December 15, 2018

Alfonso Cuarón Elevates the Art of Storytelling With Roma

Teams from across Technicolor come together in support of the director’s powerful story, released by Netflix.

  • Technicolor was activated across a range of services including dailies, post, and VFX.
  • Watch an exclusive interview with director Alfonso Cuarón, recalling his experience as a first-time DP working with Technicolor and color scientists on picture finishing.
  • Technicolor MR. X’s Dave Sauro: “The visual effects in the film are seamless so you don't really notice them – and that was exactly the point.”
  • Technicolor MPC Film’s Jonny Vale: “MPC Film was honored to have worked on VFX for this beautiful movie.”

Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma has been the talk of the town for the better part of the year – and has lived up to all expectations beginning with its premiere at the Venice International Film Festival, where it won top prize, the Golden Lion. The honor marked the first major European film festival award for Netflix. Bolstered by its strong film festival showings; early awards including New York Film Critics Circle Awards for Best Film, Director, and Cinematographer; and three Golden Globe nominations – the autobiographical period drama is considered a top Oscar contender.

Cuarón, the Academy Award-winning director of Gravity (2014), turned this time to subject matter more personal and topical – and Technicolor set out to honor his story and his vision throughout their involvement with the project. The action is set in Mexico City during a period of great political upheaval in the early 1970s, told from the point of view of a family – based on his own – and their young housekeeper.

The feature was beautifully shot by the director himself, with frequent collaborator Chivo (Emmanuel Lubezki, A.S.C., A.M.C) as a consultant to the project. It was shot, in color, on the Alexa 65mm camera, and was finished in black and white (HDR). The result is a striking visual experience, with more tonality and contrast than audiences are used to seeing, sure to evoke a heightened emotional response.

Unique to this film is the workflow the Technicolor team set up with Cuarón, to the precise needs of the production. In a sense, it builds on what they did earlier with director Alejandro Iñárritu (and Chivo) on Birdman and The Revenant. Early collaboration with the filmmakers enabled creative input over longer time that enabled the team to shape and refine the film’s stunning results – and deliver on the creative intent of the director in telling his story.

Technicolor's MPC Film and MR. X turn back time in Roma.

From the opening shot, where you see soapy water sloshing over the ground, VFX would play a big role in the making of Roma. In fact, Cuarón has said in an interview with British Cinematographer, that 97 percent of Roma has visual effects and that MPC are his heroes for the VFX work they contributed to the film. A lot of that is de-modernization work, required to bring Mexico City, where the film was shot, to the period when the story takes place circa 1970-1971.

“The time period that Roma is set in required our team to clean up modern features captured in the original photography by removing or replacing them with CG period features, using artwork provided by the client and recreated at MPC,” said Overall VFX Supervisor David Griffiths, who along with VFX Producer Bryce Nielson led the team at MPC Film to create the photoreal visual effects of Roma. “This included set and street extensions, blue screen comps, DMP replacement artworks, day for night composites, and a whole range of inserts ranging from entire cityscape backdrops to simple street furniture.”

Known for complex blockbuster VFX, MPC artists have a range of talent and technology expertise that enabled them to craft stunning invisible effects for Roma. Cuarón worked with MPC from the early stages of preproduction, planning how to seamlessly integrate VFX into the movie and discussing the detail required to build the universe the movie portrays. His vision was to recreate 1970’s Mexico City by both replacing and replicating the original reference photography, concept art, and style of the street scenes, characters, vehicles, and lighting set ups. This required a variety of work across many of its sequences, with the main focus on compositing, along with animation and set extensions.

“Almost every shot in Roma was touched in some way by compositing and many had multiple types of compositing tasks required,” explained Griffiths. “From adding elements, earthquake movements and effects including fire, smoke, embers and water elements – to building environment extensions both as environment builds in 3D and 2.5D projections – and finally the compositing of DMP elements.”

Cuarón also enlisted the team at MR. X, who also shared his vision to create something that would connect with audiences on an emotional level – an approach they take whether it’s a Shazam-type blockbuster, the Academy Award-winning The Shape of Water, or a highly personal story like Roma.

“You can imagine just how much life in the city has changed over the last 50 years,” added VFX Supervisor Aaron Weintraub of Technicolor’s MR. X. “We did a lot of restoring back to the way it used to be, based on Alfonso’s designs with the production designer – the streets, the streetcars, the storefronts – everything down to the very last detail of how he remembered things.”

The biggest shot the team worked on involved two of the characters racing across a busy boulevard.

“Except for a few cars and people in the foreground, everything had to be removed and replaced,” said Weintraub. “Modeled from old pictures and reference material, we did a completely new digital environment, down to the wires on the streetcars and the sparks they gave off. In creating the cinema and all the buildings, we even matched a reference film clip Alfonso found that showed how the lights of a sign moved and changed at night – which illustrates the incredible attention to detail in making Roma.”

See the beauty of Roma, available now on Netflix.

Watch an exclusive interview with Alfonso Cuarón, as he discusses achieving his vision for Roma with Technicolor.

Watch the spectacular before and after VFX reel from MR X

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