26 Jan BEHIND THE LOOK: Archive 81
Picture Shop Colorist Frederik Bokkenheuser creates multiple distinct looks for Netflix’s hit new series Archive 81
“Rewind to reveal the truth.”
Archive 81 follows an archivist who takes a job restoring damaged videotapes and gets pulled into the vortex of a mystery involving the missing director and a demonic cult. Shortly after its release, the show quickly hit the #1 spot on Netflix’s Top 10 TV rankings. By nature, an archivist’s job involves dealing with innumerable video formats. Showrunner Rebecca Sonnenshine tapped Picture Shop Colorist Frederik Bokkenheuser to handle the color, which involved creating looks to mimic Hi8, betacam, PXL2000 (a Fisher Price camera that used cassette tape), 16mm, 16mm transferred to 8mm, 35mm, a 1980’s “lifestyle of the rich-and-famous” look, a 1990’s public broadcast television look, and an early 2000’s television commercial look, among others.
Sonnenshine and esteemed DP Bobby Bukowski worked closely with Bokkenheuser out of Picture Shop’s Burbank facility. The bulk of the show takes place across two time periods – 1994 and the present. Additionally, sequences take place in a separate reality called the “Otherworld” and in the 1920’s. These time periods, along with the multitude of formats, provided plenty of opportunities for the team to create unique looks. Bokkenheuser created LUTs for Bukowski to use during production. Once in the grade, present-day scenes were higher contrast, lower saturation, and cooler. And the 1994 scenes had more saturation, a little less contrast, and were warmer. This made the two time periods separate and visually distinct. The old footage that the archivist finds is what binds the two worlds together.
“Freddy was indispensable in helping create the disparate looks as early as in our prep/testing period. Throughout the show many forms of capture were represented: Hi-8, 35mm, analog film, betacam, Super 8, and Pixlvision,” describes Bukowski. “Freddy, along with our VFX team, worked with us assiduously to render those looks authentically. Freddy is an enthusiastic partner who is indefatigable in plumbing the work for every single opportunity to use the grading process to support the narrative.”
Bokkenheuser started in the industry as a tape operator in mid 1990’s and had hands-on experience dealing with most of the formats featured in the show. This unique background proved to be a perfect match for Archive 81.
“The show was primarily shot on Alexa Mini LF. For the different video formats, Alexa, Hi8 and Sony a7S were also used. The footage then needed to look like all of the various old formats. Rebecca and I did a ton of research and I tapped into my background as a tape operator. Rebecca would send me examples and I had to recreate and mimic these different looks. I really had to stretch my muscles on it. The formats that we had to recreate, they had to look absolutely right,” says Bokkenheuser.
Bokkenheuser graded Archive 81 in Dolby Vision on the Resolve. He and Senior Finishing Editor Mark Dennison created a static reel and used overlays throughout for all of the episodes. Nathaniel Goodman and Julie Kirkwood were also DP’s on the show, with Bukowski serving the lead. Picture Shop worked closely with Post-Producer Mandi Price throughout the series.
“There was a particularly fun look we created, where the Hi8 tapes that the main character is restoring were in a fire. We made a ‘fire-damaged’ look and came up with the term ‘smoke-bubbles’ for the burn hotspots we added to the footage,” notes Bokkenheuser. “Archive 81 was a creative dream. The willingness and the playfulness of the clients, particularly Rebecca and the DP’s, was fantastic.”
Watch Archive 81 on Netflix now: https://www.netflix.com/title/80222802