Still from Christian Volckman's 'Renaissance'

Talking TIFF: Christian Volckman

Christian Volckman's new film Renaissance is visually like nothing you have ever seen before. He pushes the boundaries of animation and infuses the black and white film with a noir that is perfectly suited to the dystopian society he has created.

I got to talk to Volckman before his public screening in Toronto, and he shared some of his nervousness, but also tipped me off to a great place to find a nice strong espresso near the hotel. Awesome.

This film is definitely not like anything I have ever seen before. How did you conceive of the visual concept, or even just imagine having a film like this?
It's a long story. I was working on my short film, which was a short film using blue screen, and of course you create all the sets behind, painting image by image, some of the scenes. Mixed media kind of stuff. And then, I went to a festival and saw this guy (Mark Miance)working on black and white images using motion capture. It was not very sophisticated, but I saw that, and I said, I want to work on a film like that. I don't know what it's going to be, but that's what I want to work on. And then we lost sight of each other for one year, and I met him later on and he was still trying to build a studio. So we met with a producer, and we started to work with Mark, with some script writers, and that's how things started.

On the visual side, you start with a storyboard, and you think that you want this to happen, and you start creating your virtual sculptures. And then you put the lights on the characters — thats four years later, of course - and its funny that there's some things that come out of it that you don't control or didn't foresee. When you do the sculptures in 3D, its not like you're drawing. It's like your whole world exists on the machine, and then you have to light it like its real, like you're on a real set. You put the light on it, you put the framing, and that's how things go.

You grow with it: in the beginning you have ideas, it doesn't work, you find solutions. If you look very closely at the film, the beginning is not as good as the end. There's a real difference, and the story of the film is the story of its fabrication.

The film has a moral undertone, so how important was it to set it in a future, dystopian Paris instead of a current day situation?
Freedom of doing whatever you want: Paris was fun, because it had never been done before. Paris was fun because we got to play with the buildings and stuff like that. It's just exciting to try and create a world instead of analyze what's existing. I know just the theme of immortality, we thought that in fifty years it might be closer to a reality so it may be more relevant in 2054.

Why is it important to be showing your film here in Toronto? How has your experience with the film here been?
You have to ask Miramax! No, really. It is very important for me to be here in Toronto, because the market is good, and it's good on a business side, for my career. For me though, I don't believe in doing mainstream blockbusters, it's not my goal. I lived in America for a few years when I was in high school, I feel that I'm close to this area, this region. I mean, I still like the Hollywood movies: in France, there's still something weird about the situation right now. I really like being here in Toronto.

For my public screening downtown, I'm a little bit scared because you know it's difficult to get into this film, because it's a little bit different, and some people will react differently to it. The people in Toronto have been great so far though.

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Christian Volckman was born in Avallon, France and studied drawing, painting and photography at l'Ecole Superieure des Arts Graphique in Paris. During his final year at university, he completed his first animated film, The Guinea Pig (94). He subsequently directed music videos and Maaz (99), an award-winning short. Renaissance (06) is his feature directorial debut.

(Film Still: Miramax)
(Director Bio: TIFFG)


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