All images courtesy of Netflix

Finishing a 4K Feature with Flame: "What Happened, Miss Simone?"

by Flame Artist, Ross Vincent

Last modification: 22 Feb, 2018
5 mins

What Happened, Miss Simone? marked the first time I'd ever taken on a full-length feature at UHD spec using Flame – and I think it was the first 4K feature on Netflix. The team at Outpost Digital, the postproduction facility for RadicalMedia, did everything using off-the-shelf equipment. It was a remarkable experience.”

–Ross Vincent, Flame Artist


Nina Simone playing the piano

The setup

I had a 12 Core Mac Pro with dual D700 GFX combined with 4 Promise Pegasus2 storage units. This allowed real-time playback at 4K for an hour and forty minutes – which is pretty phenomenal for off-the-shelf kit.

Marrying old with new
The director, Liz Garbus had new footage that she wanted to make it look old, to help tell the story of a young Nina Simone. They had a collection of old archive material and new interview footage – recreations footage of Nina Simone's childhood – that we had to marry by essentially damaging it, adding grain and scratches to make it look like old film. Flame's tool set dealt with that perfectly, and Garbus was thrilled with the results.


Nina Simone singing behind mic

Clean up for days
We had 16mm, 8mm and 35mm footage, in every format and frame rate you could imagine. This all had to be converted first to make it uniform so that there was no noticeable difference between the digital and analog material. We were cleaning up for days and days.

There was also a shot of Walter Cronkite in the middle of the film, and unfortunately, it had the words, "CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite" written across it in big white letters. Garbus wanted to remove the text because it distracted from the context of the shot and we did just that, thanks to Flame. It was two days of clean-up, rebuilding his suit, shirt, and arms.

What surprised me the most about the whole workflow was the ability to use the flush source media option. We were on-lining and grading back to back, and so once we'd built the Pegasus SAN, it was just a case of unplugging it and plugging it into the Resolve system, which was also on a Mac. They graded and rendered it back to the same disk. All the source files and render files were there. We then plugged that back into the Flame, and I was able to flush the source media and relink to the new graded material.

"Of course, there's no way I could have done all this using anything other than Flame. The interactivity and speed were incredible..."

We kept all the clean-up and effects on a separate gap BFX, and then re-render those after we'd flushed and relinked. We did this for the entire movie. This enabled us to have a great interchange between grading and the online process without having to redo all the online work.


Nina Simone in a café

Timing is everything
Considering the intensity of the work, we banged this project out really quickly. Having a tidy, technical and methodical approach to things helped. In fact, I think my technical background was one of the reasons I could turn this project around so fast.

Of course, there’s no way I could have done all this using anything other than Flame. The interactivity and speed were incredible, particularly the conforming tool. It was the perfect solution for this job.

Nina Simone singing

Flame allowed me to make last minute changes during the online without much disruption. Because I created gap Batch FX I was able to not only repurpose set looks for similar shots but when we had any grading changes, all I had to do was flush the source footage and relink to the new graded material. After a quick render to the gap Batch FX, all the dust-busting, stylized changes, cleanup, and compositing were updated. It was phenomenal and made the whole process seamless, super-fast and super-efficient. We were invited back to work with the director again, and we turned that job around in just one week.

"Using Flame for a feature pushed me differently. Most people think it’s just for shots, but Flame can do the whole thing. It absolutely has a place in feature film workflow."


Nina Simone in a still from What Happened to Miss Simone?

Fanning the Flame 
Recognition is always nice. What Happened, Miss Simone? got nominated for an Oscar and a Grammy and won a Peabody and an Emmy for Best Documentary Feature, which was great. Being able to make changes into the final hour of this project without having to reconstruct everything made all the difference. 

Using Flame for a feature pushed me differently. Most people think it’s just for shots, but Flame can do the whole thing. It absolutely has a place in feature film workflow.

Special thanks to Ross Vincent, RadicalMedia and Netflix for allowing us to tell this story.

Ross Vincent started working with Flame in London when his brother, a Flame Op at Rushes, introduced him to Flame by saying, "You should come and have a look at this, it's like Photoshop for video."

Watch What Happened, Miss Simone? 
now on Netflix.

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