'Tomorrowland' Cinematographer Claudio Miranda Talks About Creating First Dolby Vision Theatrical Release

The high dynamic range capabilities allow "the actors' performance to stand out more," adds colorist Stephen Nakamura.

“This is a great thing that’s coming,” enthused Oscar-winning director of photography Claudio Miranda of Dolby Vision, Dolby’s new-fangled format that offers high dynamic range, meaning a wider range between the blackest blacks and whitest whites. Miranda has a unique perspective, as he photographed Disney's Brad Bird-directed Tomorrowland -- the first theatrical release in the format.

“Nighttime blacks are just insane; they're just beautiful,” said the Life of Pi cinematographer of the format’s expanded contrast, brighter images and wider color gamut. “A starry night is true black; it makes the night feel very three-dimensional. And explosions get a flash of brightness that you don't get in the normal theatrical world.”

Also enthusiastic is colorist Stephen Nakamura of post house Company 3, who graded the film. “The actors’ performance stands out more," he said of HDR and Dolby Vision. "You can see more [detail in] the eyes. You can see more of their facial expressions [particularly in night scenes] in a really subtle way.”

Tomorrowland stars George Clooney. Nakamura said with a laugh, “A brighter George Clooney will make the ladies happy.”

Since Dolby Vision is new, it’s only available at a handful of equipped theater locations. I saw the dazzling Dolby Vision version at a pre-release screening at the Disney-owned El Capitan theater in Hollywood, which is showing the film in Dolby Vision and with Dolby Atmos sound. The Dolby Vision version of Tomorrowland is also playing at the newly equipped Dolby Cinema at AMC Prime locations at AMC BarryWoods 24, in Kansas City; AMC Deerbrook 24, in Humble, Texas; and AMC North Point Mall 12, in Alpharetta, Georgia.

Nakamura said Dolby Vision, and HDR in general, effectively means more creative freedom. “Color grading a movie is really about the feel that the director wants to convey, and this gives you more freedom to create any kind of look,” he said. “I think with every project it’s going to be different. Each cinematographer will use the technology differently."

Miranda used the new palette subtly—some might say conservatively—but certainly effectively in Tomorrowland, which follows disillusioned genius Frank (Clooney) and an optimistic teen named Casey (Britt Robertson), who share an adventure set in two worlds: the real, present world and Tomorrowland, an alternate world that is an idealistic vision of the future. Miranda used his expanded palette to create distinct looks for the two worlds.

“When we first travel to Tomorrowland, I gave a little more glorious color to it,” Miranda explained. “When Casey holds the pin and first sees Tomorrowland [the sequence that appears in the trailer], there’s adventure and hope and light. It’s warm and inviting and exciting. There’s a present day that’s more muted, a little more bleak…but there are also different versions of how we approached Tomorrowland [driven by what is happening in the story]."

“You also want to be careful not to use the whole gamut all the time or it gets slightly abusive for the eyes,” Miranda added.

Most high-end digital cinematography cameras are already capable of handing high dynamic range images. For Tomorrowland, Miranda chose Sony’s F65 camera (which he previously used to photograph Oblivion) in 4K resolution. It was shot on stage and on location in Vancouver, British Columbia, as well as locations including Calatrava in Valencia, Spain.

For postproduction, working closely with Miranda and Bird, Nakamura graded the Dolby Vision version at Company 3/Deluxe’s new facility in Santa Monica, in a new grading theater. He used Company 3’s go-to color grading system, BlackMagic Design’s DaVinci Resolve, which already has the ability to grade and master in the Dolby Vision format.

Dolby’s plan is to equip theaters with Dolby Vision along with Dolby Atmos sound in a specially designed configuration that also includes a video wall entry area. These premium theaters are branded “Dolby Cinema.”

The company also aims to get Dolby Vision to the home, and Vizio is expected to be the first set maker to release Dolby Vision-branded TVs. Dolby Vision is also supported by Ultra HD Blu-Ray, a new format that is expected to roll out later this year. Meanwhile, several manufacturers are working on additional formats that support HDR.

At this point, Dolby has only acknowledged that Tomorrowland, along with Disney/Pixar’s June 19 release Inside Out and 2016 release The Jungle Book, will have Dolby Vision releases, though additional titles are in the works.

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