Hugo, Martin Scorsese’s adaptation of the Brian Selznick book The Invention of Hugo Cabret, is a magical tale bound up in early film history – it even features a role for French cinema pioneer Georges Mà©lià¨s (director of the 1902 classic “A Trip to the Moon,” portrayed here by Ben Kingsley). It’s a loving homage to the early craft of filmmaking, but it is the product of very contemporary techniques. It’s among the first feature films to be shot with the Arri Alexa camera. It was the first stereo-3D production for Scorsese and cinematographer Robert Richardson. And it embraced a trend in workflow that is seeing significant amounts of post-production work actually being performed near the set.
During the months when Hugo was shooting in London, a DI theater was set up just off set (with the assistance of UK-based workflow specialist Digilab Services and Cameron Pace Group). Featuring a Baselight EIGHT color-grading system and stereo-3D projector, the theater was used by freelance colorist Greg Fisher to grade dailies. Once production wrapped, post-production shifted to New York, where Fisher performed final grading in a traditional DI theater equipped with an identical Baselight system and calibrated to match the environment in London.

Having a complete DI theater immediately available to the production had a number of advantages. For one, it allowed Richardson to oversee grading sessions with Fisher after each production day, allowing them to develop a look for the dailies that was very near to final. “Bob doesn’t like to release images until he is happy with them,” Fisher explains. “He didn’t want anything to go to editorial until it was close to the final grade.”

There are good reasons for this, Fisher explains. “Over the course of a year of production, people can become quite attached to the look of the dailies and they may be reluctant to move away from that look in the DI,” he says. “Often, not a lot of care is taken with dailies and it can be problematic if you need to move away from that look in a dramatic way. It’s an ongoing problem for DPs, but this method negated it. No one saw imagery in any form other than how the DP wanted it to be.”

Having immediate access to the DI theater also allowed Scorsese to review scenes in 3D and make 3D corrections on the spot using the Baselight’s stereo tools. “We were doing a lot of new things on this film, which means there were a lot of unknowns,” Fisher says. “Having a theater available became essential.”

Hugo was shot in 3D with pairs of Alexa cameras mounted in Pace stereo rigs. Camera imagery was recorded to HDCAM SR tape. (When production began, the then-brand-new Alexa camera lacked support for a raw format.) Fisher used FilmLight’s Truelight technology to calibrate on-set monitors and to create look-up tables for monitoring, grading delivery to ensure a consistent look at each stage of the process. The grades that Fisher applied to the dailies were stored as metadata rather than baked in, allowing him to work with the original camera elements during the final DI sessions, applying the earlier grades as he and Richardson chose.

The film’s visual-effects department was supplied with its own Baselight ONE system and used it to apply established looks to completed VFX sequences. “It allowed them to preview VFX in context, and that was very helpful,” Fisher says.

In keeping with the film’s theme, the look of Hugo was strongly influenced by early French cinema. Scenes set in Mà©lià¨s’ greenhouse-like Paris studio, for example, were shot solely with available light with muslin cloth used for diffusion.

Similarly, in grading the film, Fisher used Baselight’s palette of digital tools to emulate the look of early cinema. “Hugo is a digitally-shot period film,” Fisher observes. “We looked at a lot of old photographs and old film stocks, and we tried to emulate the colorimetry of those classic films – but we didn’t want it to look old. It still needed to look like a new film.”

Fisher thinks the workflow employed on Hugo – especially bringing DI infrastructure closer to production – could serve as a model for other digital cinema productions. “It allows us to offer a much better service to the production,” he says. “We can tailor the service to the film because we’re not tied to an existing infrastructure. We can take care of the archiving, data security, VFX deliveries-everything you need for film post-all within one set up. It becomes very simple.”