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GRIT ON THE ROAD

DIT Daniele Colombera experienced a new and gritty approach to the Wolverine franchise

 



DIT DANIELE COLOMBERA


Before DIT Daniele Colombera had the chance to meet with John Mathieson BSC, to discuss Logan, he assumed that like previous installments of the Wolverine franchise, the assignment would entail significant CGI and be shot mostly under controlled conditions on soundstages.

“When I met with John, I discovered that it was going to be a film on the road, filmed in real locations, and that was a nice surprise,” he says. “John’s no-frills approach was a breath of fresh air, designed to capture the locations and the rawness of the story without bringing in a Hollywood blockbuster look. I thought John’s plan was clever – to avoid artificial and sometime fragile light, and to work instead with negative fill and silks to sculpt the light we encountered at each location, with an emphasis on feeling the strong emotions of the characters. And it shows.”

The first night of shoot in New Mexico, the filmmakers wondered whether they had made the right decision. They were subjected to a blinding New Mexico sandstorm that destroyed most of the tents. But they kept shooting, and that footage appears in the final edit. That night set the tone for the entire shoot. Luckily, Colombera’s igloo-shaped DIT tent survived, with the help of three crew members holding it down with sandbags. “Blasts of hot, sandy air leaked into the tent, but John kept his British aplomb, and we got the shots,” says Colombera.



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Generally, conditions were not quite that extreme. But the majority of the film was done at night or in hot, desert exteriors. “John’s goal was to convey the uncomfortable experience of being in the desert,” says Colombera. “That meant a hot exposure, but my role was also to make sure we didn’t clip the highlights, and to optimise the exposure within the dynamic range of the camera. We were embracing nature without going against the nature of the camera. We were not shy about working in the upper level of the exposure. With the ALEXA, you can count on a smooth roll-off in the highlights, so it’s cinematic and there’s still information there that can be used in post and CGI.”

All the ALEXA ARRIRAW footage went through a pipeline designed by Colombera that included software he helped develop – Colorfront On-Set Live, the backbone of the Technicolor’s DP Lights 2 grading system. Express Metadata Dailies files included all camera metadata, ASC-CDL values, and uncompressed stills. The system allows him to see, share and send uncompressed still images with the grade applied on a shot-by-shot basis, which shows exactly Mathieson’s intent down the line.



“At the lab, the dailies operator could see exactly and compare CDL values and graded reference stills, which is great, because after a 16-hour day, the last thing you want when you get back to the hotel is a phone call from the lab about intentions,” says Colombera. “At some locations in New Mexico, we were pretty much off the grid.”

The script also called for some imagery captured furtively with a mobile phone camera. After testing, the filmmakers chose to shoot with a Canon FS20, a standard-definition consumer-grade camera. Other shots in the sequence required visual effects, and these were done with a Black Magic Pocket Cinema Camera and re-photographed with the Canon.

“John really wanted to feel the graininess and the realism,” says Colombera. “He wanted all those elements that make the images look amateur – chasing focus, erratic zooms, extended depth of field, auto-exposure and white balance. Normally, you shoot this kind of content with a professional camera, and then adapt it the way you want in post, but John didn’t want to cut corners. It looks great on the big screen, and even the VFX supervisor loved the effect.”

Colombera prefers to use Codex Vault on every project. Lately, that has included Deepwater Horizon, with director of photography Enrique Chediak ASC.

“One of the things Codex does right is to make it about efficiency,” he says. “Downloading doesn’t require hours – it required minutes. Nobody wants a two-hour download at the end of a long day – not the data manager, not the transportation captain, not the producer. It’s a domino effect. The generator needs to keep running. Even the lab gets the footage later. Those are real, practical considerations, and they have a real effect on the bottom line. And any other system will take three times as long.

 


“ONE OF THE THINGS CODEX DOES RIGHT IS TO MAKE IT ABOUT EFFICIENCY... DOWNLOADING DOESN’T REQUIRE HOURS – IT REQUIRED MINUTES”



With John Mathieson BSC, on the set of Logan

“I go with Codex Vault in part out of respect for the crew,” he says. “Everyone wants to go home at the end of a long day. But I also need to have a rock-solid, certified clone that was downloaded and QC’d with the Codex proprietary data workflow. And on this project as well as in others, my data manager left the camera truck at the same time as the rest of the camera department, or shortly thereafter. Nobody has to wait, and the time saved adds up over the course of the production.”

On Deepwater Horizon, speed was of the essence. “We shot some ARRIRAW Open Gate and ALEXA 65 on that project,” Colombera recalls. “Peter Berg is one of the fastest directors on the planet, so I thought the secret was to be fast. We had to be ready for any situation, with a lot of footage in a brief period of time. He does extensive coverage, often with long takes. We used the Vault, and we were able to send everything out very quickly and turn over the digital rolls. On a remote location, that’s even more important.”

About two months after release, Logan has earned half a billion dollars at the box office. Colombera is currently working on Avengers: Infinity War.








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