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Post-production house servicing new feature Chappie, rebrands to become SkyLab Motion Picture Services

Chappie poster

By Katja De Bock

As the last Chappie deliverables are being supplied to Sony, the staff at SkyLab Motion Picture Services (previously known as "Digital Film Central" or “Central”) is preparing for another adventure - the transition of their Vancouver-based facility towards more complex, VFX-heavy films.

SkyLab is a boutique post-production company servicing feature films and television since 1999. In recent years, the company has worked on a wide range of feature films, most notably Neill Blomkamp's science fiction productions Chappie and Elysium.

As reported in a 2013 Reel West article about the finishing of Elysium, SkyLab (as Digital Film Central) designed a highly customized workflow, weaving together dailies, editorial, VFX, and creative color grading seamlessly throughout the finishing process, and thus opening up creative control for the entire team. This workflow, which derived from the collaboration with VFX vendor Image Engine, is now being extended to set and into editorial.

"It'll have a profound effect," says SkyLab CEO James Tocher about what is in essence colour data control from set to finish. "It's a philosophy that we are calling 'meaningful colour,' which is about making decisions at any part of the pipeline, whether on set, or during editorial or during visual effects, that allow for the creative colour to be done in parallel with the movie."

So unlike the traditional approach of the typical DI (Digital Intermediate) that happens on a show, when the colorist is working at the end of the line, this approach allows to design the colour early in the workflow.

"Right now, it's pretty much the Wild West, with VFX. People are touching colour at every stage. But the colour they're touching doesn't have any relation to the final DI. So the colorist and the DI have to try and figure out what the intent is through samples or through a screen grab that someone sent them," says Tocher. "We get involved in the colour workflow planning right from the time they start rolling cameras and integrate with the visual effects department."

As with Elysium, Blomkamp returned to Vancouver with Chappie, handpicking SkyLab as the color grading and picture finishing facility, and other Vancouver vendors Image Engine as the lead VFX house and North Van's Sharpe Sound for the sound mix. Chappie is scheduled for release on March 6.

The name "SkyLab" is reflective of a classic film lab, primarily focused on colour consistency, and the highly secure, privately shared cloud-storage offered to clients of the digital age.

The facility features premium theatrical and broadcast viewing environments using 4K / 3D Christie projection and Dolby PRM color reference systems. Services include Baselight color grading, look development, camera testing, title design, VFX plate pulls, ACES color management, on-site calibration, texture management, ARRI film scanning and recording, 4K / 3D Christie screening, and D-Cinema / Ultra-HD mastering. 

Other recent productions include Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet, Life of PiThe Interview, Zero Dark ThirtyIn Their SkiniRobotThe Twilight Saga: Eclipse, and Rise of the Planet of the Apes, as well as critically-acclaimed documentaries and TV Series EndgameArctic Air, The Good Son and Facing Ali

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