race for the Whitehouse, Goldrush, Cyberbully and Blackout

Posted 15 September 2016 by Jon Creamer

DoP Ed Moore on creating a filmic look for Red Dwarf XI

Ed Moore was the DoP on the latest series of Red Dwarf and was charged with creating a sci fi movie look for a multicam sitcom

What did you want to do with the new series?
I grew up watching the show and always loved the dark, colourful sci-fi world it existed in. It looked like no other comedy show. I wanted to keep the DNA of those early series - my pitch to Doug [Naylor – producer, writer, director] was “let’s make it look like Aliens; but it just happens to have jokes”.

So a ‘big budget sci fi’ look rather than ‘studio sitcom’, how did you achieve this?
Sci-fi can be dark and moody and that’s not always at ease with the tendency in comedy to overlight performers – we tried to balance that out with some sequences being played almost in silhouette, whilst others felt brighter. Always keeping in mind that these characters inhabit a ship that’s millions of years old and mostly broken.

Production design and locations were critical too – designers Julian Fullalove and Keith Dunne did amazing work with our regular sets and the daunting task of producing new spaceships, bases, moons etc every week. We even built an entire 1920s American street set the length of the studio for one episode.

I was fortunate to have the amazing Trevelyan Oliver as my “A” camera operator who not only did phenomenal work on locations, but led a team of four operators on our live record nights. Shooting simultaneously with four cameras can be compromising in terms of getting the ideal shots as you’re constantly dodging each other and all the sound kit, but they found ways to keep the style going. There were some impressive Steadicam-style tracking shots performed with 150kg camera and pedestal reversing at high speed around labyrinthine spaceship corridors with a team of camera assistants frantically keeping the cables flowing...

What did you shoot on?
After testing several cameras, the Arri Alexa proved to capture the high saturation look with the least fuss. To make them work in a studio environment we had them on ‘TV studio’ style pedestals for quick repositioning and height adjustment, and every camera had a 24-290mm zoom so any camera could get any shot. On location we switched to Cooke 5i primes and had a Movi gimbal on standby for tracking shots.

What were your references?
I particularly looked at Red Dwarf’s 4th, 5th and 6th series (beautifully lit by John Pomphrey), along with a whole bunch of sci-fi. Aliens, Battlestar Galactica and various incarnations of Star Trek.
How did you use lighting? We needed to create a lot of different looks very swiftly, so I tried to use as many lights as possible with remotely controllable attributes.

I stole the fantastic lighting console programmer Ziggy Jacobs-Wyburn from the world of theatre and with a rig full of Arri Skypanels, Robe ColorSpots and over a kilometre of LED ribbon we were able to change the look of all our sets instantly.

It also enabled a bunch of effects for the inevitable red (and blue...) alerts which could be fired off live. We could play the same corridors as being on different decks by changing accent colours, and projected circulation fan effects gave a sense of churning movement throughout our ship.

I was well supported by Simon Roose and the team at Pinewood MBS lighting.

What technical challenges did you face?
The trickiest was keeping that low-key, backlight sci-fi look whilst shooting with four cameras. A really cool backlight on one camera is a horrible front light for a camera shooting in the other direction.

And with four leads constantly playing off each other whilst wandering the set you need to keep plenty of tricks up your sleeve to keep them in the right side of Stygian gloom...

Red Dwarf XI airs from 22 September, 9pm on Dave

Posted 15 September 2016 by Jon Creamer
Showing 9 - 16 Records Of 167

About this Author

  • Editor Of Televisual
  • Total Posts: 167

Recent Posts by This Author



Televisual Media UK Ltd 23 Golden Square, London, W1F 9JP
©2009 - 2017 Televisual. All rights reserved
Use of this website signifies your agreement to the Terms of Use | Disclaimer