The Color of Fear: Company 3’s Stephen Nakamura Talks Alien: Covenant

May 18, 2017 May. 18, 2017

Stephen Nakamura performed final color grading on the outer-space thriller Alien: Covenant. The colorist has worked with director Ridley Scott and cinematographer Diariusz Wolski, ASC on a long list of major features, including The Martian and previous the previous installment in the Alien series, Prometheus. Covenant, from Twentieth Century Fox, sees the return of Michael Fassbender and Guy Pierce and introduces some new faces, including characters played by Katherine Waterston and James Franco.

“The Alien movies are very different from The Martian,” Nakamura points out. “That film was so much about the color of Mars, with its terracotta feel as far as the eye can see, but this isn’t colorful like that at all. In fact it has a bit of a desaturated, kind of gritty, feel almost like a film print that’s gone through the bleach bypass process.”

The look, he adds, “is frequently pretty dark with pools of light here and there, which gives it a kind of ‘heavy’ feel – a sense of impending doom even in moments when we’re not seeing particularly scary things happening onscreen.”

Nakamura points out the delicate balance that he and the filmmakers maintained to get to the final look. “There’s a fine line between desaturated too desaturated.” Wolski and Scott, he explains, “would build a fuller color palette into the original material so we could fine-tune the final look in the grade. They both have such an excellent sense of the whole filmmaking process, and they’ve worked together so often, that they know exactly what to do on set so we could get the best results during in the final grade.”

Nakamura also brought out particular hues. “I used a lot of parallel nodes within DaVinci Resolve to bring back some colors, such as the red in blood, after bringing down the overall saturation of the image,” he notes. “This is also an effective way to draw people’s attention to a certain aspect of a scene.”

He also made use of the Resolve’s sharpening tools – called ‘aperture correction’ in older releases – in a way Scott frequently requests. “It’s not really so much to make something look ‘sharp,'” the colorist explains, “but to help guide the viewer’s eye to a particular object or character in the frame. In one case, there are scenes of a quickly moving creature partially obscured in this space that looks like a wheat field. The area is is lit by fire and everything in the frame is a similar kind of brownish tone so its presence isn’t obvious to the characters. By putting just a little bit of sharpening on the creature, it stands out just enough that you register that it’s there.”