Process: Paint Into Pixels
The New York Times Magazine, May 12, 2002.
An interview with Eric Rohmer
It has been four decades since the French New Wave was new, but now, at 82, one of its pioneers, Eric Rohmer, has gone digital.
The director shot his latest film, a period piece about the French Revolution, entirely on digital video, which allowed him to use computer technology to recreate 18th-century Paris. Rohmer's look at the past is different from special-effects spectaculars like ''Gladiator,'' however, because his method relies just as heavily on paint as it does on pixels. Rather than shoot his film's exteriors on the streets of Paris as it is today and then use a computer to remove signs of the 21st century, Rohmer decided to shoot his actors on a soundstage and then have them digitally inserted into paintings of Paris as it looked at the time. Here is one shot from easel to finished frame.
1. The Painting. The first step was to create a series of paintings of all the parts of Paris that Rohmer wanted to show. The director collaborated with the painter Jean-Baptiste Marot, pictured, to transform his storyboards into 37 fully realized canvases, ''inspired,'' Rohmer says, ''by engravings and paintings of the period.''
2. Setting the Stage. Next, each painting was videotaped and then projected onto a soundstage to find the actors' positions. The stage has to be ''a very ugly green,'' Rohmer explains, because when the images of the painting and the stage are later digitally mixed, everything the color of the backdrop disappears.
3. The Soundstage. For the actual recording of the live action, the actors, extras, carriages and props were shot against this green screen. Here, two actresses get into position near a murdered soldier and an abandoned carriage. Behind them, an angry mob assembles and prepares to riot.
4. The Composite. Once the video from the soundstage is combined with that of the painting, it's hard to tell them apart in a still. The film has a nonnaturalistic look, but for Rohmer, what was important ''was to show the places. Cinema is a relationship between people and the places they are in.''