Pixar designed Ratatouille to evoke a realistic sense of Paris in terms of color and surface textures and in the romance of the city. "When I joined the project, one of my goals was to get [the characters] out of the kitchen and show more of Paris," says director Brad Bird.
©Disney Enterprises, Inc. and Pixar Animation Studios. All Rights Reserved.
According to Tim Peeler, few constituencies are more devoted to the growth of digital cinema and the maturation of the digital intermediate process than the animation community. Peeler ought to know — animation people are his primary constituency. As a digital colorist at Technicolor Digital Intermediates, Burbank, Calif., Peeler has probably digitally color graded more animated features in the last several years than anyone — dating back to Disney's Tarzan in 1999, one of the first digital cinema releases. He recently performed digital color correction for the digital cinema and home entertainment versions of Shrek the Third, and at press time, he was working on Enchanted; doing tests for Bee Movie, which he expects to work on later this year (see sidebar on p. 18); starting The Simpsons Movie; and preparing for Beowulf.
Watch the exclusive video interview with Randy Thom on the making of Ratatouille at mixonline.com/video.
“[Tarzan] was the turning point,” Peeler says. “We were trying to do a full-blown digital cinema version, and it was the first time I had ever seen a digital projector. We did a test for Disney with an early [digital] projector in a telecine bay — this was just after [Texas Instruments] had come out with [DLP projector technology]. We had our color corrector panels on a folding table, with cables connected to a mainframe, and the projector behind us, and it was so loud we could barely hear each other talk. It was an interesting experience, but that wasn't all that long ago — less than 10 years. When you think how far we've come from that type of system to a full-blown DI for film and digital cinema in such a short time, it's pretty remarkable.
“Digital cinema has a real good fan base now with animators. They are seeing exactly what they want to see, and how they want to see it — the way they created it to be seen originally. The truth is, with the nature of CG films today, they can only get what they are trying to get digitally. The technology just isn't there in [a photochemical lab] to give animators what they are expecting today. Essentially [an Adobe] Photoshop session through the digital cinema format, they are getting the color correction they want, and then they expect to see that on the big screen. Pixar has gone that route; DreamWorks, Disney, Imageworks — just about everyone. It's not yet seamless, but [digital color timing] for these [animated] films is quicker, and gives filmmakers more options.”
Pixar led the way to drag CG films into the DI process, of course. According to Sharon Calahan, officially credited director of photography/lighting on Brad Bird's new movie, Ratatouille, the company was pursuing the DI agenda as far back as A Bug's Life (1998).
“In some ways, DI is a misnomer at Pixar because there is no intermediate step or scanning involved,” Calahan says. “We are working with our original digital source material directly and release printing off a direct recording of that.
“During the original Toy Story , there was no digital cinema back then, of course. So everything was output to film. We output each shot individually — splicing the negative together one shot at a time and doing color correction at the lab shot to shot. It was very painful. It would take us about two-and-a-half months making two shots that were meant to be identical look even close together, after they were filmed out months apart. The camera drifted; the lab drifted. It was very hard getting it all to look smooth.
“When A Bug's Life came along, we experimented with filming out some sequences in little bigger chunks if we could, and we did that a couple of times. The difference in color showed up immediately. We learned we could do a bigger chunk, and not do everything shot-to-shot. That gave us confidence that maybe we could film out entire sequences or even entire reels. That's when we came up with the idea of doing first-generation release prints — digital intermediates. Of course, we didn't have the tools to do it back then, but that became our goal, spearheaded by Bill Kinder, director of editorial and postproduction.”
Pixar then made strides on Toy Story 2 (1999) and Monsters, Inc. (2001), as the company figured out how to use embryonic inhouse color correction tools to make longer chunks of the movies consistent.
“After that was Finding Nemo , and that was the first film where we really decided to make a DI be our official goal,” she says. “Unfortunately, the deadline was such that we didn't have time to get first-generation prints out of it. But we did film out entire reels and do only minimal splicing, while doing a lot of inhouse color correction on [ancestral versions of Autodesk Lustre — 5D ColorFront, then Colossus]. But, at that point, there were technical problems that prevented us from digitally color-timing the entire movie — banding and stuff like that.
“So, The Incredibles  was the movie where we made it all happen for the first time using Lustre, and we were totally splice-free for that movie. We made first-generation prints. And that's what we have been doing ever since.”
There is still no single industry-standard process; proprietary tools, specific participants, and workflow details vary widely from facility to facility. Despite those issues, virtually all the purveyors of major CG movies these days are well entrenched in the DI process.
