Während Paris unter dem Zorn der aufkeimenden Revolution in sich zusammenfällt,
geht in den verrotteten Slums der Stadt die Angst um. Ein diabolisches Phantom
des Todes streicht durch die nächtlichen Gassen. Die hilflose Bevölkerung
munkelt von einem übermächtigen Alchemisten, dessen Gesicht hinter
einer Spiegelmaske verborgen ist. Wer ihn erblickt, hat seine Seele verspielt.
Dennoch macht einer sich auf, das Monster zu stellen: Detektiv VIDOCQ (Gérard
Regisseur Pitof (SFX Supervisor ALIEN 4) schloss sich für sein Regiedebüt
unter anderem mit Marc Caro zusammen, dem Co-Regisseur von DELICATESSEN
und STADT DER VERLORENEN KINDER, um das Zeitalter des Digitalen Kinos
in Europa mit einem optischen Amoklauf einzuläuten. Man stelle sich
einen inoffiziellen Urlaubsfilm vom letzten Frankreichtrip der Wachowski
Brüder vor, geschrieben von Edgar Allen Poe, morbidisiert von H.
R. Giger. Oft lässt uns dieser düstere Wahnsinn gar keine Worte
finden! Pitof reiht sich mit seinem stylischen Gothic-Thriller nahtlos
in die epische Größe seiner Landsleute Gans und Jeunet ein.
1830: the Alchemist,
a diabolic murderer whose face is concealed behind a mirrored mask, is
being chased by VIDOCQ, thief turned investigator and master of disguise.
Director Pitof describes his movie as something of a special effect in
itself, made up of many special effects without ever becoming a special
effect film. We describe it as one hell of a movie!
Hollywood may like
to lay claim to the first HD feature title, but the award goes to legendary
French effects wizard Pitof, director of Vidocq. Michel Clemenski speaks
to him about creation of the film
While Pitof may now be one of the most respected visual effects editors
on the Paris post-production scene, it is a career, he admits, without
"Like many people at the time, I learned the craft as a freelancer.
To tell the truth, I really got started by doing 'light entertainment',
mainly starring well-endowed female stars, at a time when these films
were still being shot on 35mm. It was quite easy then because, for this
type of film, only a minimal level of technical knowledge was required."
Moving on from this experience, Pitof began to explore the possibilities
of new video technologies. "I did a lot of corporate films for major
brands and began to do special effects, if you can call them that. In
fact, we used all sorts of tricks to try and enhance the images and create
some production value."
But things changed in 1984 when Pitof met Harry. "Quantel simply
marketed [Harry] at the time as a graphics tool, but it could do much
more. For me, it changed the way we approached image making," says
Pifof. "It was the first stage in what we call electronic film-making
The year 1984 also marked the beginning of Pitof's long association
with Paris post-production house, Duran, specialising in special effects
for commercials and music promos. "I introduced Harry to directors
such as Jean-Paul Goude and Jean-Baptiste Mondino. For them, it meant
really being able to translate their wildest ideas into images."
Duran took the next logical step and founded Duboi, its film effects facility
and Pitof moved onto films, Delicatessen, directed by Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre
Jeunet, the first feature film in France to use digital effects on a large
In the years since, Pitof has worked with France's leading directors,
including Jean-Marie Poireè (Les Visiteurs), Jean-Jacques Beneix,
Etienne Chatillez, Claude Miller, Mathieu Kassovitz and Luc Besson - to
name only those well-known outside of France. His international credits
include work for Wim Wenders and Lars Von Trier and in 1997, he co-directed
the visual effects for Alien: Resurrection and won an award at the Imagina
Pitof's transition to become the director of the world's first fully digital
feature film, ahead of Hollywood giants George Lucas and James Cameron,
is an important milestone in his career.
"When the idea of making Vidocq first came up, I immediately said
I wanted to do it with digital technology from start to finish,"
he says. However, this was not a choice based on cost consideration, he
"It was purely aesthetic and based on workflow principles. To
begin with, I wanted to create a very specific world, Paris of the 1830s
as seen by Vidocq, our French Sherlock Holmes, investigating the underbelly
of the French capital. Our idea was not to do an academic recreation.
We wanted to create a universe of our own and we felt that only digital
technology would give us the freedom."
The film gave Pitof an opportunity to employ the full chain of digital
image making and to involve the digital artists and technicians he had
developed close bonds with. "One of the big motivating factors for
a lot of people was to break down the 'ghetto walls' that have kept many
great digital artists outside the film process."
Pitof's intention, in fact, was to remove the logistical and creative
distinctions between the production and post-production phases of film-making.
"What counts is getting the best possible result on screen. Take
sets, for example. With Jean Rabasse (set director for City Of The Lost
Children and Asterix And Obelix), he was as present on the physical shoots
as [he was] in the electronic processes. His work continued through-out.
The decision to use carpentry or virtual reality was purely aesthetic."
However, once this process was put into motion, Pitof faced the challenge
of putting all the image sources together. With a couple of hundred people
simultaneously working on dozens of workstations in a host of formats,
both 2D and 3D, final compositing and conformation became critical.
The team set up a traditional PC render farm, but this created problems
with long processing delays and downtime with the machines being taken
above and beyond the call of duty. "We were constantly faced with
long processing delays and downtime because we were constantly pushing
the machines to their limit and dealing with network, formats and compatibility
problems. Experience has shown us that this model no longer works beyond
a certain bit rate."
Understandably, Pitof opted to experiment: "We used a lot of systems
and they all had their limits. Upstream, they required long periods to
load the machines with different elements; during the editing phase, none
gave us true HD visualisation and, at the end, none were able to provide
reliable and rapid final conformation." Eventually Pitof ditched
the render farm and shifted to Quantel's IQ to piece the film together.
"I would have loved to have had [IQ] from the very start, but
unfortunately, at the beginning of the production, it was just in its
beta phase,"says Pitof. "The IQ philosophy of full resolution
compatibility would have allowed me to construct a multi-resolution hub
to handle and combine all sources seamlessly.
"You know, in the last couple of years, there has been a tendency
to take hardware for granted and to continually enhance software capabilities.
Once you're handling 2K, HD and other formats - and you need efficient
multi-res co-existence - you've got to have the hardware power to do it
so you can concentrate on creativity."
This changed when Pitof got his hands on an IQ: "We were finally
able to get IQ at the end of the production process, about one month before
we were slated to finalise the movie. It enabled us to deal with all these
challenges. First of all, we were able to integrate all sorts of images
quickly, in real-time, in their native formats and in a non-compressed
But it is important to point out that Vidocq is not a pure HD film.
There are a number of standard definition (SD) shots, including some of
the action sequences where DV was used to give more speed and flexibility.
"The main advantage," says Pitof, "was to be able to view
everything in its actual stage of advancement, whether finalised or as
work-in-progress. There are some scenes, for example, where we had several
weeks of 3D development and where we composited dozens of layers."
In these situations the production team was able to view unfinished shots
as mock-ups alongside finalised HD shots, allowing the film to be edited
from start to finish without having to worry about
the state of completion of the various effects shots. Instead, each element
was conformed when it was finished.
"Once we had the process going," sayd Pitof, "we had so
much flexibility and storage space that we decided to produce the 'making-of'
and the trailer at the same time. Pascal [Ouvrard, editor] amused himself
with these two spin-off products. In fact, he managed to make two 'making-ofs',
one long and one short. I'm not quite sure, as was the case with Harry
15 years ago, if the people at Quantel know what they had unleashed. But,
don't worry, the creative community will let them know in the months to
come, what potential the system has." CGI