Finishing Cold Mountain

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Minghella's Team Innovates in Postproduction


Editor Walter Murch, the first to win an Oscar for digitally editing a film, works on Cold Mountain using Final Cut Pro.

Director Anthony Minghella decided early in prepa-ration for Cold Mountain that the production and postproduction of the movie would be unorthodox in several respects. He decided principal photography on the Civil War-era piece would take place in Romania, and he agreed to editor Walter Murch's plan to edit the entire movie on Apple's Final Cut Pro in Romania. This made Cold Mountain the highest profile studio feature film to date to be edited entirely in Final Cut Pro.

Finally, Minghella agreed to permit director of photography John Seale to bring the movie to Framestore CFC, London, to go through a digital intermediate color correction/finishing process—one of very few major studio releases to attempted this new process outside the United States.

In all three cases, Minghella never thought twice. "When you work with collaborators like John Seale and Walter Murch, you don't quarrel with their ambitions," he told Millimeter. "I trust them both more than anybody I can think of. Both men are so technically sophisticated and bold in their work historically, why would I discourage their desires to try something new? Besides, from the director's point of view, Final Cut Pro was a wonderful tool. My entire production company is Macintosh-based and all my equipment is Mac-based, so when I was traveling during the posting of this film, I was able to travel around with the film on my hard drive in various configurations.

"Similarly, the decision to do a digital intermediate helped me as the director and helped John Seale tremendously. It was a revelation to finally have the same level of control of the nuances of the image that you normally take for granted when finalizing the sound. I always thought it was ironic that, for years, we have had complete digital control over the thousands of nuanced sound elements when making films, and yet, until recently, we had limitations in the area of color grading the images in a laboratory."

The Digital Intermediate Process

The Cold Mountain DI, performed by senior colorist Adam Glasman at Framestore CFC, was also Seale's first time with the process, and he says he's now a convert. "Once you have a taste of a digital intermediate, there is no going back," says Seale. "Chemically, we can change overall color and density, but that's about it. In the digital intermediate, you can go inside a particular frame, isolate a particular window or face, changing color just in that part of the frame and several other things. About the only thing you can't do is fully re-light a shot, but you can enhance the lighting in the computer. This process will save DPs lots of time and money in lighting windows and in the use of gels and filters and things."

Framestore CFC used two Northlight scanners and Baselight color-grading software, both manufactured by London's FilmLight, on the job, outputting the feature back to film on three ArriLaser recorders.

"For a monitor, we used a 24in. Sony HD monitor because we haven't purchased digital projectors yet, though we are testing some right now," Glasman explains. "Therefore, when color-grading on a monitor, the color management software becomes even more crucial. The Baselight software has built-in auto conform and relies on the Truelight color management system, which gives a very good representation of what the film will look like on a big screen, leading to a very consistent look."

In terms of specific scenes, the DI was particularly useful in enhancing the look and scale of the so-called "crater battle" that opens the movie. The scene shows a major Civil War battle that starts with a massive explosion underneath Rebel lines. Shooting the scene was extremely complicated for Seale's crew, and it then required digital tweaking during the DI process.

"John used grads [graduated, variable density filters] all over to produce that effect when he shot [the scene], but the way he likes to move the camera, he couldn't use grads for all the shots," explains Glasman. "In those cases, I used our color correction software to apply grads to sections of the battlefield where they did not already exist. This alone made the scene more consistent in terms of putting this smoke layer over the battlefield."

To read more on Cold Mountain check out these Millimeter stories:
Final Cutting Cold Mountain

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