Film: <I>Annabelle: Creation</I>
Issue: August 1, 2017

Film: Annabelle: Creation

BURBANK, CA — Warner Bros.’ Annabelle: Creation hit theaters on August 11th and saw opening weekend success, leading all other films with $35M at the box office. The horror feature is the follow-up to 2014’s successful Annabelle, and was once again produced by Peter Safran and James Wan, who previously partnered on The Conjuring movies. The film was directed by David F. Sandberg.

FotoKem colorist John Daro worked with the film’s cinematographer Maxime Alexandre to produce the look for the feature, as well as create several deliverable formats, including an HDR release using Dolby Vision. Daro says that he and Alexandre tried to keep film’s color palette similar to that of films from the late 1950s and ‘60s. 

The Dolby Vision HDR work was performed at the Dolby theater using a DaVinci Resolve system. The original grade was created on an SGO Mistika system at FotoKem ( in Burbank.
The Dolby Vision grade was done at Dolby using their Pulsar monitor, starting with Daro’s trimmed PQ files as the source. Daro then went to the studio to confirm the look and set the grain, with Dolby ultimately finishing the pass.

Here, Daro talks exclusively to Post about his work on the film.

How did you get involved in this project John?

“It was my first time working with Maxime, which was awesome. David Sandberg’s first film, Lights Out, I also colored. Production design was critical, this being a period piece. They were doing hair and make up tests, and lens tests, but the camera was always going to be an Arri Alexa. There’s no better camera, in my opinion. We did test some anamorphic glass, but we ended up going spherical because that way we have a little extra image area top and bottom.”

Do you have a preferred system for color correction?

“Here at Fotokem, we have (SGO) Mistika, and we have (Blackmagic Design’s DaVinci) Resolve. For this show, and because Lights Out was also done on a Mistika, we continued color correcting with Mistika. The power of the Mistika comes in when you are trying to finalize visual effects. When there are going to be a lot of visual effects, it’s better to be on that box. It’s more of a VFX box that has a color corrector, than Resolve, which is a color corrector first and has some of that capability. I always say ‘it’s an obscure box for doing obscure work.’”

Describe the look for the film?

“David likes it dark! But, you have to ride that line, where you just see enough. I joke that you could almost use this job as a SMPTE set up. If you can see a character, then you know your monitor is set up correctly. 

“Basically, what we were going for was that mid-century tone. Nothing too over the top saturated. Very much mint green and pastel yellow. As far as general look, we also wanted it to have a certain texture of that time. Working at a lab, it’s a luxury because we were able to go and grab a piece of film, and scan actual grain from that era, and sample that grain, and extract it out, and then put it over the top of the entire film. It’s better than a plug-in for two reasons: one,  it’s organic, it’s actual film grain. Two, you get a bit of turbulence and flicker that comes from processing celluloid. It gave it a really nice enhancement over the top of the entire film.”

How much film do you scan to get the grain sampling you are looking for?

“It was a cheat. It was :30, and then relatively random. Another thing that we tried to do, as far as mimicking the stocks of that era, is just how actual primaries would respond. There was an initial correction that was taking sky colors and moving them more toward a deep, rich cyan sky.”

Are you working any differently, knowing you will be creating a Dolby Vision deliverable?

“I’m a big proponent of ACES and I tend to like to work with ACES in a lot of things, which gives you the ability to switch to Dolby very easily. On this particular project I just kept the same workflow as Lights Out because we were all familiar with it, and had success on that. 

“We colored in standard Arri Log C, and went to that normal theatrical look up table…Once we had all of our color decisions made, the delivery on the show was slightly different than I normally would…I [gave] them the Log C out at the native resolution and then, additionally, there was a grain package that came with it — a grain-adjustment layer that would then be comp’ed over the top.”

Can you talk about working in HDR?

“Most people think of HDR as, ‘look at how much more I get in the highlights!’ This was the first film where I got to explore going into the shadow areas. They were so much richer blacks. You get to see more into it without showing too much more. It’s by far my favorite version that we did for this film.”

What was the timeline for completing this project?

“We finished this much earlier than it was actually released. Initial discussion happens long before they even start shooting. We do a hair and make-up test, they shoot, we go into editorial, and there are a few days for clean up for a preview version. And then the final DI happened when we got Maxime in town.

“The final DI went, as far as timing, we had a week with Maxime. And the beauty of this show was, because it was shot on a set on the Warner Bros. lot, there was super consistent lighting, which made the whole process seamless and go extremely fast. Maxime is a master of what he does. A lot of it was in a really great place to start, which allowed us to start doing more advanced color correction sooner than I typically would on a show. We started breaking up the shapes and the keys, and really isolating things pretty much from day 1, where you would normally spend the first week, maybe two weeks of a show, balancing it and getting it to look like a feature, and then start doing the fine tuning. This show had a good two weeks of just tweaks and we were able to do the small things that make a big impact over time. It’s the things that often you don’t have the luxury to really get into until a much later stage.”