A Conversation with Colorist Isaac Molina

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Wed, 10/31/2018 - 11:09 -- Nick Dager

Isaac Molina is a senior colorist based in Mexico City, where for the last nine years he has worked at leading post house Oxido.Isaac Molina is a senior colorist based in Mexico City, where for the last nine years he has worked at leading post house Oxido. Molina has a rich tapestry of grading experience that includes TV commercials and, as the colorist and DI supervisor, with the grade of more than 30 feature films. More recently, he has worked as a colorist in the first Latin American high dynamic range TV series for Netflix. Digital Cinema Report recently spoke with Molina about his career, the art and craft of color grading and his work on The House of Flowers.

Digital Cinema Report: What made you want to be a colorist?

Isaac Molina: I studied audiovisual communication with the aim of dedicating myself to post-production and always preferred to be on the creative and operational side. My first job was as an editor in a digital advertising agency and it was around that time when Apple Color was launched. It is difficult to describe, but it was in that part of the process where I found a combination between creativity and technique that I enjoyed a lot. So it was not hard to decide at that point to put all my enthusiasm into becoming a colorist.

DCR: Is there something that you can do now that was impossible to do back when you started?

IM: Technically, there are many things that I have learned, but I think something that I now do better, is the way I communicate with clients or understand what they need.

DCR: What sort of looks are your clients usually looking for?

IM: It depends really on the type of project. For advertising, I usually seek colorful and natural looks with great care given to skin tone, high contrasts and special care in the product shots. In cinema projects, the range of looks is very diverse.  Almost always the DOPs already have a specific looks in mind depending on the story or the genre.

Molina is the colorist on The House of Flowers, the first Latin American high dynamic range TV series for Netflix.DCR: How would you define your personal style of grading?

IM: I consider myself a very practical colorist, I always keep in mind "keep it simple". So depending on the result you want to achieve, I try to do it in the most direct way. Make a balance and a very solid base, and understand the intention of the DOP, to never go against the material. I consider it a part of my style to communicate as best I can with the Director and the DOP, so that they obtain the image they want, and the image that the script needs.

DCR: You’ve graded The House of Flowers, first Neflix series all HDR in Latin America. How did you get involved in this project?

IM: The project came to OxidoTV where I am part of the permanent staff. Marco Rodríguez, the CEO of the company, put me forward as a colorist since I am usually able to resolve any technical aspects in the grade and this series had several technical challenges.

DCR: On this project, who did you work with throughout the various stages and how long would you say you’ve spent on it?

IM: We spent approximately the first three months in the implementation of the necessary resources for this project.  We started by making adjustments to the color correction room because the Sony X300 Monitor that we had to work the HDR was much smaller than the previews monitor that we used. So the room underwent some modifications to set the X300 at an adequate distance. Then we had to work on the issue of certification with Dolby, which involved both the installation of the CMU and some training. We also had to work collaboratively with Colorfront and FilmLight because as a new technology, cross-platform information was essential.

Molina began his career as a colorist working on television commercials.Later we had a short period of testing where we had the opportunity to do the whole workflow pipeline from the conforming in Baselight Conform until the IMF went up to Netflix's Backlot. Once these tests were made, the development of the series occurred in a normal way. We spent the first weeks with Director Manolo Caro and DOP Pedro Gomez Millan, defining the look of the series and then revisions were made periodically.

DCR: How would you describe the show’s signature grade?

IM: It is a series full of life and color where all the actors look radiant. The locations are full of flowers and we took special care to make the entire cast look good.

DCR: And how did Baselight help you to achieve the look? Were they any specific tools that you used?

IM: With Baselight I have a great deal of flexibility and a great variety of very powerful tools that allow me take risks in the grading, that I can easily achieve.

For my training, I use a lot of VideoGrade and FilmGrade and it helps me to fine tune the hue shift. For this particular Netflix series, the Soften tool was very useful for cosmetic adjustments. We resorted very much to stabilizing the shots after the transform given that it was extremely fast and effective.

DCR: What was the biggest challenge on this show?

Another example of Molina's commercial work.IM: Our main challenge was that we needed to do the series in a single system. Since Dolby Vision works with dynamic metadata contained in an XML the editing software is not able to edit that metadata. We usually do the color correction in Baselight and the online in Smoke, but in this case, we had to do the whole process inside Baselight.  We were amazed, because in a Baselight ONE we could give play in real-time to the whole episode, with all layers of color, 5.1 audio in 4k HDR 16-bits.

DCR: How would you compare the pace of work on features films and episodic television?

IM: You have to invest less time in a TV series than in a movie, so you tend to use tools that save your resources and your time. You take firmer steps and have a solid look for all situations. On the other hand, in a TV series you have the opportunity to perfect the way of approaching the material since you are working on the same project for much longer.

DCR: Any particular color ideas you are experimenting with or wanting to see more of?

IM: I am working on an article that talks about the coincidences of harmony in music and color, which for me is how to explain the order of the universe and beauty in nature and how we are inherent in it.

DCR: Is there interest for you in using FilmLight's BLG workflow from Baselight for Daylight to the grading room?

IM: In OxidoTV, we have three DIT units that have both Daylight and Flip. In the cases that we have been able to implement the workflow with BLG's, the photographer is the first to feel what he has asked for on the set is mirrored in the color correction room.  That gives him a lot of reassurance, and to us as colorists, makes us understand everything much easier.

A scene from The House of Flowers. Molina is writing an article about the coincidences of harmony in music and color.DCR: What advice would you give to people who have recently downloaded Baselight Student and started to learn the grading tools?

IM: The first thing I would like to point out to them is that they are a very fortunate generation to have a world-class FilmLight software on their computers to be able to practice and experiment with. Until very recently, the only way for someone to have access to such a system was to be an assistant, and wait for the day to end, to be able to practice.

I would also like to recommend that color correction is not only about the technique, but rather for me, the most beautiful thing is that it is about observing the world, nature and art. So when the moment comes that you are sitting in front of the software, and you have to take an aesthetic judgment, you have all that in mind.

DCR: How do you describe what you do to people outside the industry?

IM: It is a very common question and I have several versions of the answer depending on who asks for it. But I usually say that I help tell stories through the manipulation of color.

DCR: Are there any artists that inspire you?

IM: I really like impressionist painting. I like the use of color in Annie Leibovitz's photography but I think I find inspiration much more in my observations of the world. Since what we do in color correction is not done on a white canvas, we always start a given image that we manipulate with the references to our chromatic memory.

DCR: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

IM: To me the most important thing is never to stop learning. So I see myself in 10 years as a better colorist and a better person. What I hope is that I will have the opportunity to participate in important projects and have the opportunity to work on diverse and international projects.