Color Grading: Hulu's <I>The Great</I>
Issue: May/June 2020

Color Grading: Hulu's The Great

LONDON — The Great - A Hulu Original - is a satirical, comedic drama about the rise of Catherine the Great, from outsider to the longest reigning female ruler in Russia's history. The 10-episode series stars Elle Fanning as Catherine the Great and Nicholas Hoult as her husband, Peter.

Colorist Paul Staples of Encore Post in London helped create a fairly neutral HDR LUT that would preserve the integrity of the cinematographers’ lighting, as well as dovetail with the series’ extensive wardrobe and makeup requirements. The series was shot primarily with an Arri Alexa SXT camera, and DP John Brawley, ASC, and DP Maja Zamojda, BSC, both used Blackmagic Design’s Ursa Mini Pro 4.6K digital film camera to capture additional shots. Staples developed a DaVinci Resolve Studio project to color manage the material from all the cameras and use their metadata settings as well. He then reversed engineered SDR LUTs for use on-set and editorial. 

Staples says he was in contact with Brawley and the production throughout the shoot and would periodically get together with the DP to grade some of the scenes. 

“This helped to get a feel, but really the dailies looked so great my involvement was fairly minimal day to day,” says the colorist. “The majority of time was grading with John on the final grade.”

Staples spent an estimated 32 hours grading each episode. 
“I completed The Great in the facility, however, since then I am grading from home using the wonderful DaVinci Resolve Mini Panel, which is doing a great job!”

From a style perspective, Staples says he focused on avoiding an overly-processed look for the series. 

“There was a very strong steer from the executive producers that they did not want the show to look overly graded or have a sense of artifice,” he recalls. “They wanted it to be real.”

When it came time to grade the show, he found all of the footage worked well together. 

“The Blackmagic and other camera’s footage dovetailed fairly seamlessly.” 

Only minor differences in how each camera captured certain colors or dynamic range were evident, but Staples found it was easy to match. 

“Certainly, once I had established the minor differences in Resolve, these adjustments could be saved into a node correction, which could then be copied and pasted into each shot, leaving the tonally invisible across the cut.”

“I find with operating this style of camera you can get very close, intimate, hyper subjective coverage this way,” notes DP John Brawley. “The editors then have an option to use Ursa Mini Pro shots to heighten a moment or draw attention to a character’s internal thoughts. The additional shots seem to have a great way of getting inside a character’s head and making them more transparent…It helps get you unconventional shots that would be hard to do in the same time frame with another camera.”