While in preproduction for the FX series Atlanta, cinematographer Christian Sprenger and director Hiro Murai took advantage of some extra time in the grading suite to fine-tune what would become the show’s signature look, collaborating with MPC LA colorist Ricky Gausis, who went on to color the entire first season.
“The first pass played up warm tones and lush greens,” Sprenger recalls. “People think of Atlanta as a sweltering place, but we started playing with cooler undertones. It felt a bit like a step in an odd direction, but it fit the tone of the show in that it is not what [the audience] comes in expecting.”
“It was interesting to play against the warmth,” says Gausis, who works in FilmLight’s Baselight color grading system. “I tried adding a bit of cyan into the highlights to counter that and it just felt right for the way the show was shot. It’s a very cinematic look. We even added a touch of ‘grain’ to push it further in that direction.”
For Gausis, good color grading is about subtle refinements rather than imposing a “look.” Of Sprenger’s work, he says, “By underexposing [in camera], he brought this very nice texture into the shadows that I could open up. It was just the right amount. If you crank it too far, you’d see artifacts and just make a horrible mess. If you put too much light in the shadows initially, the [images] would want to have a glossier look. I’d just have to constantly fight against that.”