12. The Sepia-Toned Look Pioneered Digital Re-colouring
O Brother, Where Art Thou? is known for its yellow and brown colours which evoke the sepia of an old, faded photograph or the dry and dusty landscape of the Depression South. On location, however, things looked very different indeed.
The Mississippi locations were, according to Joel Coen, "greener than Ireland, an intense emerald green" completely at odds with the brothers' desired look for the finished film. "This is going to look like an episode of Walker, Texas Ranger," Joel recalled telling cinematographer Roger Deakins.
To avoid that Chuck Norris TV feel, the Coens wanted Deakins to desaturate all those greens. The production experimented with chemical processes on film but they were unreliable in removing one specific colour while keeping others sharp.
Taking its cue from the digital colour removal processes that had been used on some parts of Pleasantville, Deakins and his team used digital intermediate techniques completely to change the colouring of the entire film.
Digital colour grading is par for the course today, used on virtually every major blockbuster film, but twenty years ago this approach was revolutionary. O Brother's look was unique as it was the first Hollywood movie to be completely digitally recoloured (narrowly beating another prison escape story - Aardman's stop motion poultry adventure Chicken Run - to this groundbreaking first).