Indeed, when Shrek the Third wrapped too close to its release date to do a DI for the film version this year, the movie's production designer and official color guru, Guillaume Aretos, swore an oath to limit himself to the DI process in the future.
“We were modifying the movie until the very last second, completely against the wire,” Aretos says. “That left us with no time to do a DI [for the film release], but we did do it for the digital cinema version [with Peeler handling color-grading chores] and the DVD, and that gave us an opportunity to correct some things we couldn't get exactly right on the film version. But my preference would be to always do digital color timing in the future. That's because the digital color-timing process allows us to do some fairly drastic things. [For the digital cinema version], we changed time of day for three sequences by altering key light in all of them, for instance. Digitally, it was perfectly doable. We got it done in the lab [for the film version], but it was a lot more hazardous. And the truth is, the digital cinema version looks a bit different from the film version.”
Indeed, colorists on animated films face two driving objectives: to produce pristine color schemes that exactly match the filmmaker's vision and to have those colors consistently hold up on cinema screens across the globe. This has left the industry in an interesting transition period in which the visual impact of CG movies routinely varies from release format to release format and screen to screen.
This summer, several major CG animated films are hitting theaters, so millimeter caught up with the principal architects of the color schemes for three prominent ones — Ratatouille, Surf's Up, and Shrek the Third — to learn more about the process of designing, building, and executing complicated color palettes for such movies.
A major challenge in Ratatouille involved painstaking work to create old, cracked, and degraded textures that would believably depict the age of buildings and surfaces in Paris.
©Disney Enterprises, Inc. and Pixar Animation Studios. All Rights Reserved.
A rat in the kitchen
At Pixar, Sharon Calahan is a principal architect of the final lighting and color scheme for Ratatouille — hence the official credit of director of photography. She also served as the movie's colorist (working on a Lustre 3.1 system) so she was involved in the development of the color palette for the movie from its earliest development phase.
“Overall, I wanted the movie to have fat, rich colors and nice, warm tones — especially in the darks,” she says. “There are cool scenes, but overall, it's definitely a warm movie — warm and with nice detail in the darks.”
Pixar more or less followed the basic steps of having art directors design a color scheme; building a preliminary color script; creating color keys, or tone paintings, for major sequences to offer lighting artists a guide for applying those lighting schemes in 3D space; testing the imagery to determine how it would look when exhibited both digitally and on film; and then running it through a final color-grading session.
Watch the exclusive video interview with Randy Thom on the making of Ratatouille at mixonline.com/video.
“The color script is usually an early overview of some of the color arcs in the film and how they relate to the story,” Calahan says. “They tend to be stakes in the ground, but not something we are strictly locked into. For us, they are more for exploration, and then we'll move on in different directions. For Ratatouille, actually, we didn't even finish the color script because the story changed late in the game, and so we moved forward and concentrated on doing lighting studies instead.
“Then we do pastels — what other people might call color keys. Those are more direct to something specific like a scene or a shot. They more accurately reflect what the final image is like, in some cases, but in others, they are a jumping-off point. How many of them we do depends on the complexity of things, how much time we have, and who is on the show.
“Then comes lighting — the funnel through which other departments all come together — and after that, the rendering department takes the final data and renders the images and gets them delivered to image mastering, and that is where I do my color timing.”
Often, depending on the distribution plan for a particular film, that final color-grading session will be repeated more than once to create different versions for multiple release formats.
That last point is an important one, according to Calahan, who ran Ratatouille through multiple grades for several different output media. Calahan says she normally creates fundamental grading elements that can be shared or translated between media before delving into each version specifically.
“I'll do a global pass between all of them that would work for any output, and then I customize that for each specific medium,” she says. “But the point is, you want to make each version look as good as you can for that specific medium, rather than trying to make them all fit into one vanilla box. There is no one common denominator. They all get their own treatment. I am very lucky. Working in CG at Pixar, I do the color work for all output mediums. A live-action DP isn't always hired to supervise color.”
Calahan offers major kudos to Pixar's image mastering department for developing sophisticated tools to allow her to match her monitor (a NEC Multisync FP2141 SB) to film and other output media.
