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Howard Lukk's Short Film 'Emma' Gets the High Dynamic Range Treatment with Help from DaVinci Resolve

There is something special about "Emma." Not only did the short film have its screening at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival, but it was also one of the very first films shot and produced in a High Dynamic Range (HDR) workflow. HDR produces a greater dynamic range of luminosity and allows the cinematographer to capture and display a much wider contrast ratio. And while HDR requires filmmakers to pay more attention to the nuances of shooting, such as lighting, production and costume design and makeup, being able to take advantage of a greater range in color in post production creates truly stunning images more akin to what the human eye sees.

Directed by Howard Lukk and produced by Andrea Dimity, "Emma" is a 60's period piece suspense thriller. On one stormy night in the country Edward Taylor is asked to drive out to help his boss Jack solve a mystery. Jack's wife Emma has gone missing. Strange events are put in motion when a medium shows up that begins to explain why Edward is really there. 

According to Lukk, the script, written by Rod Bogart, reminded him and Dimity of an "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" television show, which consisted of a series of short stories. They wanted the type of story that really entices viewers to see how the clues unfold.

Great Range Across Multiple Versions
"The specific desire was to have great range in the dark areas of scenes to amplify the tension of the story," explained Lukk. "The film starts with a driving shot at sunset as Edward approaches the door of an old Victorian house as night falls. Once inside, the story begins to unfold as a medium arrives and a sťance begins in the dark with just candles to light the way. The storm outside intensifies, and soon we see lighting strike and strange things begin to happen."

With such intense visuals, which needed to mirror the intensity of the storyline, Lukk turned to Munich based colorist Florian 'Utsi' Martin to grade the film. And Martin, who has a lot of experience grading for HDR monitors, used DaVinci Resolve for the grade.

"We started to grade the short film for standard DCP delivery on a 2K DCI projector because we were waiting for the latest HDR monitor to come to Munich for the HDR version," said Martin. "For the DCP cinema version we decided on a very traditional cinema look with some print film emulation look mixed in.

"After we finished the cinema version, we switched to the HDR monitor. We used the same grade settings in DaVinci Resolve and had the full dynamic range available for the HDR grade, running through ARRI's color management system, which is already ready for different HDR deliverables. This worked out very well, and we ended up doing a sort of trim pass for the HDR version for 2000 nits," he added. "The third and last version was a standard Rec 709 grading, which was again derived from the cinema version. This worked very well again, and we did a small contrast adjustment for the whole movie."

According to Lukk, for the standard DCP delivery, DaVinci Resolve's Power Windows were used to isolate particular items in shots, such as a bright interior window, the car against the sunset and other areas, to balance out the scene. 

Added Martin: "There were small challenges in that some shots were not shot on location, but rather later on stage. In the HDR version you could just spot the difference, and we started to mask and track all foreground elements to treat the background differently. Resolve's fast and reliable plane tracker helped us a great deal in this."

He added: "What was also very helpful for the whole workflow and the three different versions was the ability to have different 3D-LUTs in every single grading node combined with the group grading function," explained Martin. "Without this feature, it wouldn't have been possible to do these different versions for the different dynamic ranges. We used specific LUTs for getting the OpenEXR/ACES files back to Log C and then specific LUTs for each version."

Martin noted that once all the versions were graded, they would review the three versions one after the other and would start making changes to one of the versions and sometimes all of the versions. "This was very easy to achieve with Resolve's grading node tree, and we would keep some nodes for a particular version whereas others would change for all versions," he said.

"We even used some compound clips in Resolve to achieve some effects over time on multiple shots," concluded Martin. "Resolve was reliable in handling the different delivery formats and was very good with handling the OpenEXR files."

About Howard Lukk
Howard has always had a deep passion for science and filmmaking that began at an early age in his life. After learning electronics in the Army, he worked his way up to being a V.P. of Production Technologies at The Walt Disney Studios, where he worked to incorporate new technologies into the studios filmmaking workflow.       

Howard has now let his passion for filmmaking take over his life and is currently working full time as an independent filmmaker working on feature films, television and various media projects as a writer and director. 

Howard is a Standards Director for the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE) and is an Associate member of the American Society of Cinematographers (ASC). He also has patents pending in the area of stereoscopic and computational cinematography.

About Florian Martin
Florian 'Utsi' Martin is the Lead Digital Colorist for ARRI Cine Technik in
Munich. He currently develops workflows and color pipelines for film projects and is grading feature films. At ARRI, he developed a complete color pipeline from set to the final DCP for the first feature film shot on the ALEXA camera, "Anonymous" (directed by Roland Emmerich) and completed the grading. 2001 Florian moved to New Zealand where he worked for more than three years as Lead Digital colorist on the trilogy "The Lord of the Rings." Afterwards, he worked as a freelance colorist worldwide. Since 2010, he has been part of the digital workflow solutions team at ARRI in Munich with emphasis on grading, VFX and workflows.

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Related Keywords:Blackmagic Design, DaVinci Resolve, Cinematography

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