Upgrading a Boutique Studio for Netflix

Recently-released indie thriller, Apostle, was graded and delivered using DaVinci Resolve by Welsh boutique post facility, Cinematic. We learn more about how the team upgraded its entire studio to complete their first show for the streaming giant.

Written and directed by new talent Gareth Evans, Netflix Original feature, Apostle, tells the story of a man who travels to a remote island in search of his missing sister, after she is kidnapped by a religious cult. As he delves deeper into the inner workings of the island, more secrets are revealed which threaten everything upon which the commune is built.

Starring Lucy Boynton (Murder on the Orient Express), Dan Stevens (Beauty and the Beast), and Michael Sheen (Frost/Nixon), the horror-thriller was shot on Red. Final digital intermediate was then delivered using studio version of DaVinci Resolve by Cinematic Post Production, Cardiff, UK.

“Working on Apostle changed a lot for us,” begins co-founder at Cinematic, Gareth Bryn. “Netflix has incredibly high technical specifications for post-production on its Originals output. Every time we rendered anything that needed any kind of processing, we had to render it out as 4K 16-bit DPXs, which sees the data rate required to play that back in real-time jump to 1800 Mb/s. There’s not much out there that can handle that, especially not on a shared storage basis! We knew we needed to completely upgrade our pipeline to properly cater for a show of this size.”

To do this, the boutique studio team decided to build its own in-house SSD solution capable of playing multiple streams of 16-bit DPXs in real-time.

“We also bought a brand new cinema projector, a Dolby monitor, and more GPUs,” Bryn recalls, revealing that after the upgrade, Cinematic now has access to a flexible, fully scalable pipeline which can accommodate up to four Resolve grading suites. “We also rely on Blackmagic at the backend, whether it’s Teranex for standards conversion and Smart Videohub’s for routing through to SmartScopes and a whole host of mini converters to glue the workflow together,” he continues.

Apostle was shot on Red and graded in Resolve.

Apostle was shot on Red and graded in Resolve.

When it came to creating the final grade using the new set up, Cinematic colourist Matt Mullins – who had previously graded shows including Hinterland and Keeping Faith – worked with Evans to produce a textured, grimy look to complement the film’s sinister themes.

“Evans is a big fan of films like Chainsaw Massacre, and that grainy, grungy 1970s horror look,” Mullins explains. “We began the Resolve grading process by creating tests that explored how far we could push tools such as Film Grain FX, and mid-tone details to replicate a similar aesthetic for Apostle. I also made use of Resolve’s tracker to enhance certain colours – like red – within graphic sequences that had a desaturated palette.”

“By the time we completed the project, we had some very distinctive scenes that were very exciting to watch, and they actually come together really nicely with the grade,” he concludes. “I feel like we’ve upped our game in that you can throw anything at us now and we can accommodate it. I like to call it the Netflix advantage.”

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