Mystery & mist: Kohrra
Posted on Dec 4, 2023
Indian thriller Kohrra showcases innovative VFX techniques to create an atmosphere shrouded in mystery. The team at FutureWorks explains how such an enigmatic look was achieved
WORDS Robert Shepherd | IMAGES Netflix
Netflix’s popularity is now rising again, but it’s not just down to a recent crackdown on password sharing. Part of its renaissance emanates from what may be an unlikely source to some onlookers: the high-quality content of Asian film and TV shows, particularly from Thailand, Japan and South Korea. The crowning achievement of this surge is arguably 2021 thriller Squid Game, a global phenomenon that has inspired Squid Game: The Challenge, a ten-episode reality competition series which premiered on 22 November 2023.
It’s not only Southeast Asian and Far East nations that are leaving an indelible mark on the global stage thanks to their cutting-edge content, though. India is taking the spotlight with the captivating crime thriller Kohrra, which is currently garnering international attention.
The six-part series, titled in Punjabi, is a gripping Indian police procedural that’s been created by Sudip Sharma and directed by Randeep Jha, produced in collaboration with Netflix by Karnesh Sharma’s Clean Slate Filmz. With an ensemble cast including Barun Sobti, Suvinder Vicky, Rachel Shelley and Manish Chaudhary in pivotal roles, the storyline revolves around the mysterious death of a bridegroom shortly after his wedding, compelling two dedicated police officers to dive deep into the intricate case. As the investigation unfolds, it begins to intertwine with their personal lives, introducing a wave of turmoil that threatens to jeopardise the case.
From the enigmatic obscurity of foggy nights to exhilarating, heart-pounding action sequences, FutureWorks was commissioned to – and delivered – a grand total of 900 shots along with comprehensive colour services for the series. Upholding the critical role of preserving the ideal level of fog enshrouding the enchanting Punjab countryside emerged as a critical element in crafting the compelling ambience of the series.
Given the resonance of kohrra (fog), VFX supervisor Gouri Shankar says it was essential to consistently maintain and authentically present the cryptic fog sequences. Nevertheless, the production schedule coincided with the summer months, making it difficult to achieve the aspired aesthetic.
“Creating the right amount of fog to capture the essence of the Punjab countryside was paramount to the team’s work,” Shankar explains. “Since natural fog wasn’t always present during the shoot, we had to innovate, experimenting with various techniques, eventually embracing deep compositing to integrate layers of fog with different depths. This approach gave us control that was unrestricted, so we could get the desired atmospheric effect swiftly and effectively.”
However, considering the limited timeframe available to achieve this outcome, the team found inspiration in the innovative techniques employed for a number of existing films – most notably Rise of the Planet of the Apes, the first film in a reboot trilogy of the sci-fi franchise. The VFX team created a so-called ‘volume box’ that encompassed the maximum camera coverage for each shot. It then rendered out the fog layers using deep compositing, which resulted in a comprehensive and detailed scene consumed by haze.
A LIGHT IN THE DARK | Kohrra depicts the lush Punjab countryside, hinting at a slow-burning darkness under the surface
CREATIVE CLOUDS | Deep compositing was the key to cloaking the characters in the show’s titular fog, creating the layers needed for a convincing look
“We had a three-month turnaround time, so we had to get creative with the execution,” says Shankar. “Using only CGI would have made the process more laborious than we had time for, so we looked for alternate solutions that would yield the same results. The team went through multiple iterations of looks first created in fully flat 2D – then 2.5D – but quickly rejected both as they lacked the necessary depth. The fog had to be part of the environment and give the illusion of layers. The team decided to venture into the realm of deep compositing, integrating layers of fog with varying depths to create an effect that was both seamless and organic.”
ACCIDENTALLY ON PURPOSE
Kohrra was not a VFX-heavy production, but even when it was used, the priority for the team was story integrity. One central scene involved a pair of vehicles crashing in the Punjab countryside. VFX supervisor Ashoke Chowdhury reveals to us how the team was charged with crafting the collision itself – as well as its ultimate consequences.
“Getting both the crash and outcome right for the car accident scene in Kohrra was a meticulous process,” he tells us. “Unpredictable weather conditions during the shoot added to the challenge, which prompted us to prioritise safety,” he says. “By carefully previsualising the VFX shoot in Unreal Engine, we managed to achieve the desired impact without endangering anyone on-set. Layer separation and meticulous alignment were key to making this look authentic.”
MAKING THE GRADE
Saurabh Monga, cinematographer on the series, was present in the FutureWorks studio throughout the colour grading sessions, which were spread out over a few months. “I usually try to do as much in-camera as possible when it comes to the look and feel of a project, then bring it to the DI table to finalise the results, without feeling over-graded,” he says. “Working with DI colourist Tushar Desai, we were able to iterate together and find the right balance to bring the entire series together into a coherent whole.”
Producer Karnesh Sharma adds that seamless VFX integration and balanced colour grading had a significant impact on the final look. “The fact that kohrra translates to fog meant capturing this essence was crucial,” he insists. “Facing a summer shoot, the FutureWorks team worked closely with us to develop a VFX and colour workflow, using skilful compositing to create authentic fog. This was complemented by the grade, which utilised a balance between cool and warm tones for cohesion. Only so much of this essence can be captured by the camera, it’s the magic delivered by FutureWorks and a testament to teamwork that brought Kohrra to life.”
This story appears in the December 2023 issue of Definition.