Love 40, Image courtesy of 9th Street Films.

9th Street Films Ignites Flame for High-End VFX on an Indie Budget

9th Street Films’ founder, Flame artist, and colorist Andre Basso discusses how a robust Flame-based post-production and finishing pipeline allows his team to produce high-caliber VFX and deliver color grading for less.


Tell us about 9th Street Films.

9th Street Films is an NYC-based, full-service production and post house for clients that range from advertising agencies, brands and marketers, to independent filmmakers that require a versatile creative partner throughout all stages of production. When I initially founded the company in 2009, we primarily focused on post-production for the ad industry. Our services evolved as we gained more post work for indie films, and as our ad clients began inviting us on set to serve as VFX supervisors, we became more involved in the production space. Today, we produce original feature projects and offer full production and integrated post services.


Love 40Love 40, Image courtesy of 9th Street Films


What differentiates 9th Street Films from other creative shops?

We are able to deliver high-caliber post-production, including all VFX, color, and editorial in one shop, saving money and time for indie or budget-constrained projects. While traditional productions send dailies, color, editorial, and effects to multiple vendors, I’m able to pitch our post services as a complete package to indie filmmakers and clients because of our integrated Flame pipeline. Our pipeline assumes that all media exported out is the final deliverable for theatrical release, rather than sending shots or effects off for coloring at a different facility. We offer faster and more cost-effective results by managing productions soup to nuts under one roof.


Can you discuss any recent projects?

We’ve worked on a number of projects in 2020, including a World War II documentary film called “Sixth of June.” There were several key shots in the film where the director didn’t think it would be possible to have VFX without going over budget, but we were able to make it happen using our Flame pipeline. In the middle of color grading, we’d flip into Batch in Flame and start whipping up VFX to liven up backgrounds for war re-enactment sequences by adding in explosions and planes flying overhead. The end result was amazing, and the team was blown away by how seamless the post process was. The film was well-received and even made it through the first round of considerations for the 93rd Academy Awards for Best Documentary Short Subject.

We also recently provided 200+ VFX shots for an indie film called “Love 40,” which entailed traditionally composited 3D models, tracking, digital crowd integration, and cleanup work all completed within Flame.


Sixth of June

Sixth of JuneSixth of June, Image courtesy of 9th Street Films


How did you get started in the industry?

My roots are in photography, color science for film restoration, and VFX for advertising, and the combination of all three disciplines has helped make 9th Street Films what it is today. I started off doing photography and darkroom development, then studied Computer Art at the School of Visual Arts (SVA) in NY. Early in my career, I freelanced for 10 years by providing animation, motion graphics and effects work for ad clients. I simultaneously worked at Cineric, a film restoration house in NYC that specialized in combining photochemical color science and digital color science to revive classics like “The King and I,” “Dr. Strangelove” and “The Grapes of Wrath.”

I’ve used Flame since my SVA days. Over time, I’ve seen the tool evolve from a “Hero Box” that managed all aspects of post-production, to a more specialized tool for key elements of finishing, and back again. Recent evolutions in Flame and GPU technology have enabled us to harness the tool again as a robust “Hero Box” to deliver high-end VFX, color grading, and editorial in one facility, which is something we’re not seeing a lot of in the indie film realm.


Love 40

Love 40Love 40, Image courtesy of 9th Street Films


In your opinion, how has the industry evolved since you got started working as a Flame artist?

Traditional production chains have been tailored to managing the complexities of working with film. When the RED ONE digital cinema camera released in 2007, it spurred a transition from film to digital that has continued to gain traction throughout the past decade. Today, with a growing influx of fully digital pipelines, we’re realizing there are ways to create new efficiencies and cut out intermediate processes that weren’t possible when shooting on film. For example, by using color lookup tables (LUTs) on viewing monitors during production, color grading decisions can be locked on set to expedite the post process. Similarly, VFX artists are being brought on set as supervisors, with many effects laid out in previs or staged in real-time using game engine technology. Since COVID-19, we’ve witnessed a huge influx in previs to help reduce the amount of crew required on set at any given time. Flame features built-in compositing tools on the editorial timeline, which facilitate rapid prototyping during previs by enabling lights, cameras, actor blocking, and different shot variables to be adjusted and planned out before ever stepping foot on set.


What are your favorite Flame features?

Flame speeds up post workflows and features an incredible interface that puts accessible and efficient tools at your fingertips. If you know how to navigate Flame’s 3D camera and planar tracking features using the proper constraints and the correct color space, you can power through shots and handle any tracking job without a separate tracking application. The ability to use motion vectors as an aid for tracking or projecting graphics onto plates is an amazing feature.

I also love how Flame’s ACES color pipeline works seamlessly to unite video feeds from different cameras that capture footage in various color spaces. When filmmakers come to me with source material shot on different cameras, I can consolidate the footage in Flame’s ACES pipeline in a matter of seconds and do color grading and VFX all within the appropriate ACES transforms. Artists who are able to harness Flame’s color and grading tools are at an advantage because they already understand the technical aspects required to pull off VFX shots.


Have you used Flame’s machine learning (ML) tools?

Flame has always enabled artists to make creative and artistic decisions without being bogged down by the technical aspects of production, and its ML tools fit neatly into that paradigm. There have been a few instances where I’ve needed to create a depth of field effect with fake bokeh, and Flame’s ML tools have worked as advertised without requiring any experience on my end.


Love 40Love 40, Image courtesy of 9th Street Films


What advice would you offer to students or new filmmakers looking to get started with Flame?

Learn how to use Flame as a traditional VFX finishing tool first, then educate yourself on ACES and delve into the color grading tools. With the right LUTs and approach, you can make incredible color grading decisions effortlessly once you know how. There’s a different energy with coloring a film that focuses more on subtle decisions that affect a wide variety of different shots. Don’t jump straight into long editorial timelines; instead, start your learning curve on smaller projects that you can experiment with. I started by coloring two-minute projects in Flame, later transitioning to music videos and short films, until finally mastering the chops to tackle a feature, shot using multiple cameras.


Sixth of JuneSixth of June, Image courtesy of 9th Street Films


What’s on the horizon for 9th Street Films?

We’re producing our first 9th Street Films original picture, “Can’t Let It Go.” It’s a satire on American politics that’ll be targeted at uniting people with different ideologies together through the shared language of comedy. Because of the COVID-19 restrictions in place, we’ll be establishing the film look, color, set décor, and shot-blocking during heavy pre-production, months ahead of the actual shoot. Using Flame for VFX will help us create crowd shots since large gatherings of actors in a single environment remain unsafe for now. For political rally and crowd shots, we plan on shooting small groups of actors against a green screen and using perspective grid tools with inverted 2D “homographic” projections in Flame to easily replicate plates to make the crowds appear denser.


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