It all started with a joke when Sesame Street tweeted: “Cookie Monster: Me just met you. Dis is crazy. But me love cookies! Gimme, maybe?” a spoof on the popular Carly Rae Jepsen song “Call Me Maybe.” That one simple tweet quickly led to 9,359 retweets, inciting Sesame Workshop, the non profit organization behind Sesame Street, to complete the “Share It Maybe” music video just weeks later.
Directors Josh and Jason Diamond of the Diamond Brothers conspired with editor Jesse Averna to create the video, which features Cookie Monster on a mission for cookies in an office where they always seem to be just out of his reach, whether passing by on a mail cart, on top of the photocopier or in a closed door meeting.
“I would love to work with Cookie” was my lightning fast response when the Diamond Brothers called on me to grade and finish the video. Working out of GRS Systems, a rental, production and post house in New York City, I knew I’d be using a beta of Blackmagic Design’s DaVinci Resolve 9 color correction software.
A MONSTER OF A DEADLINE
In order to capitalize on the popularity of the tweet and the viral nature of social media, the video needed to be completed within only a couple of days. Social media fame does not wait for slow color correction. Since it was a time sensitive project with a very tight turn around, Resolve 9 was clearly the perfect tool for the job.
Resolve 9’s completely new user interface and new features aimed at accelerating the workflow speed of the entire color correction process made it the obvious choice. After mentioning to the Diamond Brothers how the new features and workflow enhancements within Resolve 9 would help us realize their vision in record time, they were totally game.
With Resolve 9, many projects can get started in just three steps, and with all the grading controls on new larger palettes, colorist like myself have faster access to the tools they need. For a project like “Share It Maybe,” the acceleration of the color correction workflow was essential to meeting the incredibly tight deadline.
Resolve 9’s new streamlined project selection made it a cinch to get started, and new scrub-able media thumbnails allowed me to quickly review source clips and select shots. New production metadata fields are handy for shot notes, and resizable gallery stills let me to work the way I want.
Resolve 9 made it possible to conform the locked cut of Cookie Monster’s Share It Maybe in seconds. And great new organizational features, such as node labeling, markers and pins, allowed me to keep track of exactly what I was doing and what I needed to do to realize my clients’ vision.
Underneath the new features and design, I was able to rely on the core features that have made Resolve the most used color correction tool in the industry. Resolve’s unsurpassed support for a wide range of formats and native camera files meant that I was able to seamlessly work with the 4K footage coming from the two Red Epic cameras.
With improvements like the new R3D trim function, I was easily able to copy only the media used in the actual edit onto my SAN. Being able to work directly in the native Red files, I could reposition and scale shots directly within Resolve without image quality loss, and this meant the Diamond Brothers could make creative decisions about shot scaling and positioning all the way through finishing.
In the process of experimentation, I was able to use Resolve 9’s new log grading tool (available in every node) to try different takes on particular grades. Being sure to name my nodes as I went along, of course, so that if there is a sequel, I’ll know exactly what I was thinking.
CREATING COOKIE MONSTER
For the video, Cookie Monster was shot on greenscreen, and one of my first priorities was to make sure we were going to get a grade on him and his background that worked. Cookie Monster’s final key would come after color correction, so using a rough key in Resolve, we were able to see the composite and grade the background and foreground separately to match.
Of course, one of my highest priorities was ensuring Cookie Monster was just the right shade of blue. Having worked on projects with well-known performers before, I knew I’d have to give Cookie Monster the star treatment for his close-up.
I used qualifiers to selectively grade Cookie Monster in all his shots, making sure he was just the right shade of blue. Being able to use multiple nodes on my star provided an amazing amount of fine control. A nice key on Cookie Monster’s fur tones kept his corrections isolated from the rest of the image and looking his best.
Doing the rough composite in Resolve, the Diamond Brothers were able to preview and approve Cookie Monster’s color, and in the final conform, we had a well-balanced composite without having to revise our color correction. I didn’t have to worry about retracing my steps and adjusting Cookie Monster or his backgrounds, which saved time.
FINISHING IN RESOLVE 9
In homage to Carly Rae Jepsen, one scene shows the original music video playing on a computer monitor. During production, the music video was played on an LCD screen, but the images weren’t clear in the resulting footage. We used Resolve 9’s sophisticated tracker to track the computer screen as it moved in the shot. Additionally, I was able to qualify and exclude the performers in the foreground. By combining these two techniques using Resolve’s node-based workflow, I was able to make drastic adjustments to correct issues in the shot, saving the cost and time of a VFX pass that would have required tracking, rotoscoping and compositing.
Once Cookie Monster’s greenscreen shots were keyed, they were rendered out as ProRes 4444. With Resolve 9’s new support for alpha channels, executing the final composites was as easy as placing the shots on the timeline. This is a great new feature, which gives maximum flexibility and control, allowing colorists to check and tweak elements coming back from VFX.
Thanks to Resolve, we not only made sure Cookie Monster looked his best, but also completed the project on schedule. In the end, everyone (including our star) got their cookie, and with almost eight million views and 66,000 likes already, there’s no denying people are enjoying the results.
Based in New York City, colorist and online editor, Juan Salvo, has had extensive experience in the feature, documentary, commercial and broadcast episodic markets. Among his credits are PBS series 'Kimchi Chronicles' and 'Spain... On the road Again' with Mario Batalli and Gwyneth Paltrow. Salvo has also had extensive experience as a consultant and engineer, helping artists and filmmakers realize their vision. His work restoring archival performances for Marina Abramovic's 'The Artist is Present' MoMA retrospective was featured in the recent HBO documentary of the same name.