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For the past decade, Jill Bogdanowicz has worked as a digital colourist on films as diverse as Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, The Exorcism of Emily Rose and Hereafter. She takes us behind the scenes of a craft that most audiences take for granted.
Jill Bogdanowicz is something of an anomaly in the world of post-production, quite apart from the obvious fact that she is a woman. She is equally at home in the very different worlds of art and science, attending art school at the University of Sienna after getting a BA in fine arts from the State University of New York. Her father, Mitch Bogdanowicz, was a senior film colour scientist for Kodak, and her grandfather developed one of the first 3D stereoscopic cameras, so film science is clearly in her genes. It is hardly surprising, then, that Bogdanowicz has ended up an in-demand colourist for directors ranging from Kevin Smith to the Coen Brothers to Clint Eastwood, with whom she has collaborated six times, including on his latest, Hereafter. Bogdanowicz is now a senior digital intermediate colourist with Technicolor, based in California.
How did you get started in grading and post-production?
I’m an artist and have a background in painting. I started as an intern at Kodak in Rochester, New York, while I was in college in 1997. I was working in a research and development area of Kodak, doing research on the digital intermediate process [of colour manipulation] and, basically, I started learning all the technical stuff behind the digital intermediate. At the time, Kodak owned Cinesite in Hollywood, and after I graduated with my art degree, I went out to California to be an assistant on the first complete digital intermediate movie, which was [the Coen Brothers'] Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? I learnt a lot about the digital intermediate process on that, and I worked my way up from there, using my art and photography background. I also have a minor in physics from college, so my technical background, with the physics and colour science, really helped quite a bit.
So you didn’t start working with film, you went straight into the digital realm?
At Kodak I did some R&D with different film stocks. It was part of my job to analyse the response and the curves of the different film stocks and plot them, and to work with the departments that were actually designing and building the film stocks. So I’m very familiar with film and was involved with the labs there, but I didn’t actually work in them, and I started working directly with DI.
A lot of cinematographers say they prefer to shoot on film and then work with DIs. Would you say this is still the best way to work?
At the moment, yes I think so. At the same time there are some really amazing digital cameras coming out that have a very low noise level and produce some very beautiful, high-resolution images. If cinematographers can get an image that is workable on a DI, has low noise and that they can light the way they want, as long as the camera performs well for them, I think they are going to start moving over more and more.
Do you get any creative input when you are working with DoPs and directors?
I do. If it’s somebody I’ve never worked with before, I usually have a session where I have some of their samples, or something that we can actually use to get familiar with, and I talk with them about what kind of look they want, what the story is about, the different feel and flow of the movie, so that I can contribute to the look. If I have any ideas that would help, I can collaborate with them to create the look. Sometimes there are people who come in who are very clear on what they want, and I just go ahead and give them what they need.
How important is good colour grading to a film?
For me, I see what goes into it and think it is very important as it helps with the mood and helps with the flow of the movie. In some movies it really helps with the difference in location, if you are cutting from one location to another very quickly, like in the movie Traffic. I was the assistant on that and they used colour very strongly to go back and forth between the East Coast, West Coast and Mexico, so it really helps to tell the story. Also, just being able to focus your attention on where it needs to be in a scene. If you’ve got an actor who doesn’t have quite enough light on them, it’s easy for me to use power windows to make sure the focus is on the right place, or to bring the eyes out of an actor to really see a performance. There are a lot of very subtle things that we do that connects you more to the movie.
How much of a balance is there between the creative aspect and the science and technology?
I think there is a pretty good balance. For me, it helps that I am a painter and photographer, and to be able to speak in those terms with the director and cinematographer, which is really how they perceive things and communicate. Also, to know my toolset well enough so that I know all the technical things I can do that will help them get the look that they want, because I can build custom curves. I know how it is going to react on film if we go too black, or too bright in the blacks. The lookup tables that we have at Technicolor are amazing, but there are certain things that can also be amplified on film; if you have a print that is at one point too bright, and you have blacks that are already a little bit bright, it’s going to be amplified. That’s the kind of technical knowledge that helps make it go seamlessly because I know the technical problems that can happen, as well as all the behind-the-scenes stuff that can help, like different resolutions, different cameras and that kind of thing.
Do you have a preferred system that you like to use?
Right now I’m working on the DaVinci Resolve, and I really do like that one. It’s a nice software colour corrector that’s very, very fast and has a lot of bells and whistles that allow me to bring in alpha channel mattes and some visual effects. It’s familiar to me because I’ve been working on DaVinci 2K and all the other hardware-based DaVincis for a long time.