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‘The Wolverine:’ Company 3 Colorist Stephen Nakamura on the Developing the Film’s Distinctive Look

The Wolverine, opening this weekend, finds the X-Men character Logan (Hugh Jackman) returning to Japan after a long absence and battling Yakuza and samurai warriors and, perhaps most powerful of all, his inner demons. Director James Mangold and cinematographer Ross Emery created a very theatrical look for the film, inspired by the comic book world from which the character originated.

Logan (Hugh Jackman) and Mariko (Tao Okamoto) make their way through a dangerous situation. Photo by James Fisher.

DI color grading was completed at Company 3 in Santa Monica by Stephen Nakamura, who collaborated with the filmmakers during grading sessions to fine-tune the film’s look.

What was the overall brief for the grade?

Stephen Nakamura: James Mangold’s taste tends towards a warm look generally, and quite a lot of this film is very warm. Then there are certain parts that are just intensely cold. He’s not someone who ever wants things neutral, and since this is based on a comic book, he wanted to take things further than he would normally. An interior at night will be very warm, with a lot of amber, while the exterior is very blue. Very theatrical.

What did you do during grading to get the look?

A lot of what we did in the DI on [Blackmagic Design] DaVinci Resolve was to enhance the saturation and sometimes boost the contrast a bit. Ross Emery lit it to have this kind of look, but we then pushed it further in post.

There was a major sequence, a funeral scene where a lot of action takes place, and Ross had to shoot in overcast conditions. But by the time we got into the DI, he and James really wanted to get more of a sense of a warm, sunlit situation. So that was about going through every shot and really isolating small areas within the frame to make just part of a face or an object warmer and more saturated and possibly a bit more contrasty.

You can’t just go in and put a warm color on top of everything and take the white sky and make it blue—that would end up looking completely fake. So a sequence like that is about figuring out what kind of light source there would be [if it was a warm, sunny day] and then determining how that would affect different portions of the frame.

Logan (Hugh Jackman) fights his greatest battle in The Wolverine. Photo by Ben Rothstein.

Did you find that the ARRI Alexa material had enough information to push the images around like that?

Definitely. There was a tremendous amount of information in the footage. Of course, a lot of that is because Ross exposed everything very well.

Did you do the 3D or 2D pass first?

We did the 2D pass first.

Did you run into any special issues grading for 3D?

Not too many on this film, but you always have some differences when you’re grading something for 2D projection, which throws much more light on the screen than today’s 3D systems do. You have to make your images work within a much narrower contrast range because something that looks really bright but has definition in 2D is likely to just blow out in 3D. So for scenes with bright skies and intense highlights, I need to go through and pull a lot of highlight keys so I can isolate those very bright portions of the frame and bring them down enough so they don’t get lost in the 3D version.

That isn’t so much of an issue on a film like Prometheus, which I graded last year, because so much of it was so dark. But on a film like The Wolverine, the color and contrast are more extreme.