When he was asked to work on the hit thriller Aadai, India based digital cinema designer and colorist G. Balaji understood the importance of the color grade for the movie’s overall success. With the film, Balaji said he wanted to break the stereotype of how India is shown.
Aadai is a hit thriller film that was released for theatrical distribution in India and across global streaming networks in 2019. The film follows a free spirited girl, Kamini, who had become famous creating Internet prank videos. One night, she gets the shock of her life when she finds herself alone and naked in an abandoned building after a late night party and is forced to face her past.
Even though the film is a dark thriller, Balaji was tasked with creating a vibrant, colorful feel to the main character regardless of the dangerous situations and grim locations she finds herself in.
“With the film, we had to stay true to the cinematographer’s aesthetics and visual style and intent in which he shot the film,” he said. “Soft contrast and more vibrant colors made sure the viewer would relate to it as if it were larger than life. The biggest challenge we had to overcome was how to manage the face and flesh tone of the lead consistently throughout the film. To do this, we needed the main actress’s skin to pop out and used a teal and orange look, with the skin in the orange zone and rest of the gray building in the teal zone.”
In particular, Balaji had to ensure that Kamini’s skin tones were in contrast to the gray abandoned building she found herself in, while at the same time ensure the audience felt she was in a very dangerous and hostile environment.
Working on dozens of Indian feature films and TV shows, Balaji started his career as a film editor before moving to DIT and colorist work. Since 2015 he has used Blackmagic Design’s DaVinci Resolve Studio on more than 30 films for both color correction in post-production and on set dailies work.
To ceate a vibrant look for the lead character, he relied on DaVInci Resolve’s face refinement OpenFX plugin heavily to soften the face, pop out the look of her eyes and maintain consistent skin tones. He was able to automatically analyze and track the character’s face, with the feature recognizing the face’s outline and structure and then being able to grade her face separately from the rest of the scene.
Beyond setting the look for Kamini, Balaji was tasked with creating a sense of grim danger around the actress. “We used Resolve’s film emulsion effect with Resolve’s curves feature to draw the attention of the audience to danger. The curves editor allowed me to work quickly and be able to completely control the creation of a warm look that was different from the look and feel of the lead. We created a single node with the look we wanted and then increased and decreased the look using Resolve’s key output level to match each shot, which was really useful,” he continued.
“India is a land of vivid colors and we wanted to enhance them and show it,” he explained. “In Aadai we pushed it to vibrant. We had a wide spectrum of blues, reds and oranges in both these films, and with Resolve, we used the hue versus sat curves with a built in unique color waveform to check which of the colors peaked, thereby controlling them to our need.”
“I try not to approach these various projects I work on as different films, but rather as different genres with different color palettes. From neutral nature based visuals to teal and orange to details in deep shadows,” he said. “With Resolve, I have all the different tools I need to create whatever look I need, and rely on features like Frame.io interegration for review, adjustment clip for creating specific looks for a set of clips at one go, image stabilization in the edit page and the new neural engine features like up scaling footage.”
“Davinci Resolve allows independent filmmakers like me to move from editorial to digital cinematography to colorist. The accessibility, price range and varied tool sets are not possible with any other software,” Balaji said.
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