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Colorworks Evokes Classic Martial Arts Films in Grading The Man With the Iron Fists

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Colorworks DI colorist Trent Johnson graded the new martial arts movie, The Man With The Iron Fists.
Colorworks, Sony Pictures Entertainment’s digital intermediate facility, provided color grading services for Universal PicturesThe Man With the Iron Fists. The new action-adventure film presented by Quentin Tarantino marks the directorial debut of RZA, best known as a founding member of the hip-hop group Wu Tang Clan, and stars RZA, Russell Crowe, Lucy Liu, Rick Yune, Jamie Chung and Pam Grier.

Colorworks senior colorist Trent Johnson was tasked with finalizing the look of the film, which was shot in China by cinematographer Chi Ying Chan (credited in film as Chan Chi Ying) (Dead or Alive, Tokyo Raiders). The film, according to Johnson, is lush and rich, in keeping with the mythic style of the classic Chinese martial arts films of the ’70s and ’80s that inspired it. “The look was imposed by the set design, by the art direction and the costumes,” said Johnson. “It’s formalized, like much of Chinese art and architecture.”

Johnson developed an unusual color effect for a flashback sequence set in the U.S. when the film’s lead character, Blacksmith (RZA), was a young man. He de-saturated the scene to black & white and then applied spot color to certain highlights. “We brought back the yellow glow of a lantern and a flame, and restored the red to blood,” he recalled. “It was important to establish that the scene was a flashback and to let the audience know that we are in a different time and place.”

Johnson took even greater liberties with a series of stylized martial arts scenes that play under the film’s end credits. “We applied different effects to each clip, all of them reminiscent of older martial arts films,” he said. “We used color reversal looks, Kodachrome looks, Ektachrome looks and similar looks that were created with film stocks.”

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