Getting with the times
NEXODUS delivered 400 mostly invisible VFX shots for Ryan Murphy’s period miniseries Halston, starring Ewan McGregor as the iconic fashion designer. The Halston creative team and Netflix were concerned with ensuring period accuracy for the different decades depicted in the show, from the rebellious 1960's all the way up to Halston's passing in 1990. Since the series’ story arc spans just five episodes, it was important for each time-period to feel distinct, and populated with set elements appropriate to the year.
In contrast with traditional VFX studios, NEXODUS put their talent and technology to work directly for the show’s Post-Production team, acting as the show’s “in-house” VFX unit. Halston's editors could hand off new shots to the VFX artists without a lengthy bidding process, questions about scope and priority were answered immediately. This approach allowed Halson ‘s producers to minimize the overhead of VFX production management, and enabled NEXODUS artists to deliver more shots in less time. Costs and shot statuses were completely transparent to both the show’s post production team and Netflix executives throughout.
When Halston’s VFX shot count ballooned during post production -- a situation in which traditional in-house VFX teams are easily overwhelmed -- the NEXODUS team was able to scale up immediately, thanks to their extensive network of talent and on-demand cloud technology platform. Executives at Netflix were surprised and delighted by the convenience and savings offered by the NEXODUS model of embedding artists directly into the show’s post team.
Accurate Period Detail from the 60s to the 90s
Faithfully portraying the life and times of America's most iconic fashion designer required VFX work on hundreds of shots throughout the miniseries, some planned and others added in post. From set design and costumes to a vibrant confetti party, large sections of the show were digitally transformed to more closely fit showrunner Ryan Murphy's vision.
Striking views of New York City from Halston's penthouse required modifying the New York skyline of today to stay true to 1970's New York. NEXODUS artists researched the historical layout of the city, comparing old photographs and news articles to the modern-day footage to determine what belonged in a particular time period. As NEXODUS Lead Compositor on Halston Frank Fieser notes, "We live in an era where everything can be fact-checked, so there's no excuse for showing a sign or building that didn't exist at the time; someone will inevitably notice and call it out. Worse yet, it’s a distraction that takes you out of the story.”
Countless modern details had to be reworked in almost every location that Halston passed through -- LED lights, fire alarms, security cameras, and modern signage were just a few of the anachronistic elements cleaned up by VFX. TV screens were treated in post-production to add the scan lines characteristic of analogue tube TVs of the era.
More Shots? No Problem
NEXODUS artists also played a vital role in hair, makeup, and even character performance at times. Ewan McGregor wore a neatly groomed wig to portray Halson. In several scenes, however, the hairline of the wig had split, breaking the illusion of perfection that the real Halston was so careful to maintain. NEXODUS artists became digital hair stylists, restoring Halston's hair in post to the immaculately clean cut that the show’s hair and makeup team intended.
When Netflix discovered how cost-effective the post treatment was at fixing hairlines and flyaways, they designated a much larger quantity of shots for cleanup by VFX. With their existing team on the show already at full capacity, NEXODUS tapped into its extensive network of remote artists to ramp up production immediately. “Our proprietary cloud computing platform and long rolodex of talent were critical for enabling us to smoothly process such a large number of shots, efficiently and to Netflix’s satisfaction,” says Fieser. Digital color treatments and aging effects were applied to McGregor’s skin and hair to increase the visual impact of Halston's rapidly declining health towards the end of his life, with the effect precisely dialed in to match the progression of his condition.
The success of the digital makeup work soon led to requests for other subtle editorial modifications, such as rebuilding an actor’s face to adjust their eyeline in post-production, or blending two different takes of characters engaged in a conversation. "Maybe Ewan McGregor looked good in take two, but Bill Pullman's character looked best in take four”, explains Fieser. “With us around, Netflix's editors were free to go after the best possible performances, knowing that we could always combine different takes seamlessly afterwards.”
For the series finale, NEXODUS artists added energy and excitement to a climactic party scene, where Editorial requested the addition of showers of confetti to the famous club that Halston frequented. Taking creative direction from the show’s editors, the NEXODUS developed a look for the confetti that captured the euphoria of the moment, when Halston is on top of the world and unconquerable.
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