“We have excellent software named ‘Amethyst,’ developed inhouse specifically for color matching between our monitors and film, which obviously has a different color space than our monitors,” Calahan says. “We have sophisticated preview tools for how things translate to film — I can view on a digital projector a very close approximation of what film's color space looks like, and I color correct accordingly. But even before that preview, the software does a great job translating one color space to another, so I can make output images look as close as possible to original source material. That's a huge thing. Before we had any of these tools, back on Toy Story, we would have a beautiful blue on a monitor that looked fine, and then it would just go nuclear, absolutely crazy, on film. Brilliant green on the monitor would look like dead lettuce on film. We were always struggling to get colors to translate and look right. All of those problems have gone away with the work done by our development people.”
Pixar, of course, is not the only major studio with a sophisticated development program. That means, logically, everyone uses what Calahan calls “homegrown stuff.” “We all have our own process, and we're happy with it,” she says.
She says that inhouse development makes the most sense for studios such as Pixar, and it leads to a great deal of innovation.
“We all develop our own software,” she says. “Every studio wants to do it their own way, and there is such a small number of competing studios that no one spends much time developing [LUTs and color-matching software] for us. So we all invest in our own, and then after all that effort and expense, we don't want to share it. We have learned that we need to plan up-front for it. We did not do [a digital intermediate] on Finding Nemo largely because it did not make sense back then. It made more sense to make a few shots better and buy time for ourselves in the lab's schedule than to rush shots that did not look good in order to try a DI. So it's always a tradeoff.”
One of the ongoing color issues for the Shrek franchise is the lead character's green skin: Light bounces off it and impacts characters and other imagery around him. The before/after frames pictured above illustrate some typically subtle changes.
Shrek the Third TM & © 2007 DreamWorks Animation LLC. All Rights Reserved.
It's all about the green
Much of the basic color process is the same at PDI/DreamWorks, where Shrek the Third was made. However, production designer Guillaume Areto was the main color overlord, working closely with Technicolor Digital Intermediates' Tim Peeler during the DI process to establish the final look of the digital cinema version.
A veteran of all three Shrek movies, Aretos points out that the franchise has always had an essential color problem to grapple with: The main character is green. In the world of 3D lighting, that impacts virtually everything around him.
“The issue is how to get complimentary colors and play with them, even in light and shadow, around Shrek,” Aretos says. “The problem is, when you light Shrek with a warm light — whether yellow warm or red warm — the green is extremely sensitive to it. His skin is a complex shade that reacts like the real thing would, and it is very difficult to control. He is green, and doesn't tolerate yellows very well, and the characters around him are mostly pinkish, and they don't tolerate red. So what works well for one doesn't work so well for another, and therefore, even though we light them with separate lights, some correction is still necessary at the timing stage. This was a problem with Shrek 2, which took place a lot at night, with a lot of artificial candlelight, and throughout all three movies.
“And then, when you take the whole thing to chemical film, the emulsion reacts, where the warmth of one or the other color actually pulls it into a yellow or a red, and when that happens, Shrek might look good, but the people don't, or vice versa. So there is a lot of adjustment required, and now that we can do digital color timing, we can deal with those things better.”
Aretos adds that, for the first Shrek movie, DreamWorks tried using a procedural shader developed inhouse that would have rendered an object's opposite in the color spectrum to its own light and hue.
“It turned out that it looked extremely garish and really screaming ugly,” he says with a chuckle. “So we obviously decided not to do that, and kept the same philosophy of richness in the color of light for all three movies. The problem is, to get that just right in the lab, I've practically had to live down there. Now, with the digital intermediate, we have a more efficient way to do it.”
Aretos headed up design of the color keys for Shrek the Third. “[I viewed them] like a painter really, thinking about how they will translate in 3D space,” he says. “I'm not looking for lovely flat colors that I might like. I understand that flat color is the result of key light hitting a surface, or the color of bounce light hitting the color of an object. Instead, I look at direction, intensity, hue, atmosphere — all those things. So we try to design light against the architecture of the images, just like the mental process of a painter.
“For the keys, we can't paint every shot in the movie, obviously, so we paint about eight to nine keys per each sequence on average. Some have four keys, some have 20 — it just depends. We make those detailed paintings, and then turn them over to the lighting department as their guide. Then the lighters follow my direction every day, and I take them through establishing the foundation for the shot, the direction of the light. I advise them to look at their images in black and white, so they won't be polluted by color at first. That way, they can just work on the direction and intensity of the light in black-and-white. Usually, if you have a pretty black-and-white image, it's a good foundation for the rest of it.”
Aretos directs the entire lighting process from first pass to final version, and when he says a shot is done, a “color profile” process is conducted — running the image through special LUTs to emulate the look of film. When Aretos is satisfied with those results, the imagery is sent to Peeler at Technicolor.
