‘Alifu, the Prince/ss’ Produced with URSA Mini 4.6K and DaVinci Resolve Studio
Blackmagic Design recently announced that the Golden Horse Award-winning film ‘Alifu, the Prince/ss’ was shot with its URSA Mini 4.6K digital film camera and graded by colourist Zoe Chang with DaVinci Resolve Studio and the DaVinci Resolve Advanced Panel.
Directed by Yu-lin Wang, lensed by DP Pan-yun Wang and starring Utjung Tjakivalid, Yi-lan Chao, Pong Fong Wu and Chu-seng Chen, “Alifu, the Prince/ss” is a drama that tells the story of 25-year-old hair stylist Alifu and his friends as he is torn between realising his dream of becoming a woman and inheriting the chief position handed down by his father, since he is the only son of an aboriginal tribal chief. The film won Best Supporting Actor and was nominated for Best Original Screenplay at the Golden Horse Film Festival 2017 and was also selected for the “Asian Future” section of the 30th Tokyo International Film Festival.
On a tight budget of only $250,000 USD for the whole project, director Yu-lin Wang needed a digital film camera that was affordable but still capable of providing high-end footage. As a longtime user of the Blackmagic Production Camera 4K and Blackmagic Cinema Camera, Wang was confident in the image quality produced by Blackmagic Design’s cameras and decided to use the URSA Mini 4.6K camera for the film.
“In addition to the powerful features at a low cost, the URSA Mini 4.6K’s size fits me perfectly, and it doesn’t feel heavy when shoulder-mounted. Plus, most of our interior scenes were actually shot at locations such as old buildings and bars in Taipei where the space was tight, but it was very easy for me to carry the camera around, following actors or setting it up in a bar’s small restroom or bar counter section,” said Pan-yun Wang.
To save costs, the crew decided not to use lights whenever possible and to make the most of natural light sources instead. Artificial lights were used only when natural light was too dim. For night scenes, only specific areas were lit up, so most of the footage looked very dark.
“Director Wang still wanted us to produce a high quality film at a low cost. I have been in the DI field for many years, but I still couldn’t relax when faced with such a challenge,” said Chang.
Chang didn’t understand the director’s vision until she saw the RAW footage shot with the URSA Mini 4.6K in DaVinci Resolve Studio for the very first time. “With its 15 stop of latitude, I saw the details hidden in the highlights and blacks, which could be retrieved. What amazed me the most were a couple of backlit interior scenes shot at a window. I had never before handled a high-end digital film camera that could retain the scenery out of a window in backlit footage,” she recalled.
She explained how she handled the looks of the film, “I didn’t want to go with a greenish look for the blacks as it would make the character’s face look very dirty, especially since Alifu is a Taiwanese aborigine whose skin tone tends to be dark, and since most of the scenes were not well-lit. Plus Alifu is a transgendered person and he is a stylist, a profession that produces beauty, so I wanted to help build the character, who is sensitive and sentimental, with carefully handled skin tone and rich colours.
“When setting the look for the film, I produced three tones for the director to choose from. For the first one, the blacks inclined towards reddish brown and the areas in the mid-tone that had neutral colours were tinted with water blue, so the characters could stand out from the background. For the second tone, the said colours were enhanced a little bit more. For the third tone, there was not too much grading for a natural, neutral tone.”
The director chose the second colour scheme as the tone for all daylight interior and exterior scenes. However, the film consists of three major stories: Alifu and his tomboy roommate; the civil servant who becomes a drag queen at night; and the transgender pub owner and the plumber she loves. As such, Chang continued to make further refinements depending on scenes and stories.
She explained with a couple of examples: “For the scenes full of lust, I added more purple. For pub scenes, with the help of DaVinci Resolve Studio’s Power Windows, I was able to increase the saturation for the colours of the lights in specific regions, so the image matched the intoxicating music. A dark greyish blue look was produced for hospital scenes. For night interior scenes, I would tint the windows and areas near the windows with dark blue while enhancing the warm tone near light sources to increase the depth of space. In the seaside and railway station scenes, as well as the scenes that the son of Alifu and the tomboy are in, the warm tone of the highlights was enhanced.
“When Alifu gets back to his tribe for the hereditary succession ceremony after changing his sex, I gave up the reddish brown tone in the blacks and gave it a little bit of blue instead to set off the traditional red clothing. To avoid affecting the lip colour while enhancing the red on the clothes, different colours on the clothes and headdresses were isolated and enhanced, and DaVinci Resolve Studio’s Power Windows and tracking were very useful and accurate, saving a lot of time.”
Pan-yun Wang commented on the DI work for the film, saying, “Zoe crafted each frame with her experience and skills, so the details and colours were perfectly shown to the audience. Especially for the clothes and headdresses worn by Alifu and the hereditary succession ceremony scene, vivid colours and well-matched brightness and darkness were precisely presented. She is not only a master at grading blockbusters, but also a blessing for extremely low cost productions!”