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Quick Chat: Northern Lights’ Chris Hengeveld

By Randi Altman

Last fall I had the pleasure of moderating a panel on color grading during the CCW Show in New York City. The panel was made up of dedicated colorists. One of them, Chris Hengeveld, is more than just a colorist: he also provides compositing and visual effects via a variety of Autodesk tools.

Hengeveld is a post production veteran who started out as an assistant editor back in 1983 at a company called Creative Technology in Akron, Ohio. In 1986, he moved to New York and landed a job as editor at National Video Center, where he began work on an early version of Smoke. While there he continued editing but also started providing graphic compositing for the likes of MTV and VH-1. In 2002 he moved on to Sony Recording Studios, where has was a senior Smoke artist until seven years ago, when joined Northern Lights to work on Smoke, Flame and Lustre.

For him the transition from editor to compositor to colorist was a natural path. “Smoke was much better at doing graphic compositing than linear editing,” he says. “As with all editors and compositors, color was an integral element to make everything seamless, and it became one of my primary tools about five years ago.”

Hengeveld’s journey is a familiar one for many artists working in the industry today. The days of one job/one title no longer applies, and what comes with wearing more than one hat is a varied and more well-rounded perspective. A perspective he brings to Northern Lights, a full-service production/post production company handling everything from concepts to casting, shooting to editorial and sound design to visual effects. “We service every aspect of a client’s commercial and broadcast promotional needs,” he says.

Even though the New York-based Hengeveld has been doing this a long time, he says he is constantly learning. “That’s what keeps me excited and loving every day I do it.” Let’s get to know Hengeveld and his role a bit better…

What is your title and what roles do you perform under that title?
I’m a Flame artist and colorist. This includes everything from grading footage to compositing effects and finishing for delivery. It enables me to get involved in all aspects of video post production. On occasion I’m even lucky enough to get to do some editorial, which is where I began my career.

How would you break up the type of work that comes into your shop? Mostly commercials?
Yes, we do mostly spot work. Although more and more work is being done for the web where length is less important. Many pieces will extend to two or three minutes. Commercial and broadcast promo work tends to be about 50/50 in our company.

With content living on more than one screen these days, how does that affect the way you tackle a job… if at all?
You used to hear people reciting the mantra, “It’s just for the web,” but we’ve never found that to be the case here. Your specs may change for delivery but the product quality always stays the same. The resolution of most computer monitors rivals HD and above, so the image and sound quality must still be the highest available. More and more of the ads we work on have a dual life on TV and the web.

If you had a wish list for working most efficiently with clients, what would it be?
1. Always be available! More and more, interaction with clients is through email after a QuickTime has been sent for review. Sometimes, depending on schedule, clients are immediately available, sometimes not. Since I’m always working on multiple projects at a time, this isn’t usually an issue. But sometimes schedules rear their ugly head.

2. Be specific! We’re here because we have opinions. Let me know what you think and help give direction. It is difficult when comments start with “I’m not sure or try something else.”

3. It’s just a rough cut! Clients nowadays are expecting finished spots for review. There is no more imagination of what the final will look like with color and sound tweaked as if they are done.

What is the best way to evoke exactly what the clients want? For instance, when working with color, how can they best show you an example of what they are looking to achieve? 
The best way to get the colorist or compositor into the world you’re embracing is by example. Bring in artwork, refer to YouTube clips, anything to better create an understanding between you and the person executing your wishes. The faster you can get to that place, the sooner you can take it beyond your initial thoughts.

Also, understand the terms. Often a colorist will speak to a client to establish a common language. The more you know, the faster that commonality is established. And get the post people involved early. Sometimes if you’re shooting already, it’s too late. VFX artists and colorists might make your shoot easier by making sure you capture only what is needed for post.

You wear more than one hat and work on a variety of tools serving a variety of jobs — Flame, Lustre, Smoke.  Do you think that gives you a better view of the entire process?
Absolutely. I get a wider view and am able to better prepare elements for each stage, whether we need some additional elements created by an outside supplier or if I am completing the project on my own.

Yes, I work on Flame, Smoke and Lustre, but for me it’s all one application. I know how each aspect of grading, VFX and, ultimately, finishing will affect the final product.

Is there a little known tool, no matter how small, that makes your day-to-day life at work easier?
Not one particular tool, but the support I get is indispensable. From the IT guy to the producers… all of them make my life easier.

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What are some recent projects you’ve worked on?
ABC’s Indy 500 open, Mercedes video brochures and the Pepsi Grammy Halftime Show.

Check out the Northern Lights Website and Hengeveld’s work here: http://nledit.com/edit/Chris%20Hengeveld/All.

 

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