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DaVinci Resolve Races through the Decades for ‘Ford vs Ferrari’

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The movie ‘Ford vs Ferrari’ is about American car designer Carroll Shelby and English test driver Ken Miles as they work to build an extremely fast, robust sports car for Ford Motor Company in their bid to beat Ferrari at the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans. It was directed by James Mangold, working with cinematographer Phedon Papamichael.

Seeking guidelines for the look of the film, Phedon looked at earlier motor racing films, in particular ‘Grand Prix’ made in 1966, the year of this new film’s story. “Grand Prix was a classic cinemascope picture shot on 70mm Kodak film. I just loved the framing and simplicity of it,” he said.

Nuts and Bolts

“At that time, crews didn’t have the modern techniques we have for tracking cars with specialised cranes and drones. It was very important to us to convey to the audience that these little racing machines are just a few nuts and bolts holding together a gigantic engine, and had almost no braking ability. We wanted viewers to feel the danger and intensity of what it’s like to be in a race car.”

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Skip Kimball, a colourist from DI facility EFILM, and Phedon had worked together on three previous projects and agreed that, despite the film’s setting in the mid 1960s, creating a traditional, recognisable vintage look was not the approach they were after. Instead, working on a Blackmagic DaVinci Resolve grading system, they developed a custom LUT early in the process during camera testing.

The movie was shot with the ARRI Alexa LF, which records with a 2.39:1 aspect ratio, the modern widescreen cinema format. Skip said, “It was important that the film evoke a period feeling without feeling like an old movie.” 

Less Nostalgia, More History

Typical practices of desaturation or ‘aging’ would not be acceptable. Skip wanted the film to feel like the ‘60s as if we are actually there, not the way we feel when we look at old photos. During pre-production, he researched classic styles from a variety of sources. “I often referred to my father’s old car magazines from the period. This gave me a great sense for the look of the time, that the car manufacturers, marketing people and photographers designed.”

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Skip Kimball, colourist at EFILM

Throughout the film, Phedon and Skip adjusted the style based on the setting as well, from the Ferrari factory to the race at Le Mans. “The early scenes of the Ferrari factory have a dreamy quality compared to the more steely and industrial feel of the Ford Factory,” said Skip. “This compliments the different philosophies the manufacturers had. Shelby’s garage, in turn, is a blend between the two.”

While the period largely determined the style of the film, he found inspiration from other sources as well. ‘The Godfather’, for example, was a major inspiration for Lee Iacocca’s negotiation with Enzo Ferrari.

Responsive Conform

DaVinci Resolve was in use not only when grading the film later in post but also earlier in editorial to generate fast reviews and continuous visual effects updates. EFILM’s conform editor Tashi Trieu conformed the project in Resolve and, from that point, needed to keep up with the production, reflecting revisions to the cut in the conform and allowing director James Mangold to audition looks and versions as and when required.

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“Conforming the project natively in Resolve meant our clients had enormous flexibility in the DI theatre,” said Skip. “When the director and picture editor Mike McCusker wanted to experiment with the timing of a particular VFX sequence, we could audition edits right there.” Changes could be tested on the big screen, and accompanied by the surround sound mix, allowing them to accurately evaluate looks and changes in a high quality environment.

Race Day

As colourist, Skip used Resolve’s native tools in a variety of ways. For example, though the footage was shot in about seven different camera formats, the software’s resolution independence meant he could work with each one in its RAW format, allowing it to undergo 15 different sizing procedures. He also had the Camera Shake tool, using it frequently to help even out the levels of instability between shots, sometimes enhancing what the VFX team was doing.

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The final race at Le Mans was, not surprisingly, the most challenging sequence in the movie for the post team as well as the drivers. It was shot across five different locations, resulting in diverse footage in which Skip had to match the characteristics of the light, the sky and the time of day.

“The scene is so intense and exciting and, like Ken Miles, all anyone should be focused on is the race,” he said. “Jim [director James Mangold] had a clear vision for the sequence and was insistent that the look never go over the top. He’s such an experienced filmmaker that he sticks with subtle details, in line with the nuances of photorealism.”  www.blackmagicdesign.com