Light Iron's Supervising Colorist Ian Vertovec on Bringing Marcel the Shell With Shoes On to Life

Published on in Exclusive Interviews

Light Iron supervising colourist Ian Vertovec recently gave us a behind-the-scenes and into the color suite of the Oscar nominated film Marcel The Shell with Shoes.

PH: Hi there Ian! Can you share a bit of your professional background? 

Ian Vertovec: I’m one of the original members of Light Iron and cofounded the company back in 2009. Before that, I worked as a colorist for six years, though my initial background was in still photography. I’ve also held various roles in graphic design, video production, film production, and visual effects, so my background is pretty eclectic, but it’s all contributed to my experience as a colorist. 

PH: Can you talk about some of the projects you've worked on and how they've shaped you professionally? 

Ian Vertovec: I’ve worked on features like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Gone Girl and Devotion, and series like Glow and The Old Man. One of the fun things about being a colorist is that you get to work on a wide variety of projects. Because we change genres so quickly, we’re always experimenting and trying different techniques to find the best approach for different situations. One cinematographer might want a 1950s look, another may want something from the 1970s, and even if I’ve worked with those time periods before, I’ll still have to factor in how the genre of the project will inform the color grade — for example, a comedy will obviously look different from a horror film. So it’s important to identify what feelings the color will evoke in the audience since that impacts the emotional response they’ll have to the film as a whole. Working on a broad range of genres and having those opportunities to experiment has been really beneficial for me as a colorist.

PH: How did you become involved with Marcel the Shell With Shoes On?

Ian Vertovec: I met with the director, Dean Fleischer Camp, before they started shooting. Since it’s a stop-motion animation film, things can get extremely technical, so we wanted to make sure the film looked natural and not like it was made on a computer. We wanted it to feel like Marcel was really there. 

PH: In your role, how does pre-production look? Where does collaboration and sharing your ideas and process come into play? 

Ian Vertovec: Following our initial conversations, I didn’t have much involvement during preproduction for Marcel the Shell. Generally, for other films, I’ll meet with the cinematographer to discuss what they want, look over their visual references, and build a custom LUT for them to shoot with. The cinematographer will then do another camera test with the LUT and give me notes about what they did and didn’t like, and we’ll keep refining the LUT until we achieve a look that they’re happy with for principal photography and their dailies. 

PH: What (if any) challenges did you encounter working on the film?

Ian Vertovec: The biggest challenges came from working with footage from different cameras. Marcel the Shell was mostly shot on Alexa, but there were a few others camera used throughout the film. For example, the news production crew for the 60 Minutes sequence used their own equipment for that scene. Also, there were VFX aspects to blend the animation in the live-action scene, but I took the approach of grading everything like it was a naturally photographed film.

PH: Can you describe some of the techniques you applied?  

Ian Vertovec: I work on Baselight, which is great for color managed workflows and pipelines. I’ve been working with the system for a long time. Baselight’s Base Grade tool is phenomenal for creating real and natural-looking images, so it was useful when building the LUTs for the film. It helped me create a far more natural image instead of an overly color-corrected look. 

PH: Do you have a favorite shot or sequence? If so, what is it and can you give background into how you achieved the color of that scene?

Ian Vertovec: I loved whenever Marcel got inside the tennis ball and ran around the house. But for scenes that specifically relate to the color, I’d have to say anytime they’re in the garden. It’s so beautiful — I love the meticulously crafted houses, plants, and treehouses. The greens render beautifully, and the trees and plants are very soft looking.

To achieve that look, I took the green channel and brought it down closer to blue to create a deep density in the colors and capture these dormant, almost melancholy shades to reflect Marcel’s sadness about missing his family. Towards the end of the film, as Marcel gets closer to reuniting with his family, the greens become brighter and more yellow and spring-like, as if the greenery is coming back to life. The yellows and brighter colors have a joyful energy that the audience can hopefully feel and take with them on their way out of the theater. 

PH: Are there any upcoming projects you'd like to share?

Ian Vertovec: There’s not much I can talk about yet, but keep your eyes peeled for the HBO miniseries White House Plumbers, which is coming out in March. It’s a mixture of an espionage thriller and comedy about the people involved in the Watergate scandal.

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