Coloring ANYA: Guest Post by Mike Nuget

Mike Nuget  (MayDay Post)

Mike Nuget (MayDay Post)

In this guest post, our amazing colorist, Mike Nuget, shares his process coloring ANYA along with some before/after stills from the film.

Mike joined the ANYA team in June 2018 as Jacob and Carylanna were finalizing the edit. His creative and technical expertise and professionalism allowed us to transform the raw digital footage (which comes out of the camera looking dull and lifeless) into a polished, cohesive finished film. We started by getting on the same page creatively. Mike watched a fine cut and colored sample scenes. We agreed we were all looking for a natural feel to complement Jacob’s vérité cinematography. Then Mike dove into the “picture-locked” film. He cleaned up a handful of problem spots (a boom here, a brand logo there), removed flicker from the lab’s overhead lights, and tweaked the time of day in places. He adjusted the color throughout, taking particular care  with our actors’ skin tone. Finally, he added film grain (digital footage of exposed 16 and 35 MM film) emphasizing ANYA’s doc style vibe. It was amazing to watch as Mike brought the film to life.

Coloring ANYA

By Mike Nuget (MayDay Post)

Working on the film ANYA was a great experience for me, not only was I able to work on some great shot footage, but also had the pleasure of meeting 2 great people that were just so friendly and respectful of the art of film, and the process of post-production.  Being a colorist, there are some times when we feel like we are doing more technical work than creative, like fixing things that were not shot great, or trying to force certain looks because of the edit.  But not with Carylanna and Jacob.  I was honored that they would let me add my thoughts and ideas into their film, which in turn made me feel like I was part of it too.  It never felt like I was working for them so much as working with them, which is a great feeling for someone in my position.

I approached the color for ANYA with the idea that, I wanted to put my own eyes into what I thought the camera lens was trying to portray. I didn't want to "stylize" it, as much as make it feel like you were there in the moment, on the street, in the bookstore, in the apartment.

Before, Manhattan near midnight

Before, Manhattan near midnight

After, Manhattan near midnight

After, Manhattan near midnight

It's New York City, I'm a New Yorker, I know what these streets feel and look like at 5am, 2pm, 6pm, midnight. I know what Queens looks like compared to Times Square, downtown vs uptown. My thought process was that I wanted the viewer to feel that as well. Not that they were watching a touched-up, air-brushed version of the city. Especially because I knew there were a number of flashback, or specialized scenes in the film that I could then "play with" a bit, as they were not supposed to feel the same, I knew that those kinds of scenes would let me be more creative.

Before, Queens subway, afternoon (with  Gil Perez-Abraham )

Before, Queens subway, afternoon (with Gil Perez-Abraham)

After, Queens subway, afternoon (with  Gil Perez-Abraham )

After, Queens subway, afternoon (with Gil Perez-Abraham)

One of the first scenes I worked on was the subway scene when Marco gets turned away from his mother during the early flashback scene. I specifically remember watching the subway scene and stopping to think, ‘I could make this feel gritty and dirty, and over exaggerate the subway to make people feel like it’s a scary place’ dramatize it the way Hollywood might do it, but I didn’t want to, I wanted it to look like the way I see it everyday, just the hustle and bustle of millions of people moving around, while at the same time you can still be in your own little world, like Marco is in that scene. It wasn’t meant to be scary, or dirty, it was just what it’s like being underground in NYC. It’s kind of like the cliché that you can be surrounded by so many people, yet no one even notices you. It’s a feeling that I think most new Yorkers feel on a daily basis.

Before, Times Square, evening (with  Gil Perez-Abraham )

Before, Times Square, evening (with Gil Perez-Abraham)

After, Times Square, evening (with  Gil Perez-Abraham )

After, Times Square, evening (with Gil Perez-Abraham)

Before, Coney Island, evening, (image by  Clark Burnett )

Before, Coney Island, evening, (image by Clark Burnett)

After, Coney Island, evening, (image by  Clark Burnett )

After, Coney Island, evening, (image by Clark Burnett)

I think one of my favorite things was when we finally watched it on the big screen and I was so happy with the choices of grain that we decided to use. Jacob and Carylanna had purchased a great grain packaged and handed it over to me. They had originally used some during their edit, but told me I had free range to change it or do whatever I thought would looked better.

