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Finishing Cold Mountain

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
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

“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

“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

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