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Jobs 101: Colourist

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She helps filmmakers tell their stories with the right emotions by playing with colours.

Colourist Chen Junbin took about a year to master colouring technology by herself, as there was no one she could learn from.

Now working in Mocha Chai Laboratories, Junbin tries to impart the craft to her interns, even if it means staying late in the office.

Who: Chen Junbin, 31
What: Colourist
Studied: Diploma in communications and media management at Temasek Polytechnic

Tell us more about yourself!

I am a coffee addict. In my free time, I love cooking, photography and travel.

As a colourist, I tend to notice and analyse the colour when I watch TV shows or films, and if I really enjoy it, or want to study it, I try to look for images that I can save so that I can refer to in the future.

Why did you become a colourist?

I got interested in doing videos while in polytechnic, but I realised that it was not as nice as I imagined it to be.

While working on my final year project, I wanted to make the shots look seamless, even though we shot on different days. So, I looked into making them more aesthetically pleasing on the computer, and that's where I discovered colouring.

Nobody else really tried to "colour" their work, and I received validation from my teacher who said that I did a good job. From there, I realised that colouring makes things look so much nicer!


Before (right) and after (left) colour grading.

How long have you been doing this, and how has the industry changed?

When I first started in 2009, it was very niche. Maybe less than 10 people did it full-time in Singapore?

It also wasn't something you can do on any computer. Back then, you have to spend at least $250,000 and up to a million for a very basic set up.

As cinemas in Singapore were still using film projectors back then, you can't just finish it on computer and screen it. You have to process the final digital file onto a film print by sending it to a film lab, which would record each frame onto film stock.

This process involves chemical reactions and it is difficult to maintain colour fidelity, so we would have to check the first print for accuracy.


Colourist Chen Junbin at her workplace, Mocha Chai Laboratories.

When I worked on my first feature film, I flew to Hong Kong, because the printing from digital file to film was not available in Singapore.

By now, you can run most of the colour grading software on a Mac or a PC. You don't need to go to a special shop to buy good quality monitors since they are available on Amazon. It won't cost you tens of thousands too.

What's a typical day at work like for you?

A typical day could consist of preparing a timeline to colour, doing actual colour grading, or meeting clients. It could be a pre-production meeting where we discuss work flows, or a client spotting session, where we discuss and set a type of look for the film.


Colourists work in complete darkness to ensure the colours they see are true to the original.
PHOTO CREDITS: YOUTH.SG/LIM JOO HWEE

What is the most challenging project that you have taken on so far?

When we first started out with 3D films, it was very challenging. Since two cameras are required to shoot 3D, I have to colour grade two sets of footage.

It's not just about the colour [of the footage], but it is also the layering of the items. You can see things near, middle, or far, so it's part of my job to decide where these things go.

I project the image on a 55-inch TV screen, so that I can wear the 3D glasses to make small adjustments accordingly. Any errors in the layering will cause audiences to have a headache when watching.

What advice would you give to youths considering a career as a colourist?

You should figure out if you are colour blind, and to what extent. If there are different hues and shades you cannot see, it would be difficult for you to recognise colour inaccuracies, resulting in problems matching colours.

You have to make an effort to talk to other colourists and people in the industry, so that you can keep updated with the technology.

Educational requirements: Currently, there are no courses that specifically teach colouring. If you are interested, try to get a job that can give you more exposure through colouring projects.

Qualities needed: Good communication skills, because you have to discuss with clients, and some may even sit with you for 10 hours a day. You also need to be comfortable with the colouring technology and have an eye for aesthetics. 

Salary range: Normal office hours ranging from eight to 10 hours. However, 14-hour days are not uncommon (10am to 12am). 

Working hours: Depending on your skillsets or years of experience, it ranges between $2,400 to $10,000 per month.

Career prospects: You can advance as a post production supervisor or a manager.