It's the End of the World As We Know It, and It's Looking Good

Hollywood has produced any number of films with apocalyptic themes, but none quite like This Is the End. For one thing, the film from directors Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen and slated for release this month by Sony Pictures Entertainment, is a comedy. Its ensemble includes an array of talented young actors including (along with Rogen) Emma Watson, James Franco, Jonah Hill, Paul Rudd, Jason Segel, Michael Cera and Jay Baruchel, all of whom play themselves. The actors have gathered at Franco’s Los Angeles home when an end-of-the-Earth event occurs.

Final post work was completed at Colorworks on the Sony Pictures lot. Senior colorist John Persichetti used a Baselight system to apply the final grade, working alongside Goldberg, Rogan and cinematographer Brandon Trost. It was Persichetti’s third collaboration with Trost after earlier completing That’s My Boy and Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance.  The film was shot primarily with the Red Epic, and Persichetti graded the film in 4K, working from original Red raw files.

For a comedy, This Is the End has an unusual look. In Trost’s conception, all of the “post-apocalypse” scenes (nearly two-thirds of the film) have an amber shade, a reflection of the devastation that has been visited upon the surrounding environment. “It looks like a horror film; not a comedy at all,” says Trost. “It’s something we were going for from the start. It helps to make people feel more serious.”

The film’s moody look, adds Persichetti, is also perfectly in line with its black humor. “The filmmakers want the actors to look a bit out of place,” he notes. “They want the audience to wonder, ‘What are all these comic actors doing in a movie like this?’ That’s what’s funny about it.”

Trost and Perischetti fine-tuned the amber effect to slowly build over the course of the film, calibrating it to the ratcheting tension of the plot. “We ease into it,” Perischetti explains. “The warm feel is there from beginning to end, but it changes as we move along in the film. It grows more intense.”

A few scenes are given different color treatments. One sequence, where two characters invade a nearby home to scavenge for food, is cast in dull, muted tones for a spooky feel. A scene where Hill is possessed by a demonic creature is given a bleach by-pass like treatment. “It’s almost black and white, with faint skin tones,” Persichetti says. “We wanted to make it very eerie and stand out as different from everything else in the film.”

The most challenging scene, from a grading perspective, occurs early on. A giant sinkhole opens in front of Franco’s house and nearly the entire cast is sucked in. The chaotic sequence involved a huge number of visual effects elements. Background plates were shot at the practical location. Actors were shot on a green-screen stage. Textures of the interior of the hole and other environmental elements were CG.

“It was a massive undertaking,” recalls Trost. “During the physical shoot at the practical location, we had everyone running around as if a hole were opening up in the ground. On the stage with the green screen, there were two walls: a large wall for people to jump off of, and a shorter wall for them to hang onto.”

It all had to work together in post. “Trying to integrate VFX seamlessly is challenging, especially when they arrive from different vendors,” Trost explains. “They can have different gamma curves and it can hard to get them to match.”

For the sinkhole scene, its darkened environment made the integration task somewhat easier. “We played it on the darker side, to make it moodier,” says Perischetti, adding that visual-effects vendors provided him with matte elements for the actors so that he could better control color saturation and other properties, and achieve a better blend.

Production of the film’s finale was completed just weeks before the delivery deadline, but Persichetti says time constraints were never a problem thanks to a strong rapport that developed between the production, visual-effects and post-production teams. “It was one of the most pleasurable films I’ve worked on,” Persichetti says. “It’s interesting, quite different and very funny.”