Making The Life Ahead with VENICE

Cinematographer Angus Hudson BSC, colorist Paolo Verrucci and digital workflow supervisor Francesco Giardiello discuss how Sony’s VENICE camera complemented their esthetic choices during production of the Netflix original drama The Life Ahead.

The rich color, detail, and dynamic range captured by our VENICE full-frame digital cinema camera offer today’s filmmakers powerful expressive possibilities. DoP Angus Hudson and colorist Paolo Verrucci explain how VENICE and Sony’s high-quality X-OCN XT codec were intrinsic to the production workflow of The Life Ahead, directed for Netflix by Edoardo Ponti.

Full-frame 6K expands creative options

The 2020 drama The Life Ahead stars Academy Award winner Sophia Loren as Madame Rosa, a Holocaust survivor who forges an unlikely bond with Momo (Ibrahima Gueye), an orphaned Senegalese refugee who has recently robbed her. Directed by Edoardo Ponti, the Italian production for Netflix was shot by Angus Hudson BSC, whose credits include Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi and Assassin’s Creed.

“The first opportunity for me to use VENICE was on The Life Ahead” says Angus. “I was very interested in the larger format, shooting full-frame 6K. The other thing that really drew me to shooting on VENICE was the dual ISO. I really liked how I could light in a slightly more subtle way with that.”

Getting the look, on set and in post

The production’s on-screen look is the direct result of a close creative collaboration between Angus, colorist Paolo Verrucci and digital workflow supervisor Francesco Giardiello.

“The project was worked on in ACES, so also an LMT [Look Management Transform] was created by Francesco” notes Paolo. “This LMT was characterized in particular by very saturated colors and cold, low lights. In this case Francesco and Angus did a great job on set, so I had the opportunity to start grading through a CDL [Color Decision List], which meant that I spent less time matching and I was able to use my creativity to the fullest to obtain greater quality in the resulting image.”

This X-OCN codec in my opinion is fantastic because it maintains 16-bit linear encoding quality and a range of colors greater than the DCI-P3 space, while retaining easy-to-manage files for post-production.

X-OCN streamlines workflow efficiency

According to Angus, the choice of codec was crucial to the end-to-end production workflow. “We were shooting in X-OCN XT, which is Sony’s least compressed RAW format.” As Paolo confirms, the decision was both esthetic and practical: “This X-OCN codec, in my opinion, is fantastic because it maintains 16‑bit linear encoding quality and a range of colors greater than the DCI-P3 space, while retaining easy-to-manage files for post-production.”

Editing suite with The Life Ahead in post-production

Finishing in HDR

“We developed a LUT that would allow within the workflow to look after the HDR side of things as well” says Angus. “I don’t think any broadcaster or movie would now not have an HDR finish. You can open up those blacks enormously. You can control your highlights really sensitively. You’ve always had to protect your highlights with digital — but you have to protect everything a bit more, and then make a conscious decision to let it go… and go with it.”

“As for HDR correction I used the Sony BVM-HX310 HDR monitor” states Paolo. “Angus came to Rome and we did some HDR tests, and also to see what the workflow was for the various deliveries — how it would perform in a theater room in the P3 color space, on a consumer TV rendering in SDR and HDR, and even on an iPad Pro. I have to say the final result was very similar.”