Hollywood's High-Tech Visual Gatekeeper: "Messing Up the Color Messes Up Your Storytelling"

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Annie Chang

Annie Chang, one of THR's Top Hollywood Innovators, is leading the rollout of a tool to manage color across production and postproduction, to preserve a filmmaker's creative intent.

The blue that a cinematographer sees when filming the ocean can look different from the blue that a viewer at home sees when watching those waves crash in a movie. Annie Chang aims to change that.

The co-chair of the Motion Picture Academy's Science and Technology Council is leading one of its most vital initiatives, the rollout and continued development of the Academy Color Encoding System, a standardized tool to manage color across production and postproduction.

"Color is not just what it looks like, but it's also a means to impart a storytelling point," she explains. "And so, messing up the color basically messes up your storytelling."

She relates that users of ACES could be "everyone from DPs to post houses and visual effects vendors.” Part of the initiative involves working with equipment makers to include ACES support in color grading systems and other tools used in filmmaking.

Chang's endeavor to preserve creative intent — what she describes as one of her "core values" — also turned her into an active participant in the UHD Alliance's recent effort to introduce "filmmaker mode," a UHD TV setting designed to ensure the picture seen by consumers looks as the filmmaker intended. The UHD Alliance — a coalition whose members include Hollywood studios and consumer electronics manufacturers — announced support from set makers including LG, Panasonic and Samsung.

Chang believes technical innovation will continue to thrive in Hollywood on the strength of teamwork among stakeholders. “We have so much potential and opportunity here. And we have a lot of complex problems to solve. The only way we're going to solve those is to collaborate with each other.”

With that belief, Chang also contributed to authoring MovieLabs’ (a nonprofit founded by Hollywood studios) recent “2030 Vision” white paper examining what filmmaking could look like in the next decade — a vision that is also steering the “future of filmmaking” initiative at Universal. The general belief, Chang says, is that all-digital workflows lead to more efficiency, allowing filmmaking more time to focus on being creative. 

Chang's current work involves bringing this idea to Universal and a key part is enabling all systems used in production to "talk to each other." She explains, "In order to get to that point where you have that ultimate nirvana of being able to search for anything and find your production asset, you need to be able to connect all these systems."

A version of this story first appeared in the May 6 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.