What was your reaction when you read the script for RICKY?
It’s the kind of script you read and think: this is audacious and intriguing, especially coming from François Ozon. His films always walk a fine line, right on the edge of strange. You feel things might shift at any minute. Seeing the finished film, I was even more surprised! I didn’t expect such powerful realism.
How did you approach the job?
Most directors know nothing about special effects. Our job is to explain how they work, reassure them and show them how we can make their vision come to life on the screen. I always try to encourage and help directors who show up with crazy ideas like these! Our first priority is to define a plan of action, determine what we can do and how it will affect the shoot. For example, François was going to have to frame virtual movement, imagine the various trajectories the baby would follow with the special effects. Everything had to be mapped out before the shoot.
So you must get involved very early on.
Yes, right from the planning stages of the shoot. Sometimes we even get involved during the writing stage, as we did with RICKY. François came to us with questions about what we could do and how much it would cost. Knowing the parameters helped him write the script. François has an open mind, he’s a smart guy, he listens, he understands things quickly, and he also has good production sense, he understands about limitations.
What was particularly challenging about this project?
Making a baby fly! We’d already created angels but never a flying baby. It was a great experience, one we shared with a young supervisor, Mathilde Tollec. The challenge was to make the baby realistic. The slightest error would bring the whole thing down, prevent the audience from suspending disbelief and believing in the story. We took our inspiration from actual flights of birds, or insects, when it came to making Ricky’s little wings move.
Is it harder to make a baby fly than an adult?
Yes, because it requires additional security measures that hinder realistic, natural flight. The baby has to be harnessed. To offset the stiffness that creates, we focused on developing the speed of his movements. We did tests before the shoot and realized we’d need to accelerate his movement. Naturally he bumps into things, like a bird trapped in a room. We also tested various wing-flapping speeds to find out what worked best on screen.
How did you come up with the look for the wings?
François wanted wings that weren’t white. Our job was basically to propose different variations and facilitate the technical side and make the wings credible so he could concentrate on his shoot. We did research on different types of wings, studied the different phases of their development, from stumps to full-grown wings. Then we drew them on a baby to get the right proportions. François was extremely precise in his choices. The basic design of the wings was determined before the shoot, but then we fine-tuned the colors, which vary throughout the growth process. And we adapted them to the baby’s hair color. Up to the last minute that is allotted to us, I feel it’s important to keep a critical eye on the work and keep correcting the image. Computer-generated 3D special effects have no inherent poetry, unlike any awkward drawing done by a 5-year- old. It’s the time you spend working on and fine-tuning your digital image that will give it a soul. The layers you add are what make your effect interesting. You can’t just whip it out, it’s a long and fastidious craft.
How is it different working on an independent film like Ricky as opposed to a big action film?
I find independent filmmakers are more involved in the whole process of the film. American directors, who are more like technicians, often have only a partial view. François needed to understand the whole process so he could appropriate it and make his film. That leads to interesting exchanges - you discover another way of seeing things and expressing them. We’d already had some amazing experiences with Wong Kar-Wai and Eric Rohmer. I’d rather talk with independent filmmakers about cinema and the effects they hope to create than listen to directors who specialize in special effects spout jargon.