Company 3 takes on zombies & killer robots
Issue: September/October 2019

Company 3 takes on zombies & killer robots

LOS ANGELES — Company 3 ( recently completed the color grade for two Hollywood films — Sony’s Zombieland: Double Tap, the follow up to the 2009 comedy/horror flick starring Woody Harrelson, Jessie Eisenberg, Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin and Universal’s Terminator: Dark Fate, the latest in the successful franchise, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Linda Hamilton.   

Post recently caught up with two of the studio’s senior colorists, Stephen Nakamura and Tim Stipan, to discuss how they felt about taking on zombies and killer robots!


Nakamura, an accomplished film colorist based at Company 3 LA, has worked alongside such directors as David Fincher, Ridley Scott, Kathryn Bigelow, Brad Bird, David O. Russell and Steven Spielberg with feature film credits that include It: Chapter Two, Crazy Rich Asians, The Martian and Alien: Covenant. One of his latest projects, Zombieland: Double Tap, placed him alongside director Rubin Fleischer and DP Chun-hoon Chung to create the look and feel of the zombie cult film. 

“We had some very serious conversations early on, when we first started working on the film, about how bright or dark it should be and the overall color palette,” says Nakamura. “’[Director] Rubin [Fleischer], who did the first film, originally said that he wanted both films to have the same look. But the first one was shot on the [Panavision] Genesis camera which, at the time, didn’t quite have the dynamic range that the Alexa does now. The first film was around 10 years ago. The camera had a specific look — a little bit like a print look sometimes, just in the low end, not in the overall picture. But when things were shot really dark, the information in the low end wasn’t as robust colorwise as the Alexa is now. I had said that we can keep the same contrast level. But this is a much more robust looking picture as far as the capture medium, so maybe we can stick to a modern day looking picture while keeping that same kind of contrast in there. Then, the question really came up about this darkness issue. We had all agreed that, as we were watching the movie, that it was a really fun comedy and basically when the picture was looking dark, the comedic moments weren’t as funny. It didn’t feel right. Ultimately, Ruben said, ‘this is a comedy. It has to be fun, people have to laugh and they need to get the jokes…it shouldn’t be that heavy. And that’s how it came about. It does look different from the first movie — it’s a lot brighter. And that was the reason for it.”

Nakamura (pictured, left) goes on that with color correction, there’s a certain palette that people think the film should be in, but “the great part of the creative process is, you color correct it a certain way and if it doesn’t feel right, you can change it. You change the color, saturation and the density of things just to better fit the feeling of the scene.” 

To complete the grade for Zombieland, Nakamura relied on DaVinci Resolve, which he says is “super fast” and  “has all of the toolsets we need to get our work done.” He continues that the studio tries to remain agnostic with regard to color tools, but “with the things I have to do normally for a film — regular color correction, chromakey, luma key, power window, defocus, sharpening, noise reduction, grain — that’s going to be about 95 percent of the work you need to do for any movie and the Resolve is great because it’s really fast and super efficient. That’s what makes it a really good box for colorists.”

Nakamura says he was able to dive into what he calls the “exploratory nature” of the work to try and get the right look for this film. “In the opening sequence, for example, when they’re all in the wheat field shooting the zombies, I tried to make it as visually interesting as I could. We desaturated certain things, like in the trees, so that it looked like what it was, a not-so-happy place where things are dead. We can keep the wheat fields very colorful, but also not look like a warm wheat field. We made it look a little bit of a yellow going into green…which made things a little bit uncomfortable looking. That’s really the approach I took with the palette.” 

He continues, “When we went into scenes that took place outside, during the day, for example, that’s where you really feel it. So if there were maybe blue skies, I’d take the blue out of the skies, if there were a lot of green trees or grass I’d desaturate that a little bit to make things look a little more dead, because we’re still in zombieland, right? And that’s what I did on establishing shots, wide shots,  exterior shots, that’s where a lot of the work was done because we have to create this world where things are dead everywhere. In the same token, we don’t want the actors’ faces to look dead…because again you want to have this feeling like it’s a comedy and you don’t want everything being desaturated because then the whole feel of the movie gets too heavy. So between the brightness, keeping colors in their faces and desaturating everything that’s around them, that’s the idea of how we took the movie.”


Also based at Company 3 LA is colleague Tim Stipan, responsible for completing the color grade on Universal’s Terminator: Dark Fate. Stipan, who  is an accomplished colorist for blockbuster features, commercials and episodic TV, has worked frequently with such top directors as Darron Aronofsky, Lee Daniels and Steven Soderberg and has colored such iconic feature films as Black Swan, Into The Woods, Creed, Winter’s Bone, Moonrise Kingdom and Deadpool — the latter where he also worked with Terminator director Tim Miller.

