DI colorist Stefan Sonnenfeld, the founder and president of Company 3, is a significant player in the film industry and has a wealth of experience color timing and postproducing major feature films. He was chosen by director Stephen Daldry and cinematographer Chris Menges, BSC, ASC, to grade EXTREMELY LOUD AND INCREDIBLY CLOSE, which was shot with the ARRI ALEXA digital camera and is up for Best Picture at this year's Academy Awards. Sonnenfeld recently spoke with ARRI News regarding his work on the movie, and his views about grading images captured by ALEXA.

ARRI News: How long was the grade on ELIC?


Stefan Sonnenfeld: Mostly it was done in a single block over a few weeks. Initially I sat with Chris to time the movie, and then the editor and Stephen came in, and also Scott Rudin. I'd say it was five weeks of solid work, although the days weren't all long ones. It was actually a nice pace; for once it wasn't completely rushed, which is unusual. I felt that for all of us, this part of the coloring aspect was a great experience.


AN: Had you graded ALEXA material before?


SS: I had, and I love the ALEXA; I think it's a great camera and its images can be really beautiful, especially the new camera (ALEXA Studio), which I've seen some footage from. Everything just seems to look great; even the dimly lit scenes look amazing. The range is phenomenal in low light situations and it's very clean too - there's no noise. In fact I think the ALEXA has the cleanest low end of any camera that I've seen.

When I color film it's the best feeling in the world; when I color ALEXA, it's just like I'm coloring film.

AN: Does digital acquisition affect your work or relationship with a DP in the grade?


SS: What happens with digital is that people can see what they're getting, which never happened before. In the past you had to deal with the subjectivity of exposure, because one person's 'one stop over' is very different from another person's 'one stop over' and it came down to the aesthetics of the cameraman and how they perceived film dealing with things.


Now with digital cameras the directive is to maximize latitude for postproduction, so what's happening is that people are giving us more range and people who used to typically underexpose film quite a bit are now not underexposing at all, which is a good thing. The fact that digital negatives tend to be well exposed because you can see what you're getting has been one of the extreme benefits of digital cameras. Nobody seems to dwell on that, but for me it's a bonanza because we've always said that if we're given the latitude we can do whatever you want.


AN: It gives you greater flexibility in the grade?


SS: Absolutely. Ultimately a director - even for a darker scene - usually says that he wants to see more, and if it's not there on the film you're going to get a noisy film image, whereas now you'll be working with a better exposure and you can go where you want with it. It's actually a great byproduct of file-based capture.

Skin tones, which are so difficult on some cameras, are especially beautiful with ALEXA.

AN: Chris seemed to respond well to the color tonality of ALEXA images - is that something you could define or describe?


SS: I've colored more film than most people because I've been doing it every day on multiple projects for 25 years, so it's intuitive for me, a bit like shooting can be for a DP that's been doing it a long time. When I color film it's the best feeling in the world; when I color ALEXA, it's just like I'm coloring film. It's really weird. Whatever ARRI is doing with their math and their algorithms is so beautiful and so representative of the qualities we like about film, that it creates the same feeling and I don't have to alter my style in any way. There are other digital cameras out there that I can't say the same about. Skin tones, which are so difficult on some cameras, are especially beautiful with ALEXA.


AN: So overall it was an enjoyable grading experience?


SS: It was so nice to have the time for once, and not be rushed. It meant we could enjoy the process and do good work, which was something Scott Rudin made clear he wanted. To my mind that was a good call and added to the project. Chris is an amazing DP and his lighting is beautiful. He's very critical of himself, but overwhelmingly the footage was about as good as you can get. I think his subtle and naturalistic approach to lighting suits the ALEXA very well and it was just great to work with him -- he has a very beautiful sensibility. He also knows a lot about transfer and what you can do in post.