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Grading Martian Landscapes with DaVinci Resolve

Prologue's Simon Clowes Grades Opening Cinematics for Bungie's "Destiny"
Creating a cinematic opening scene for a video game is incredibly hard to do well. You have a couple of minutes to tell a dramatic story that will capture and bring the gamer into a new world, as well as set up the background story and emotions for the countless hours of gameplay about to happen. And for game makers, the opening cinematic has to separate you from the hundreds of other games out there.

"Destiny" also had the extra challenge of being one of the most anticipated games of 2014 from Bungie, the legendary company that created a video game universe that became its own genre. While a Bungie game typically has a look and a feel that is immediately recognizable, "Destiny" is Bungie's first leap away from its previous universe, and the opening sequence had to stand on its own.

Co-Directed by Simon Clowes and Ilya V. Abulkhanov, Simon (A director and colorist with Prologue, an LA based post production, graphics and VFX house) was also tasked with grading the opening film scenes for "Destiny." To complete this, he used DaVinci Resolve.

Set on present day Mars, the opening sequence narrates the first encounter between three astronauts and an unidentified spherical object named The Traveler. Not a word is spoken by the astronauts as they are thrown into the violence and harshness of the Martian landscape. The opening sequence then takes gamers through a series of incredible graphics and effects showing how this first alien encounter led to the human race reaching the stars and then being nearly wiped out by evil.

Because this opening sequence was so vital in captivating the gamer audience and setting up the story for the rest of the game, The Prologue team knew they had to do it justice. And instead of simply bringing the scene to life through color, they actually made the landscapes and environment alive; from the surface and sky of Mars to the astronauts leaving their ship and hiking over Martian mountains. Bungie loved the idea and gave Simon and Ilya the freedom to create something unique.

"I approached the terrain and sky as if they were characters themselves. Myself and Ilya discussed the introduction of subtle shifts of color and light, which would in turn affect the shadows as a way to achieve this effect. The environment had to feel abnormal in some respect, and when researching photography of Mars via available imagery provided by NASA, it appeared that the sky was not always the marzipan color one would imagine," said Simon.

Simon continued: "When going through the Mars photos, you would be amazed at how much contrast there is on the planet. You see different colors and textures, not just red. We wanted to capture that real life look full of texture versus some sort of high glossy video game look. It also appeared as if some of the photography from NASA had been color corrected so that the terrains appear too be more red."

Initial shots were created for the opening in a number of different effects and animation software, with those initial passes sent through to Resolve for intensive grading. Within each shot, Simon created a number of different grades for every part of the image, varying the color and texture overall but still paying close attention to the sky and terrain to maintain the story.

"We went through each shot and changed perspectives and colors. To be complex and feel alive, we carefully and painstakingly created grades to isolate skies and terrain. It was great that Bungie gave us a lot of freedom with this, and Resolve let us experiment and get the looks we needed," Simon said.

One of the hardest aspects of the scenery that Prologue developed was the subtle difference in the Martian soil. After reviewing the actual Mars photos, Simon discovered that the red planet was anything but simply red. Colors changed and mixed, and that meant that grading the sequence required Simon to isolate and track numerous subtle color changes as the astronauts walked over rock, sand and gravel or were standing in awe in front of The Traveler and a rain soaked Martian landscape. 

To get the subtlety that he needed, Simon used Resolve's Power Windows and advanced tracking tools. Also, with the need to isolate and perfect very specific parts of each shot, he used Resolve's extensive matte management features to bring in mattes provided by the VFX team and fit each one perfectly into the sequence. With Resolve, he could add as many mattes as needed, while using Power Windows and tracking to fit them easily into each shot.

"I loved the control to be able to easily isolate colors and easily jump around the timeline to swap out shots and line up my grades. Resolve made my life so much simpler with its matte management," he said.

Simon also relied on Resolve's real time performance which allowed him to see his ideas graded immediately and adjust as needed. For a shot that had multiple grades, seeing an adjustment made immediately was incredibly important.

"Any other color correction product would have been much too time consuming. With Resolve, everything is made for me to be able to focus on the grading and art and not worrying about the technology or slow rendering. And everything is right there in the timeline, so we had a very simple and efficient post production process," he said.

"With 'Destiny,' we had very specific goals for the color, and DaVinci Resolve gave us the creative freedom to achieve the desired results at the quality we were striving for. Grading CG was a very different experience from grading live action, but Resolve's sensitivity and ability to use versions and mattes made our workflow extremely productive," Simon concluded.

About Simon
Simon Clowes is creative director / director at Prologue Films in Venice, California. He has designed and directed a diverse range of projects from television and film title sequences to commercials and visual effects. His portfolio includes films such as X-Men: First Class, Sherlock Holmes, Orphan, Superman Returns and the Oscar nominated Across the Universe. He has also designed and directed the opening sequences for the shows Elementary and Vegas.

Simon has attracted industry recognition including Emmy Award nominations, a Special Jury Recognition from SXSW, Cubes from Art Directors Club and awards from The New York TV and Film Festival and Promax BDA.

Based in Venice, CA, Prologue is a team of designers and filmmakers that direct live action infused with typography, editorial techniques and computer generated imagery. Founded in 2003 by Kyle and Kimberley Cooper, the company specializes in merging principles of typography and graphic design with sequence, story and sound. Its recent studio work includes sequences for Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, Rango, X-Men: First Class, Robin Hood and American Horror Story, as well as visual effects shots for Prometheus, TRON: Legacy, Tropic Thunder and The Tempest.

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Related Keywords:Blackmagic Design, DaVinci Resolve, Cinematography, Game Design

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