Written and directed by Ryan Stevens Harris, and produced by John Elfers, the fantasy epic follows a comatose young girl who, with the help of magical creatures, journeys through an industrial wonderland to find her way back to consciousness. The film boasts an array of old school filmmaking tricks throughout, including stop motion, puppeteering, time lapse photography, miniatures to extend wide shots and cloud tanks to create the nighttime skylines. Elfers collected a fleet of expired film stocks for production, ranging from the primary stock Kodak 5212 (100T) all the way to discontinued 800T, while cinematographer Wolfgang Meyer planned to use a fleet of film cameras to make the film.

The goal for the filmmakers was to create a unique look and style for the fantasy film. “It was always the idea to create a world that seemed as if it were exhumed from the earth or repurposed,” said Harris. “Moon Garden was always meant to feel out of its time, as if an old dusty film reel were found in an attic somewhere, wound up on a projector, and rediscovered. One of the central themes of the film is whether broken things can truly be fixed, so to assemble the world out of crumbling machinery just felt right.”

For Elfers, the choice to shoot on film was also driven by a desire to take advantage of film’s unique aesthetic. “Every time we’ve shot on film, we get the footage back and it looks exceptionally better than it did in reality,” he said. “Film has a way of binding everything together, glossing over imperfections, and elevating the imagery.”

Though the team had the tools for production, and a style they were passionate to pursue, the final key was film scanning. “The lynchpin that made everything possible, is that our business partner Ken Locsmandi of Filmworks/FX invested in the Blackmagic Cintel Scanner, removing one of the most expensive hurdles to shooting film,” said Elfers. “I trained on the scanner, and after that, we had all the resources we needed for our own 35mm workflow.”

Since Moon Garden used a wide range of film cameras to achieve its unique look, the transfer process required a system like the Cintel Scanner to manage. “It was a very visually ambitious film, both creatively and technically,” said Harris. “To achieve many of the in camera tricks and various shots, we used more than twelve different 35mm cameras, including two, three and four perf systems.”

Prior to the Cintel Scanner, and with the variety of perf formats, the complexity and potential cost of the transfers would have been a concern. “One of the biggest advantages of the Cintel is the ease of switching between perf formats,” added Elfers. “With other telecine brands, if you wanted to switch between perf formats you had to physically change the gate in the scanner. With the Cintel, it changes with the click of a button. Labs usually separate each reel according to the perf format, which can triple costs when you shoot mixed footage. We saved thousands by being able to mix formats on the same rolls.”

Scanning directly into DaVinci Resolve Studio provided additional features that helped manage the varying image quality due to the aged film stock. “Part of the aesthetic of Moon Garden’was shooting on expired film, which organically has color shifts over time,” said Elfers. “While we leaned into the look of heavy film grain, the footage still needed to cut together. Sometimes one roll would skew magenta, another green, etc, but the scanner has this incredible Auto Black tool, where it analyzes the space between frames, and balances to it. That was a lifesaver, bringing the footage almost back to normal, while maintaining the vintage look.”

Harris, an accomplished DaVinci Resolve colorist, also graded Moon Garden. “From the heavy grain to the organic film color shifts due to our expired film stocks, the color process was an intensive one,” said Harris. “I initially did an extensive base grade, yanking all the various film stocks back into their correct ranges, and rebalancing some of the more extreme and damaged film stocks. From there I was able to use windows and trackers to isolate particular swathes of color, the deep reds or midnight blues, to make sure the colors truly popped. After my grade, I handed the Resolve project off to Elliot Smith, a Los Angeles based colorist I’ve worked with before, who did a pass, accentuating choices and honing in on the overall look.”

The wide variety of tools in DaVinci Resolve Studio, from scratch removal to de noise, proved invaluable to Harris through the process. “One of my favorite tools that I only began using on Moon Garden is the curves tool, specifically for bending the hues,” continued Harris. “I would bend back magenta into red or down into midnight blue in a natural organic way, essentially ‘piping’ the color so that only specific colors were allowed. After the shift I would then bring the entire spectrum in an earlier node up toward the bent color shift, which would result in a dense deep richness in the image, bringing out the rust and deep reds of the set. I really fell in with this dense colorful look that Resolve was able to bring out of our expired film stock.” Harris concluded, “With the more damaged stocks sometimes there would be such heavy grain that the footage could sometimes turn into this murky soup. Resolve has literally the best noise reduction out there so I was able to bring back even that footage, which included some material that seemed otherwise unusable. Beyond the color tools, we used all sorts of tricks to finish the picture. Fusion Effects, for example, was used to clean up gate frames that would creep in. We then did a careful dust busting pass to clean up unwanted film dirt or effects, particularly heinous scratches, though many of these issues we opted to leave in as it lent itself to the overall look of the film. Time and time again, Resolve proved itself to be robust and reliable. A true workhorse of post software and such a joy to work with.”

Moon Garden, produced by Fire Trial Films, is being distributed theatrically by Oscilloscope Laboratories, and is available on Apple TV, Amazon, and most other streaming platforms.

About Blackmagic Design
Blackmagic Design creates the world’s highest quality video editing products, digital film cameras, color correctors, video converters, video monitoring, routers, live production switchers, disk recorders, waveform monitors and real time film scanners for the feature film, post production and television broadcast industries. Blackmagic Design’s DeckLink capture cards launched a revolution in quality and affordability in post-production, while the company’s Emmy™ award winning DaVinci color correction products have dominated the television and film industry since 1984. Blackmagic Design continues ground breaking innovations including 6G-SDI and 12G-SDI products and stereoscopic 3D and Ultra HD workflows. Founded by world leading post production editors and engineers, Blackmagic Design has offices in the USA, UK, Japan, Singapore and Australia. For more information, please go to www.blackmagicdesign.com/au/.