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Greig Fraser on Colour and Seeking “New Vision”

Greig Fraser is an award-winning Australian cinematographer whose artistic composition together with his flowing, immersive approach to cinematography has made him a go-to DoP for a number of high-profile directors. His most well-known work includes Zero Dark Thirty (2012), Lion (2016), Rogue One (2016), Vice (2018), Dune (2021), and The Batman (2022). Fraser also returned to the Star Wars franchise with the 2019 television series The Mandalorian.

Fraser recently joined the jury for the 2023 FilmLight Colour Awards, which are currently open for entries to colourists across the globe and those working on any grading platform. Entries close on 31 July. There are five categories – theatrical feature; television series/episodic; commercial; music video; and the Spotlight award, for colourists working under the constraints of lower budget projects.

Colour and Inspiration

Fraser described his relationship with colour as being much “deeper and more interesting than it has ever been”, greatly influenced by his wife.

“My wife is in the textile business, and she has taught me a lot on the nuances and subtleties of colour which I’ve been able to bring into my work,” explains Fraser. “Since starting to shoot on digital, I’ve found that colour is particularly important because we now have the opportunity to create really subtle nuanced colour that we may not have been able to find in the past with old techniques.”

Finding subtleties in colour is one of Fraser’s passions and he often finds inspiration from paintings and art works.

“I get inspiration from artists’ work in the flesh, in a gallery,” he explains. “I’m very much a supporter and a strong advocate of depth of colour. Our eyes can see millions upon millions of colours and I love it when a subject or a film presents that amplitude. It’s like a colour depth or ‘thickness’. And this doesn’t necessarily mean saturation. Saturation can sometimes be used in the same way that chefs use sugar or salt – to create a burst of emotion. The subtleties of colour are like the subtleties of fine food prepared by the right chef.”

Fraser believes that an audience uses colour as part of the menu when viewing a film and that it helps them to build the story.

“Audiences are susceptible to ideas,” he explains. “I don’t think an audience walks into a film and judges it purely on the colour. I think they use it as part of an entire dish, so to speak – to help build the world. If you have the wrong colour, but everything else is right, it’s jarring for the audience.

“If you don’t have a colourist that is in tune with the filmmakers and in tune with the story, you could end up with something that’s very incongruous to the final picture. And unfortunately, those films do exist, where the film is not related directly into the film itself – it becomes an outlier. And I feel like this means you lose the overall success of the visuals.”

Shooting with Colour

Fraser is careful to approach each individual project or film completely uniquely – making use of techniques from previous experience, but always bringing an individuality to each of his projects.

“I may take on techniques that I’ve learned from previous films. Whether shot on film or digital, or a combination of the two, I’ll aim to give each film its own distinct feel. And a big part of this is through colour. Obviously, it’s also through lensing, camera placements, camera movement and lighting, but ultimately, all films have their own colour palette. So, it’s very much the icing on the cake.”

Fraser likes to shoot with a look in mind and doesn’t want to rely on the grade. To aid this process, he likes his relationship with the colourist to begin during pre-production, as early in the process as possible. Shooting with a look in mind is really important to him and these early discussions with the colourist will always influence his lighting and decisions on-set.

“It comes back to the subtleties again,” he explains. “Anybody can apply a grade to a movie. Anybody can apply a look to a movie. Anybody can light a movie. But it’s the fine-tuned subtleties that make all the difference, in my opinion. For the subtlety to exist, I must know what the film will look like before we start. This requires testing, backwards and forewords with the director and the colourist, and very careful supervision from the colourist.”

He explains how, to him, the colourists’ role is much more than simply applying colour at the end of a project.

“My relationship with the colourist begins from the second I start talking to the director, when I start shooting tests to work out exactly how the film needs to feel. And there’s always a stressful time at the beginning of a pre-production where the film doesn’t look the way you want it to, it’s not quite there, or you need to make some changes. This is when you need to have a very good visual partner and colourist, who is able to contribute more than just making the colour at the end.”

Colouring Dune

There is no denying the beauty of Denis Villeneuve’s Dune. It was graded by FotoKem’s Dave Cole, who worked closely with Fraser on the look of the film. It saw Dave Cole listed as a nominee in the 2022 FilmLight Colour Awards and won Fraser his first Academy Award for Best Cinematography. Fraser also won, for the same movie, the ASC Award for Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography in Theatrical Releases and the BAFTA Award for Best Cinematography.

Fraser worked closely with Dave Cole on the look of the movie, working hard to find inspiration for a completely unique look for the desert set film.

“We worked very hard on getting the colour palette right for this film,” explains Fraser. “We could not find a film set in the desert that we liked and that was appropriate for this movie. I ended up finding some stills online with references for the colour. For example, the sky was more white than blue, and the sand was a lighter, but not a sandy yellow, colour – more a light brown with tones blended.”

Fraser and Cole worked together through the process of building a LUT that would work, utilising a skipped bleach process to find the colours they were looking for.

“We skipped bleach in the highlights to allow the sky and the whites to blow out and then used a digital LUT to allow more depth into the shadows. This is a perfect example of utilising old techniques to create a LUT that was able to help us visualise the movie.

“Dune was a very multi-layered process. It wasn’t about slapping a colour on it and walking away. It was about building a colour and constructing a world and a feel for the film.”

Fraser recently shot Dune: Part Two, which will hit the screens in November.

Colour Awards 2023

Fraser is one of many talented and renowned individuals making up the jury for this year’s FilmLight Colour Awards. He is looking for vision and new ideas from entries.

“We live in a space where often films can become very ‘the same’ and are based on a trend or previous ideas,” he explains. “In this year’s Colour Award entries, I’m looking for original vision.”

Entries close on 31 July. For more information and to enter, visit: https://www.filmlightcolourawards.com

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