SPOKANE, WA — North By Northwest Productions (http://nxnw.net) is serving as the production hub for SyFy’s zombie-themed series, Z Nation, which is currently airing its second season. The show revolves around a group of survivors who must cross the country with a possible cure for the zombie apocalypse.
Z Nation airs Friday nights at 10pm, and while Season 1 included 13 episodes, that number increases to 15 for Season 2.
NXNW’s Sam Read has been involved with the show for both seasons — initially as a data manager, and this season as the show’s colorist. “It’s filmed in Spokane. It’s edited in Spokane, and we master and send to The Asylum (www.theasylum.cc) for the review, and ultimately to New York at NBC Universal,” says Read. WATCH A CLIP
The studio provides both space and equipment for the show. “In the post world, we provide the facilities,” Read explains, “the computers, the maintenance, and they bring in their own union editors to work here so we have everyone in one place — that way we can take it straight from set, and do all of our transcoding and offline media, and get it to all of the editors as soon as possible, so there’s not really any downtime.”
Production offices are located in the lower level. Then there are three or four rooms that the show uses for editorial. Upstairs, there is another vendor handing visual effects. North By Northwest provides the color treatment.
The show is shot in 4K using Red’s Epic camera. They’ll also use a Sony A7S, a Canon 5D Mark II, and even Go Pros and drones. On occasion, 5K footage is captured for establishing shots or for VFX elements that will be composited. “It depends on the scenario,” says Read of the camera choice. Editorial is performed entirely in Adobe Premiere, and the online master is created using Blackmagic Design’s DaVinci Resolve.
While Premiere can handle the various cameras’ different native formats, North By Northwest performs transcoding, which helps streamline the workflow, says Read. “We give our editors very robust machines (Mac Pros), but we are keeping it the same protocol as we would for a Final Cut editorial, where we would go to ProRes,” he explains. “We give them a ProRes LT version and it works out really well in terms of offline/online because the file names stay the same. And when you go to do the digital conform from the intermediate, it allows us to reconnect to the Red media without having any issues.”
ProRes, he adds, “is just a happy medium. You could use DNxHD or do anything, but because Premiere is so flexible with different file types, it can get out of hand, especially if you are going from H.264 from the GoPros or the different file types of AVC HD that you get from the Sony cameras. It’s just nice to have everything in one boat so that we can link to our new online master when we do the color.”
The color for Z Nation has what Read describes as a “hybrid look.” The style was developed by show creator Karl Schaefer and director of photography Alexander Yellen.
“If you look at last season, it’s kind of evolved a little bit, but it’s a desaturated, fairly-monochromatic look,” Read notes. “We push towards a color. Some episodes, we end up having a little bit more saturation in it depending on what the environment is and what color we want to bring out — colors in the background, colors in the foreground — but it’s the apocalypse, so we’ve got to keep it fairly desaturated. We don’t want everyone to look beautiful and alive like it’s 2015.”
Z Nation allows him to use color in a creative manner, he adds, going beyond simply a correction process.
“It lends itself to the story,” says Read. “That’s what we are doing in the end — we are telling a story… And that’s what’s fun about color in this show in particular — they can do things in the end that can really make a scene come to life.”
Since the show’s look has been established, Read has a pretty good starting point of where he begins his grade. Still, he finds himself making continued adjustments with DaVinci Resolve.
“After you do enough of them, you have a general idea in terms of contrast and saturation…But I do end up doing very different looks on different scenes. It all depends on how they are shot. You can copy and paste, but it’s never going to work. You have a starting point and then you go from there. That’s what’s tricky about color correction — getting a scene that’s shot over two or three days and making it work.”
He typically has two days to perform his color pass, before reviewing it with the client or DP. The show is mastered in 4K and then brought down to 1080p for delivery to SyFy.