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Colorist Extols Virtues of Using HDR on Netflix’s Marvel Shows

Tony D’Amore still remembers how hesitant he felt the first time he was shown Dolby Vision, the company’s take on the high-dynamic range (HDR) technique used in imaging that yields a greater span of luminosity — closer to what the human eye sees.

D’Amore, senior colorist at Deluxe’s Encore unit, had come to Dolby in San Francisco at the request of Netflix, which was considering shooting its Marvel shows in Dolby Vision. “I just thought, ‘Oh, no, this is going to take forever [to learn],’” he recalls.

Fast forward to 2017, and D’Amore has become a kind of HDR pioneer, and one of those most familiar with Dolby Vision.

“I spent a whole career training for this,” D’Amore says, referring to his work on Marvel’s “Iron Fist.”  “Every step until now has been fairly gradual.”

The colorist also remastered all of Netflix’s existing Marvel shows in Dolby Vision, another gig requiring a learning curve.

“The first few weeks doing it, you color a scene, leave for lunch, come back and look at it and think, ‘I did that? Ouch! Way too much contrast!’”

Dolby Vision, and HDR in general, offer a wider range of richer colors than other technologies, as well as a much greater contrast ratio. Fire looks more lifelike; extremely bright colors coexist with the darkest blacks in the same frame.

Making use of these new capabilities requires greater dialogue between a colorist and a cinematographer, who, in the case of Netflix’s Marvel shows, have been D’Amore and Manuel Billeter. Part of that collaboration is about giving each show its own tone, something that’s now been part of D’Amore’s skillset for 16 years. “Daredevil” was lemon-lime, “Jessica Jones” a lot more blue. “And then we had ‘Luke Cage,’ which was ’70s Harlem — orange and yellows and a more vintage color palette,” D’Amore says.

The advent of HDR has had an impact on shoots as well. One example: Sets with lots of sunlight that would have been too bright in the past now are perfectly acceptable. This means D’Amore is offering more input early in the production process.

“Until recently, I would have never given a director of photography advice,” he admits. “But the more we can problem-solve upfront, the more creative range we have on the backend.”

D’Amore believes HDR also represents a learning curve for audiences, who haven’t seen anything like it.

“Some people are shocked at first,” he says, but adds that consumers’ hunger for state-of-the-art visuals has grown over the past five years. “People are now on the phone with their cable company if they don’t get 4K. In a short amount of time, HDR is going to be the norm.”

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