Before, Coney Island, dawn (with  Tess Romero, Rafael Sosa, Dylan Booth)

Before, Coney Island, dawn (with Tess Romero, Rafael Sosa, Dylan Booth)

After, Coney Island, dawn (with  Tess Romero, Rafael Sosa, Dylan Booth )

After, Coney Island, dawn (with Tess Romero, Rafael Sosa, Dylan Booth)

Initially I tried to use one grain for the most of the film, but the different scenes reacted differently to the grain depending on the lighting or mood, so it really wound up being a case by case basis, depending on what was happening. It was kind of like a Goldilocks moment, when we would try one grain and it was too much, then not enough, and then it wound up being just the right amount. I'm glad we took so much time and had the discussions about it that we did, I was worth it.

Before, Coney Island, evening

Before, Coney Island, evening

After, Coney Island, later evening

After, Coney Island, later evening

My overall favorite moment about working on Anya was after I sent Carylanna and Jacob my first color version and they simply said something along the lines of, "wow, now it feels like a real movie".

That was the best thing I could have asked for!

Before, genetics lab at Carnegie Mellon University, day (with  Motell Foster and Olivia Oguma )

Before, genetics lab at Carnegie Mellon University, day (with Motell Foster and Olivia Oguma)

After, genetics lab at Carnegie Mellon University, day (with  Motell Foster and Olivia Oguma )

After, genetics lab at Carnegie Mellon University, day (with Motell Foster and Olivia Oguma)

A Deeper Dive into the Job of a Colorist

By Mike Nuget (MayDay Post)

My entire career is based on "being invisible", and what I mean by that is, that if I do my job right, the normal viewer won't even know I did anything,  but if they see something "wrong" (someone’s face is too orange, something jarring happened in between cuts) then you'll notice and that usually means I did not do my job 100%. 

One of the most interesting things is that I basically mess with people’s subconscious.  If I color a shot blue, or "cool" then that evokes a dramatic scene, or scary, or sad, but if I color the same shot more yellow/red/bright, then that evokes a happiness and fun.  Think about a comedy vs a drama, comedies are never dark in color, whites are white, blacks are black and everyone looks "normal", whereas a dramatic film is literally darker, more blue, More grainy, more intense!

With that said, the actual process is quite interesting, it starts off with someone like Jacob, who takes his camera and shoots his subjects.  He also has to keep in mind, a year later when someone like myself will take his footage and color it, to make sure he lights it correctly in order to give me the information I need.  Meaning, if he shoots directly into sunlight, there is no way I can "fix' that and make it look better, the sunlight is overexposed and there is no information there to use. So he will shoot what we call "flat" this is basically telling the camera to squeeze all the luma (brightness) and chroma (color) levels correctly and actually "squash" them together.  Another term is LOG as in a LOG vs. Linear.  Think of an XY axis, in  Linear color space the color space the point of black to white is a straight line, in a LOG color space that line is now bent to more of a "S" curve, therefore squeezing in more information at the highest of whites and the lowest of blacks. (there are plenty of models and websites dedicated to this if you just want to google this).   I digress! So when Jacob shoots a scene flat/log, this does not look great to the eye at first glance, it will look very de-saturated and will have no contrast (see before images), but is very necessary for the color process later down the line. 

Once I get this footage I  "stretch" out all of the information and this allows me a lot more room on the luma and chroma curves to play with.  Think of taking a letter "S" and pulling the ends to straighten it, the actual line is a lot longer than it appears.  This is what the software I use does, it stretches that line out for me and I can use all that extra color information.

As much as people might think my job is nothing but "fun" because I get to play around with the look of something, it's actually very technical and scientific.  There are literally color scientists who come up with certain algorithms and processes that are then incorporate into the computer software systems and cameras that we use.  Especially when it comes to "film".  Even though most people do not use actual film anymore, the industry has ironically spent over a decade trying to make digital film emulate the way old school 35mm or 16mm print film looks.  

All that said, my job is indeed enjoyable, and when I get a reaction out of someone, even if they did not know exactly why or what it was that made them feel that way, that's the best thing for me!

jacob okada