The Challenger

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March 15, 2013
Technicolor has provided VFX and colour grading work for new factual drama, The Challenger, a joint production between the BBC, The Open University and the Science Channel.
The Challenger VFX and colour grading

Technicolor supplies VFX and colour-grading services to achieve authentic look for 1980s set BBC co-production.

Technicolor has provided VFX and colour grading work for new factual drama, The Challenger, a joint production between the BBC, The Open University and the Science Channel.

The impressive cast includes award-winning actor William Hurt (Altered States, History Of Violence, Into The Wild), playing the brilliant US physicist Richard Feynman, who was instrumental in uncovering the truth behind the US space shuttle Challenger disaster of 1986.

Directed by James Hawes (Enid, Mad Dogs, Doctor Who), the feature length one-off production also stars Bruce Greenwood (Thirteen Days, Star Trek) who plays fellow Commissioner US Air Force General Donald Kutyna in the second lead role, alongside Brian Dennehy (First Blood, The Belly Of An Architect), Kevin R McNally (Pirates Of The Caribbean, Wuthering Heights) and Joanne Whalley (The Singing Detective, Edge of Darkness).

The powerful factual drama features authentic footage of the disaster and archive images dating back to the 1980s. One of the challenges for the post production team was to carefully incorporate the footage to make it look as natural as possible.

The Challenger was shot on Arri Alexa and graded on Autodesk Lustra by Technicolor colourist Paul Ensby, with both the director and DP Lukas Strebel attending.

Ensby said: “The film begins with the ‘80s archive material which we carefully matched and cleaned up so it felt naturally dated. Feynman, the main character is at work in his home town of LA when he is introduced, subtle, warm tones are used throughout this sequence to suggest his ordered, daily life. When he gets called to Washington DC, the overall colour palette is reduced and extra contrast added, this effect is maintained as the narrative intensifies.”

A high level of realism was achieved throughout the film as a result of the careful handling of the VFX scenes and TV inserts. Technicolor’s Simon Giblin conformed, onlined and versioned The Challenger in Avid DS, and completed more than sixty VFX shots for the project.

Giblin explained: “We had to take great care to bed the newly filmed material in with the authentic footage of the disaster taken at the time. In addition, there were multiple TV inserts that were required to look like 1980s televisions. Other VFX work included building clean up, boom and light stand removal and ‘eighties style word processor screen inserts. There was also some green screen compositing to do for scenes set in the cockpit of a learjet and for the interiors of the space shuttle.

BBC Executive Producer Mark Hedgecoe commented: "The Challenger was a tricky proposition for the visual post. It needed an 80s look, real scale, and countless awkward visual effects drop-ins and we are delighted with the results."

The Challenger will be aired on BBC Two at 9pm on Monday 18th March.