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Company 3’s Siggy Ferstl Discusses Grading Prime Video’s Totally Killer with DaVinci Resolve Studio

Fremont, CA, USA – Wednesday, January 17, 2024 – Senior Colorist Siggy Ferstl is no stranger to challenging and unique grading opportunities, with credits on projects such as Prime Video’s “The Boys” and spinoff “Gen V,” Netflix’s “Wednesday” and “Narcos,,” and highly innovative “Togo” from Disney. Recently, he completed work on Prime Video’s “Totally Killer” starring Kiernan Shipka.

Thirty five years after the shocking murders of three teens, an infamous killer returns on Halloween night to claim a fourth victim. When 17 year old Jamie comes face to face with the masked maniac, she accidentally time travels back to 1987. Forced to navigate the unfamiliar culture, Jamie teams up with her teenage mother to take down the psycho once and for all.

Ferstl discussed his work on “Totally Killer” and his grading process in DaVinci Resolve Studio, the editing, color grading, visual effects (VFX) and audio post production software.

Q: Is “Totally Killer” primarily a comedy, a horror movie or both?

Ferstl: It definitely straddles both genres. It’s not all one or the other. It references a kind of horror movie that was popular in the ‘80s and it also makes fun sometimes of the way people acted and talked, the language that was used, and the inappropriateness of aspects of the ‘80s versus now. It also has something of a message about some of that inappropriateness. Overall, it’s a fun movie with some scary parts and some funny parts.

Q: Where did you lean in terms of color representing the 1980s vs today? Were you thinking more in terms of ’80s movies or more so just the time period itself?

Ferstl: There were stylistic aspects of the period that were done in camera, such as all the practicals and design elements that were styled to reflect the era. That really drove the look. They wanted a nice looking, straightforward image for current day, something that had solid contrast and color, so it wasn’t like we affected current day to make the transition or the comparison between the two times. But we made the ‘80s look different. We helped that along by adding a little bit more brightness, saturation and warmth to everything, especially the first time Kiernan’s character walks out of the time machine, which is essentially a former photo booth, into the amusement park.

As she draws back the curtains, there’s this exposure shift. We really heighten the exposure, so everything is bleached out and also warm and saturated. The effect is like her eyes are totally going through a reset. And then we slowly bring down the exposure to a certain level of saturation and warmth that we then used for all the ‘80s scenes.

Q: Did you go as deep as thinking about film stocks of the time, or was it less specific than that?

Ferstl: No. Film stocks did have a heightened contrast then, but we didn’t want that level of contrast. We really were focused on the colors and the color values. We did play around with some print stock emulation, and we just found it was just too contrasty.

It really was just about establishing a difference because the film cuts backwards and forwards between present day and the ‘80s and we needed to feel that shift. It was more about having fun with it, rather than being too literal.

Q: What else did you do in the grade to differentiate the two looks?

Ferstl: There is present day in the amusement park and then the ‘80s in the same location. In present day it’s closed down, old and weathered, so you’ve got this sort of spooky location that’s all dilapidated. You go from this current day spooky, empty fenced off amusement park to this place that’s full of life and color, and the look really plays on that. Those two looks for the amusement park location allowed us to exaggerate the two aspects of the different time periods a bit.

Q: From a grading standpoint, did you find elements within the frame and make those more colorful or more contrasty?

Ferstl: When you enter the park, there’s this mechanical beaver that’s sort of the mascot. It would rotate and talk and welcome people and that kind of thing. In the present day it’s covered in bird droppings and just looks terrible. When we transition back to the ‘80s, it’s functioning and talking and clean and shiny. To help with that, I’d use magic mask to isolate it and we’d add in some contrast and a touch of saturation, depending on weather and time of day. And then we’d do the opposite for the ‘80s. We’d isolate it the same way and add a bit of brightness and color to it to make it seem shiny and new.

We used magic mask a lot throughout the film, and the shots with that mascot were the excellent examples of where it can be extremely useful. Traditionally, to just affect the mascot, I’d have probably used a spline mask. But the whole thing is rotating, and the camera is moving so it could have taken hours just to do that if you’re really being exact about it. A magic mask can do that very quickly if you know how to use it. It probably took about 30 seconds per shot here at Company 3. Obviously, we’ve got an enormous amount of GPU power so results may vary. But it’s certainly much faster to qualify specific elements in the frame with magic mask than it has been in Resolve ever before.

Q: Did you do any VFX type of work in Resolve?

Ferstl: For the very opening scene of the film, it’s Halloween and they’d done this big establishing shot of this idyllic neighborhood in the countryside with tree lined streets. The camera cranes down and moves to the front of a house. It’s a beautiful shot, but unfortunately, there was a lot of sky in the shot, and it wasn’t much to look at. They had to shoot when the sky was just all white. And because it was the opening shot, they wanted to make it more dramatic. So, I used the sky replacement tool and created this late afternoon/early evening sky that had a lot of color in it.

I was also able to track the sky and add the sun into the shot and then I used the Open FX lens flare tool to help integrate it all. As the camera moved, the sun disappeared behind the trees, and I added in some nice Open FX glow around the sun. It helped bring the elements together and was like a cherry on top of this already beautiful shot.

Q: The line between VFX and color grading seems to be constantly blurring. Were there other examples of this on “Totally Killer?”

Ferstl: There’s a scene where the killer is in the Quantum Drop ride, the one that people get into and it spins around very fast and the floor drops out from under them. Everything that you could see outside the ride was shot with green screen and composited in VFX. But to enhance the effect I isolated some of the lights that you could see spinning by outside and set Resolve up so those lights triggered a glow that blended with the light inside the ride. It just helped to integrate the background and foreground very nicely.

The other thing about that scene was that we all felt it needed a little bit more energy. I added a gradual light flicker and camera shake with tools in Resolve, which helped create an effect of the ride getting more and more intense and dramatic. As it was starting to spin faster and faster, we increased the light flicker and camera shake effects until the scene comes to an end. It just gave the whole thing more energy and drama.

“Totally Killer” is now available on Prime Video.

Press Photography

Product photos of DaVinci Resolve Studio and all other Blackmagic Design products are available at www.blackmagicdesign.com/media/images

About Blackmagic Design

Blackmagic Design creates the world’s highest quality video editing products, digital film cameras, color correctors, video converters, video monitoring, routers, live production switchers, disk recorders, waveform monitors and real time film scanners for the feature film, post production and television broadcast industries. Blackmagic Design’s DeckLink capture cards launched a revolution in quality and affordability in post production, while the company’s Emmy™ award winning DaVinci color correction products have dominated the television and film industry since 1984. Blackmagic Design continues ground breaking innovations including 6G-SDI and 12G-SDI products and stereoscopic 3D and Ultra HD workflows. Founded by world leading post production editors and engineers, Blackmagic Design has offices in the USA, UK, Japan, Singapore and Australia. For more information, please go to www.blackmagicdesign.com

Kerry de Boer

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