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Animation and Re-Animation: Company 3 Brings Tim Burton’s 'Frankenweenie' to Life

Company 3’s London office used DaVinci Resolve to color grade Disney’s 3D animated stop-motion feature Frankenweenie from director Tim Burton. After unexpectedly losing his dog, Sparky, young Victor harnesses the power of science to bring his best friend back to life, albeit with a few minor adjustments.

Surrounded by equipment in his attic lab, Young Victor (voiced by Charlie Tahan) attempts to bring his beloved dog Sparky back to life with lessons he learned about electricity from his science teacher, Mr. Rzykruski (voiced by Martin Landau).

Working with cinematographer Peter Zorg it was the job of Company 3 London colorist Rob Pizzey to create a look and feel for the film that would tell this story in Tim Burton’s distinctive style.

Although this was Pizzey’s first stop-motion film, it was not the first time he’d worked with either CG or Tim Burton. “Tim and Peter approached us in the summer of 2010 with a few early shots of Frankenweenie for a grade test. Our brief was to keep a strong contrast, good blacks and to make the characters stand out. From the outset Tim was very sure how the film should look. Once we captured that, it was our job to ensure that style was replicated in the 3D world, where the inherent light loss can ruin the look of a film.”

Grading in black and white presents unique challenges for color correction. Frankenweenie required some real sculpting to pull out specific areas of the frame and accentuate certain elements to tell the story. The auto tracking functions of DaVinci Resolve were essential in achieving this grade. In particular, Pizzey used DaVinci Resolve’s auto keyframing function for very difficult hand-animated shapes.

Frankenweenie director Tim Burton. Photo by Leah Gallo

“We had to be very careful with the contrast range, not push it too far. If you push too far, you can introduce strobing effects, which isn’t good. We had to hand-animate an awful lot of shapes on characters to make them stand out more. As the film is black and white, the characters’ costumes didn’t stand out as much as they would in a color film, and so we worked on creating different shades of grey to create better separation.

“We also spent a lot of time creating the LUT for film out. The final delivery was color negative to color print for a black and white job. As you can imagine, just a slight sway in the print and the film could look completely wrong. However, the LUT created by our technical department worked beautifully.”

“We graded the 2D version of the film first. Once that was signed off by Tim, the 3D data was delivered to Company 3. On some 3D films, one eye of the 3D is common to the 2D version, but that wasn’t the case on Frankenweenie, and so there were effectively three films to conform and grade: 2D, left eye and right eye. It was a big job and we had to make certain that nothing slipped through the net on any version.”

Frankenweenie is a fantastic film—Tim Burton at his very best. It is really amazing just how much emotion the characters convey using stop-frame animation. DaVinci Resolve truly brought the grade to life.”