Halo, the eagerly anticipated series from Paramount Plus, is based on the wildly popular video game. Senior Colorist Bill Ferwerda of Company 3 Toronto handled color grading for the series, which was shot by Karl Walter Lindenlaub, Ed Kress and Ed Wild. Created by Steven Kane and Kyle Killen, the series transports viewers into multiple worlds where humans and aliens battle one another for survival.
As with many shows of this scale, visual effects came into Company 3 in different iterations as the color grading was taking place. As they did, finishing editor Adrian Saywell would add them into the timeline and Ferwerda would re-evaluate the work overall. This, says the colorist, is a constant back and forth until all the elements fit together into an organic-feeling whole. “We’re always going between bringing the effects more into the overall direction of the show’s look and the opposite — make the VFX blend in with what we’ve done with color, and sometimes we work the other way around.”
In a scene in episode 2, he adds, “There were two people standing on a rooftop and I did the color. But then we got the big establishing CGI shot and realized we’ve got to go brighter on this conversation because this is obviously happening in a sun-drenched environment. I was very happy with [the grade], but it was clearly a little too ‘crunchy’ once I saw it with the effects, so I re-worked the scene and it ended up in a nice, sunny space.”
The VFX companies, he notes, “provide mattes for a lot of scenes,” which allows him to quickly color either inside or outside the portion of the frame with the effect without having to take the considerable time that would be required otherwise to isolate just those parts of the image. “It gives us a lot of flexibility in the grade when they provide mattes,” he says. “It can make a huge difference.”
Ferwerda worked on Halo in Blackmagic Design Resolve, but he is always on the lookout for the best tools for any job and so he often uses third-party plug-ins. In this case, he made use of Contrast Pop from Boris FX Sapphire to help create the world called Madrigal. “This is a hot, sunny, burnt world,” he describes, “and the filmmakers wanted a very dry look. We used the plug-in to help us accentuate the contrast and sharpness just in certain parts of the image.
I would hit the ground and costumes with the effect, and it helped us transform the foliage in the shots from different shades of green and yellow to a warmer brown without any kind of color separation. But I would keep the effect away from faces because that would have been too much of a giveaway. It’s called Contrast Pop, but it also lets you control sharpness. It was very useful for that one environment.”
Ferwerda worked in Dolby Vision to create the HDR pass (at 1000 nits) and derived the additional SDR deliverables from there. “Halo is the perfect show to make the most of HDR,” he says. “It takes place in space and has all kinds of elements that look great when we can have specular highlights go bright — whether it’s the console of a spaceship or stars and space itself. It’s not appropriate for every show to make the most of those highlights in HDR, but for this show, we push the contrast hard. It’s helped us make some of the worlds look edgier, almost burnt looking for people watching in HDR. I think Dolby Vision worked very nicely for this show. It helps presents the footage beautifully.”