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“Aibo (Partners): The Movie IV – Crisis in the Capital – 500,000 Hostages! Special Missions Unit – Final Decision” –Behind-the-Scenes– 03

Colorist: Soichi SATAKE

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※All videos are in Japanese

5. About the color grading of “Aibo (Partners): The Movie IV”

6. What is the movie texture in this 4K era?

New Global Approach – Aibo (Partners): The Movie IV

With the “Aibo (Partners)” franchise, I have only worked on the ones for theatrical release. When I worked on the first “Aibo (Partners): The Movie”, it was a film screening, and the main issue was how to create a film version without destroying the world created for the TV series. But it would be boring to translate this directly to the big screen, so I wanted to create a film that would carry more weight than that. This was when Mr. Aida gave me the data with all the shooting production information; this is unheard of for a cinematographer to do this. I thought I was dealing with a crazy cinematographer (laughs). And it was easy to see what aperture was used for each shot; it was incredibly detailed. And working with that information, I was able to understand Mr. Aida’s vision. Back then we used the Sony F900 at 8bit/Rec.709 data, and we could easily have gone with that without making any changes, but I decided to challenge and change the balance. It was the first time I’d ever worked with Mr. Aida, but when I showed my ideas to him, he liked them. For “Aibo (Partners)” we used Quantel Pablo for the first two movies, and with third and fourth movies we used Baselight EIGHT from Filmlight. In terms of color, I feel the scenes that take place in the Special Missions Unit room are the key scenes – and I used them for reference – they are consistently blue/grey. This is the case in the TV series as well, so in the first, second and third film versions, I was sure to use those tones. But I understand the plan for this latest one was to depart from that world a bit, so I changed it. For example, we used the complimentary color of orange to color the faces; the biggest change is that we used color to bring out the contrast. The TV series uses Rec.709, and when it’s for the movie we used Log. There were times when we tried to match the tone of the movie with that of the TV series. This time, if you look at the material, I thought it would be better to go with a different finish to what had been used previously, and I feel this has created a more filmic effect.

Using Glimmer to emphasize contrast highlights more effectively

I don’t think diffusion filters have been used until now, but we used Glimmer Glass for every scene of this movie, which gives the film a soft, velvety look. And when you do the color grading, this gives you more range when it comes time to darken the black tones. If you don’t have this, the black becomes oversaturated and the white becomes blown out, but thanks to the Glimmer Glass, there is diffusion between the dark and the medium shades, so there is some ranges between the shadows and highlights. The mid-range therefore has more ranges as well, so in the case where you want to create contrast, it is very effective. It’s also very effective when you have the source light coming from behind you rather than from its usual source.

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Predictions for the future of color workflows, and future of HDR, HFR and VR

I’ve done a few HDR mastering projects over the past two years, and my very first HDR project was Sony’s BVM-X300 HDR reel in 4K/60P for NAB 2015. I used Baselight ONE for this project, which at 2h30m was a very long project indeed.
HDR technology expanded the potential capability of displays as well as creativity, but it’s just one of the deliverable options right now. Eventually HDR will take over completely from SDR displays, and probably we will be mastering everything using HDR displays.
I think that HDR in conjunction with HFR and VR creates a good chemistry. I can imagine that with all those technologies, you can create very realistic images that you see as it’s actually happening in front of you. Maybe it’s not cinematic enough for some stories, but I think it’s going to be very entertaining.

2K grading

These days it is common for movie industry equipment to be 4K-compatible, and I mostly stick with 4K myself. So it had been a while since I’d worked in 2K, but truth be told, even when I use 4K materials, it results in a loss of resolution. In other words, the image often becomes grainy during the grading process. The reason for this is that 4K looks so clear, but many people feel that it isn’t suited to storytelling. They’ll tell you that you can see every little wrinkle, or the image is too vivid; it’s the difference between “the beauty of clarity” vs. “the beauty of the image.” Isn’t that what most people think? These days, film productions are back on the rise, and when it comes to digital productions, the old process of film development is positioned in terms of the color grading process.

Special Interview: from FilmLight LTD. (Jan. 2017)

Baselight PLUS package

・Can you give an introduction to Toei and Toei Digital Lab?

Toei as a company has distributed and produced feature films, TV content and animation since 1951. Toei has its own production departments and studios in Tokyo and Kyoto, which provide a wide range of service for films, TV shows and commercials.

Toei Digital Lab (DTL) is part of Toei Digital Centre in Toei Tokyo Studio, located in the West suburb of Tokyo. TDL was founded in 2010 and provides demanding digital post-production services such as DI, online finishing for TV content and sound services.

・How does Baselight fit into your workflow? How does content move around your facility? Do you share projects with other departments within your facilities?

We have one Baselight X and two Baselight ONE systems in our facility. They are all connected via a cloud network in conjunction with FLUX Store to share projects. Baselight X is situated in our grading suite for feature film projects, and we also use it as a finishing station.

The colour grading session is not only about colour and enhancing images; we also modify edits and the credit roll, fix VFX shots and composite. We use the Baselight ONE systems for dailies, TV shows and video deliverables.

Of course there are many things that could be done better in VFX or other software, and when that is the case then I outsource these tasks. But I prefer to keep everything happening in Baselight as much as possible, so I can have control when clients require some tweaks on project.

