CODA, screening as part of Short Cuts Canada Programme 1 at TIFF 2014, combines the final minutes from Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, and some astounding visual effects, to bring life to the dramatic soundtrack. Toronto Film Scene spoke with co-directors Denis Poulin and Martine Époque about their film, and how they created such beautiful visuals.
Describe your film in 10 words or less.
Martine: A dance film that transcends the boundaries of both stage and screen.
What inspired you to make this film?
Denis: CODA is more than a project that was inspired by any one thing; it is the result of a lifetime dedicated to inventing new ways of capturing dance. Since my early dance films of the 70s, I’ve been looking for ways to show motion without portraying the dancers. To make CODA, we used a pallet of digital tools consisting of motion capture technology (MoCap) and particle processing. And, of course, Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring has been our motivation all the way through. We’ve had a close relationship with this piece of music at many different moments in our lives.
Martine: This is a long story, since I created my version of The Rite of Spring in 1988; it was a stage choreography which was performed several times, in Montreal, Calgary and Guangzhou, and also aired on TV. Since 2013 marked the centenary of the premiere of Stravinsky’s work, we decided to re-create a digital Rite in order to bring it into the 21st century. We kept Roerich’s original idea, of a sacrificial dance performed in order to renew the earth. It seemed to us that particles were an ideal way of embodying motion, as they are the origin of the universe and of life on our planet. This permitted us to emphasize the parity between Man and his environment while treating digital dance in an entirely new way.
What was the best thing about production? Most frustrating?
Denis: The best thing about this production was the passion that drove us throughout all the experimenting we had to do to create the film. CODA is a film that came about through a process of discovery. We were exploring all the time. It was fantastic to see the results of our experimentation. We even discovered that some of our mistakes looked beautiful.
And the most frustrating aspect was the amount of patience it required. I will summarize this part of the reply with one term: “rendering time.”
Martine: I will add that creating moving images with particles using MoCap technology requires a very complex and long production pipeline. And as particles are living digital elements, moving on their own according to the various parameters (such as weight, speed, shape, and others) given to them by the animator, we don’t know what the visual result will be until everything is completed. This process is frustrating for a choreographer used to working in a studio with living dancers and an immediate end result.
I also will add that writing and drawing a storyboard were impossible, for the same reason. So having to create CODA with a team of technical and artistic experts was sometimes a hazardous way to reach the aesthetic goal we had in mind. Ultimately, though, this became the best thing about the production: each of them was like a part of us, and the first discovery of the image particles and the sound track were gratifying and delightfully intense moments.
What’s the one thing you want people to know about your film?
Denis: That they will be experimenting with a new perception and meaning of dance on-screen, and that they will enjoy this new sensation.
Martine: I don’t want people to think about one common thing. CODA is non-discursive, just like choreography for the stage. So each audience member’s thoughts about it, or better yet, their feelings, will be different. Moreover, images contain so much information that one can see things that the next person won’t notice. As a result, people will surely think about CODA in dissimilar ways.
Your film is screening as part of TIFF — what are you most excited about seeing or doing at this year’s festival?
Martine and Denis: Surely, it has to be seeing Norman McLaren’s works in stereoscopic 3D.
The film features some stunning visuals of human silhouettes. Could you describe how you capture and create that beauty?
Denis: Usually when you work with motion capture to create a dance film, the virtual dancer will be an avatar. We did not want to go in this direction, so we developed the concept of a “dance without bodies,”in which the identity of the dancer is derived from his motion, not his physical appearance. So instead of rendering the polygons that should have constituted the outline of our virtual dancer, we generated, in and around our dancers, a large pallet of different kinds of particles for each scene.
CODA screens as part of Short Cuts Canada Programme 1 at TIFF 2014. Check their website for more information.