In the DI suite, Aretos says there was a handful of areas where filmmakers wanted to make subtle color adjustments for the digital cinema release, based on areas they felt came up short in the film version. Peeler says the DI for the digital cinema version took only about a week. That efficiency, he says, was largely due to the time and attention spent during the production of shots on continuity and time of day, in order to control the color scheme.
But, because the original, photochemical color pass didn't achieve everything filmmakers envisioned, Peeler says he was able to spend most of that time fixing flesh tones and improving depth of field in his Da Vinci 2K suite.
“A lot of sequences [originally] had to be rushed to get out the door and meet their deadlines,” he says. “There were last-minute revisions to the story that delayed things. So there were sequences where they could never get the color just right in the lab. They got it as close as possible, but Shrek's shadow detail was wrong, and the character Artie's flesh tones were too purplish, and they wanted more of an organic feel to it. In particular, the scene where they pick up Artie and head out on a boat never looked right to them. They wanted to fix it for digital cinema and the DVD, and we did that. We did some blurring work to give them more depth of field, fixed the color of Shrek's shadow, and extensive work on the boat in that scene, giving it more shadow detail. Lots of detail was lost because of how they originally put out the movie, and we put all that back in for them.”
Surf's Up filmmakers strived to offer a sense of realism, but they pushed selected colors, such as the water's aqua hue, for added saturation and punch.
© 2007 Sony Pictures Animation Inc.
For Sony's Surf's Up, an animated “documentary” about surfing penguins, Sony Pictures Imageworks' art director Ron Lukas and visual effects supervisor Rob Bredow were the two keepers of the movie's color palette. Lukas headed up the effort to build an extremely detailed color script in Photoshop, (see below) and supervised the key scene painters, while Bredow managed the effort of executing that template in 3D.
The two then worked together with Imageworks' senior digital colorist Paul McGhee, operating in a Lustre (v. 2.7.1) suite during the DI to finalize the entire palette.
“The color ideas in the movie mainly started from the locations, which were very distinctive color-wise, since there is a fundamental contrast between Shiverpool, our version of Antarctica, which was cold and blue-gray and freezing, and Pengu Island, which is a tropical Pacific Island paradise,” Lukas says. “The lead character, Cody, arrives at Pengu Island from Shiverpool and is blown away by the difference between the warmth of that place and where he is from. So that fundamental contrast drove most of our color ideas. From there, we created a color script based on the outline of the story, designed to ensure color continuity throughout the movie.
Because color tracks emotional beats of a story, as well as offers audiences compelling visuals, animated films routinely use detailed "color scripts" as reference for all departments. Pictured above is Surf's Up's color script, designed in Adobe Photoshop by production designer Paul Lasaine and art director Ron Lukas. The color bars represent a specific palette of colors for each sequence in the movie.
Click here for a larger image.
“After that, my job was to supervise the painters who color-keyed the sequences, and I even painted a lot of them myself. We completed the movie in color keys, and then I would help the CG department, particularly in lighting, to follow through with our color ideas throughout the 3D process. But early on, we literally had 2D paintings to describe practically every setup. It was all planned and beautifully executed so well that there were no wholesale changes to do in the DI. That was more about making everything match reel to reel and scene to scene.”
Given the nature of the movie's style — created to replicate a documentary with sequences appearing to be shot on 16mm or 35mm film and sometimes on old video cameras — the subtle aspects of color work were central to Surf's Up. So much so that the layout and animation departments had to consider the creative impact their work would have on the lighting and, therefore, the color schemes.
James Williams, head of layout on the project, for instance, normally does not have to delve too deeply into the color plan. His job is to supervise compositional and motion elements in the layout stage, while leaving color issues up to Lukas and his colleagues in the art department. However, Williams points out that the creative nature of the project required him to think constantly about light and shadow implications of everything done in the layout phase.
“Shadows and other aspects of the lighting and tone become compositional elements within scenes, and, therefore, [in layout] we have to concern ourselves with them — especially in a movie like this, where we were doing a documentary,” Williams says. “I recall, in one instance, the two main characters, Cody and the Geek, are having a conversation on the beach, and in order to underscore their emotions, we deliberately played one character in shadow and one character in light to accentuate their separation. Then, there is a reveal, a point of realization in the sequence, where Cody realizes something significant about the Geek, and we use his movement from shadow into light to underscore that. That directly involved light, but was planned in the layout stage. The scene with the roller-coaster ride through the lava tubes had similar issues, as they play light against dark. We ended up texturing the environments to convey that idea across to the other departments. Many of the caverns in the sequence were color coded as we passed it along to help everyone feel the transition from one particular area to the next. Those colors got passed over to lighting, and then they make it a lot more beautiful.”
