Fall TV: NBC's <i>Timeless</i>
Issue: October 1, 2016

Fall TV: NBC's Timeless

When a villain steals a time machine in order to change the course of American history and destroy the country, a history professor, a scientist and a soldier travel back in time to catch him on the new NBC series, Timeless. Each episode visits a different era and location, so apart from a continuing contemporary thread, the shows have a distinctive look from week to week. The pilot took our heroes back to the airship Hindenburg disaster in New Jersey in 1937, and the second episode found them in Washington, D.C., right before Lincoln’s assassination.

Timeless is shot in Vancouver and largely posted in Los Angeles. The pilot was shot in 4K on Red's Dragon; subsequent episodes are shot in 4K on the Sony F55 camera. The extensive VFX required to recreate the historical time periods are produced by the LA and Vancouver offices of FuseFX and Zoic Studios.

“Post production for Timeless is typical of other network dramas,” says Cynthia Stegner, senior vice president of post production and VFX at Sony Pictures Television. “But, due to the amount of VFX, we have to allow extra time in the schedule to complete them. The challenge of this show will be turning around episodes, which are almost equivalent to doing a pilot every week, on a network TV schedule. We have to create all the different time periods — the French and Indian Wars, the Alamo, Las Vegas in the ’50s — and make them feel authentic to viewers.”

Dailies are processed at Encore Vancouver, which sends Avid DNx 36 files to the editors in Sherman Oaks, CA, who cut on Avid Media Composers with Avid ISIS shared storage. In addition to the three editors on staff, a VFX editor is charged with preparing preliminary composites and tracking all shots. After the director’s cut is complete, creators Shawn Ryan and Eric Kripke come in to further refine and lock the show.

At Company 3 Santa Monica (www.company3.com), senior colorist Siggy Ferstl performs the color grading on Blackmagic Design DaVinci Resolve Studio V.12.5. Ferstl, who also works on features and commercials, just finished Season 2 of the Netflix series Narcos.

“As a colorist, it’s great to be involved with a show that doesn’t have the same look and locations every week,” says Ferstl. “It stretches you to think about the time and the place and be true to that. And it’s fun to see what they come up with next.”

After the pilot, Ferstl set up a “virtual color” system so DPs Sam McCurdy, BSC, Jimmy Lindsey and Mark Chow in Vancouver can participate in his sessions. “It works quite well,” he says. “They monitor the output of my room, seeing my windows and keys on their retina-display laptops in realtime. To be able to offer this service is really beneficial.”

Ferstl notes that costumes, set design and lighting go a long way in capturing the historical scenes in-camera. “CDLs from on-set or near-set are brought across to LA to give us the base look,” he explains. “We get style frames as well to finesse the look. Couple that with virtual color and it’s a pretty efficient process.”

With only the pilot and the first episode behind him so far, Ferstl has visited the Hindenburg crash and Lincoln’s last days. For the airship disaster, the colorist enhanced the stormy weather of the landing, making sure “there were lots of cool tones and more weight in the images.” For Civil War Washington, he maintained the soft, warm palette established by practical lamps and candles illuminating interiors and daylight flooding through windows. Ferstl gave “more snap with the contrast” to the present day, high-tech “take-off venue,” where the heroes depart on their time travel adventures. 

A long-time Resolve user, Ferstl finds that the system’s “ability to track images so well and so consistently is a real time saver. There are 900 to 1,000 cuts to each show, so there are a lot of shots. We need a color corrector that’s fast, efficient, powerful and can process everything in realtime.”

With episodic TV’s quick turnarounds, Resolve’s collaboration mode is particularly “handy,” Ferstl notes. “Resolve allows concurrent workflows. For the pilot, we were conforming on Resolve in one room while I was coloring in another and asking my assistant to track windows on a third system, all working from the same project. This means I was receiving the instant conform changes and VFX updates while the conform artist was always looking at the latest color. It’s an amazing workflow.”

He also likes V.12.5’s onboard VFX, which he has used to add glows around candlelight and atmosphere, and light rays coming through windows. “The VFX use the GPU power of the system to do everything in realtime with no rendering or caching,” he explains.

Company 3 online editor Heydar Adel conformed the pilot on Resolve; online editor Joe Ken is conforming subsequent episodes on Autodesk Flame.