4K/HDR: Grading the Marvel/Netflix series 'Daredevil'
Issue: August 1, 2015

4K/HDR: Grading the Marvel/Netflix series 'Daredevil'

Marvel’s DareDevil is the latest hit from Netflix and, just like the provider’s other shows, is being streamed online in 4K. The series stars Charlie Cox as Matt Murdock, a blind lawyer who, with his enhanced senses, fights crime as the costumed superhero. To maintain the show’s moody and stylized look — shot dark on Red Dragon cameras by DP Matthew J. Lloyd — the DPX files are handed over to Encore’s Tony D’Amore for the grading and mastering. Here, D’Amore discusses how he gets just the right look for the series, and how DaVinci Resolve fits into the 4K workflow.

What was your understanding of how the show should look?

“It started with DP Matt Lloyd and I just talking about the show, what the intentions were, what Marvel wanted, what the show was supposed to look like. Steven DeKnight [the showrunner for Season 1] had a vision of what he wanted and he discussed with Matt and then Matt involved me, saying ‘This is how I’m going to shoot this and I’m going to give you a little more negative, so make sure it looks dark.’ He was basically trying to leave a little more latitude for me so we could go dark, but not get screwed and not be able to dig anything out. That was kind of a challenge, to make sure the show stayed consistently moody.

"The bottom line is, for my job, was to talk to Matt and get the vision. He came up with this heavy, stylized look and then he sent me the dailies to copy the look. It’s still kind of pretty sloppy at that stage — it’s kind of an overall broad stroke. That’s when I went in with shapes, which I use the DaVinci Resolve for, and with the Resolve I have an unlimited amount of layers. With every layer that I had, I was able to do a different thing. Like key dial in the highlights to bring back detail when detail may have been lost out a window or something, because they wanted this really high-contrast look, but still subtle. They didn’t want it blasted looking but more like a comic book, where you can see detail on every page sort of thing. And so in doing that I used a layer or two to isolate just the highlights in the background; just to bring those back down to normal, but still have the faces and everything in the room pop — like high contrast. 

"And then additional layers, making all the backgrounds, like the walls, a deep green color. So every one of those layers I’m doing is opening up faces, opening up eyeballs, because it was so dark, [I] wanted to make sure they can see the expression and reaction of the actors. We wanted to be sure to get those little subtle nuances.” 

How much of that look was due to how it was shot compared to what you’re doing in post?

“We needed to make sure the scenes stayed consistent. Some scenes Matt just nailed and other ones he needed some help. Then I’ll look at what we’ve done previously and usually then I’ll do some shapes, take ceilings down a little, walls down, stuff like that to get it moodier. Sometimes [the production team] will get stuck if they’re on location — they might be limited because the lights were on that day and they couldn’t switch something out they wanted to switch out. In order to be able to see everyone in the room, they might have to leave everything up and then of course they’ll want to shape back down and get the normal style of the show back. The majority of the time it was Matt sort of dictating with his photography what he wanted, but there are things that went the other way. He wanted to make sure it stayed dark and so he would film it as dark as he possibly could and then my job would be the opposite, more about digging out eyes that were barely exposed. 

"In the end, it was very consistent — it was one of those things we didn’t have to compromise much. Honestly, I thank the tools for that. A few years ago, I may have looked at it and said, ‘I don’t know. You’re asking for a lot here.’” 

Can you talk about Resolve?

“It has unlimited node structure. A few years back, before these file-based color correctors, it was hardware, so you had to use like a videoboard for every layer of color... It was expensive and it maxed out at maybe four or five — and it didn’t auto-track. Now, the system will actually sample a pixel, and will sample those pixels within the shape I’ve drawn. The computer knows auto-track, so it’s constantly sampling. It’s pretty amazing.”

Going back to what you were saying about the darkness of the episodes, it’s such a fine line to get those scenes just right?

“Yes, it’s definitely a fine line. Steven wanted a very griddy, '70s kind of vibe. And the color palette he wanted was green and yellow — colors you’d see in the '70s. Matt Lloyd came up with everything to have this lemon/lime palette and so he used these yellow gels, these yellow lights coming in the windows, but the sets themselves, the locations, didn’t always have the lime, so a lot of times I would add the lime to the low lights and the blacks.”

A lot of shows are in 4K, but it’s not across the board yet?

“No, definitely not. We have a handful of shows here, but a majority are still HD. 4K is expensive because you’re talking about a lot of file space and using up an entire SAN practically. Before, you’d have five or more shows on a single SAN. But the decision to go with 4K was probably driven more by Netflix because that’s their standard delivery.”

How does the Resolve fit into the 4K workflow?

“When I heard we were doing this show, we went out and upgraded Resolve. If I do a regular show on this thing now, it doesn’t even blink. I can really pile on the effects in here. 

"Getting realtime is not particularly easy with 4K. Generally what a post house would do is generate HD proxies from those DPX files, so you have a UHD MAM or sampled show without color on it and then the assembled DPX files would get ingested into Resolve for color. And what you do is, you use HD proxies for color, you hit a single button, and it links back to the 4K media and so the big difference might be, if you see some alias thing on the edges on stuff, but visually, there’s not going to be a jarring difference between the two. You can color correct that way without there being a problem. And then generally you render, so you have to make sure you render back to 4K so the machine’s processing the 4K media through all the effects you put on, then out again back to the SAN.” 
What are some of the advantages of doing the show in 4K?

“It depends on how it’s shot, but there are certain things, like if you have a big skyline with city lights, in the background, with 4K with the depth that’s added, you see every detail on every highlight. On Daredevil, there are shots of [Daredevil] on the rooftop and the camera kind of pans around and up, and one of the things I would do, I would key all the highlights in all the buildings, and the colors, and add 25 percent more contrast to those, which plays into the whole 4K thing. So when you’re watching it, you’re really getting the experience of that added depth.”