Bredow emphasizes that Surf's Up is a good example of an animated movie where color was among the most stylized of all the elements — from increasing the emotional impact of bringing viewers out into the water with the surfing characters to increasing the realism by deliberately introducing artifacts and other ways of making the imagery appear less than pristine, in keeping with the documentary approach.
“It's a very detailed movie,” Bredow says. “There was a requirement that the movie be detailed enough that the audience felt they had gone surfing when they left the theater, and that dictated the level of detail we achieved with the water, and all the photographic elements. We have lens aberrations, film grain — things that are part of the language of normal film in a live-action situation. But at the same time, to be stylized, many of the designs and shapes and colors were pushed outside the realm of what you could normally photograph easily. We have realistic water, for instance, but with incredible aqua colors that you would be hard-pressed to find in real life. In fact, after we finished the movie, for fun, we did a realistic water test to make the water look perfectly photoreal, and we found that the real water had less saturation and punch than what we needed for this animated movie.”
Bredow says that for a CG film, the DI is the most precise way to achieve high-quality detail work.
“At the end of the movie, in the sequence where the Boneyard race happens, it's meant to be an overcast environment — a gray day, with the sky just slightly purple and a haze over the ocean,” Bredow says. “Of course, all those colors are slightly different. If you add a little magenta or green to it, it makes a big difference shot to shot. We matched it, of course, as close as we could in the lighting phase, but in the DI, each shot got a half point of magenta, a half point of yellow, and so forth, making it a smooth and continuous environment. That let us be more precise with colors, while at the same time, seeing it in an interactive way one sequence at a time as we went along, to make sure it was all working, and to fix it if it wasn't. Lighting one shot at a time takes hours in live action, and days in computer animation. The DI lets you do it immediately by eye. That's a huge improvement.
“The other thing is, we now have to target multiple release mediums — particularly the digital cinema and film releases — and that means the colors will all be slightly different. The DI process is where we absorb the difference between those two target mediums and work it out to be very close to a 1:1 correlation. That is how we were able to refine blue/aqua-green waves on Pengu Island to look right for both versions — they are really the hero shots of the movie.”
As complicated as it remains to establish a consistent color look for digital cinema that can translate seamlessly to the film world, Bredow and McGhee say the art of color science and Imageworks' sophisticated LUTs have greatly streamlined that process.
“For this movie, our main grade was done for the XYZ pass for the digital cinema version,” McGhee says. “Our color scientists have made great look-up tables which allow us to transfer that grade to film and to HD. Then, there are shots that get small tweaks to look better for the film version. But for the most part, by changing the color LUT, we can get it very close for the film version during the main pass. We still do lots of tests with the lab [Deluxe, Hollywood] for the film version, and we did an answer print correction in the lab on Surf's Up [for the film version], which is still common. But for that process, for the most part, we only need to do an occasional one-point correction for one sequence here or there, and that is very minimal. That has been the case on our last two [CG] shows — Open Season and Surf's Up. So that shows how the color science has improved.”
Developing subtleties of different shades of yellow for the upcoming Bee Movie is among the many challenges Technicolor Digital Intermediates' digital colorist Tim Peeler is working on.
© 2007 DreamWorks Animation LLC. All Rights Reserved.
Grading Bees, Handling 3D
Technicolor Digital Intermediates colorist Tim Peeler is extremely immersed these days in the world of animated films. After finishing Shrek the Third, he is now working on (among other projects) Bee Movie.
Peeler has already done tests and trailer work for Bee Movie, and he told millimeter that process convinced filmmakers that the movie would require a digital intermediate to successfully grapple with extremely subtle color issues.
“The yellow on the bee himself is a big thing, and [for trailers], they were having a lot of trouble getting that just right, so I've been tweaking that for them,” Peeler says. “There are essentially different yellows on his body — his rear end compared to his main body is subtly different. Plus, the movie has some complicated visual effects with shadows and shading, and the animators wanted to drop background luminance or brightness levels to focus attention on the characters. So, to make their deadlines, they felt it made sense to skip some of those effects [and do them during the DI process instead]. So, already, just having the availability of the DI process has made their pipeline much faster, and they can avoid rendering certain things right now, and still feel comfortable about how it will turn out in the end. [The DI suite] has become a powerful workstation for filmmakers in that sense. You can really experiment, and they are doing a lot of that in Bee Movie.”
