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Aline : How MPC Film & Episodic de-aged French actress Valerie Lemercier

This article is available in: Français (French)

Released at the end of 2021, Aline is a French-Canadian movie portraying the life of Aline Dieu, a fictionalized version of Céline Dion.

Bringing Aline to life was not an easy task, as MPC Film & Episodic explained during the PIDS 2022 Conference which took place near Paris, France. They gave us some insight about the making of the movie.

Even though Aline follows the singer from childhood to middle age, Valérie Lemercier, who directed the movie and played Aline, didn’t want to use face replacement techniques. She didn’t want to mix the performances of several actresses: hiring young actresses to portray Aline when she is still a child or young adult then replacing their heads in post-production was therefore out of the question.

Moreover, Valerie Lemercier didn’t want to wear tracking markers on her face during the shootings.

Given these constraints, the team had to work both on the height and shape of the body of Valerie Lemercier, as well as her face.

Nicolas Borens (2D supervisor), Sébastien Rame (VFX Supervisor), Lorianne Lucas (VFX Producer), Maxime Chaix (Lead Compositor) at PIDS 2022.

How to shrink an actress

The team used various techniques depending on the type of shot, and analyzed the storyboard before the movie was shot. One technique used was to scale up the physical set and props, but this was only applicable when the young Aline was alone in a shot. Another technique, used for static shots, was to shoot the same shot twice and to adjust the distance of the camera to shrink down the actress, then to combine the takes in post. For the most complex shots, other techniques where used, as we are about to see.

How to create a young Aline

To create the face of Aline as a child or teenager, using photo references of French actress Valerie Lemercier at the same age was out of the question: like many people, the shape of her face changed quite a lot as she grew up. In other words, the viewers might not have recognized an accurate digi double of a younger Valerie Lemercier. This is why the team did not try to go back in time, but to create a young Aline that people would immediately identify as being Valerie Lemercier.

MPC Film & Episodic mostly used 2D techniques to do this and to alter the height and shape of the body of the actress when needed (to shrink her down and de-age her when needed). The team told us that they relied heavily on the Smart Vector Tools available in Nuke. It should also be mentioned that even though the film was shown in 2K in theaters, MPC Film & Episodic worked in 4K. Some scenes were even shot in 8K, in order to get more data to work with when Aline is far away from the camera.

A close partnership with the director

MPC Film & Episodic explained us that Valerie Lemercier regularly uses Photoshop to create posters for her shows, and she was therefore also quite interested in this advanced compositing work. She followed the process closely.

Crowds and invisible effects

Apart from the work done on the main character, there were also several scenes taking place in stadiums and concert halls: MPC Film & Episodic created environments and crowds. They had to take into account the fact that during the span of the movie, the singer rises to superstardom: small crowds turn into big, frenzied ones.

Last, but not least, the team also handled a few invisible effects such as set extensions.

Overall, MPC Film & Episodic Paris (France), Liege (Belgium) and Bangalore (India) handled 521 shots on this show.

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