CASE STUDY: OUTLAW POSSE
Directed by Mario Van Peebles
Before The Grade
Outlaw Posse was a highly collaborative project with multiple stakeholders, including primarily of course director Mario Van Peebles, but also cinematographer Kurt Soderling and producers Josh Russell and Kip Konwiser, among others. A reinvention of the classic Western from the point of view of a racially diverse group of outcasts, this story took place in a heightened reality that merited strong and impactful visuals.
The film was shot on the Arri Alexa Mini in ARRIRAW, and the footage was gorgeous. The camera department monitored the film on set using a creative LUT sourced online which applied both a color space transform and a creative look simultaneously. With the LUT being inspired by Once Upon a Time in the West, their plan was for this to be part of the film’s final look and output.
Beyond The LUT
The first challenge was to move past this LUT, which didn’t suit the project. The distributor wanted flexibility in how the film could be viewed, and this LUT coupled its creative look with a built-in ArriLogC-to-Rec.709 transform. This effectively limited the film’s viewing potential to TV broadcast and YouTube, leaving no great options for how to potentially deliver to Netflix or DCP and no way to future-proof the film. The creative look also didn’t work well with the film’s more dimly lit scenes, including most of the interiors. It had a bit of a dusty, sepia toned color wash that wasn’t quite right for a film that was based on historical figures and events but also incorporated elements that bordered on fantasy.
My first task was to demonstrate that we didn’t need the LUT. I created a look test using about 3 minutes of footage from the film, and created a style that was initially very similar to the LUT but existed within a color-managed workflow that didn’t lock the film into any one display color gamut. This meant that the film would be versatile and future-proof for any new display technology.
The DP gave enthusiastic approval, meaning my next order of business was to tackle the complete 100-minute film. Wary of rocking the boat right off the bat, I still stayed fairly close to the overall look of the LUT using my own manual adjustments. There were some difficult shot-level challenges, such as low-light cave scenes and exterior scenes in which the natural lighting changed over the course of a shoot day, or were simply shot at very different times of day. I used a hefty dose of the Neat Video plugin to reduce noise on shots that needed an exposure boost. I also put my honed eye for shot-matching to good use to unify evening, morning, and afternoon shots within a single exterior scene. The first draft was already in a very solid place.
On further discussion with the director, he and the DP and I agreed that sticking to the look they got used to seeing on set and in the edit was limiting us creatively. We went with a look that stayed true to the filmic and Western-inspired visuals of the film, which employed vintage anamorphic lenses, but which was also more colorful and painterly. Mario liked to call this the pot of honey, or gold, which was less washed-out than the sepia look and applied generously throughout. Blue skies helped increase the color separation and overall visual appeal, helping to convey the slight “fantasy” element of the film. We all agreed that this was far superior to the LUT. Further refinements were all based around this richer, “Maxfield Parrish” look.
A MOVIE YOU WANT TO CLIMB INTO
While different stakeholders had different priorities, ultimately everyone ended up on the same page and was happy with the result. Visual effects were still being completed as the color grading was in its final stages, so certain shots needed to be updated through close collaboration with the VFX artist. Ultimately, the DP, director, and producers loved the finished product, and felt that the look helped “sell” the distinctive world of the film, which audiences would want to climb into.