When CBS procedural crime drama “Elementary” debuted in 2012, it gave iconic character Sherlock Holmes a new spin and was an instant hit among critics and viewers alike. Starring Jonny Lee Miller as the crime-solving investigator Holmes and Lucy Liu as his eventual apprentice Dr. Joan Watson, the series also marked the first project that Senior Colorist Tony D’Amore completed at Encore, and he’s continued coloring the show into its final, seventh season, which premieres May 23.
In setting the visual tone for the pilot, and subsequently the entire series, production wanted a fresh look that was distinct to “Elementary” and its New York City setting. D’Amore wrote a custom Rec 709 LUT that DPs used for on-set monitoring and a lower contrast LUT for the dailies colorist to use as a starting point; he explained, “Our inspiration for the show’s aesthetic was very rich and clean. We balanced the warm brownstone interiors with New York’s cool exteriors, and the dingy mixed lighting at the police precinct. These looks played very well together, and each helped visually define the key locations.”
Naturally, the look of “Elementary” evolved over the show’s nearly seven-year run. The first seasons featured richer dark blacks and higher contrast images popular at the time, and later seasons found D’Amore leaning toward a more filmic look, with lighter shadows and softer highlights. His close working relationships with DP Ron Fortunato, who has been with the show from the pilot and also directed episodes, and DP Tom Houghton, who joined the show on season two, helped lay the foundation for the show’s high quality visuals.
D’Amore noted, “The collaboration on ‘Elementary’ was great; we were lucky to have Ron and Tom, and several other amazing guest DPs like Peter Reniers and Mauricio Rubinstein. During final color reviews, we would often talk preproduction on future episodes. We’d come up with what we wanted to achieve creatively, then work backwards to determine the ideal approach to achieving that end result. By discussing this in-depth ahead of time, the DPs already knew which scenes were going to need extra attention from a lighting standpoint on the day of production and which scenes I would be able to handle the heavy lifting with my tools. It was a very efficient way to work and the added quality shows on screen.”
While the series was always shot on ARRI Alexa, an old hand crank 35mm film camera was used to capture flashback portions for the first season. Using reversal film stock that was cross processed at the lab resulted in footage that was bold and high contrast with a mixed lighting look. For seasons two and beyond, production opted to shoot all footage with the Alexa and instead had D’Amore match the hand crank film look during the color finish.
“I’ll certainly miss collaborating with the DPs on this show,” concluded D’Amore. “I think we were all constantly learning from each other and it made us all better at our respective crafts.”
For all things “Elementary,” check out: https://www.cbs.com/shows/elementary/