Everybody loves a well-told underdog story, and Flamin’ Hot, directed by Eva Longoria, is no exception. The winner of the Headliner Audience Award at this year’s SXSW Film & TV Festival tells the story of Richard Montañez, a janitorial worker at Frito-Lay who invented the beloved snack Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. Senior Colorist Walter Volpatto worked closely with the cinematographer to build a unique approach that captured the feel of the movie’s different time periods and locations: From a nostalgic, golden-hued childhood to a grainy, contrasty ’70s motif and then to a realistically lifeless factory environment, Volpatto’s color grading helped enhance the emotional arc of the story.
The movie covers more than three decades of Montañez’s life. Volpatto worked with cinematographer Federico Cantini early on to build three different show LUTs to imbue each period with its own feel.
Volpatto recounts the plan: Montañez’s 1960s childhood would be “a kind of nostalgic look with faded golden hues.”
Then the ’70s, when he was coming of age, were close to the look of the police shows of the time, with a more grainy, contrasty, and dramatic look. It instantly conveys to the audience that this is a more troublesome time.
“The ’80s, when the heart of the story takes place, would also embrace warm colors, but not to the extent of the childhood scenes. We showed the looks to Eva during the testing phase, and she really liked the idea.”
When it came time for the final color, he added, “we started with the appropriate LUTs for the time period and added color on top of that.” For the distant memories of the protagonist’s youth, Volpatto introduced additional elements within Resolve to help make the digital imagery, shot on Venice 2 cameras, look something like film that has faded. He added subtle effects to essentially reduce the sharpness of the high-res imagery, making use of effects within Resolve’s OpenFX panel to introduce lens flares and chromatic aberration artifacts that might have been present on material shot with optics of the era.
A significant portion of the film is set on the factory floor, and it was very important to Longoria and Cantini to represent the environment in a very realistic way. The production, the colorist notes, “built this great mockup of a factory, making it extremely realistic, and Federico captured it beautifully. From a color grading perspective, it definitely couldn’t look glamorous, even within the normal constraints of making a movie, but we weren’t making a horror film either.”
Volpatto knew precisely what she wanted. “My very first job was in a factory, working on an assembly line,” he recalls, “I remember the feeling was almost lifeless. We made sure almost everything in that location was a neutral gray except for the workers’ skin tones.”
This concept, he adds, is also set off in bold relief in scenes depicting Montañez’s homelife. “That called for a warmer, cozier feeling,” Volpatto explains. “His home is his safe space.”
The film is now available for streaming on Disney+ and Hulu.
For more on the production, including additional details about the LUT creation,
check out this fascinating interview with the director, DP, and editor.