Anthony Raffaele, Senior Colourist, Technicolor PostWorks NY tells Vinita Bhatia his experience of working with cinematographer Vittorio Storaro for Woody Allen’s Café Society and how they collaborated to wrap the entire cast in a honeyed light that was a throwback to the 30s era
Woody Allen films have a tantalizing balance of emotions with fleeting bursts of passion. They lack the garish glare of contemporary cinema; instead often continuing to be ensconced in a cocoon of romantic hues of an erstwhile era.
As senior colourist for Allen’s latest movie, Café Society, Anthony Raffaele knew that he had to adhere to this delicate balance where the protagonists lived a life that was poignant and glamorous, casting them in a honeyed light that was a flawless throwback to the 30s.
Raffaele began his career with Nice Shoes in 2001 and joined Deluxe in 2009. Now at Technicolor PostWorks, he is amongst the sought-after colourists in New York, and counts himself fortunate for getting the opportunity to work with veteran cinematographer Vittorio Storaro on Allen’s Café Society. Raffaele tells Vinita Bhatia what an amazing experience it was to work with Storaro and how he enjoyed grading the movie on Baselight.
Actors Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart with director Woody Allen while filming the movie.
You began your career in the shipping department of Nice Shoes. How did you end up becoming a colourist?
After graduating from film school, I ended up working in the shipping department of New York post house Nice Shoes, which had a very good training program. During my eight years there, I learned everything I could about video, film and post-production. I started my journey from shipping to colourist, doing everything from cleaning 35mm film to assisting commercial colourists. At that time I primarily graded commercials and music videos, all working at night.
When I started, we were primarily working with film on Spirit telecines, then switched to non-linear colour correction and finally to Baselight. I moved to Deluxe New York for the next six years, where the opportunity arose to grade Blue Bloods, a big CBS show. I had a chance to do a couple of feature films as well, working with cinematographers like Rachel Morrison, Igor Martinovic, and Dean Cundey.
I moved to Technicolor PostWorks New York in 2014. One of the draws of coming here was that they support Baselight, so I jumped at the opportunity.
Then working with a veteran like Vittorio Storaro must have been like a dream come true!
I met Vittorio Storaro when we were testing the F65 camera in 4K projection at Technicolor PostWorks. I ended up
colouring both the dailies and the final for Café Society. I consider it a huge honour and a lifetime opportunity to work with him.
Storaro was like a teacher, talking about the art, about inspiration and where to find it. Everything from how to frame a picture to why colour temperatures is important. You learn a new perspective from someone who is a master of his art, but is also fun to work with.
Woody Allen with cinematographer Vittorio Storaro on location of Café Society.
His team is equally fantastic – Will Arnott, the cameraman and the DIT Simone d’Arcangelo, among others. Café Society was a very collaborative way of working and fun: you might think that artists of this calibre would be more stressful to work with, but it was quite the opposite.
Was it difficult grading this Woody Allen movie?
Amazingly, Café Society is Woody Allen’s first digital feature film as director. Set in the 1930s, it follows the life of Bobby Dorfman (played by Jesse Eisenberg) from his humble origins in the Bronx to the glitz and glamour of working in Hollywood. After getting his heart broken in California, Dorfman returns to New York and finds his calling running a nightclub.
The film is beautifully shot by Storaro. We created several looks that reflected the major locations, each requiring a distinctive visual style.
From his previous experience using Baselight in Europe, Storaro was insistent that it was the ideal tool for both the dailies and DI. I was delighted that he wanted the same colourist for the dailies and finishing, a preference he developed working for so many years with the master lab timer Ernesto Novelli at Technicolor in Rome. Working with Storaro this way proved to be one of the greatest opportunities I’ve ever had.
The technical aspects of the process were also uncompromising. Because we worked entirely in the Baselight colour spaces and ACES from dailies through to the final, we never hunted for the looks; we just refined them in harmony with the film as it evolved. We also conformed the picture in Baselight – this was a first for us, and allowed direct manipulation of the original camera media where required.
Which are some of the other projects that you are working on currently?
I am currently grading three TV shows – The Jim Gaffigan Show, Difficult People and Odd Mom Out. I also have Younger. Each of these have their own look and their own style, but none are technically or emotionally heavy.
