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Getting to know Dominic Glynn

Dominic Glynn, a computer systems engineer at Pixar, combines his passion for math and music to create stunning visuals. Explore the future of digital projectors, laser technology, and the potential for filmmakers to showcase never-before-seen colors.

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Video transcript

- So, when I was in elementary school, I mean, I studied math like everybody else, the sorta basics that we learned at school, and found that there's something about it which it was greater than I am. It wasn't that one person had decided that this is how it was gonna be, it was more that, collectively, we'd kind of slowly come to a better understanding of something that has always been there. And so, I really appreciated and kind of was in awe of that idea. And at the same time, I was playing a lot of music, I think, as a young kid, and fascinated in how our ear and our brain and our mind works, given all of this kinda stimulus coming in. So, for me, it was kind of a natural meeting of these two worlds. A little bit of math and a little bit of perception, you smash 'em together, and you kinda land in color science. Before I started working in motion picture film, I did some challenging, some people would say some silly things. (laughs) I used to engage in a lot of mountaineering, high-altitude climbing. And on one of these expeditions at high altitude, I suffered an injury to the retina on my left eye. It's a retinal hemorrhage. So, basically, the retina was bleeding and became damaged. And it wasn't painful, but during the process, I was completely fascinated with what was happening to my visual system. I was able to sort of see, oh, well something's not right and this is different and new. And then I was able to compare, well, my left eye is different to my right eye. And if I kinda move my head this way, I can see these weird things I've never seen before. And so, it was a weird sense of kind of objective analysis of what was going on, despite the fact that it was, in some senses, a medical emergency. And we were far away from hospitals and those kinds of things. But that was probably one of the turning points where I recognized that, wow, I'm really interested in the human visual system and what it can and can't do. And, hopefully, we're using that now in a way that's gonna help everybody. Computer systems engineering is the primary degree I studied. Engineering is less about the specific knowledge and more about knowing how to learn at speed. So, a good portion of the degree is stress testing your ability to learn things you've never thought of before and then really put your assumptions to the test in a hurry. So, I consider the engineering kinda like a mixed bag of tools that can be applied to a lotta different circumstances. When I started with Pixar, 35-millimeter film was still very much the predominant distribution format. You know, we used film projectors. You had a xenon lamp and it shown light through a transparency, a color transparency, up onto a huge screen. The chemistry of the color of film was very much a black art. It was very sophisticated and there were few players in the field sort of supplying the materials that we needed. And so, for us to gain insight into how better to control the color on film, it was a real challenge. So, we went back to first principles. We analyzed the film at a really low level. I mean, we kind of stretched and pushed and pulled in every possible exposure way possible and measured everything that we could find about the film until we came to, I guess, a state where we knew more about how to influence the film than the people who were selling it to us. We were able to do things with it that they didn't even know were possible. I am communicating with the artists, the directors of photography, the lighting leads and the folks who are responsible for implementing the color decisions of the studio. And I'm working with them to better understand what they're trying to achieve. Often, this is one, two, three years in advance of them doing the work. They have an idea in their head of what they'd like to try. It might be something that no one's ever seen before. My job then is to sort of translate those requirements and turn them into a pipeline or a platform or a set of steps and processes that we can gain confidence is gonna work when the clock's ticking and we don't have a lot of time to sort of finish this work or to sorta iterate many times on a creative idea. So, I kinda build the foundation of the pieces necessary to allow those artists to really express themselves in a way that's repeatable. Things that are happening in the world of motion picture film. So, on the exhibition side, you go to the cinema and there's a digital projector today; that's how we experience our films on the big screen. The next generation of digital projectors is using red, green, and blue lasers to illuminate the scene. So, all of a sudden, we can get these really, really saturated colors way out on the spectral locus. So, the most saturated things that humans can perceive, we can now create some of those with these laser projectors. And there's also new opportunities, I think, for some of our filmmakers to potentially show you colors that, quite literally, you've never seen before. Everything that you have a passion for has a value in this world. And people are gonna continue to tell you that this is not cool or this is not popular or, in my case, it was math and music. They still aren't necessarily the most socially upheld kind of revered pursuits. But you can find a way easily where that makes a real difference for somebody, that you can harness that passion and turn it into something that really makes a difference in the world.