Magazine article American Cinematographer

Pushing Daisies Adds Pizzazz at LaserPacific

Magazine article American Cinematographer

Pushing Daisies Adds Pizzazz at LaserPacific

Article excerpt

ABC's new series Pushing Daisies is not your run-of-the-mill procedural crime drama. Series creators Bryan Fuller and Barry Sonnenfeld have put a super-natural spin on the genre, and the result plays like a vivid, storybook rendition of a Raymond Chandler novel.

Daisies tells the tale of Ned (Lee Pace), a pie-shop owner endowed with the unfortunate gift of bringing the dead back to life with the slightest touch. When Ned meets private investigator Emerson Cod (Chi McBride), the two develop a scheme to resurrect murder victims, find out who killed them, and collect a hefty reward for bringing the perpetrators to justice. Naturally, deadly consequences ensue.

In conveying its dreamlike qualities, Daisies relies on an extremely lush palette of electric blues, sunshine yellows, searing greens and warm, romantic skin tones that seem to emit their own light. Series cinematographer Michael Weaver had worked with Sonnenfeld (who began his own career as a highly regarded director of photography) on ABC's Notes From the Underbelly, and both felt the show's look would play a large part in its success.

Given four weeks to prep the pilot, Weaver, production designer Michael Wylie, and costumer Mary Vogt worked in concert to develop a meticulous color scheme, drawing heavily upon feature films for inspiration. Key influences included Sonnenfeld's The Addams Family (shot by Owen Roizman, ASC) and Men in Black (Don Peterman, ASC), as well as Amélie (Bruno Delbonnel, AFC) and Big Fish (Philippe Rousselot, ASC, AFC). "Barry was looking for this surreal color scheme, a palette that didn't exist in reality," says Weaver.

Reality sometimes intrudes on this strategy, however. While shooting an early flashback scene for the pilot, in which a young Ned runs down a sun-soaked hillside carpeted with daisies, the production encountered some particularly sour weather. Weaver approached post supervisor Livia Hanich, a fellow Sonnenfeld veteran, for a solution to the problem. "It was a critical scene, and we had to establish that vibrant look right off the bat," Weaver notes. "I wanted to know if some sort of digital intermediate would be an option, but the scene involved a lot of crane moves and other tricky elements, and we knew that a few Power Windows weren't going to cut it. We needed something with serious tracking capabilities."

Hanich was already working closely with LaserPacific in Hollywood to facilitate postproduction services for Daisies, so she arranged an Autodesk Lustre demo for Weaver and line producer Graham Place. Both immediately realized the possibilities offered by Lustre's tight but flexible control over their images, and the freedom it would afford them on the set.

Lustre is a software-based HD/2K/4K digital intermediate (DI) color-grading system that until recently had been "mostly evolving for the benefit of feature-film postproduction," says Leon Silverman, president of LaserPacific. "Part of what we're doing is trying to understand specifically how feature-film tools can fit into a television environment."

Silverman says Lustre's nonlinear workflow is a big plus when one is working within the temporal constraints of the television world. Given TV's abbreviated schedules, shows like Pushing Daisies may have only a fraction of the time and resources available to a feature film to achieve their postproduction goals, and a linear, telecine-based workflow often forces colorists to work one step at a time. By allowing the colorist to jump forward in a project, backtrack, or apply one setting to a group of shots, the Lustre offers a more flexible and efficient post process. With a powerful color-grading tool at its core, Lustre is also being touted as a "look creation" application, capable of unlimited custom digital mattes, key-frame tracking, and an arsenal of additional features normally reserved for visual-effects work.

For the scene of young Ned in the field of daisies, series colorist Joe Hathaway used multiple levels of custom, hand-drawn color-key mattes to turn Weaver's gray skies blue. …

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