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Singapore Award-Winning Filmmaker Chai Yee Wei Talks Mac Pro

Tucked in the corner of the sprawling Oxley Biz Hub at Ubi is Chai Yee Wei’s brainchild – his film lab, Mocha Chai Laboratories (MCL). A post-production house fully certified as a Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos facility, MCL works with clients like MediaCorp, Golden Village and Discovery Network.

He walked us through his state-of-the-art grading suite and screening room featuring a Barco 2K projector, Dolby Atmos-certified Christie VIVE sound system.

The interior of the grading suite within Mocha Chai Laboratories: complete with Dolby Atmos-certified speaker array and top-notch projector system. Image: Mocha Chai Laboratories

Outside, inconspicuously hidden amidst a thicket of gadgetry, MCL’s very own Lasergraphics ScanStation – gadgetry that would set you back a couple hundred thousand dollars.

But that’s not why we paid Chai a visit. Working our way to the back of his office, we find a Mac Pro and a pair of Apple Pro Display XDR monitors ($999 stands and all!).

Founder of Mocha Chai Laboratories Chai Yee Wei poses in front of twin Pro Display XDR monitors, along with the Mac Pro. Image: Ian Ling/VR Zone

Chai could scarcely contain his excitement in revealing that he had worked on a 4K HDR restoration of the 1999 local classic, Eating Air. He also showcased his film, Benjamin’s Last Day At Katong Swimming Complex, which won the Grand Prix award at the 20th Tokyo Short Shorts Film Festival and Asia 2018 – which qualified him for the Oscars last year in 2019.

“What a lot of people don’t know is that I used it as a case study for my facility – to test out the best technical specs I could [accomplish].” His short film was finished in 4K HDR, Dolby Atmos 3D Audio and in an 8K Red RAW workflow.

Mocha Chai Laboratories’ founder Chai Yee Wei with the Apple Pro Display XDR. Image: Ian Ling/VR Zone

Chai managed to get an early sample of the Mac Pro and Pro Display HDR, with which he voraciously tested in real-life professional scenarios.

Against a recent iMac Pro, Chai pit the new Mac Pro using five minutes of the actual 8K Red RAW footage of his short film loaded into DaVinci Resolve. For a full transcoding of the file, including colour grading nodes from Red Raw into ProRes 4444 XQ 8K, the iMac Pro took 3h 53mins, while the Mac Pro delivered the final file in a whopping 41 mins.

Chai examines restored 4K HDR footage from the 1999 Singapore film, Eating Air. To his right, a second Apple Pro Display XDR plays six streams of 4K footage. Image: Ian Ling/VR Zone

The Mac Pro in the office featured a 16-core Intel Xeon 3.2GHz processor, 192GB of RAM, Dual Vega II Pro 32GB GPUs, a 4TB SSD and the Apple Afterburner card.

For a Final Cut Pro X test, the footage was loaded in 8K, scaled down to 6K on the Pro Display XDR. “How many copies can I play in real-time?” Chai wonders aloud as he indicated through the system monitor that the GPU and CPU remained virtually untaxed with two, four, then six 8K streams playing simultaneously on the Pro Display XDR.

The exterior of Mocha Chai Laboratories. Image: Ian Ling/VR Zone

“No dropped frames, no background rendering,” says Chai. “This is pretty scary, isn’t it?”

He attributes the seamless performance to the Apple ProRes encoding, and to the Apple Afterburner card on the Mac Pro which bore most of the brunt of the otherwise resource-intensive endeavour.

The internals of the Mac Pro at Mocha Chai Laboratories. Image: Ian Ling

Why is this important?

“If you shoot in 8K, the typical workflow is to create proxies, maybe in HD and then you need to do transcoding, then you can start cutting,” Chai explained. “Imagine if I had [the Mac Pro] back then on [the] set – […] just as I shot a scene, [my team] can be there cutting for me, playing in real-time with no renders.”

Chai Yee Wei is also behind A Little Seed, which brings acclaimed Singaporean films such as Anthony Chen’s Ilo Ilo (2013) and Eric Khoo’s 12 Storeys (1997) to iTunes. Image: Ian Ling/VR Zone

Another project Mocha Chai Laboratories is working on is the restoration of Eating Air, a 20-year old local work shot on film to 4K HDR. We caught glimpses of much younger versions of familiar faces Michelle Chong and Mark Lee in the restored footage, rendered in crisp, life-like 4K on the Pro Display XDR.

Chai hopes to complete the project by this year, using the Mac Pro and Pro Display XDR for the colour grading.

Singaporean veteran actor Mark Lee stars in the 1999 film Eating Air, currently digitized to 4K HDR at Mocha Chai Laboratories. Image: Ian Ling/VR Zone

The monitors? Chai points at the dark areas between the six streams of Eating Air on the Pro Display XDR. “Hardly any blooming! This is how I gauge my monitors.”

Most LCD monitors utilise single rows of LEDs as display backlight, usually situated on the edges of the screen. The Pro Display XDR with its 32-inch Retina 6K display, is also an LCD monitor, but boasts 1 billion colours, a peak brightness of 1,600 nits and is capable of unleashing a 1,000,000:1 contrast ratio.

The Lasergraphics ScanStation, which costs about as much as a luxury car here in Singapore. Mocha Chai Laboratories uses this to digitise multiple film formats, including the one used to shoot the 1999 film Eating Air. Image: Ian Ling/VR Zone

This is because of a large array of 576 blue LEDs spread across the entirety of the panels, capable of unleashing 1,000 nits of sustained brightness (up to 1,600 nits peak) – all without any blooming.

Asked why Mocha Chai Laboratories is foremost a ProRes house, Chai explains: “We deliver many versions to different countries. One thing that is constant: everyone wants ProRes.”

Another angle of the Pro Display XDR and Mac Pro set-up at Mocha Chai Laboratories. Image: Ian Ling/VR Zone

While both the iMac Pro and Mac Pro deliver on Chai’s professional demands for a workstation that is “fast, reliable and high-quality”, Chai notes that the new Mac Pro delivers the added “expandability and flexibility” that allows them to take their work to the next level.

Ian Ling
Ian is the resident Tech Monkey and Head of Content at VR Zone. His training in Economics and Political Science is at the basis of his love for journalism and storytelling. A photographer by passion, and an audiophile by obsession, Ian is captivated by all forms of tech that makes enthusiasts tick.

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