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All heart: Heart of Stone

Posted on Nov 2, 2023 by Katie Kasperson

Tom Harper’s latest project, Heart of Stone, is a sleek, saturated spy film. Colourist Simone Grattarola explains how the look was achieved

Franchises like Mission Impossible and James Bond have set the bar for all spy films that follow – including Netflix’s ambitious thriller, Heart of Stone. Directed by Tom Harper, the film follows Rachel ‘Nine of Hearts’ Stone (Gal Gadot), an international peacekeeper acting as an MI6 agent, as she attempts to prevent an AI system nicknamed ‘The Heart’, from falling into the wrong hands.

Thanks to Harper’s longtime cinematographic collaborator George Steel, the film has a visually rich look, separate from the smoky aesthetic that’s often associated with action flicks. To get this crisp result, Steel called upon Time Based Arts’ (TBA) Simone Grattarola to make the grade.

VINTAGE VISION

“Tom’s vision for Heart of Stone was to maintain an authentic, unvarnished quality that would resonate with the audience, free from artificial embellishments,” explains Grattarola. He, Harper and Steel drew inspiration from 70s thrillers like Three Days of the Condor and The Parallax View, wishing to mimic their filmic look by shooting on 35mm celluloid and preserving natural tones.

This proved impossible for certain scenes, leading Steel to shoot half the film on 35mm and half on the Red Raptor – “its colour rendition most closely mirrored the desired filmic quality,” according to Grattarola. Using Blackmagic’s DaVinci Resolve Studio for grading, Grattarola explored various grain emulations before settling on Filmbox, an OFX plug-in, thanks to its “exceptional halation tool.”

Once the digital shots were graded to match those shot on film, “a side-by-side comparison underscored the cohesion we achieved,” says Grattarola.

The trio’s next challenge was incorporating the visual effects. “As fresh and improved VFX sequences materialised, adjustments to initially approved grades were warranted,” Grattarola recounts. With an impending delivery deadline over their heads, “the formidable team at Harbor Picture Company managed to navigate the influx of these shots, ensuring that there was minimal disruption to our grading sessions. Smooth communication across the various departments became absolutely paramount in all of these time-sensitive scenarios.”

OLD MEETS NEW | Considered colour grading allowed 35mm celluloid shots to be seamlessly stitched with digital footage

ALL TOGETHER NOW

With grading being an iterative process, “TBA’s collaborative, studio-based approach facilitated constant refinement as we moved from suite to suite, enhancing shots through WIPs and client feedback,” explains Grattarola. He continually worked with the VFX artists, providing temporary grades for stills as a reference point. This saved time when it came to grading scenes with green screen elements.

“As a colourist contributing to a feature, I recognise that my role is that of a small yet vital cog within a sophisticated, well-coordinated machine,” shares Grattarola. “The collaborative efforts of the VFX, set design, art direction and stunt coordination teams have all genuinely shone.”

SIGNED, SEALED, DELIVERED

Towards the project’s end, Grattarola delivered three versions of the grade: HDR, SDR and theatrical. “We initiated the HDR grading process in DaVinci Resolve Studio before addressing [the other outputs],” he explains. Watching Heart of Stone back on both large and small screens gave the team a full picture of the film’s “cinematic atmosphere”.

Grattarola truly believes they achieved Harper’s original vision. “I’m continually amazed by his ingenious creative process and his impeccable decisionmaking skills,” he admits. “He masterfully balances the minutiae of detail with the grandeur of the larger picture.

“Collaborating with Tom and George over several projects has honed a seamless dynamic among us,” Grattarola concludes. It’s a dynamic that works – and one that we’ll hopefully see more of.

This story appears in the November 2023 issue of Definition.

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