Re-visiting the Style of Horror Classic: The Omen

April 17, 2024 Apr. 17, 2024

In 1976, The Omen became a milestone in horror filmmaking, bringing “666” into the culture and spawning a number of sequels in subsequent years. Senior Colorist Stephen Nakamura took on the final color work for the 1976-set re-imaging of that story, The First Omen, with the filmmakers’ brief that they wanted to capture the feel of the Gregory Peck/Lee Remick original. Arkasha Stevenson, in her feature directorial debut, wanted this new Omen, starring Nell Tiger Free (The Servant) as a young woman in Rome who encounters a potentially world-shattering conspiracy, to bring a fresh take to the story with a look that harkens back to the original.

Cinematographer Aaron Morton shot the movie on locations throughout Italy using ARRI Alexa 35 cameras. Many people frequently discuss the idea of a “film look” as a simple, one-and-done technique – a LUT perhaps or a plug-in- in online videos about color grading. Still, Nakamura explains that creating a believable, high-end film look for digitally shot material involves several factors, from conception through final grade. “It’s important to know why someone wants their images to look like film,” he says. “And then the film has looked different throughout various eras and processes. In this case, there was a specific reference to the original film so we could use the specific qualities of the negative that production used.”

Achieving the overall effect, he adds, started before cameras rolled, with costume and set design, which all plays a role, inspired by the 1976 film which was directed by Richard Donner (Lethal Weapon) and shot by renowned British cinematographer Gilbert Taylor (Lolita). “There’s only so much we can do in color correction if the pictures don’t look like they’re from the era,” noting that the filmmakers of The First Omen “did a very nice job of that.”

Nakamura created a show LUT for the Alexa 35 that allowed everyone on set and the dailies’ viewers to understand how scenes would eventually read in the final version. This LUT was primarily based on how film “sees” the gradations from light to dark. “It was about the curve. The color,” he says, “we could finetune better in the final grade. ”

When it came time for that step, Nakamura worked in his DI theater at Company 3’s Santa Monica, CA facility with the director, the DP, and Sam Rami horror film veteran Bob Murkawski, who edited The First Omen with Amy Duddleston.

To keep the imagery within the confines of the exposure and color characteristics of 1976’s Eastman Kodak stock, Nakamura applied tools within his DaVinci Resolve color corrector, including various OpenFX plug-ins called Film Damage, Halation, and Glow, among others, dialing in different “recipes” of the different effects on a scene-by-scene basis. The project also used LiveGrain Real-Time Texture Mapping, using custom-designed grain effects based on the look of the original Omen.

What people call a “film look,” Nakamura sums up, “has to do with many different factors. It has to do with how you treat your blacks and your whites, skin tones, and saturation levels. We brought together a whole combination of things to achieve the effect that the filmmakers wanted.”

The First Omen is now playing in theaters everywhere.