Metamorphosis: Coloring a Frankenstein-style Fable

December 20, 2023 Dec. 20, 2023

It would be an understatement to say that Poor Things, the new film from director Yorgos Lanthimos, tells an unusual story. As with the director’s previous films, including The Lobster and The Favorite, this captures the director’s vivid imaginings as Bella Baxter (Emma Stone) progresses through life after her father, Dr. Godwin Baxter (Willem Dafoe), has replaced her brain, following a tragic incident, with the brain of the baby she’d been carrying. Shot by Robbie Ryan (The Favorite, C’mon C’mon). The film explores Bella’s social, psychological, and sexual development in ways that critics have found funny, terrifying, and enlightening. 

“An outline of the plot sounds quite dark, but the film is a joy,” notes Senior Colorist Greg Fisher of Company 3 London, who worked closely with Lanthimos and Ryan to grade the imagery which had originated on a variety of different film stocks, including both color and black-and-white negative and Ektachrome reversal.  

“We all love working with [film-originated] images,” Fisher enthuses. “Colorists today have a lot of tools that allow them to bend imagery from digital cameras into something that we get quite naturally with film. Poor Things has a number of pronounced looks, and it makes a lot of sense to make use of qualities that are inherent to the [capture medium].” 

Fisher and the Company 3 Color Science team spent a significant amount of time researching the best way to pull some of the imagery, especially the Ektachrome, into the digital realm to retain all the information Ryan had gotten into the positive. “It’s very hard to digitize the entire dynamic range of Ektachrome,” Fisher notes. “We found that most scanners weren’t really up to the task. You either lose the highlights or shadows in your scans, or you have to sort of ‘flatten’ the image, which also defeats the purpose of using a reversal stock like Ektachrome. We found that the ARRISCAN XT upgraded to the Alexa sensor was the best to handle the challenge.” 

There are moments, such as the graphic re-animation sequence early in the film, that cut between shots originated on Ektachrome (shot in the large, 8-perf VistaVision format) and others on Eastman XX black-and-white negative. “When you do something like this,” Fisher explains, “any kind of color bias in the black-and-white scan is more apparent than it would be with color. If the whole movie is black-and-white, the audience’s eyes will quickly adjust so they don’t notice a slight color cast, but here, even a very subtle tint would be noticeable when the movie cuts from color to black-and-white. Company 3’s color science team built a specific LUT that I used for the black-and-white sections, which retained a neutral grayscale without the color crosstalk that can happen with some less exacting LUTs. 

“I also set the white point on these shots at D60, rather than the more common D65, which I think ends up looking too cool,” he elaborates. “An actual black-and-white film print would take on the color temperature of the projector lamp, which is more likely to be warmer than an image with a D65 white point. You can see 6500K outside at noon, but it’s going to look too cool and unnatural in the theater, which is going to be even more apparent when you’re intercutting the black-and-white with color.” 

For Fisher, the work ranks among his favorites that he’s done, not just for the ability to be part of realizing the unique visuals but also because of his response to the film as a whole. “It’s really very funny in parts,” he notes. “It’s a very uninhibited film, and Emma Stone is involved in some very strange scenes, but it’s not exploitative in any way. It’s ultimately a very humanist film.”  

Poor Things is now playing in theaters. For more information about the film, click here.