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Bringing the Beautiful ‘Grand Budapest Hotel’ to Life

Wes Anderson doesn’t create films; he creates worlds. For The Grand Budapest Hotel, released by Fox Searchlight Pictures on March 7, that world became the fictional town of Zubrowka, located in the mountains of Eastern Europe.

To bring Zubrowka to life, Anderson developed a complete history mirroring that of 20th century Eastern Europe. Building this extensive history was key to developing the characters and story, as well as essential to creating the look of the world that they inhabit, which in turn reinforces their existence, making it truly believable for the audience.

To help develop the look for the film, Anderson turned to colorist Jill Bogdanowicz, who was up to the challenge. As Supervising Digital Colorist at Modern VideoFilm, Bogdanowicz had previously worked with Anderson and jumped at the chance to grade the film using Blackmagic Design’s DaVinci Resolve.

“Working with Wes was a collaborative, creative and experimental process. Wes was very specific with the looks he wanted, from using color to help differentiate time periods down to wanting a certain light bulb to be brighter,” says Bogdanowicz.

It’s this attention to detail that helps draw the audience in so they can fully immerse themselves in Anderson’s world.

“Wes is very visual and known for his use of color, so it was fun to collaborate and create different looks,” Bogdanowicz continues. “There were three time periods in the film, each with its own aspect ratio and look. Within those time periods, we experimented with many ideas, pushing and pulling the color in different directions.”

The film takes place in the 1930s, 1960s and 1980s. Bogdanowicz used DaVinci Resolve to help enhance each time period’s look while maintaining the production value of the footage.

“The ’30s had a 4:3 aspect ratio with light pinks and deep reds and purples,” explains Bogdanowicz. “The ’60s had an anamorphic look with pronounced yellows, golds and greens, a more saturated and richer look than the ’30s. The ’80s had a traditional look with neutral colors. The different color palettes we developed really helped enhance and differentiate the time periods.

“We even experimented with a Photochrom look for the opening of the film,” she continues. “Wes sent me Photochrom prints from the Library of Congress, and I experimented by combining keys in DaVinci Resolve to create the colors. I even worked with my dad, Mitchell Bogdanowicz, who is a freelance color scientist. He created a library of Photochrom looks in the form of a 3D LUT.”

Bogdanowicz notes that each look was meticulously planned out and attention was paid to every detail, whether it was perfecting a day-for-night look or making a lightbulb brighter. In one scene Bogdanowicz was tasked with making it look like flashlights were lighting the scene, when in reality the scene was shot with much more light. By drawing Power Windows in conjunction with alpha channel mattes coming from VFX, Bogdanowicz was able to pinpoint the light source on the flashlights, creating a darker scene illuminated only by flashlights.

“I used layered alpha channel mattes from VFX along with Power Windows for the day-for-night looks,” says Bogdanowicz. “There was one specific scene in a tram car that was shot in an overcast light, and it took a lot of alpha channel mattes, keys and fine-tuning of color to make it look like dusk. There was also a lot of work that went into finessing the reflections in the windows from people walking by and making the lightbulbs outside the windows glow so it looked as if they were on at night.

“For this detailed work, I drew Power Windows around the faces and lightbulbs, which allowed me to isolate them,” Bogdanowicz continues. “DaVinci Resolve’s tracker was key to making sure the Power Windows were imperceptible and very natural, and the tracker made them stay put. I couldn’t have made any of those fine-tuned looks without being able to track them correctly. DaVinci Resolve helped me deliver creatively and efficiently, which was helpful in making the most of my time with Wes in London.”

Bogdanowicz did the majority of color in Los Angeles but spent several weeks working alongside Wes in London throughout the grading process. Though the days spent working in London were full 10-hour days, they were fast-paced, as the team sought to get as much done as possible.

“I made four trips to London over the course of a year, so the overall timeline wasn’t too bad, but when working in London, it was intense,” Bogdanowicz says. “I was lucky to have a strong team, and my engineer would arrive a day early, set everything up and we were ready to go.

“There was no time to wait, which is why I chose DaVinci Resolve. It’s so fast that no time was spent rendering, making it a seamless process. We were processing live, throwing alpha channels and Power Windows on something or running shots with 20 layers, and DaVinci Resolve didn’t slow down at all.

“Directors already have a lot on their plate, and they don’t have time to stop and wait, so I always want to make color super easy and efficient. DaVinci Resolve’s speed, toolset, flexibility and overall power of what you can do really helped me deliver on Wes’ vision for The Grand Budapest Hotel,” adds Bogdanowicz.

Release: March 7, 2014
Directed by: Wes Anderson
Screenplay by: Wes Anderson
Story by: Wes Anderson & Hugo Guinness
Produced by: Wes Anderson, Scott Rudin, Steven M. Rales, Jeremy Dawson
Cast: Ralph Fiennes, Tony Revolori, F. Murray Abraham, Mathieu Amalric, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Jude Law, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Saoirse Ronan, Jason Schwartzman, Tilda Swinton, Tom Wilkinson, Owen Wilson

The Grand Budapest Hotel recounts the adventures of Gustave H, a legendary concierge at a famous European hotel between the wars; and Zero Moustafa, the lobby boy who becomes his most trusted friend.  The story involves the theft and recovery of a priceless Renaissance painting; a raging battle for an enormous family fortune; a desperate chase on motorcycles, trains, sleds, and skis; and the sweetest confection of a love affair – all against the back-drop of a suddenly and dramatically changing Continent.