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Chris Wallace sits in a darkened movie theatre at Deluxe Postproductionís offices in downtown Toronto, the film Shark Night 3D playing on the big screen in front of him. Despite the high pressure he works under, he calmly manipulates his colour corrector -- the Lustre digital colour grading system -- making adjustments to the film's images. As a digital intermediate colourist, Wallace makes the final creative touches to a film prior to its release. "We're the last step before it's ready to go out, so you're always working at a fast pace, and that makes it really challenging," he says, adding that summer "is always nuts because the [Toronto International Film] Festival is in September. So we're right up that, trying to get these movies out."
Wallace's approach is to try and envision the scene as the director of photography sees it, almost being the DOPís eyes in the DI theatre. ďOnce weíve established the look and feel of the film, I can work on my own for a while, getting the looks in throughout the film. Then I like to have the DP come in and review what Iíve done. We then start work on finessing the details in each shot, adding detail in the shadow area, making sure the highlights are just right. The DI process gives the DP a chance to go back and do things that they maybe didnít have time to get done on set," he explains.
Among the high profile films that Wallace has worked on are Atom Egoyan's Chloe (2009), lensed by Paul Sarossy csc, bsc; David Cronenberg's A Dangerous Method (2011), shot by Peter Suschitzky; and Guillermo Del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth, which won the 2007 Academy Award for Best Cinematography. Wallace spent three weeks working with Del Toro while DOP Guillermo Navarro was in Vancouver shooting Night at the Museum. Wallace recalls that the cinematographer "took photographs on set all the time and compiled this huge leather-bound photo album" of photographs he had taken throughout the shoot. These still images were then used as the colour template for each scene, and Navarro would come in on weekends to review the grade and make other revisions. "What was really great about that experience," explains Wallace, "is that both DP and director were on the same page and had the same vision. The images just came to life at your fingertips."
Even with all its dark fantasy elements, Pan's Labyrinth was less complex for Wallace to colour correct than the Saw franchise films despite his sustained experience with them. (According to Nick Iannelli, VP Operations and Customer Service at Deluxe, "Chris has done every Saw movie since Saw II, and they've gone through two DPs and three directors, so he knows the colour and feel of those movies better than anyone else."). The Saw movies are captured straight up, without the use of gels or filters. They are clean, well-exposed images that allow Wallace total flexibility to take the images in any direction. "I have a clean palette for each scene, and this is where we make it look like an awful dungeon or a scary hallway, adding grain and grit to give the film an unpleasant look that works with the storyline. Whereas a film like A Dangerous Method is just nice, clean, beautiful pictures and everything's pristine." However, he is quick to emphasize the privilege of being able to work on such material as Saw. "The pictures are just beautiful, so it's a thrill to work with," he says. Recently, Wallace has been spending a lot of his time grading 3D films, starting with his work with Glen MacPherson csc, asc on 2010's Resident Evil: Afterlife and continuing with Silent Hill 2, as well as Cobu 3D and Nurse 3D just around the corner.
The opportunity to work on such projects is perhaps why Zambian-born Wallace has stuck with the job for so long. He has been doing colour correction for 29 years, having made the transition from a television studio cameraman in South Africa in the '80s. "The only way you get comfortable and gain the experience needed is to literally just do it," he says, adding, " It's gone from strength to strength since I started. The process is constantly evolving, the toolset keeps getting better, and I donít see it changing. With all the new cameras that keep coming to market I donít think any one of them will ever be able to capture exactly what the DP and director want. The human eye is always needed for the final touch, so I think there will always be a need for a colourist."