”The Revenant” © 2016 20th Century Fox. Images courtesy of Technicolor

Art, tech, love: Finishing "The Revenant"

A Q+A with Technicolor’s Steve Scott

Last modification: 22 Feb, 2018
Duration
38 mins

Formal artistic training is what Oscar-winning finishing artist, Steve Scott touts as the foundation for his success. But, he says, it must be combined with empowering tools and collaborative relationships to make a film that endures.

Extolling its visionary cinematographer, an adherence to ‘origin’ artistic concepts, and a close working relationship with Autodesk, Scott discusses why The Revenant was the perfect culmination of everything this seasoned artist values most.


Tell us why you loved working with cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, ASC, AMC(Chivo), on ‘The Revenant.’

He’s one of the great artists of our time. With The Revenant, he had a particularly good idea of how he wanted the workflow to unfold. He knew he’d be shooting in the wilds of Canada, that he’d have very little control of lighting and so on, so he knew he’d need incredible support and actively sought our involvement early on. I love that. And he’s smart. He’d say, ‘I’m going to need all this roto, I just know,’ and he’d be right. He knew what time things would take. He’d say, 'Steve, you need to spend two days on this,' and I’d think, 'You’re crazy, I don’t need two to three days on this!' But I did.


"[Chivo] knew what time things would take. He’d say, 'Steve, you need to spend two days on this,' and I’d think, 'You’re crazy, I don’t need two days!' – but I did.



How did Josh Pines (VP, Imaging & Color Science
)
and Christian Zak (VP, Production Service Color Science) come into play?

Josh and Christian assisted and helped us to work out the Look Up Table (LUTs). We did lots of camera tests to see what was going to work and a lot pre-timing so they could explore where they wanted to be. It’s always fun for me is to see what works and what doesn’t – it provides a place to start. We’d sit and watch and they’d give us their philosophical take, and asked lots of questions beyond color, about mood, narrative and so on. The most important thing they did was to look at it early on a properly calibrated screen with the director, the DP and Chivo. They knew, very wisely, that the look needed to be established early on so that there’s a consensus and we’d all know what we were after. It meant we were essentially working on fished pieces together instead of everyone going off on their own then getting in the DI and deciding it doesn’t work.




All images: ”The Revenant” © 2016 20th Century Fox

 

"...we were rebalancing with good old dodging and burning, isolating areas to make them lighter or darker... Bringing that 'origin' photographic concept...was actually a very natural thing."



With the directive to make the footage look as though it was completely natural and untouched, how did you handle the many dark shots in this film?

We tried to push the boundaries to do the DI. We’d work with mattes, contouring them to Chivo’s liking using the digital source material he provided. We re-lit the bodies – adding the flicker when they’re sitting at the fire, for example, by going to another fire, emulating its flicker and applying it on the bright side of a face – which made for an entire animated movie on its own. It might be considered very cutting edge, and in a way it is, but at the same time, it’s a technique old as photography itself because we were rebalancing with good old dodging and burning, isolating areas to make them lighter or darker, or to add a vignette. Bringing that 'origin' photographic concept into the modern world by simply making articulated maps was actually a very natural thing. In the end, we had two movies, the one you see and an animated version you don’t.


All images: ”The Revenant” © 2016 20th Century Fox



You’re adamant that an artistic background is essential to the work you do. How was your artistic training useful here?

You have to know the rules and laws of perspective and reflectivity like the back of your hand. They serve as a map in your mind and you just know. Something might look funny about a particular shot – it happens all the time – and I spot it immediately and know how to fix it. It’s not that I’m a brilliant genius, but having experience creating realistic illustrations before computers has given me a skill set that’s irreplaceable. Everyone in our group has to have an art background, an ability to draw and render something realistically. There’s just no substitute for that knowledge.


What did you learn from this project?

To delegate responsibility, to trust the people you work with, and to invite collaboration. I would say, 'I have to do this or that in order to make this worthy of Chivo,' and then I’d hand it over to someone that I knew had a solid foundation to do it. Not everyone can do what we do but when you can work with people you trust, it’s a wonderful experience.


"Suddenly, experienced Flame artists have access to the color correction world that they didn’t have before, which means that there’s a wealth of talent that wasn’t there before. That’s huge."

 




As a Flame Premium user, what does Connected Color Workflow mean to you?

So much. In 2001, I started doing DI because I was used to using Flame, I knew and understood what an amazing tool that was. Then I got into Lustre and realized it was amazing for colorists because they’d never had those complex tools before. I wanted allof that. When you get right down to it, both Flame and Lustre are very advanced. They have it all between them, they just need to be brought together. Suddenly, experienced Flame artists have access to the color correction world that they didn’t have before, which means that there’s a wealth of talent that wasn’t there before. That’s huge.


Do you have a favorite feature?

Grouping is the one that makes my job so much easier. I have a lot of favorites, really. They’re like Christmas presents. I get excited about them.


What might our community find surprising about your experience on 'The Revenant?'

Probably that our relationship with Autodesk was so close – guerilla-style collaboration. People have the perception that Autodesk is a big enough ship that it doesn’t avoid icebergs but you’re actually quite nimble – you have a startup feel. You’re responsive, honest, and if there’s an issue, you take responsibility for it. You make it seem like you’re a new company but you’re not. We appreciate that.




Technicolor's Steve Scott
is a painter and illustrator who entered the digital effects field in its infancy, in 1991. His theatrical finishing credits include: ‘Captain America: Civil War;’ ‘The Jungle Book;’ ‘The Revenant;’ ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’ and ‘Birdman or (the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance).’ His theatrical VFX compositing credits include: ‘Titanic;’ ‘Apollo 13;’ ‘Interview with a Vampire’ and ‘Independence Day.’

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