In 2012, Cédric Fayolle had detailed to us the work of Mikros Image on RUST & BONE. Then he oversaw the effects of films like FOXFIRE, MAIS QUI A RE-TUÉ PAMELA ROSE? and THE PAST. 9 MONTH STRETCH is his second collaboration with director Albert Dupontel.
This is your second film as VFX supervisor with Albert Dupontel. How was this new collaboration?
In fact this is the third film that Mikros made Albert Dupontel. LOCKED OUT (2006) was supervised by Julien Meesters and Chrystele Barbarat responsible for the VFX production. I took over in supervision, however Julien (head of VFX) is very involved in these new adventures.
To work again with a director on his new project, it is necessarily pleasant. Albert Dupontel is working with a loyal crew since LOCKED OUT. On THE VILLAIN (2009), I learned to know all of them. And for 9 MONTH STRETCH we could be effective very quickly, this is a huge advantage.
What was your approach to visual effects?
After reading the first few lines of the script, I knew we were going to try a lot of things in terms of VFX. The first shot of the film is a good example of it. In addition, Albert Dupontel works with a technical cut and a very precise storyboard. A sequence is drawn from all angles that interests him without notion of editing. So we see precisely the scene, then we had to think of the best way to achieve the result.
How was a typical day for you on the set and then during the post-production?
Each day began with an hour briefing on what we had to do in the day. With a ViewFinder (a tool that simulates the camera lens) we were looking for the axes, focals and movement for each shot. I gave the necessary information for each pass and if needed we did prepare a green screen here, here some mattresses… The advantage of this method is that in the day Albert Dupontel could concentrate on his work with the actors, since almost everything we had already set on the technical side. So we didn’t slow the creative process… that takes precedence over everything, especially in a comedy like this.
During post-production, I was in daily contact with Albert Dupontel, the chief editor (Christophe Pinel) and his assistant (Carlos Pinto) to try to make every vfx shots more consistent with the content of the film.
The film opens with a beautiful continuous shot in a courthouse. Can you explain in detail your work on this shot?
The opening shot starts in a reception room of the courthouse, the camera moves through the guests and then follow a man who wears balloons. One of these balloons flies out the window. The camera moves through the window too and follows the balloon that travels over the entire courtyard of the palace of Justice, nestling up a facade and finally stops at the small window of a room in which the heroine is doing photocopies.
To do this « fake » sequence shot we filmed three shots. The opening shot in steadicam with a complex shift between comedy and camera movement. When the balloon flies, the steadycamer goes on a structure that initiates the transition from the window that will be made in 3D matte painting. And we extended the movement to perfectly connects with another shot that we filmed with a drone another day. The drone flew over the courtyard of the courthouse and stops on a window on the top floor. Except that there is nothing behind this window. This is a third shot that we filmed elsewhere and we composited into the drone shot. The balloon is, meanwhile, in CG from the moment where he escapes through the window.
Can you explain the creation and animation of the screens during the echography?
The point of view is a recurrent narrative technique in Albert Dupontel movies. On LOCKED OUT, we simulated the vision of monitoring for heart rhythm. For THE VILLAIN, it was the point of view of the turtle. Here he decided to put in place an echography machine. He provided us a real echography in motion, and we made the graphic content. All the tools that we show are inspired by the real camera and the measures that we have added are realistic. It had to be graphic but need to respect the veracity of a gynecological session. Albert Dupontel having studied medicine it is a subject with which he plays with but will never cheat.
Can you explain in detail the creation of the baby?
I don’t want to spoil the movie, so I’ll remain somewhat vague in its content while trying to answer your question. This is a relatively long shot and loaded up with a big emotion. We made the fetus during two different periods of pregnancy. We first started with a stall animatic for the different phases of the shot. The precision required for tight values of framing have made the first step of modeling in Mudbox quite long and arduous. We then used Shave & Haircut for hair / duvets / hair, Maya for animation, another delicate stage because there was camera animation and fetus animation with a large number of micro-movements for the breathing. And finally Arnold as renderer, with many pictures as references. The particles were made with the Nuke particles system thus the transition with the opening shot. For all this work, I would really like to mention the artistic quality of the digital artists who contributed to the shot, and the work of Nicolas Rey who has control and direct their creativity.
What was the main challenge with the baby?
