Color Grading: Amazon's <I>Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams</I>
Issue: May 1, 2018

Color Grading: Amazon's Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams

LONDON — Based on Philip K. Dick’s short stories, the new sci-fi anthology series Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams makes viewers question the nature of their realities. Produced by Sony Pictures Television in conjunction with Channel 4 in the UK and Amazon in the US, the series involved a cross-border production, with five episodes filmed in London and five in Chicago. 

Each stand-alone episode had distinct and separate creative teams, settings and visual styles, essentially creating the 10 short films within the production timeline of a series. Deluxe was called on to handle post services for the series, thanks in part to its global scale and integration, with facilities across the UK and US handling HDR and SDR color, VFX drop-ins, conform, and final deliverables for both Channel 4 and Amazon.

“Deluxe’s Encore, Company 3, and Level 3 have facilities in key markets throughout the UK and US, so we’re able to make the post process really convenient and seamless for international collaborations,” explains Rebecca Moon, VP client solutions, Deluxe. “Our setup lets us offer clients a high quality, unified post and delivery process across distinct locations and crews, which was ideal for this series.”

Colorists Scott Ostrowsky and Paul Ensby teamed on color grading for the series, with Ostrowsky grading the even-numbered episodes shot in Chicago, along with Episode 7, which was shot in London, all from Los Angeles. Ensby grading the UK-shot, odd-numbered episodes in London. With a different director/DP pair for each episode, the colorists had early conversations with each to discuss the desired look for each episode. Ensby and Ostrowsky were also in continual communication with each other and shared DaVinci Resolve sessions across Deluxe’s secure fibre network so that the creative teams could conduct in-person reviews regardless of their location. In addition, the Deluxe teams handled multiple deliverables, including a specific format required for London’s Channel 4 broadcast, and both SDR and HDR deliveries for Amazon. 

For the London-shot episode titled “The Commuter,” (pictured, above) Ensby worked closely with DP Ollie Downey and director Tom Harper on visually defining two distinct areas. The mundane existence of character Ed Jacobson (Timothy Spall), a train station agent, is underscored by low luminance and slight desaturation, with a slight sodium-to-sepia tone for exteriors. When he discovers the mystical and ephemeral town of Macon Heights, the look moves into heightened saturation, with warm colors that pop. 

“We worked hard in finding the right balance during these sequences,” recalls Ensby. “The first arrival at Macon was particularly tricky as we had to go quickly transform an early morning feel to a full day. The creatives were keen to set these looks as early as possible so that the VFX drop-in process was seamless.”

In collaborating with DP Pepe Avila del Pino on the Chicago-filmed episode “Kill All Others,” (pictured, below) Ostrowsky followed Pino’s specific color palette and applied a distinct look and feel to a factory interior and exterior and workspace. He also employed a combination of mixed light in the final scene to highlight the traumatic demise of factory worker Philbert Noyce (Mel Rodriguez). 

The dynamic futuristic world of the “Autofac” episode (pictured, below) was realized by Ostrowsky executing DP John Lindley’s specific vision. He used different color desaturation and contrast to define looks throughout the episode, as well as underscore the series’ high production value. Following Lindley’s varied and moody lighting in the factory, Ostrowsky enhanced the feeling of foreboding by highlighting color to show detail without brightness and helped guide the viewer’s eye to key story points, including the final reveal with Dr. Emily Zabriskie (Juno Temple) and android Alice (Janelle Monae). He also further contrasted Emily’s flashbacks with present scenes to maintain an edge of uncertainty, especially in regards to character intentions, with the final location featuring a mixture warm and cool light as a nod to the human and android dichotomy.

“Each episode of Electric Dreams is its own story, and since it has a sci-fi bent to it, we were able to explore a variety of looks,” notes Ostrowsky, “some of which were highly experimental – to ultimately give each episode a unique palette. It was a treat to be able to deliver in HDR as well, since episodes with very bright scenes can pop with much more detail. Ultimately with all of the different deliverables required and the technical expertise needed for HDR work, this show just proved that as a company, Deluxe can work with anyone around the globe to innovate, make things work efficiently, and achieve a high-end result.”

All images copyright Sony Pictures Television