The finishing touches were completed on Warner Bros. DUMA during digital intermediate (DI) timing sessions with director Carroll Ballard (THE BLACK STALLION, FLY AWAY HOME) at LaserPacific in Hollywood. DUMA is an adventure story that revolves around the relationship between a boy and an orphaned cheetah rescued in the wilds of Africa.
"It's a wonderful story with a lot of heart and beautiful cinematography," said LaserPacific senior colorist Mike Sowa. "We turned day into night and created sunrises and sunsets in the jungle. There are also visual effects shots, including a close encounter with crocodiles and a breathtaking wildebeest stampede. It's in this setting that the tools of the digital intermediate really give the creative team extra ammunition."
"It's not a high-budget film, and a lot of the drama happens outside at night in the wild," added Ballard. "We filmed it in South Africa at locations I had scouted for another picture about 20 years ago. The landscape had not changed all that much. DUMA's cinematographer, Werner Maritz, has a great eye and powerful visual sensibilities. Our decision to shoot day for night was motivated by our decision not to carry a lot of lights into the wilderness, but the much of the story happens in the night. The digital intermediate was Werner's idea. We shot tests and experimented with darkening the sky. After I saw the tests, I was absolutely amazed by the flexibility we had and how good it looked.
"We had storyboards that gave everyone an idea of what we wanted in every planned shot, but there is a certain amount of serendipity in every movie. When you are working with animals and children, it's all chance." The digital intermediate helped assure that these chances did not derail the story.
After the film was cut by editor Tom Christopher, the digital intermediate process began at LaserPacific, and the conformed negative was scanned at 4K resolution, optimized for digital intermediate workflow at 2K. Sowa explained that 4K scans ensure that nuances in contrast and colors recorded on the original negative are retained through the conversion process. Ballard supervised the color grading sessions at the Digital Timing Theater at LaserPacific, where images are displayed through a Christie 2K digital projector on a 33-foot-wide and 13-foot-high screen.
"I watched the entire movie with Carroll to get a sense of where he wanted to go," Sowa said. "Then we'd watch one scene at a time and I'd get his feedback. The night sky looked very blue. Carroll asked me to bring the blue tones down and make the sky look silvery. We also made late afternoon shots leading into nightfall darker and a bit warmer to give them the feeling of golden hour, and we timed scenes where night fades into dawn. Everybody perceives that look differently. Carroll wanted the shadows very cool. As twilight progressed towards sunrise, we used Power Windows to make the shadows warmer and a little brighter with a slight pink magenta tone on the horizon. These tools allow filmmakers like Carroll creative latitude that is sometimes taken away from them during the pressures of production."
In addition to fine-tuning the dawn, dusk and night skies and timing the film for shot-to-shot consistency, Ballard and Sowa seamlessly integrated visual effects images into the movie. For instance, elements of shots taken on a crocodile farm were composited with live-action footage of the boy and his pet cheetah.
In some shots, Ballard chose to recompose images in the DI suite. For instance, in one scene he decided to lower the framing enough to reveal more of the top of a mountain. Sowa listened, recomposed the shot, and simultaneously projected it on the big screen to show Ballard the results. Then, Sowa took Ballard's comments, and made it a little higher or lower.
Sowa selected segments of different DI shots every day to record out onto 35mm color intermediate film to evaluate the process as it related to film recording. Ballard and Sowa began each day by screening the print, and discussing any adjustments the director wanted in the DI files. Ballard said this method gave him a truer picture of how the DI files translated to print film. He found that the film images have denser black tones and slightly richer colors.
LaserPacific (www.laserpacific.com), which was acquired by the Eastman Kodak Co., has a 24-year legacy of workflow innovation and creative application of technology.