The difficulty of a shot like this is that it is almost the only time when the film is unreservedly comical. This is pure emotion. It was therefore necessary that the shot lasts long, but we don’t get bored. There are several stages in the same shot. And the difficulty was to find the right timing for each stage. We have tried many different camera movements to achieve this.
The film has an impressive number of TV banners. What was your approach to this aspect?
It was funny part to made. First we targeted the various existing TV channels and we studied their graphic convention. So there was the American, British and French TV channels. Then we created our own TV channels keeping either color code or a layout or the classic codes of television as the weather channel, the results of the horse race, or the scrolling news at the bottom of the frame.
How did you manage the creation of all these elements?
We shot everything on green screen. Then the elements have been prepared in After Effect and then assembled on Nuke.
The content of the banners are really funny. Are you able to contribute to their content?
The scrolling news banner are the work of Albert Dupontel. For the Twitter and other reactions we had to invent things, but they are just there for filling. Funny facts come from the author. Compete in the field of humor with Albert Dupontel is taking a lot of risk !
Is there a invisible effects that you would reveal to us?
They are not invisible effects itself, but there is a sequence that has occupied us a lot: when the hero tries to find how the victim was able to have his four members and eyes rip off. The ideas of the hero are so wacky that we need to illustrate his stories with the same madness. So we opted for “cartoon” effects with going away as possible from reality. At the end we made 40 VFX shots short circuits, flying objects and some cutting… with always in mind that the shot had to be funny before being realistic… a good exercise.
Can you explain the organization of work within your team?
I always work the same way. I work with a CG Supervisor (for this film it was Nicolas Rey) and the Matte Painting department is managed by Christophe Courgeau. On this film I had two Compositing leads: Nicolas Borens and Damien Hurgon. Together we choose the digital artists. For dailies, we work with shots composited in the work copy of the movie. We debate a lot about the meaning of the pictures, of what they had to tell. It’s very collaborative, everyone gives his impressions and then we choose the priorities for the next dailies. When we hesitate on a direction, we made a rough versions for the two different versions that I then submit to the director, because it’s him that give the way to follow.
How have you split the work between the offices of Mikros Image?
Everything was made on one office in Paris (Levallois-Perret) in France.
What is your best memory about this movie?
Obviously there were a lot of nice moments during the shooting. But my best memory is a SMS that I received a Saturday night. Albert Dupontel was in the North of France to show the film in preview. Nobody had seen the film apart from the producers and some members of the crew. I received a text message from him « People have applauded the baby ». It’s silly, but it’s nice.
Is there a shot or a sequence that prevented you from sleep?
The DNA research sequence. It has not prevented me from sleeping, but this is THE shot that lasted throughout the post-production. We have tried many versions to find the good rhythm, good colors, good dynamic in order to be beautiful while remaining understandable, but not too didactic either because it had to remain graphic, while showing the passing of time… to gather all this information in one shot has taken long time.
How long have you worked on this film?
There was one month of preparation and two months of filming. The post-production lasted 6 months for reasons beyond our work. Albert Dupontel wanted to take time for the editing and we have to follow on its timing. Which necessarily affected the way how we work.
What was the size of your team?
We decided to set up a small team of 3 or 4 full time digital artists. And then we put together small teams according to the sequences. It was somehow production inside production. So we did the production “opening shot”, then “baby” production and then “TV” production… and between these large sequences we were doing the other independent shots.
It was a big production work orchestrated by Marie Castries (VFX Producer) and Manon Lebas (VFX Coordinator), because it was constantly a management of space and time.
What is the number of shots made by Mikros Image?
There are about 350 VFX shots, which must represent a quarter of the film.
What is your next project?
I just finished the VFX for CHINESE PUZZLE, the latest film by Cédric Klapisch which is the third installment of L’AUBERGE ESPAGNOLE and RUSSIAN DOLLS. We produced the effects in Belgium with Guillaume Pondard, VFX supervisor of Mikros Image Liège. The film will be released in France in December and I hear many people saying that this is the best of the trilogy. In any case it was a pleasure and an honor for me to work for Xavier (Romain Duris), Martine (Audrey Tautou), Isabelle (Cecile de France) and Wendy (Kelly Reilly). It is definitely a hard job… vive le Cinema !
A big thanks for your time.
// WANT TO KNOW MORE?
– Mikros Image: Official website of Mikros Image.
// 9 MONTH STRETCH (9 MOIS FERME) – TRAILER
© Vincent Frei – The Art of VFX – 2013