Peeler is also excited about the industry's march into 3D. He says he has, in recent years, developed improved methods for color-grading 3D releases. “[That whole 3D paradigm] has come a long way from where we were when we did Chicken Little ,” Peeler says. “Then, the directors didn't realize how dark the 3D would look compared to their 2D version, and it was a bit of a shock for them at first. We then learned how to compensate for the contrast difference in various ways, but at the time, it was all new.
“Plus, at the time, we found out that people in the field were all over the place about how to set up 3D correctly. We had to go to the El Capitan Theater [in Hollywood] and others at 6 a.m. to check out the projectors for ourselves before they opened for business — it was all so new. The thing to remember is, when you are watching 3D with polarized [3D] glasses, everything looks green. So, in 3D, your yellows will not be regular yellow. They will be green-yellow, so we have to compensate for that in the color correction suite. It's still not as transparent a process as we'd like, but it's getting there. You just have to do lots of specialized work on the yellows and other colors to get them more accurate.”
Peeler says the process Technicolor uses for 3D is to basically follow the same one-pass approach initially for converting the imagery from film color space to digital color space, using proprietary LUTs, as with any other digital cinema release. Then, he color corrects the left-eye imagery to emulate the 2D process, applies those settings to the right-eye files, and then views the whole thing with glasses on a Real D 3D silver screen in his Da Vinci 2K Plus suite, applying selected tweaks as needed. But there are other issues to consider.
“There is the battle over how bright you can go before you break the image and get clipping and so forth,” he says. “We've done a lot of image testing in theaters. When you go to 3D, there is a change in screen brightness. For a film release, we work based on an average of 16ft. lamberts for a typical film screen. The digital cinema spec is 14ft. lamberts. But for current 3D projection, the system we used dropped the light levels all the way down to 3.5ft. lamberts. You are basically throwing away over two-thirds of the brightness.
“Then, we had to figure out how far to push aspects of the color correction to get it right for particular theaters, since some of them have a very long throw. With light rays bouncing off the [Real D] silver screen at a direct angle versus a standard screen, which disburses light — that can impact things. What seating do you give away in the theater? What's best for the customer? We have to think about all those things when we color grade a 3D release.”
Photo by Deborah Coleman/Pixar ©Disney Enterprises, Inc. and Pixar Animation Studios. All Rights Reserved.
Bird's View of Paris
When he joined Ratatouille, Brad Bird's mission was to painstakingly craft a CG homage to the colors and textures of the city of Paris.
“I'm much more knowledgeable about CG now, because you can't go through an experience like The Incredibles without learning something,” Bird says. “But the most important thing as the director is to know what you want. If I can tell people what the sequence needs in terms of ebb and flow and emotion and color, if I can verbalize that, there are plenty of people [at Pixar] who can decipher that. But the director can sometimes find solutions that individuals concentrating on specific areas don't come up with, because he has more of a satellite view.
“Paris is a very old city — the surfaces are old. They are cracked. They have little stains. So you have to see those cracks and details and the age of things. The struggle was, the computer wants to do perfection. To age surfaces, to give them history, you literally have to beat on [the computer] and force it down that road. Food was even trickier, to make it look edible. Everything you see in a CG animated film is [strategically] put there and discussed and designed. Everything about how something ages is created — that's an enormous job.”
Bird says the company made major progress in seamlessly matching the movie's digital and film versions, largely because Pixar's approach to the film's color design was conducive to finding visceral common ground between film color space and digital color space, rather than technical common ground.
“One assumption we did away with was adhering to numbers — measuring light on the monitor and trying to get film to come as close to those numbers as possible,” he says. “Each medium has its own strength and weakness. So our thought was to stop relying on a machine to tell us where to go. Let's acknowledge [that film and digital] are two different things and do the best digital version and the best film version we can. Sharon [Calahan, the film's director of photography/lighting] and I are both fans of cinematography, so it was wonderful to talk about lighting styles and [famous cinematographers], and have her immediately know what I was talking about. We could talk about lighting in shorthand that way.”
Still, although satisfied with the strength of the film release, Bird is gratified to see digital exhibition finally picking up steam.
“As an artist, the nice thing I appreciate about digital [exhibition] is that the prints don't wear out,” he says. “I love film, but I do appreciate the fact that digital is hearty. It will give you the experience of a brand new print that is lovingly handled. It bulletproofs the film against horrible exhibition. That's one of the good changes in the world of cinema.”