The Never-Ending Struggle: Walter Volpatto on Grading The Old Guard in Dolby Vision

August 10, 2020 Aug. 10, 2020

Powerful immortal warrior, Andy (Charlize Theron), leads a team of fellow unkillable mercenaries fighting villains and investigating mysteries with world shattering significance. The Old Guard (from Skydance and Netflix), based on the graphic novel of the same name, follows Andy and her team around the world and back in time. “The script is faithful to the comic in terms of style and situation,” says colorist Walter Volpatto, who handled color grading working remotely with the filmmaking team led by director Gina Prince-Bythewood. The idea, adds Volpatto, who colored in Dolby Vision HDR and worked in Resolve 16, “was to approach the comic’s look but not exactly. Comics tend to be far more aggressive so the best way to put it is that we transposed the look of a feature film to create a similar feeling.”

THE OLD GUARD (L to R) CHARLIZE THERON as ANDY in THE OLD GUARD. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix/NETFLIX © 2020

Volpatto explains that there are two essential looks in The Old Guard — the overarching one for all the scenes set in the present, which feels modern and then there are moments that plunge the viewer into other moments in history and are meant to exude a kind of “ancient times” feel and to ensure the viewer can instantly re-orient themselves without having to ponder about which time period they’re in. “These parts are more stylized in every way: Through costume and design clues and then we enhanced the different colors and styles in post.

“If you think about the past,” the colorist elaborates, “your memory is never fully clear. An image has a little less definition. These portions have more of an older lens kind of feel. We used that as a guide in our work and added layers of grain and contrast ‘dirty up’ these images.”

Within the modern looks, The Old Guard also has several differentiated visual approaches based on location. “There are actually three different desert locations,” he explains. “One looks brighter and hotter than the others, one is closer to the sea so we went with a look that is a bit less bright and has fewer of the sunny characteristic. Then, we would stick to the specific look for each of the desert locations throughout.”

It is in these desert sequences where the Dolby Vision version of The Old Guard really shines. “When you get to the desert,” he says of that version, “you really have a lot of light coming from your screen! It really feels hot.” And, since the brighter highlights create the effect of making the darkest shadow areas feel like they exist in complete darkness. “There are scenes of beautiful black with powerful shafts of light and it’s very dynamic. If you watch this movie in HDR, you will feel it!”

The Old Guard is available now on Netflix.