When it came time to render the harsh and unforgiving realism of L.A.’s criminal underworld of director Antoine Fuqua’s “Training Day” in crisp 4k, the process risked diminishing the film’s hard edge.
“Don’t let it be too pretty,” the filmmaker told MPI colorist Sheri Eisenberg, who was assigned the task of bringing the film to a whole new level.
The 2001 Oscar-winning crime thriller — with cinematography by Mauro Fiore — is being released in high resolution 4K for the first time. The format’s HDR utilizes a broader color spectrum giving audiences the clearest viewing experience with brighter, deeper, and more lifelike colors. But that presented its own set of problems with this particular title.
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“What he wanted was something meaner, a little grittier,” she recalled. “‘Training Day’ is a rough day on the streets of Los Angeles. It’s a real lesson in how ugly it can be, so what he didn’t want was a pretty background to that story.” Although Fuqua was overseas filming while the process took place, he offered regular input virtually.
Eisenberg had access to an original print struck right off the archived original negative, something that is not always the case. That enabled her to remain as close as possible to the filmmaker’s vision.
“Antoine shot a stunning negative, but ironically our goal was to tone that down,” Eisenberg explained. “There’s an HDR moment that happens right at the capture stage, which gives us a better color fidelity, a wider range in the low lights, and wider range in the highlights, so we were starting from the best possible place to capture as much as we can out of the original.”
The colorist could view her work alongside the print to see how close she was. She wanted to remain as faithful as possible to the original but look at how she could “exceed expectations and go a little further while maintaining the intent.”
The color palette of “Training Day” utilizes dark and earthy urban tones, relying on blacks, browns, grays, blues, and more, as well as the iconic hazy L.A. sunshine. A number of the film’s key scenes utilize many of those elements simultaneously, especially in the home of Scott Glenn’s character. Eisenberg described getting the mix right as “a balancing act.”
“One of the great things about HDR is that we get what I like to refer to as translucent low lights. In scenes like that, you can see right into them, so you don’t feel like you’re missing anything and don’t feel like anything is crushed.”
However, she added, “If you push that HDR a little too far, it becomes hard to see into the low lights, and it’s almost like your pupils dilate. There’s a beautiful light coming across Denzel’s face, and his eyes are lit up. I wanted the light to hit, I wanted that drama, but I didn’t want to bury the tension in what you don’t see.”
That created its own challenges as well as opportunities. “Ethan Hawke’s face wants to reflect light, other characters are pulling in light, and Scott Glenn can be a little ruddy, so we tried to keep everybody in a range and looking natural,” she added. “There is this strong, beautiful yellow light coming through the glass in the door, and you want that, but you don’t want it to be cartoonish or garish.”
That was one of several scenes that the colorist felt showcased the capabilities of HDR and some of the complexity and sharpness of Fuqua and Fiore’s “spectacular photography,” something “that can be missed by looking at the film off a print.”
A memorable scene where Washington’s Alonzo gives Hawke’s Jake PCP to smoke gave the colorist a chance to take the trippy visuals beyond what was possible in 2001.
“A lot of that look is built into the photography, so when you see the print, you get that vibe, but we could push that to even further limits and trippier values to create otherworldly elements that would have been very difficult to do photochemically,” she said.
Eisenberg wanted to avoid a flat, mono tone to the visuals so the audience could experience the “different feelings over the day,” building and releasing tension. One of the places where the restoration team got to play to the optimistic elements of the palate was a scene early in the film where Alonzo and Jake get in the car together for the first time.
“It’s a very warm scene on the negative, so you don’t feel any of the coolness,” she said, adding that it would typically be muted on a print. “It has just rained, everything’s kind of wet, and it’s a cool day, so we had to build that in.” While the car’s interior is quite dark, balancing that with the ambiance of the surrounding environment highlighted a problem.
“There are many fluorescent lights as he’s driving down the street,” the colorist lamented. “In HDR, neon and all these colors have the power to quickly overtake a scene.” Eisenberg struck a balance of using the colors, even down to the light reflecting off Jake’s ring, so there was “enough for the viewer to grab onto, but it is never distracting.”
Another scene that offered an opportunity to showcase the process was when Hawke’s character is about to be executed in a bathtub. It challenged even the colorist’s preconceptions.
“Looking at the negative, what I thought was supposed to be happening was that Ethan would have this strong green color, and the gangsters’ shots might feel another way,” she said. However, once Fuqua cast his eye over it, his feedback was that the same tone should be used for both.
“We went back and put that green color in, and it looked great, then we cut to the gangster’s niece, whose room is red and very girlish. It’s super warm, and there are these deep, beautiful tones. Juxtaposing the colors in those different environments added another level of drama to the image.
“It’s not a pretty world, but it looks super cool.”