The look of the multi-billion dollar Fast franchise is as much a part of its DNA as star Vin Diesel, from the perspective of colourist Andre Rivas. Adrian Pennington reports.

The Fast and Furious series has burned through a number of directors in its high-octane path to $7 billion in box office receipts. John Singleton, James Wan, F Gary Gray, Rob Cohen and Justin Lin have all come and gone with Louis Leterrier in the director’s chair for the latest instalment Fast X.


Behind the Scenes: Fast X, Vin Diesel as Dom

A constant throughout the Universal Pictures franchise since The Fast and the Furious in 2001 has been its colour popping look which is as much a part of the brand as Vin Diesel and pimped up cars.

It’s also fair to say that the key architect of the series look is Australian cinematographer Stephen F Windon ACS ASC who has lensed all but three of the ten blockbusters including the last six.

He would have been a huge help to Leterrier who, when offered the chance to direct in April 2022, had just two days before getting on a plane to London to take charge of the $340m production.

“Initially, the big challenge was that I came onto the project very late [but] that also gave me the opportunity to go on instinct, and not second-guess my decisions. That was quite refreshing in a job like this where you’re always told what to do and you’re getting notes from the studio all the time,” he told postPerspective.

“I love the entire Fast franchise,” Leterrier added, “but wanted to give this film my own creative stamp rather than just pay homage to the previous ones.”

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Windon brought the all-important digital intermediate phase of the production back to Company 3, where he reteamed with colourist Andre Rivas who had graded F9 and served on the franchise as senior colourist Tom Reiser’s assistant colourist on installments six through eight.

Behind the Scenes: Fast X – adding spin

“Louis wanted to preserve everything that makes a Fast film a success but also to put his own spin on the story,” Rivas told IBC365.

“One of his mantras was ‘colour separation’. He was always looking for an opportunity to enhance or exaggerate the existing colour palette. Stephen likes to use a mix of coloured light sources, so it was about maximising that and making it as colourful and bold possible.”

He cited one example: In a scene where Dom (Vin Diesel) is with Isabel (Daniela Melchior) Dom’s face is half lit in red and half in blue light. “It’s almost expressionistic,” Rivas recalls. “I said to Louis, it reminded me of [director Dario Argento’s 1977 psychedelic-looking feature Suspiria] which, it turns out, is one of his favourite films, too. The effect is not strictly realistic, nor does it need to be.”

The idea of colour separation also meant making sure no one hue overly dominate the frame. “The intent was for an overall warm look but without being washed in warmth,” said Rivas, “so that I could always isolate individual elements that gave off a cooler light and make sure they retained that cooler look.”

In a scene set in Rio with rivals Dom and Dante (Jason Mamoa) facing off, Rivas retained the existing warmth while ensuring a number of different colourful elements also pop. “Dante has purple as his character colour,” Rivas elaborated. “He’s often dressed in purple, drives a purple car – we needed to ensure that the colour is not contaminated by any of the warmth of the scene overall. If there’s a dominant colour, we also wanted to make sure that an opposite colour is also clearly identifiable.”

Similarly, when Tess (Brie Larson) and Dom meet in a dark bar, the set is lit with both warm and cool practicals both playing in the frame. Rivas’ job was to accentuate the colour contrast, so the scene maintains that interplay and is never washed into a single colour.

Behind the Scenes: Fast X – Drones and transcoding

Like previous recent entries, Fast X is principally shot on Alexa cameras augmented with additional footage including from RED Komodo which is smaller and lighter for mounting inside vehicles and has a global shutter suitable for capturing action scenes without blurring. Several aerial shots were filmed with first-person view (FPV) drones piloted by Johnny Schaer.


Fast X: principally shot on Alexa cameras augmented with additional footage

Company 3’s internal colour science department created a single VFX colour pipeline, which involved transcoding all the material shot among different cameras into linear EXR files prior to commencement of Rivas’s grading. Linear EXR is a common format for VFX heavy shows and allows the effects vendors and the final colourist to work with material captured from a variety of different cameras in different resolutions and formats, all mapped into a single container.

“These shows are shot all over the world by multiple units and multiple cameras,” Rivas explained. “You’ve got one shot cutting to the next which could be taken weeks apart with different weather at the location. So, my first pass is really to balance it all and make sure it’s flowing. I try to get it roughed in as nicely as possible then I sat down with Louis to get his first reaction.”

The DI and the conform (by Company 3 finishing editor Patrick Clancey) were both performed in Blackmagic DaVinci Resolve.

Rivas explained that his approach always involves starting with a fixed node structure. “I find it to be a good way to keep things neat and organised,” he said. “I’ll have 28 or so nodes set up for the entire project and I will have a specific purpose for each one. I don’t use them all shot to shot. I try to keep my grade as simple as possible and will only add on as needed per the creative discussion. But to know that node one is always going to involve the same kind of operation or node 12 or node 15, it makes it very easy to ripple changes across an entire scene without having to fear you’re going to obliterate some unrelated correction. I know exactly where that particular effect will be in every shot, and it makes it very easy for me to turn a specific change on or off.”

Action sequences on blockbusters like Fast X could have as many as 800 shots in a reel, roughly double the number in a less intensely action-packed film, but Rivas will have the same amount of time to finish it. “That’s one of the big challenges,” he said, “the sheer quantity of material.”

Behind the Scenes: Fast X – AI in the field

Rivas has found that some of the new AI tools in the most recent iterations of Resolve can help with some of the time crunch. On Fast X, he applied one of the colour corrector’s AI tools, Magic Mask, to quickly finesse a couple of shots that might otherwise have involved the time-sucking process of drawing multiple windows.


Behind the Scenes: Fast X, Jason Mamoa as Dante

“I didn’t use Magic Mask extensively, nor should anyone have to,” he offered, “but it’s great to have tools available for unique situations. One such instance was when we were talking about how to adjust the grade on a couple of Vin Diesel shots, where we really wanted to be able treat him and the background in different ways.

“So, I grabbed this Magic Mask tool,” he added. “You can select something like a person in the frame and it cuts out an outline and animates it using AI. It took only minutes to cut him out from the background and then grade the foreground and background separately. That was really useful and gave a bit of wow factor to the clients in the room. It’s something I’d recommend that people to try out.”

On the encroachment of AI more generally on the colourists’ craft, Rivas said he isn’t fazed. “Any new tech has a bit of edge you can cut yourself on, but I think these AI functions are a tool in our hands and it’s up to us to do what we want with them.”

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