In 2009, Neill Blomkamp had his directorial debut with ‘District 9’. The feature, which reportedly cost only $30 million, grossed over $200 million and was also a critical success. Its raw naturalistic visual approach was one of the reasons for much of the praise. Despite being a science fiction film set in an alien populated South Africa the film Look is extremely realistic.

Due to its critical and box-office success there were strong rumors that Blomkamp follow-up project would be a sequel to ‘Distric 9’, however he decided instead to create a new post-apocalyptical world in ‘Elysium’.

Set in the year 2154, ‘Elysium’ portrays a stark reality where the very wealthy live on a man-made space station while the rest of the population resides on a ruined Earth. This divided world and the large number of scenes in which actors interacted with CG robots presented the biggest challenges to Senior DI Colorist Andrea Chlebak of Central, the postproduction facility responsible for the color management and VFX integration of the project.

“The blending of visual effects is always going to be a challenge. One of the major scenes in the film is essentially a heist scene, where you see Matt Damon in physical combat with a droid. That scene is probably the most challenging in the whole film. It was shot in an open-air space in Mexico City that I’ve come to learn was, effectively, the dump. It’s an area on the edge of the city right by a big slum. There was a high degree of action with really quick cuts, and the actual scene was shot over the course of three days with pretty drastic light shifts. One day there was a cast of smog coming in, and then they’d be shooting with choppers in place of the cool airborne vehicles they would eventually put in, kicking up dust, and that creates its own issue for air quality and variations in the sky between different shots. I was able to add some color to the sky and redirect the light a little bit and shape it as the scene progressed. And then the guy in the grey suit doing the action eventually turns into a droid as part of the VFX process. Getting all of that to play like one scene was the greatest challenge. That would be the only scene where we used mattes in the whole film, just to tweak the color on the droid to get it just right “, Chlebak exemplifies.

Chlebak also explains the workflow adopted and the integration with VFX since the early stages of the project:

“I worked on the VFX pre-grading during the year leading up to the DI. So when the time came, it was a natural progression into the next stage of color.
Before they got the VFX work going, they wanted to know what the look of the film was going to be. We actually did a very early DI look session with the director to lock down a few hero shots — “this is what this exterior looks like, this is what earth looks like, and this is Elysium.” Broad strokes. We created look LUTs to distribute to the VFX companies so they could preview their work confidently. At the same time, plates were being pulled from editorial for VFX. They decided it was best to let the DI facility manage the set-up look, so VFX supervisor Peter Muyzers and I were looking at 50-plus plates at a time in context with the rest of the scene and making overall adjustments. They were pretty basic adjustments, but they were made with knowledge of the context those effects would be placed in, and what the scene would eventually look like in the DI. Having VFX and the DI facility work together that early on meant a seamless integration of VFX at the end of the DI process.”

Of the grading process and the vision set by the director Chlebak said:

“Neill didn’t want the color to have a transformative effect on the film. A big discussion early on was how much the look would change the photography he already had as the story unfolded. With that in mind, I took a pretty subtle color-grading approach. The guiding theme for everything was the idea of two worlds: the world of Earth and the world of Elysium, looking 150 years into the future. We had to decide what the play between those two was going to look like. We spent a bit of time playing with Elysium, making it look very sci-fi, very poppy and saturated and glossy. And then we played with Earth to make it the complete opposite, totally gritty and desaturated. We could give Earth a filtered effect, almost like bleach bypass, and then see how that played. We started color-grading a bit early in the process. The cut was still going, and we started conforming the show about two months before the show actually locked. It was a gift. We had the luxury of working over a number of months on the DI. We’d be a day on and a day off, or a couple hours on and a couple hours off. It allowed us to try some crazy things, with the knowledge that we would take a step back and return to it the next day.”

For Chlebak full interview for Studio Daily, click here.