<I>Avatar: The Way of Water</I> colorist Tashi Trieu
Issue: January/February 2023

Avatar: The Way of Water colorist Tashi Trieu

Avatar: The Way of Water is set more than a decade after the events of the first film. The new feature begins to tell the story of the Sully family (Jake, Neytiri and their kids), the trouble that follows them and the battles they fight to stay alive. Directed by James Cameron, the film was produced by Cameron and Jon Landau and, at press time, was approaching a global box office of $2 billion. The Lightstorm Entertainment Production stars Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldaña, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang and Kate Winslet. 

Tashi Trieu (pictured) served as DI colorist on the feature, having worked with Lightstorm previously while at Technicolor, and again while at Efilm as a DI editor on the remastering of Terminator 2 and on the DI for Alita: Battle Angel. 

“That’s where I met Jon Landau and Geoff Burdick,” Trieu recalls. He was based in LA for work on Avatar’s first teaser trailer, working out of Picture Head’s facility at Sunset Gower Studios in Hollywood.

“The same building I worked in for many years when it was under the Technicolor banner,” he explains. “It was a ‘homecoming’ of sorts for me.”

Trieu says he was formally brought on board in late 2021 to begin workflow testing. In April of 2022 he graded the teaser trailer for Avatar: The Way of Water in Los Angeles, and in June, he travelled to Wellington, New Zealand, to do the feature finishing at Park Road Post Production. 

“I was doing double duty,” he recalls, “remastering Avatar (2009) and doing early look setting on Avatar: The Way of Water. We finished everything up at the end of November in time to come back to LA and decompress for a couple weeks before the film came out.

Park Road Post Production set up its 160-plus seat Dolby Vision cinema for him to use as his primary grading theater. 

“I used DaVinci Resolve 18 on a workstation built by Park Road’s head of technology, James Marks, which relied on four A6000 GPUs supported by a blazing fast NVMe SAN.”

The underwater scenes are really good examples of interactive grading in the DI.

“It was really important to Jim that we sell the underwater environment as a volume. If it’s too clear it starts to look unrealistic, like the characters are swimming in space. To help sell that sense of depth and distance underwater, I would often add lift and gamma to milk out the image a little. At shallow depths, the color is a little more neutral or green/yellow biased from sunlight with minimal filtration. At deeper depths, I’d add more blue to really sell the spectral filtration that happens through water. It was fun to lean on my experience as a recreational scuba diver.”

For the teaser trailer, Trieu was in Los Angeles, while director James Cameron was in Wellington.

“We sent graded DCPs with Dolby Atmos sound mixes so Jim could review a complete package,” he explains. 

Once he arrived at Park Road Post Production in Wellington, it was easy for director James Cameron to bounce between the sound mix in the stages upstairs and color grading in the cinema as his schedule allowed. 

“By the end we were doing several sessions a day,” says Trieu, who was the sole colorist on the film.