Baselight handles complex editorial tasks really well, such as multiple split screens, variable speed change, or credit movements, so colourists can offer editorial operations within Baselight in order to finalise a project.

・How did you make your start in colour?

I started my career as camera assistant on TV commercials and music videos in the early 2000s. As a camera assistant I used to attend the telecine sessions along with DoPs, and colourists always fascinated me, particularly how they were creating ‘looks’.

I joined Toei Labo Tech, which is TDL’s parent company, in 2005, and soon after I had joined the team I became an assistant to a colourist who was an ex-colour timer. I was lucky enough to learn from him – from film process to modern telecine at the same time – since he had a long experience in colour timing for theatrical films before he started to work as telecine colourist.

In my early stage as a colourist, I mainly worked on telecine for video deliverables and old classic films for digital remastering. As the Japanese film industry shifted its workflow towards digital intermediate, I was given a chance to learn and use the new digital colour grading system and I started to commit myself to DI colour grading.

・You are specialised in feature films, what draws you to these projects?

On most of my projects, I initially go through the entire film to get balance and bring out the “look” in order to provide clients with a good starting point before they come in. Even things like facelift, vignette, and sky replacements are done beforehand if necessary. I think this helps clients focus more deeply on the story telling from the day one of the session.

This approach has helped to build good relationships with many of my clients so far.

・Are some projects easier to colour than others?

I don’t think there are any projects that are easy to colour in general. Plus each project has its distinctive story and tastes. The expectations from the cinematographers also vary – regardless of the budget. It’s always challenging to achieve their views. Or sometimes I see shots so perfect already, that I leave them as they came in.

・What do your clients like most about what you can offer with Baselight?

I think they like the speed. I can provide a session without anyone having to wait for a long time to see the results in Baselight. Often I receive compliments on the grading speed. Baselight is powerful enough to handle complex tasks so quickly, such as sky replacement or facelift, which require blending layers with multiple shapes as well as tracking and keying.

Also viewing different shots side by side or even playing multiple scenes real-time simultaneously – this helps everyone to make fast decisions and sometimes even makes sessions entertaining.

Baselight with three UI monitors and Blackboard 2

・What do you like most about Baselight?

I enjoy Baselight’s flexibility and its straightforward colour management.
Colour management is a significant part of the DI workflow and sometimes it can be very tricky. Baselight can handle any colour spaces, and its Colour Space Journey helps me to understand my current colour path, and keeps me on track. I think Truelight Colour Spaces is the best colour management system in the market, which can easily handle any comprehensive technical demands.
Along with the ergonomic toolset, Baselight is the only system that offers me satisfaction for both productivity and creativity at same time.

・Could you describe how you handle complex grades with multiple layers?

For me, compositing is a very important aspect of colour grading. I often blend multiple stacks, mix them together and animate them if necessary, just as I would for compositing tasks such as sky replacements.

Baselight offers fine shape tools, but when the mask gets complicated I pass the rotoscoping tasks to our in-house roto artists and bring them into Baselight as an external matte. I often receive tonnes of external mattes in order to tweak every element of VFX shots. That’s when the Baselight stack gets piled up so high – sometimes it reaches nearly 100 layers.

I know a high-end DI system, which is only capable of handling around 20 cascades, even if the manufacturer claims that you can add unlimited numbers of layers…

But Baselight is really the only system that serves me this way and can handle 4K projects with multiple 4K inputs in one cut.

・What advice would you give to people interested in becoming a colourist?

Be a good adviser to cinematographers. Listen to them very carefully to better understand their ideas and vision. Colourists have to know the tools they are using very well and have the skills to translate creative ideas into images.

Always think about how to tell the story and take the audience on a journey.
Expand your knowledge of art and science. Have some hobby, enjoy your life and learn everything you can.

・Did a particular film inspire you along this path in entertainment?

I can’t think of one particular film, but I have definitely been influenced by films from Won Kar-wai, Luc Besson, Guy Ritchie, Quentin Tarantino and Tony Scott. I saw a lot of their movies when I was teenager.

・Where do you find inspiration?

In photography and nature. Michael Kenna, Miller Mobley, and Daido Moriyama are my favourite photographers and I’m often inspired by their work.

・If you had to pitch the Baselight grading system to your clients, what are the top three things you’d tell them?

Speed, creative toolset, and state of the art colour management.

・What is your favorite part of the job?

Colour grading is a very interesting job overall, you have to be technologist and creator at the same time. Bringing out creative ideas into visible images, using all the techniques you’ve learned, is very satisfying.

・What is your least favorite?

Having to sit in the dark indoors with no windows for the entire day.

・What do you do to de-stress from it all?

Spend time with my family and seeing my kids growing up definitely helps relieve some stress. I love commuting on a motorbike, breathing fresh air on the way back home.

To be honest, I don’t feel much stress from work. I just enjoy it very much.

Soichi SATAKE
Profile:Joined Toei Lab Tech in 2005. Experiencing of a telecine colorist, He became a DI color- ist since 2006. In 2010, when Toei Digital Centre was founded, he moved to Toei Digital Lab (TDL). Representatives Work: “Aibo (Partners): The Movie” (entire series), “Battle Royale 3D” (2010, Director: Kinji Fukasaku), “Tsuya no yoru” (2013, Director: Isao Yukisada), “Shield of Straw” (2013, Director: Takashi Miike) and more.