Gareth Spensley Colors Wes Anderson’s Roald Dahl Anthology

April 11, 2024 Apr. 11, 2024

Director Wes Anderson’s follow-up to last summer’s highly praised Asteroid City is a series of four short films based on some of Roald Dahl’s (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) lesser-known works, leading with The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar. Designed to resemble “made for TV films” of late ’70s British television, they were shot on 16mm and with sets and staging reminiscent of the time. Senior Colorist Gareth Spensley, based at Company 3 London, started work on these films while completing Asteroid City.

The mini movies are wrapped together with introductory scenes of Dahl (Ralph Fiennes) in his “writing hut,” where he sets the scene for each story. “Each of the films has its own character and feel,” the colorist adds. The Swan is the most contrasty of the films. “I think that complements the stark nature of the story,” Spensley says of the tale of a group of boys hunting a swan. Shot partially on a soundstage against painted backdrop skies and real skies on exterior backlot sets of the Maidstone TV studios in Kent, the project required matching the skies shot to shot. “We isolated all the skies in the grade, using a variety of keys and roto mattes” Spensley recalls, “lifting the exposure and enhancing the contrast even further. This allowed us to create a consistently stark neutral white sky throughout.”

For The Rat Catcher however, Anderson wanted to subtly enhance the misty feel of the scenic backdrops. “We lowered the contrast throughout the film. I used a custom curve that allowed me to change the pivot point of this adjustment for each shot, so that the actors remained the focus of the contrast and stood out within the look.” 16mm film always shows imperfections more clearly than the 35mm equivalent because the smaller gauge requires each frame to be blown up significantly more. Grain and extremely slight exposure differences shot-to-shot are naturally more pronounced. Spensley used his color corrector’s Textural Equalizer tool, which can subtly add or subtract region specific contrast to even out the shots to the point where differences were no longer noticeable. 

Of Anderson, Spensley notes, “He has a keen eye and values what the grade can achieve. He’s very much in the trenches working on every scene. He has very specific ideas but also gave me freedom when something I was doing worked. He is always a joy to work with.” Spensley’s work on Asteroid City was nominated for the Hollywood Professional Association’s (HPA) Award for Outstanding Color Grading, Live Action Theatrical Feature. 

The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar, Poison, The Rat Catcher and The Swan are currently streaming on Netflix.