ASC feature film awards nominee Robert Richardson, ASC was unavailable for an interview for this issue of Below the Line. The following is based on an article “Robert Richardson, ASC Creates a Vintage Look for The Aviator,” by Bob Fisher, which appeared in the December 2004 issue of ICG Magazine.Robert Richardson, ASC, who photographed The Aviator, the story of eccentric motion picture and aviation pioneer Howard Hughes, faced an unusual set of technical and aesthetic requests from the film’s director Martin Scorsese. The movie emulates two- and three-strip Technicolor looks characteristic of some of the movies of the times when Hughes directed and produced films. Richardson put the final painterly touches on a complex color design during digital timing sessions at Technicolor Digital Intermediates in Los Angeles.Richardson emphasizes that the evolution of the look was a one-day-at-a-time process of discovery. Many color tests were done to translate to the digital intermediate. As a result of the tests, Richardson elected to use harder light in scenes where he needed to push colors or textures as well as define faces, but he didn’t try to emulate the period. He selected a diverse palette of films, including the older Eastman EXR 100T 5248 and 200T 5293 films for daylight scenes, and Kodak Vision 5279 and Vision2 5218 films for darker interiors and exteriors. Both of the latter are 500T emulsions, but the newer 5218 negative records slightly sharper images with a tighter grain structure.The Aviator was produced on sets at Mel’s Cite du Cinema in Montreal with about a month of shooting at locations in Los Angeles. Richardson was able to bring key members of his crew to Montreal, including first assistant Gregor Tavenner, who has worked with him for years, gaffer Ian Kincaid and key grip Herb Ault.His Los Angeles first unit included operator John Skotchdopole, assistants Kelly Uchimura, Jamie Felz, Cheli Clayton, John Connor and Larissa Supplitt, and loader Melanie Banders. The second unit worked with visual effects supervisor Rob Legato on inserts and visual effects shots. They included cinematographer Phil Pfeiffer, with Skotchdopole operating, assistants Chuck Katz, Rick Floyd, Gabe Pfeiffer, Todd Schlopy and loader Mark Gilmer.The majority of three-strip scenes were timed by “Vlad” Vladamir Zabribnski at Technicolor Creative Services Montreal. “Sparkle” (Steve Arkle) timed all the two-color dailies and all Los Angeles scenes at Technicolor Creative Services Hollywood. Richardson comments that Sparkle has been a frequent collaborator for many years, mainly on commercials that Richardson has directed and/or shot.“From a cinematographer’s perspective, one usually wants a color timer to be faithful to your vision. I see my relationship with Sparkle differently. If he can extend an idea, I’m willing to look as long as the frame of the original idea holds within his work.”Rob Legato and Technicolor color scientist Josh Pines collaborated on developing lookup tables that were used to “bake-in” the two- and three-color looks when Richardson timed the film in collaboration with senior digital colorist Stephen Nakamura. Pines explains that the look-up tables automatically adjusted colors to emulate two- and three-strip Technicolor looks when the images were projected in the DI suite while Richardson was timing the film for continuity and fine tuning visual nuances.After the film was edited offline, it was scanned at 2K resolution and converted to digital picture files. Color grading was performed on the da Vinci. A Christie 2K DLP (digital light projection) projector was used to display the images on a large screen about the size of one in a typical cineplex.“Digital intermediate technology gives you much more control over color grading and contrast,” Richardson says. “You can isolate and darken the sky or a wall in the background, control the brightness of light coming through windows and touch up skin tones either by softening or grain reduction. We made adjustments the equivalent of a quarter or half point in a film lab.”There were times when Legato and visual effects producer Ron Ames were in the DI suite with Richardson and Nakamura. They conferred on the seamless blending of live-action and visual effects shots.
Written by Jack Egan