“The Weather Doesn’t Care What Your Budget Is”: Colorist Doug Delaney on Captain Marvel

Check out my interview with Captain Marvel colorist Doug Delaney for Filmmaker Magazine. Here’s an excerpt of Delaney talking about the abundance of deliverables required for a tentpole Marvel Cinematic Universe release.

Filmmaker: How different are all those deliverables from version to version?

Delaney: Because the suit color and the amount of detail in the glow and all these things are so important, that has to be maintained throughout all the different deliverables and across all the different light levels and color spaces and Nit values. So when you move into EDR or HDR, while you want to leverage the ability [of that technology], the big challenge is making all these versions feel the same. You don’t want to say, “Now we’re in HDR, let’s make everything bright and super crazy.” You want it to feel like the same movie [regardless of the viewing platform].

With a movie of this scale, you’re finishing the film literally weeks before it’s released. That release is international and standard projection, plus Dolby Vision projection, plus stereo 3D in various forms, plus IMAX. It’s a huge amount of work. The compression of time on these kinds of films is quite intense and it really is impossible to do without collaborative workflows. I had a second colorist helping me and two additional people helping on rotoscopingand tracking and doing the 3D stereo grade. Some of those people were also helping with the IMAX version plus additional help on the home video version, because they’re releasing online very close to the [theatrical] release date of the film.

And here’s Delaney on how he got his start in the industry as a “scanning and recording” technician in the late 1990s:

Filmmaker: Looking over your credits, you started in the late 1990s as a “scanning and recording” technician. What was that job?

Delaney: That was my entrance into the field, which was before digital intermediates even existed. Back then, [for shots incorporating visual effects] you had to scan the camera original negative on a scanner and digitize it. The visual effect would be executed, then you’d have to record that digital file back onto a piece of negative film and process it at the lab. That’s how I started in color timing, because in those days the scanners, which were essentially like digital cameras jury rigged on an old optical printer, couldn’t capture the full dynamic range of film. So you had to do the exposure at the point of scan and try to accurately reproduce the director of photography’s intent, so that when it went to the visual effects artist it was already in a pretty good place. Then when you recorded that digital file back out you would compare your recorded out version against the original version and try to get them as close as possible to each other so the round trip was seamless and the audience hopefully couldn’t tell the difference.

I started doing that as a technician and then got into supervising that role. Around 2002 or 2003 I was supervising that process on the Matrix [sequels] and we decided that [instead of just scanning in the scenes needed for VFX], we’d beta test this whole digitaliIntermediate thing since there were entire sequences in those movies that were visual effects. That’s how I officially got into doing DIs.

Filmmaker: How much different was the DI process in those early days?

Delaney: It was very bulky and difficult. Now we’re doing it on our laptops. (laughs) Back in those days that was certainly not the case. It would take 15 seconds a frame to scan a 2K piece of negative. Imagine doing that for the whole movie. In those days, (recording back out to film) would take you 20-something hours per reel. A typical movie is maybe six or seven reels. If you got to the end and there was an issue, you had to start all over again. It was a painful process for sure. I’m grateful for the experience and discipline I learned from it, but I don’t miss it.