July 29, 2020

Little Birds Soars in Glorious Technicolor

A stunning ensemble of color, sound and VFX was provided by Technicolor UK.

Inspired by the steamy short stories of Anaïs Nin, the new 1950’s set drama series Little Birds from Warp Films and Sky Atlantic follows wealthy heiress Lucy Savage, played by Juno Temple, who is looking forward to being reunited in Morocco with her fiancée Hugo – an English Lord played by Hugh Skinner. When Hugo does not receive her as enthusiastically as she hoped, she spins down the infamously decadent rabbit hole of the Tangier Interzone.

Director of Photography Ed Rutherford, Director Stacie Passon, and Warp Films Executive Producers Ruth McCance and Peter Carlton worked with Senior Colorist Dan Coles to bring these vignettes to the screen in glorious Technicolor – and more, in collaboration with Sound Mixers Gareth Bull and Richard Straker and VFX Creative Director Gary Brown.

Setting the Melodramatic Look

“The dramatization of Little Birds was imagined as a vibrant, stylized melodrama from the outset, steeped in a rich dynamic palette that would push its own boundaries and seek to realize an aesthetic of wondrous color and a creative expression of visual stimulation,” said Rutherford. “In seeking to establish such a visual language deeply embedded in emotional color and contrast, I felt my career long relationship with colorist Dan Coles and the trust I have in the Technicolor in-house umbrella, meant we’d once again have across the board resources, talent and expertise at hand to realize a wholly premium show with a unique, creative and technically impeccable final delivery.”

“Within our Little Birds world, we liked to embrace the idea of going on a journey of color – as the hedonism and intoxication of life intensifies through the episodes, so does the color contrast and saturation,” said Coles. “Skies were treated and enhanced and sometimes given strips of color just to enhance our strange, exciting and unique world. The raw format gave me lots of scope to really push colors to incredible levels. And with very little filtration used in camera, Ed gave me the chance to add lots of texture, depth and diffusion as part of the grading process! Grades, vignettes and selective defocus were also used to accentuate our look. I am looking forward to pushing the look further in the HDR grade.”

“Ed and Dan brought an amazing amount to Little Birds,” said Executive Producer Ruth McCance. “We were going for a very particular look that had to suggest the big, bold melodramas from the 1950s that inspired us, yet also feel fresh and modern. But we didn't want an empty pastiche – it had to be emotional and relatable and draw audiences in as well. The last thing we wanted was for the look to be so stylized that it distracted from the emotional world we were trying to create. So it was a very fine and challenging line to find, sustain and develop over six episodes and Ed and Dan walked it beautifully together. We are delighted with the look and feel of the series.”

LUT Development With a ‘Sentiment de Lumiere’

“The excitement Dan took in developing the LUT package during prep was something that I always recognize in his approach and it infused the project from the beginning with a sense of ‘sentiment de lumiere’ – a ‘feeling’ for the light,” said Rutherford. “I encouraged Dan to push our look and he was quickly able to respond with shooting LUT’s that were out of the ordinary, with the most exciting rendering of color and contrast I’ve been able to take to any set so far.”

Technicolor provided the theatre of our dreams in realizing the visual language and I’ll be forever grateful for all the support, love and care shown to this project.

Ed Rutherford, Director of Photography

Creating the Soundscape in Dolby Atmos

Technicolor London Sound Mixers Gareth Bull and Richard Straker worked closely with Executive Producers Ruth McCance and Peter Carlton and Producers Karl Liegis and Michelle Camp on the soundscape for Little Birds. “The vision was for the Tangier soundscape to be rich and lush with definite moments of near-silence to underpin tension,” said Straker, who navigated the team through Technicolor UK’s first Dolby Atmos Mix.

“Atmos gives us incredible flexibility when creating the soundscape. It means that we’re able to place sounds very deliberately in the listening environment, which mirrors much closer how we experience sound in the real world,” explained Straker. “As well as the extra surround speaker fidelity, we now have ceiling channels, which adds another dimension to the sonic world, enveloping the listener even further into the story.”

Richard and the team made us feel really at home,” said McCance. “The mix worked out brilliantly. It was a complicated soundscape with an unusual score and a lot of commercial tracks, so it was a delicate and quite cinematic balance we were going for. Like the picture, it had to be heightened but not over the top stylized – harder than it looks to pull that off but they did it wonderfully.”

A Seamless Experience With Technicolor VFX

Technicolor VFX Creative Director Gary Brown worked alongside DoP Ed Rutherford and Production Designer Anna Pritchard early on in the production process, consulting and delivering VFX shots for the six episodes.

“A lot of our energy went into set piece sequences such as achieving 1955 New York, the trans-atlantic cruise ship, and a fair bit of technical and creative work in and around the farmhouse finale,” said Brown.

With Technicolor providing full post services, Brown and the VFX team were able to collaborate with Rutherford and Coles in the grading suite to provide a seamless client experience.

“Ed and I had many brainstorms about how to achieve the crane shot that establishes the ship after its arrival in Tangiers – whether it should be a drone or crane and what the pros and cons of each were,” explained Brown. “We provided both previs and techvis to help make our decisions and inform the team. We also had many creative chats about both the lighting and the look of the finale in Episode 6. I remember being in Dan's Baselight suite with both Dan and Ed getting completely carried away – with the pair of them developing this surreal yet stunning look that Director Stacie Passon was after.”

Collaborating Remotely With Our Artists

Thanks to TechStream, Technicolor’s IOS application for color, sound and VFX review sessions, the post production for Little Birds carried on uninterrupted during the Covid-19 pandemic. This was a brilliant achievement in itself, enabling the storytellers behind Little Birds to finish the project safely and remotely.



“Most of the post was accomplished under coronavirus conditions, so we worked remotely” said McCance. “Our director was in New York, I am in Stockholm, Peter Carlton (Warp Films Joint CEO) is in Derbyshire, and none of us could travel. Post Producer Michelle Camp and the team at Technicolor reacted very quickly and cleverly to the lockdown and subsequent working restrictions, so we were able to stick to what was quite a tight delivery schedule thanks to TechStream and the resourcefulness and commitment of everyone involved.”

Little Birds airs August 4th on Sky Atlantic and Now TV.