Kristen Stewart and Jesse Eisenberg in the movie.
How different is it grading films, commercials and TV programmes?
The biggest learning curve was going from commercials to TV as you are undoing tendencies to catch peoples’ eye, to create vivid, strong images all the time. While grading features, you create a palette that is more soothing to the eye, so the contrast and saturation are different. It is like learning a different part of your craft, a different language.
With film, you often have considerably more time to fine-tune the grade, while in TV the turnaround time is much shorter, so you are more likely to make broader, strategic adjustments to the overall look.
How would you define your personal style of grading?
It is certainly ideal to plan the look in advance as with Café Society, but often the clients come in the day of their session with the cut and only then discuss the look of the film. So, my style is to be as collaborative as I can be, to listen and keep my eyes open.
It is not that I don’t have a style; the style is the project I’m working on, collaborating with the cinematographer and creative to craft a look that suits their story.
How does the DI suite and Baselight set-up fit into your workflow?
We will conform on Baselight or on another system like Autodesk Flame or even Avid depending on the technical
requirements of the project. If I want to work off raw files, we can conform on Baselight as it is the most flexible way to get grading and VFX dropped in as needed from other facilities.
For features, I have been using a 4K Barco digital cinema projector, so I prefer to grade to XYZ as I feel that is how your DCP is being made – what you see is what you get in colour correction at that point. We also make the DI deliverables in Baselight. Titling is done outside then brought into Baselight so when clients review we can adjust the colour behind the titles, darken the title itself, and so on.
For TV shows, we often use a Baselight for Avid-Baselight workflow, so shows are conformed on an Avid, the online editor passes an AAF back to me. I colour and then return the AAF with colour, so it’s nearly renderless. This is usually done on a fixed display in a normal TV suite, where the colourist is sitting up close to the screen.
We also use consumer 4K displays as well, as a kind of gut-check.
Why do you prefer Baselight?
The best part about Baselight is that there is no clear-cut way to do one thing; there is a lot of depth to the creativity. It lets me be as expressive as I want to be, using different tools to get really great results.
You can create one correction on Layer One and create a different correction on Layer Two, which both look great. But if you flip layer two to one, it changes and creates a different density, a different look. This interaction between layers in Baselight is fantastic and it is more intuitive and has a huge range of tools.
What about working in HDR?
On Café Society, we did the full DI projected in X’Y’Z’. When we came into the room to do a Rec.709 trim for television, we put the BT.1886 display transform on and I think we put half a point of red throughout the entire show, which was essentially the only adjustment.
We then did a transform to PQ for HDR and again it very much looked the way we expected it to. We then did some tricks on top of that to take advantage of the HDR contrast range but we were able to start at a place that looked comfortably like the HD grade, only with more range around it – that sort of colour management is really unsurpassed. It is fantastic!
That is huge for me because I can say confidently to my client that this is what it will look like from the DI, to Rec.709, to HDR, to a QuickTime file on your laptop. You can go from one room to another, and the client has faith that the decisions they are making will transfer to another display format.
Did Baselight help with your productivity and creativity?
It gives me the flexibility and tools to be as creative as I need to be. Clients notice that I am able to translate what they are asking for with ease in Baselight. They also appreciate the speed of using the Blackboard panel. The layout of the Blackboard helps: it is very intuitive with keys set in really good spots.
I have worked on other systems where clients asked what it would look like with a more diffused look – like a classic soft filter – or with an added grain look. It’s easy to do on a Baselight, but it really isn’t on other systems. On the flip side, clients can ask to do something super highly saturated, with very specific colours. With the matte tools in Baselight I can pop specific things without rotoscoping the whole film. The qualifiers are unsurpassed.
In your opinion, how has a colourist’s evolved over the years?
The role of the colourist has grown, particularly in feature films where we are getting pulled in earlier and earlier in the process. With systems like Baselight, you have the tools to restore scenes that clients might be worried about. Being able to do what the client wants means they come back with ideas and bounce them off you.
For example, in Café Society, Storaro wanted a candlelit scene and we spoke about how much we could do before the shoot, how to take care of noise, all as a collaborative team. Getting the colourist involved early has the clients doing more: you could say they are there to steer the boat while we are there to make sure the engine is right and running correctly.