NEW YORK CITY - Goldcrest Post (goldcrestpostny.com) helped to prepare Cat Person for its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival. The studio provided a comprehensive list of post production services for the psychological thriller, which was director by Susanna Fogel.
Goldcrest handled both picture and sound finishing for Cat Person, with colorist Alex Berman working with Fogel to finalize the film’s look, and supervising sound editor/re-recording mixer Eric Hirsch editing and mixing the soundtrack. Goldcrest Post’s sister company, Fancy House of Visual Effects, created dozens of effects for the feature, including a colony of ants. Goldcrest also provided dailies services during the production phase, and offline editing suites for the film’s picture editor, Jacob Craycroft, and his crew.
Cat Person stars Emilia Jones, lead actress from last year’s Oscar winner for Best Picture,
CODA, along with Nicholas Braun, star of the Emmy-winning series Succession. The film centers on a pair of movie lovers whose dating relationship grows increasingly complicated. The film makes subtle use of color to highlight twists in its narrative and underscore the mood swings.
Berman, taking direction from Fogel and Manuel Billeter, the film’s cinematographer, helped shape the look of the feature from the dailies’ phase.
“Manuel and I discussed the tone and concept behind the look, and created show LUTs for use in dailies,” Berman recalls. “He wanted to create a look that was close to the final look, with flexibility to address changes that inevitably arise later in the process.”
Overall, Billeter was aiming for a rich, cinematic look with natural contrast.
“We added a few points of blue and a couple points of green resulting in a subtle cyan, and made adjustments to that from scene to scene,” Berman explains. “Depending on the setting or the mood, we increased the green or brought in more warmth.”
Berman cites two scenes that illustrate his point.
“Margot and Robert’s first date occurs in an old movie theater with a façade of sparkling lights,” he shares. “It’s golden, very pretty. An earlier scene involving Robert, Margot and Margot’s teacher, played by Isabella Rossellini, has a different look. With those two beautiful women, the temptation was to make it look gorgeous, but the story dictated otherwise. The feeling between the characters is uncomfortable, and that’s reflected in the color. It happens in a sinister, cyan world.”
The tone of the narrative is also supported by sound design. Just as Berman did with color, Hirsch incorporated subtleties into the soundscapes to distinguish reality from fantasy and mirror the story’s menacing turn.
“Part of my discussions with Susanna concerned how far to go in signaling that we’ve moved into the realm of fantasy, because it’s not always meant to be immediately obvious to the audience,” Hirsch explains. “Often, we chose to merely hint at the change by adding sounds that contribute a feeling of unease or awkwardness.”
Many of the sounds that Hirsch used to suggest unease are subliminal. They appeal to the audience’s emotions without attracting notice.
“A lot of the sound design has a musical element,” says Hirsch. “We adjusted the tone or the pitch to achieve dissonance. It’s not something that registers consciously. Rather, you find yourself thinking, ‘What’s going on?’ It might be a rumble, like the start of an earthquake, although there’s no earthquake. It’s a way to add context to what’s happening between the people on the screen.”
Hirsch collaborated with picture editor Jacob Craycroft, who was working in offline suites at Goldcrest, creating and modifying soundscapes as the picture took shape.
“Jacob had done a lot of preliminary sound work on his own,” Hirsch recalls. “We used that as a roadmap, making it bigger and more nuanced. There’s a scene when Margot and Robert are on a date, where the ambiance rises slowly, becoming increasingly claustrophobic. It works in tandem with the way the picture is cut until they both reach the breaking point. It’s one of my favorite scenes in the film.”
The visual effects team at Fancy House of Visual Effects was also involved in the project from its early days. VFX supervisor Randie Swanberg was on the set to consult with Fogel and her crew on scenes that required visual effects and to collect photogrammetry and lighting data. One such scene involved a house that catches fire and burns to the ground.
“For safety reasons, the size of the practical fire was restricted,” recalls Swanberg. “The fire was shot beautifully, but it needed to be bigger, so we added supplemental flames to the interior and exterior. The day following the fire, they shot the house smoldering. We also enhanced that shot by adding a dilapidated roof and scorch marks to windows.”
The VFX team’s most complex work involved a scene featuring a glass terrarium containing a colony of ants.
“Several shots were designed to show the ants in extreme close up,” notes Swanberg. “The level of detail needed was incredible. Practical ant elements were shot as macro-photography with a snorkel lens and our job was to put them into the terrarium. The results were fantastic, but we needed a queen ant with wings. We solved that by adding CG wings to one of the ants. The wings were hairy and had a translucent outer shell. It was very challenging to pull it off, but our team did a remarkable job.”
Work on color, sound and visual effects overlapped and was often going on simultaneously. The fact that the DI theater used by Berman and the mix stage, manned by Hirsch, were in the same location was convenient and crucial to finishing the project on a tight deadline. It also had creative benefits, as Fogel could supervise a color session with Berman and descend two flights of stairs to work with Hirsch on the mix. Tight coordination was needed to align schedules and keep the pipeline running smoothly.
“The communication I had with the conform team and visual effects was excellent,” notes Berman. “I never had to ask for anything. As with any film, visual effects were constantly rolling in, but everything was delivered in the correct color space, so it fell right into the timeline. It was easy to grade incoming elements in the context of the film. It was the same with sound. Eric might be working on something and Jacob or Susanna could pop into my room to check out a shot he had a question about. Boom! I could show it to him. Being in the same building made everything simpler.”