Posted on Tuesday, August 22, 2023

Light Iron’s Supervising Colorist Ian Vertovec Talks Grading 'American Born Chinese'

Light Iron Supervising Colorist Ian Vertovec tells us how early collaboration helped the production team get on board with DOP Brett Pawlak’s vision for a crimson-leafed heaven in the Disney+ series American Born Chinese.

How did you get involved in the project?

Ian Vertovec: Brett and I have worked on over a dozen projects together, including the features Short Term 12 and Just Mercy. I’ll often join him in pre-production to help define a LUT that he can then load into the camera to establish the intended look in principal photography. The goal is to be shooting for a specific image that makes its way through the entire pipeline, so, by the time you get to the grade, you’re fine-tuning rather than coming up with an image nobody’s seen before.

What was the LUT you created for American Born Chinese?

Ian Vertovec: The show blends together ancient mythology with the present-day experiences of a Chinese-American teenager, and some key scenes take place in heaven. For these, Brett had this amazing idea to turn all the foliage bright shades of red and pink, as though it was shot with Kodak’s old Aerochrome film, which was sensitive to infrared light. So, I took pictures of trees, plants and grass and loaded them into Baselight, where I built an emulation LUT that matched Aerochrome’s characteristics.

Was it difficult to create?

Ian Vertovec: Making the LUT wasn’t difficult, but without it, it could have been challenging to get everyone on board with the idea of this reddish-pink heaven. If you shoot in a forest and say that later all the greens are going to be red, it’s going to be hard to get everyone there creatively, and there are obviously big implications for the wardrobe and set design departments. It’s important to establish the idea in prep with a LUT so that everyone can plan accordingly. Then, during production, anyone looking at the monitor on set would be able to see this completely different world with red foliage, and everyone will see the same image in dailies, VFX revisions, and editorial. It’s a powerful tool for collaboration.