Light Iron colorist Corinne Bogdanowicz details color grading on the high seas for the HBO Series Our Flag Means Death. The comedy series is loosely based on the true adventures of Stede Bonnet (Rhys Darby), a pampered aristocrat who abandoned his life of privilege to become a pirate. The series also stars Academy Award® winner and Emmy®-nominated Taika Waititi as “Blackbeard,” history’s most feared and revered pirate. In addition to Darby and Waititi, the ensemble cast includes Nathan Foad, Samson Kayo, Vico Ortiz, Ewen Bremner, Joel Fry, Matt Maher, Kristian Nairn, Con O’Neill, Guz Khan, David Fane, Rory Kinnear, Samba Schutte, Nat Faxon, Fred Armisen and Leslie Jones.
PH: How long have you been a colorist and how did you get involved in the industry?
Corinne Bogdanowicz: “I’ve been working in the industry for over 17 years. I’ve always been interested in color and lighting, but as someone with a long-standing family association with the colorist profession, you could say my family had some influence over this interest. My sister is also a colorist and my dad is a color scientist.”
PH: How early did you get involved in the series?
Corinne Bogdanowicz: “I was involved very early in the production, before shooting even began. Because the series used a lot of LED walls to provide the various backdrops, we had to do plenty of testing before production could start shooting. We did as much testing as possible to get ourselves ahead to make sure we’d have fewer problems later. There was a lot of pre-grading of background plates to get them in a good place, with the idea we could make adjustments later on as needed.”
PH: What kind of testing was required for the LED walls?
Corinne Bogdanowicz: “For testing we had to monitor in SDR, then take the footage and view it in HDR so we could spot any artifacts or seams on the LED wall that wouldn’t be visible in the on-set monitors. The production team was a little worried about this because any unexpected surprises could ruin the shot, but it wouldn’t be discovered until the footage was seen in HDR. Our goal was to use the testing to anticipate any potential issues that could pop up and find out which kinds of lighting and angles would work best. We wanted to have all of this worked out to ensure the actual shoot went as smoothly as possible.”
PH: Did you create any look-up tables (LUTs) for the project?
Corinne Bogdanowicz: “Yes. We created a LUT to help with the color adjustments in post. The team did already have a main LUT that the digital imaging technician made, so I built a corresponding HDR LUT using Baselight so the production team could view the dailies in HDR. This involved a technical conversion from SDR to HDR by matching grades and then extending up to HDR.”
PH: How would you describe the look that the showrunner and cinematographers wanted to create?
Corinne Bogdanowicz: “Filmic, soft, and natural. Because the show is set on a boat, between the water and skies, blue is obviously the dominant color. To provide some contrast and take the edge off, we desaturated the blues to get a softer look with more natural tones. We took a similar approach for the scenes filmed below deck. With the candlelight and rays coming through the windows, the lighting was moodier and more dramatic, but we still wanted to keep the soft contrast.”
PH: What workflows did you use, and did you run into any challenges?
Corinne Bogdanowicz: ”We were able to achieve a seamless workflow using Baselight that worked great for the show. Regardless of what color space I needed to go to, I was able to do a simple conversion all within one system using Baselight’s display transforms.
Overall, production went smoothly, but there were of course some difficulties. The main challenge we ran into was integrating visual effects into the scenes that also used LED walls. Despite the fact we used many of the same plates in their compositing, there were still occasional color differences that needed adjustment. For example, the scenes with characters in smaller boats, with water surrounding them and a background like an island in the distance, were really challenging. These scenes had lots of elements that we had to integrate, and again, they used a mixture of LED walls and visual effects, making it even more important to make sure everything was matching. That said, the visual effects team did an excellent job integrating the greenscreen and LED wall shots.”
PH: Did you have to approach a scene any differently if it was shot with greenscreen as opposed to an LED wall?
Corinne Bogdanowicz: “Somewhat. I did enjoy a slight advantage when it came to the greenscreen shots. The visual effects team gave me mattes for the background, so I was able to adjust them separately from the foreground. This wasn’t the case for the LED walls – I had to make the mattes myself and integrate all the elements however I could. The majority of the scenes entailed a mixture of LED walls and effects, so luckily, I could match one side to the other and address any problems that came up.”