Sam Chynoweth from Technicolor on colour grading

A still from 'The Infiltrator'
A still from 'The Infiltrator'

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You are known for your unique expertise in colour grading, animation, and VFX. What brought you to these specialties, and how everything started for you?
Chynoweth: I’d had a strong interest in image manipulation throughout college and was pretty sure I was destined to be a compositor (or a shake jockey as my lecturer liked to call them). After a few false starts, including a stint as a trainee cheese maker, I entered post-production as a VFX review assistant at Animal Logic, in Sydney, Australia. I was pretty much a glorified VCR machine looping through shots all day (yelling ‘play it again Sam’ brought a chuckle to most supervisors). But it wasn’t too long before I realised that I had an amazing and unique opportunity to listen to some of the top visual effects supervisors and production designers, and to hear them breaking images down and discussing them in great detail. We were running these sessions out of our grading theatre, leaving me seated behind this impressively illuminated colour panel. After a particularly long and arduous review session, two supervisors were stuck arguing over a shot of a burning moose. I quietly reached over and spun the gamma wheel - both of them turned around and exclaimed, “Yes, that!”That really was the beginning for me as a DI operator. From there I was very fortunate to assist some amazing artists, who were always more than willing to answer my barrage of questions and help me learn the craft.

You’ve recently joined the team at Technicolor, in London. Why did you decide to join the company?
Chynoweth
: It was a tough decision to leave the sunny beaches of Australia behind,
but there was no way I could pass up the opportunity to work with one of the most prestigious post-production companies in the world. Technicolor, London, sits right at the heart of the UK film industry
and offers me the chance to work with new collaborators and diversify my skillset.

Would you say that your client’s requests in London are different than the ones you had back in Australia?
Chynoweth
: My role in Australia differed in the way that I was primarily working for a production company; they tended to offer longer schedules, with my role beginning in the early look development stages. Having such a long involvement with a project allowed me to focus on the imaging in a very detailed way. We were really able to push the boundaries of what was achievable in the DI process. Now, in a more traditional post services role with Technicolor, I am looking at the ways we can incorporate the benefits of a detail-orientated finish into a traditional post schedule.

What was the ftrst project you ever graded?
Chynoweth:
My first solo outing was a short film for a friend of mine. He had managed to borrow a Red One camera for the shoot, which turned out to be quite the crash course in raw management. My first professional credit was fittingly on the TV featurette, Lego Star Wars: The Padawan Menace. It was a fantastic little project and started a lot of the discussion that went on to form The Lego Movie.

How long have you been using Baselight?
Chynoweth:
I’ve been using Baselight for about five years now, having switched over from Digital Vision’s Film Master. Baselight feels intuitive and it is quick to pick up and learn. That said, there is a sophistication and depth behind Baselight that enables real flexibility; the list of what can be finished in the system grows with each release.

What are the main benefits of Baselight when working on animated and stereoscopic productions?
Chynoweth:
Baselight’s support for multi- channel EXR has had a massive impact on the workflow of animated features, offering huge benefits to image control and greatly reducing the amount of transfer work when preparing a stereo timeline.The flexibility of Baselight’s EXR implementation allows us to carry dozens of supplemental channels such as World- Space-Position (WSP) and Normal Map information. This, in turn, allows us to use the newly implemented Matte XYZ tool [which isolates static objects so they can be graded individually, and adding reflection and volumetric passes gives
us an amazing level of control over the finishing of an image.

You’ve graded many large-scale projects such as The Lego Movie, The Inftltrator, Peter Rabbit etc... What are the biggest challenges when working on such projects?
Chynoweth:
Every job will always have unique challenges. There are three categories of film I’ve worked across. Animated features offer unparalleled levels of control (especially when harnessing multi-channel EXRs) and it can be easy to lose your way amongst the detail, neglecting the bigger picture and its consideration beyond a sequence of shots. VFX-heavy films often require a lighter touch, with extra consideration needed to avoid upsetting the integration of the visual elements. And of course, traditional single camera drama, which is often a delicate balance of speed and detail.

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