How Blazing Griffin Post and Sohonet kept Vigil afloat

Niran Sahota

World Productions’ murder mystery Vigil, set aboard a nuclear submarine, was the BBC’s biggest domestic ratings hit of 2021. But production might have been sunk without Sohonet ClearView Flex.

Now available via BBC/ITV streaming service BritBox, and on Peacock among other outlets, Colourist Colin Brown of Glasgow-based post-production house Blazing Griffin Post shares more on how the show was finished.

Collaborative colour grading

“To be honest I was sceptical about remote grading,” Brown says. “Grading is collaborative and trying to pitch a look that satisfies the DP, director, producers and executives can be tricky enough at times in the suite let alone doing so remotely – but the pandemic forced our hand.” Blazing Griffin Post had tried other solutions before using ClearView Flex for the first time to work on Vigil. The first block of three episodes were graded by Brown with DP Matt Gray, BSC in attendance at Blazing Griffin but that changed when Covid surged toward the end of 2020 forcing more local lockdowns and restricting travel.

“Matt and I had great grading sessions in my suite in Glasgow, but we didn’t have any final VFX at that time. Episode 1, in particular, had a lot of important VFX sequences which we had to get right. These were challenging sequences, and we needed all the team’s input in real time. Even though Matt and director James Strong, as well as other execs were all at homes throughout the country, we could get all the decision makers together over Sohonet ClearView Flex to refine the grade in Resolve.”

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VFX work on Vigil was led by Goodbye Kansas Studios which has offices in Stockholm, London, and Los Angeles. It delivered 180 VFX shots for series including a detailed 150-metre model of the Trident submarine created from extensive research.

“By the Spring, as more of the VFX started to filter in, the key creatives had moved onto other jobs so there was no way they could be in the suite together. Sometimes I’ll send Frame.io links for review, but you don’t always get the notes back whenever you need them before your next grading session. The sessions with ClearView were vital in getting the team together and everybody appreciated the fact they could give their input at the same time. It’s more of a conversation.”

Strong has described the opening 20-minutes of the series as the most audacious, complex and exciting he has ever shot. 

Trailer for Vigil

“We had to film the sinking of a boat in the middle of the North Sea and then helicopter our hero onto a moving submarine 200 miles off the Scottish coast,” he explained to the BBC. “It took months and months of planning, breaking it down shot by shot and deciding how to do each frame, utilizing all the different cinematic tools, kit and techniques available. It was a monumental effort from all the departments involved and I’m truly thrilled with the end results.

Remote post production with ClearView Flex

The show is set in Scotland (where the UK’s nuclear sub fleet is based) and the premise is that a land-based detective is tasked to investigate the death of one of the crew of the HMS Vigil while the sub is at sea. Things get murkier from there on.

“The aim was to reach a large audience by giving the series feature film quality and a stylish look,” says Brown who worked on show LUTs with Gray.

“For the interior of the submarine the look is based on artificial industrial lighting. It’s a bit of a rollercoaster so we wanted the audience to feel very uncomfortable as soon as Detective Amy Silva (Suranne Jones) enters the sub. Matt was also experimenting with lights on set to create variations in the sub. We didn’t want every room to feel the same; there are areas with cooler lighting, some with more warmth and at other times there is emergency lighting which also help denote when the sub is on different levels of power.” 

This contrasts with a parallel story on land that draws out more natural hues whilst keeping a stylised look.

“For block 2, I posted iPads to Director Isabelle Sieb and DP Ruairí O’Brien. We had calibrated these at Blazing Griffin so, as long as Isabelle and Ruairí were in a dark enough room, the results would match my suite when streamed on ClearView Flex. I have an iPad in my suite too, so I was confident that the output matched my Grade 1 monitor. We worked our way through the grade, chatting on zoom, as if sitting in the suite. There really was no difference with it being remote and it felt just like a typical grading session.”

Even with a confidence check of the episodes at a London post facility, “The notes I got back were very small. Our experience on Vigil proves that the system works.”

Colin Brown

The shift to hybrid workflows

Brown went on to use Sohonet ClearView Flex on his next project grading drama series Crime, devised by author Irvine Welsh and also available on BritBox. Once again, the facility performed a suite of services including dailies, editorial, colour, finishing, VFX, Graphics and QC. The detective story stars Dougray Scott in a gripping tale about a missing-person investigation and is set in Edinburgh.

“Most of our series now are totally hybrid in terms of the equipment and workflow,” Brown says. “Different episodes have different needs depending on content, or what the creative wants or on their availability.”

With the first episodes directed once again by Strong, this time the DP was Will Pugh. Ep 1 was graded with Pugh in Glasgow and signed off by Strong on Frame.io, but every frame of episodes 2 and 3 were graded in sessions over Sohonet.

“How audiences consume content has changed. I have an expensive OLED monitor in my suite, but I believe you have to understand how a show is going to look on other devices and home TVs. I always send a link to myself and the DP after the day’s grade, so I can watch at home, and they can review on their home / hotel TVs / laptop / device. Sohonet is the consistent centrepiece with which we know we can connect everyone at anytime, anywhere, and have confidence we are all addressing the same image.” 

ClearView Flex provides creators and storytellers with a real-time creative review and remote collaboration service, now in HDR. Click the button below to find out more and watch a demo.

Niran Sahota
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