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With the premiere of the season two of True Detective, I got reminded about the excellent first season and decided to refresh my memory and watch it again. Since I already knew the story I paid a lot more attention to the technical aspects of the movie and noticed a couple of interesting things. Here are a few thoughts about the opening scene that I wanted to share with you.

Exposure

To really see what is going on with the image I like to open frame grabs from the movie in DaVinci Resolve and have a look at the scopes. First obvious thing that is consistent throughout the scene are the exposure levels — they rarely go over 640 mark:

In some shots, only some parts of the sky, or white objects (like police cars) go out of this range. It gives a very specific feel to the image and works really well here.

Colors

The color palette is dark, moody and includes various shades of browns existing in the surrounding area. Detectives wear navy uniforms that nicely complement the browns and skin tones.

A few examples from the shots in the opening sequence:

Some of the shots include low saturated greens. Looking at the color rules we can find out that it’s more or less a triad:

Comparing various scenes from this episode we can notice that the aesthetic of the opening scene is pushed a bit more than the rest of the episode (not to mention the camcorder look of the interviews with the main characters). The toned down colors are supposed to emphasize the memories of the events from the past that the main characters recall during the investigation.

Inconsistencies

When I loaded the clips in Resolve I also noticed some inconsistencies between shots within the opening scene. It’s clearly visible in the pictures below:

Initially I thought that perhaps the scene was shot throughout 2 days and the weather changed from day to day, but after watching the behind the scenes video it seems that the weather in Louisiana can be really erratic.

Color matching

The last two shots in the sequence were definitely shot at a completely different time of day. We can clearly see the differences in the sky as well as the uniforms’ blue tone.

Since the colorist missed it for some reason (I don’t think it was on purpose), here’s my humble attempt to match the mentioned shots:

And here’s a screenshot from Resolve with my changes:

The corrections that I applied are:

  1. Removed the pink/red color from the sky around the horizon
  2. Removed the red cast from the uniform making it more teal
  3. Removed the blue saturation from the Rust’s collar to make it a bit more neutral (check the previous shots – it’s almost gray)
  4. Increased the gamma a bit in the greens and pushed them into yellows

And this is what the sequence looks like with my small color changes:

Dialog Sequence

Looking at the other sequences in the opening scene I really like the dialog between Rust and Marty when they discuss the crime scene. A few interesting decisions were made and some cool shots were taken:

Nice blocking and quite an unusual take on two-shot dialog.

Zoom

As we probably all know, the dolly shot can increase the importance of a particular shot adding more meaning and focusing more on a particular subject. We can also fake this effect in post using simple zoom. This is what happened in the shot below:

We can clearly see there’s no change in the perspective and the relation between the objects is constant. This is common trick used by editors when they want to emphasize some static shots (or minimizing the cost & effort of the dolly setup).

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