Walter Volpatto Talks Node Structure

Walter Volpatto, Senior Colorist, Company 3 (Interstellar, Homecoming, Dunkirk), drops so much wisdom in this one hour, 45 min video! There isn’t a dull moment, but perhaps the most interesting segment begins at one hour, 27 minutes where the colorist describes how he had to make the digital image match the film print of Dunkirk when the two were projected side-by-side. Below are a few excerpts from the video.

Keying faces

I do not do secondary on the skin. For me, when I do balance, it means that the main actress  – balance, color, skin tone – has to be right. Then, I do everything else. There is no reason for me to make the white white, the black black. If the skin tone of the main character is not right, think about it – who tells the story? the main character. I don’t give a damn if the black is not black. I need her to look good in this particular shot. 


Now, you see me use Offset. Why do I use Offset? For one simple reason: the color space where doing the color, it’s a logarithmic color space. In a pure mathematical, logarithmic color space, Offset represents almost perfectly an exposure change on the set – mathematically – and a white balance change as if you’re doing it in camera. Even in a color space like Log C or S-Log3, they’re not mathematically perfect. They’re still close enough that within two stops of exposure, you can use Offset and pretty much the photography will behave as if you’re doing a change in camera. So I don’t fiddle with  temperature and tint. I don’t fiddle with the RAW parameter. I’m expecting the director of photography already did that. I shouldn’t do that. Also, if you fiddle with the raw parameter, the problem you can incur is if the director of photography is looking for a very specific effect, for example, is shooting in daylight but it changed the liberty the color temperature to making it warmer, more sunlight, golden if you try to balance it out, now you’re going against the director of photography. So always assume that unless you have an idiot giving you an image, you know what he’s doing.


Unfortunately, I’m changing my mind on grain and I explain you why. First of all, I love grain, I love the idea of grain and for me it reminds me of film. I mean, there is really nothing more obvious than grain to tell you ‘this has been shot on film’. Now, Interstellar was shot on film, like Dunkirk, like others: so the grain was naturally what the film negative – actually in this case, the interpositive – was giving me. And I always like to add grain to my projects. There is a problem and it’s how we actually watch nowadays footage on Netflix or Amazon or TV, whatever. The compression system is killing the details so there is a problem where the more grain you add, the more hard the compression algorithm has to work in order to keep those details and the more compression you get on the actual overall image. So nowadays, unless the image already has grain or unless the director of photography really wanted me to add a bunch of grain, I tend to not add it anymore because you’ll never see what I’m seeing. The compression will kill it. It’s just the way it works. And when I work with material that has grain, I only worry about the shot-to-shot-to-shot consistency. So I’m looking for the outliers, usually the underexposed shot. If I need to attack grain, I only reduce the underexposed ones just enough that they blend with the other ones. I try not to remove, add – I worked with the director of photography that he liked to shoot in film and the first thing he does is passing through Neat Video to take away the grain because he like the color of film, not the grain. I don’t think it’s a good idea, but hey, if you like it, we’ll do that. Usually, if somebody’s shot in film, it’s because they like the texture and I usually tend to just preserve it. Just don’t do anything stupid to it, try to preserve it as much as possible, try to blend it, and that’s about it – but for the longest time I was the one asking, you know, add grain. Now I don’t do it anymore. Now, for the actual quality of grain itself, you can use Resolve grain, plates like Cinegrain. You can use LiveGrain that costs impossible amount of money – given that at the end of the day everything will will be compressed, and given that on a real image you will not be able to see the difference, who cares? Use whatever grain you have, it’s fine. I usually use Resolve grain. Occasionally I use Cinegrain, but the one with the flicker just to make something look extremely old or for example, if you have old footage and you have to blend the new text [by making it look worse], then that’s a good idea.

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