“He makes things really fun,” says Stipan about working with Miller. “He’s so easy to work with and very open to ideas and just a great collaborator.”

Describing the overall look and feel of the new Terminator film, Stipan says that “there's obviously some dark stuff in it, but we were really trying to avoid it from having that Games of Thrones look, that one episode where everyone was complaining about how dark it was. I think everyone in the industry right now is very dark conscious because of that episode. We were trying to be very conscious of anything that was too dark an element in the films. Especially when it goes to IMAX, because IMAX has an inherent vignetting on it. So, we're always conscious of things that are on the edge of the frame that might seen too dark. We were really trying to go with richer, more saturated skin tones. Nothing that was desaturated or oversaturated…something right down the middle of the lane on that one. But, it was a fun project to work on. I mean, it has some absolutely amazing visual effects. But it was a hefty DI.”

According to Stipan (pictured, left), color grading the film wasn’t difficult. The challenge was in what he describes as a compressed schedule — Starting in August 2019 and completing his work in early October, it was about two months of solid work.

Stipan says that he worked closely with Miller on things like framing and adding camera shake to the film, describing the director as “kind of coming from that same school as David Fincher about framing – it’s super important to him. Every shot is put into LUT mode and we sit there and evaluate the framing on it, how we can make it better, how we can maybe push it over to emphasize what we want the audience to see. The whole movie was done in that fashion. Also, almost every shot in the movie was a visual effects shot, so in the DI, we put the movie into LUT mode and tried to evaluate every element in each shot and what we liked and what we don’t like, so if there was something that we didn’t like, like the framing, we changed it. We added camera shake a lot, too, just to try to make it a little bit more frenetic. If there was something about an element in the shot that we didn’t like, we would either darken it or do something to alleviate the issue. If you think about how many shots there are in that film — it’s a big film — and looping every shot like it was a visual effects shot, the time starts to add up really quickly. So, in that respect, though it wasn’t hard to do the color on it, but it was hard to manage the time.”

Participating in some of the early conversations, in the pre-production stages of the film, Stipan says “it's always nice when filmmakers include the colorist in the beginning of the process, and these two filmmakers — Tim Miller and the DP Ken Seng — always do that with me.”

Stipan completed the grade on Resolve for Terminator, going on to say that “we used some plugins within the Resolve, which is great, that’s one thing I love about Resolve is that it has a lot of plugins in the box — whether it’s camera shake or adding grain or maybe adding a flicker or getting rid of dust pixels — there’s just all sorts of stuff that we can do on a small scale visual effects style wise. Which is super helpful…we used a lot of it.”

He points out that for Deadpool, where he also collaborated with Miller, he completed grade on a Baselight system. “It doesn’t matter necessarily what tool it is, as long as it works,” he adds. Remaining fairly agnostic on what color system he prefers, Stipan says “It’s basically whatever the facility that I’m working at has. I can use Lustre, Baselight or Resolve and I love them all individually. They’re all amazing platforms. I just use whatever the facility is using and at the time, when I was at [LA’s] Efilm grading Deadpool, we used Baselight. Before that, when I was at Technicolor NY, I was on Lustre. For me, I just want a box that works.”

For Terminator, Stipan says he watched the fist two Terminator films — The Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgment Day — and tried to always keep in mind how those films looked. The opening sequence in the new film, when Sarah Connor and John Connor are at that beach and they’re in the cabana bar area, I asked to have references of Terminator 2 so that I could mimic the color of the way that Terminator 2 looked in certain scenes. So, we brought in film images that Tim Miller got for me and we were coming up with different ideas of how it should look. I had suggested that it look like T2 and that’s what we did. We ended up just bringing in references and making it feel a little grainier, more saturated. So, in the beginning when the Terminators are on the beach firing, we colored it and I thought it looked beautiful. Then, when I got the references for T2, I was like, ‘oh my gosh, when the Terminators shoot, they shoot in purple and what we had was more of a cyan. So in the color correction, we isolated that gun fire and changed it from cyan to purple to match the way it looked in T2. So it was really helpful to have those references.”

Stipan says that when he works on a project, he typically asks clients if he can have a week alone with the project, so he has time to “go through it, balance scenes out, color it the way I would color it and then bring them in and say, ‘here’s the starting point …’ Then we work together from there and make changes.”

In the end, Stipan says he was really happy with how the film turned out. “It’s always fun when you get to do a movie that has all the different formats — the Dolby Laser, IMAX, HDR. I feel like when you do a movie like that, you’re always learning. When you get to do all these versions, you’re seeing things you didn’t see in the version you just spent two months on. Also, Tim and Ken are two of my favorite filmmakers to work with. They’re so fun, creative and have great eyes.  They’re some of the best people to work with.”