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DaVinci Resolve creates documentary My Old School’s retro look

Colour is a crucial part of documentary film My Old School, with one of the main challenges unifying its animated and live sections

In 1993, 16-year-old Brandon Lee enrolled at a secondary school on the outskirts of Glasgow. This may sound unremarkable, but Brandon Lee was neither 16-years-old, nor was this his real name.

My Old School, directed by Jono McLeod and starring Alan Cumming, relates Lee’s curious story and unravels the mystery surrounding him. It features the voices of Lulu, Clare Grogan and Joe McFadden, and was colour graded by Blazing Griffin’s Jon Bruce on DaVinci Resolve Studio.

The film uses a mixture of animation to recreate the story, interviews with Lee’s former classmates and audio interviews with Lee himself, lip synched by Alan Cumming.

“My Old School is a tremendous story, and colour was the unifying factor that brought it all together,” said Jon Bruce, senior colourist and online editor, Blazing Griffin. “There are effectively three different parts to the jigsaw: the animated recreation, the interviews with former pupils and the lip-synced interview acted out by Alan Cumming, and colour was crucial in making it feel coherent throughout.”

The interviews with former pupils were recorded over a number of days at a semi-abandoned school in Glasgow, but production was interrupted by the Covid-19 lockdowns. The original intention was to let the story unfold using the interviews mixed with drama recreations but restrictions of filming forced director Jono McLeod to look for alternative ideas and he settled on using ’90s style animation to tell the story. However, ensuring a consistent look across both the animated and interview segments required some work.

“Most of the interviews were filmed over a period of five days, in various classrooms with large windows and using natural light, so we used Resolve’s HDR tools to make sure that we could get a natural look and avoid too many blown out highlights,” continued Bruce. “We also used a stronger film LUT to create a more retro filmic look for the Alan Cumming interviews as we wanted them to still feel in the world of the interviews, but to still take us out of reality slightly.

A crucial part of the production was ensuring consistency across the animated and interview segments. Notably, that the characters could be recognised across both. Although the director had asked the former pupils to wear brightly coloured clothes, Bruce also used the Resolve 3D keyer on the animations to tweak jumper and hair colours to ensure that the link between characters was clear and didn’t jar the viewer’s experience.

“Tying in the colour of the animation and the real interviews was a lot of fun,” concluded Bruce. “It’s a very colourful and stylish film, which was a clear choice on the director’s part. In other hands the story could have been told in a very dark and bleak way, instead it’s got a wonderful playful and comic feel to it. As such, it was vital that we unified the animations and interviews and lip-sync so that it didn’t feel like three piecemeal projects thrown together. The consistency of colour was a critical part of this. Overall, I’m incredibly proud of the work; they say that truth is stranger than fiction, and My Old School proves the adage.”

My Old School is released in the UK on 19th August.