Chinese Hit Series Three-Body Graded with DaVinci Resolve Studio

Fremont, CA, USA – Friday, April 28, 2023 – Blackmagic Design today announced that Chinese hit sci fi TV series “Three-Body” was color graded by Liu Mo at Mogo Film Labs using DaVinci Resolve Studio editing, grading, visual effects (VFX) and audio post production software.

Directed by Yang Lei and starring Zhang Luyi, Yu Hewei, Chen Jin, Wang Ziwen, and Li Xiaoran, “Three-Body” is a Chinese science fiction television series adapted from the novel “The Three-Body Problem” by Liu Cixin, which tells the story of nanoscientist Wang Miao and detective Shi Qiang as they uncover the world of the extraterrestrial civilization, “Trisolarans.”

Temporally, the series consists of modern times and the 1970s, while spatially, it comprises various scenes. As the story unfolds, there are changes in moods and characters with different personalities appearing. These changes and differences were all reflected through lead colorist Liu Mo’s manipulation of colors of the image.

Liu Mo had exchanged ideas with director since the beginning of the shoot and they had tested different color grading schemes together. “Director Yang Lei has a clear idea of what he wants for his work before shooting. He is also knowledgeable about technical details and knows which scenes can be shot on site, which scenes will get different results with the help of color grading, and which ones cannot be achieved with color grading,” said Liu.

The color grading scheme was finalized based on a piece of test sequence the director graded by himself and sent to Liu. The sample reflected the director’s vision of the scenes in the different eras, including a modern and stern style for modern times, a nostalgic and retro feel for the 1970s and a dreamy look for the Red Coast base, which were general guidelines for the colorists to create the look for the film.

How to achieve the director’s desired vision with color grading techniques was a challenge for Liu. “There are many different techniques, which can create different artistic effects for the same footage. How to use colors to produce a modern feel, a retro feel, or a dreamy feel was the most challenging part,” he said.

He continued, “From my perspective, a significant feature of the modern feel is ‘digital.’ ‘Digital’ doesn’t mean lack of the filmic look. It can be exquisite enough to symbolize the modern era. Therefore, the color grading for the 2007 portion was primarily based on the production work, and we just helped restore what it was and enhance the atmosphere by refining the details.”

When developing the nostalgic look for the Cultural Revolution scenes, Liu focused on creating the style of old movies shot on film stocks. “I think colors and memory are associated with each other. The reason why we feel an image or a look belongs to the film era is that the films in that era have formed a connection between our subconsciousness and that era. So, our goal was to create a filmic look that would subconsciously evoke the era and its distinctive visual style in the minds of the audience,” explained Liu.

The dreamy look of the Red Coast base came from the lighting specially designed by Yang in the production stage. Liu and Yang did various tests during filming to determine how the color lights could help shape the tonality of the scene. During the final color grade, they first made slight adjustments to some natural colors, and then made the overall enhancement.

Another challenge was that the colorists got to help shape the characters’ personalities based on a clear understanding of the characters. Liu said, “You have to delve into the story and each character. It’s easy to make an image look good visually, but it would be meaningless if you didn’t consider the mood the story needs. For a sequence to be graded, the colorists would peruse it and then grade based on their understanding. When reviewing the graded footage, the director would give us his advice if he found that the look did not precisely match his original creative vision. His input on color grading really helped me a lot.”

As a sci fi series that drew great attention from Chinese audiences, Liu put a lot of effort into every scene of “Three-Body.” He shared his color grading ideas by explaining the following key scenes.

“Shen Yufei’s home is a very important scene. First, it’s because she’s one of the key roles, and second, some major events take place in her house. We made a lot of adjustments to the environment, characters, and natural colors, such as darkening the environment to design the atmosphere, adjusting the modeling light to highlight the characters’ personalities, desaturating many highly saturated natural colors to achieve overall tone consistency,” explained Liu.

For the Three-Body Game scenes the VFX team provided the colorists with EXR files with linear gamma, which were converted by the colorists to gamma 2.4 in DaVinci Resolve Studio as a starting point for color grading.

“There are many scenes in the Three-Body Game, each with a unique look; some to help establish the atmosphere and some to assist with storytelling. For example, when Wang Miao first enters the game, it is in a chaotic era. We needed to intensify the chaotic feel. When Wang Miao meets King Wen of Zhou for the first time, we wanted to give the audience a strong visual impact by deliberately creating a Mars like look with a predominantly orange-red tone and also adding some dark green in the shadows to give the image more layers of color. In addition, we used three different color tones to represent different times of the day, and sometimes needed to create color gradients within a single shot,” said Liu.

The “Operation Guzheng” scene takes place in the Panama Canal, but the actual filming was completed in China. “We had to help increase the visual credibility. Since the Panama Canal is located in the tropics, we used high contrast to emphasize the direct sunlight. Then, we used Resolve’s RGB Mixer to create a yellowish green look to reflect the lush vegetation and the hot weather in the tropical country. In shots involving visual effects, we used a lot of mattes to control the relationship between black, white, and gray tones of the visual elements for a realistic look,” noted Liu.

As a colorist with eight years of experience, Liu has completed many popular feature films and television shows such as “Forever Young,” “The Liquidator,” “Special Couple,” “Nothing But Thirty,” “Novoland: Eagle Flag,” and “ Candle in the Tomb: The Lost Caverns.”

“I have been using DaVinci Resolve since I entered the industry, because there are a huge number of DaVinci Resolve users, which makes it more convenient to cooperate with my assistants. The color management in DaVinci Resolve has greatly improved the flexibility of our color pipelines. For ‘Three-Body,’ I used the ACES color management in DaVinci Resolve, which is very handy for color consistency and balance for a long form TV series project with a large number of shots,” said Liu.

He also appreciated some other DaVinci Resolve Studio tools. “One is Colorspace Transform, which makes color space conversion much easier; another is curves, allowing for greater control over contrast and tonality; and the HDR palette is ideal for giving the image a sense of depth and richness,” he concluded.

“Three-Body” premiered on CCTV-8, Tencent Video and Migu Video on January 15, 2023.

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