“The first conversation I had with the director and cinematographer was, ‘Don’t be afraid to try anything!'” recalls Senior Colorist Andrew Geary of his work on Sony Pictures’ Knights of the Zodiac. Starring Sean Bean, Nick Stahl, and Famke Janssen, this is the first live-action version of the popular Saint Seiya animated Japanese Manga series from the 1980s and ’90s. Handling the grade presented Geary a highly dynamic palette to work with and clients who encouraged experimentation throughout.
Filmmakers, including director Tomasz Baginski and cinematographer Tomasz Naumiuk, infused the photography of the action-packed feature with a considerable amount of colored lighting effects and specific design elements in addition to extensive VFX work from supervisor Ron Simonson and Baginski, a successful VFX creator in his own right. In fact, a significant percentage of shots in the movie combines live-action elements, which were shot against greenscreen and subsequently comped with CG environments, vehicles, and weapons. The filmmakers chose to handle color and post at Company 3’s Vancouver location –a city they chose to do their mix and a significant amount of VFX work.
“It’s really all about the manga look to life,” Geary says. “The way characters interact, the costuming, the villain’s wardrobe, the specific color aura called “cosmo” that goes with certain heroes and villains – it’s all about having the right feel. But it’s also somewhat grounded in reality with real-life mansions, houses, and mountains.” Because of this manga look, he adds, “We had more leeway using colors that aren’t typically seen in narrative shows, like a lot of really dirty yellow-greens, and there’s a character who shoots a very pinkish magenta “cosmo“.
Geary, who worked on a Blackmagic Design DaVinci Resolve, extensively used Power Windows and keyframes to amplify specific visual effects. He used Company 3’s color grading theater to refine VFX work as they were finalized over several months, to work on the big screen and in context with the story.
For example, the characters travel in aircraft called “beetles” that defy gravity and physics. According to Geary, the filmmakers wanted the jet’s interior to have one look and the outside to have a different exposure. “One of the things we did when we were all together in the theater was to find a balance between the two where they still look different but have a cohesive feel.”
In addition, Geary used tools within Resolve to create minor effects to complement many of the major VFX shots. “If a missile hits a building,” he explains, “I can keyframe the explosion for five or six frames to give the impact more punch and then slowly bring the effect down. Or, if lightning strikes a character and then they cut away to something nearby, I can add an effect to make it seem like the lightning is reflecting on everything in the frame. Besides the color, we can also change the levels on an explosion, or I can bring up the ‘exposure’ in some portions of a wide shot of the city and bring down other parts to build in extra depth through contrast to help direct the eye. That kind of thing is always fun for me.”
Knights of the Zodiac opens today only in theaters.