Polytechnic alum takes Giant Leap with new colorization software for Peter Jackson film
When “The Lord of the Rings” director Peter Jackson needed to restore and colorize black-and-white World War I footage for a new documentary, he contacted Stereo D, a film production services company in Burbank, Calif. Andrew Kennedy, technical director at Stereo D and a graduate of Purdue Polytechnic’s computer graphics technology program (BS ’12, MS ’14) was assigned to the project.
The company has tools for restoration and for converting 2D films to 3D, but they didn’t have a tool well-suited to colorizing 100-year-old footage for “They Shall Not Grow Old,” Jackson’s new World War I film.
“As a technical director here, my role is to be a problem solver,” said Kennedy. “I’m sort of a half-artist, half-programmer.”
Working closely with Stereo D’s in-house producer, visual effects lead, and lead restoration artist, Kennedy developed custom software that allowed artists to specify colorization data in a few clips and then intelligently apply that data to subsequent clips. His software, dubbed the Palette Tool, helped automate the process of colorizing the footage.
“Essentially, I created a workflow that allowed our artists to take a palette, save information about the different uniforms, environments and characters in the movie, and then automatically replicate that color data to shots throughout the film,” Kennedy said. “This innovation allowed them to spend more time working on fine details that really enhanced the imagery.”
Stereo D’s approach to colorizing the film had never been done before, said Kennedy. “It was a novel approach, and we didn’t set out to create this specific tool or workflow. The pie-in-the-sky idea was to create a tool that gave us a way to maintain a consistency of color treatment across shots.”
Although the custom software started as a small, “what if” idea, it became “a massive tool that we used on every single shot in the movie,” Kennedy said. But his software development work didn’t stop when the first version of the Palette Tool became part of their workflow.
“It had been proven in a research and development context,” he said, “and then I spent the next year talking with the artists, updating the tool to meet their growing needs, and fixing little bugs that popped up. By the end of the project, we ended up with a very robust tool.”
Kennedy credits Purdue for helping him build the problem-solving skills he uses at Stereo D.
“The heart of what I learned at Purdue in the computer graphics program was an interdisciplinary skill set, with technical and artistic knowledge, that enabled me to solve unique problems,” he said. “I could never have gotten to where I am now without Purdue’s support.”
Kennedy’s other 2018 film credits include “Ready Player One,” “Avengers: Infinity War,” “Solo: A Star Wars Story” and “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.” He is currently working on the 2019 film “Alita: Battle Angel.”
“Coming from a small town in Indiana, I never pictured I’d be able to move to Los Angeles and work on big-name movies,” said Kennedy. “It has certainly been a giant leap for me.”