The Old Man and The Sea: Hands Above The Rest?
(continued from page 2)

Petrov paints one of the thousands of morphing frames used to create The Old Man and The Sea. © Pascal Blais Productions inc., Imagica Corp., Panorama Film Studio of Yaroslavl.

Accommodating both Petrov's technique and the electronics behind it proved a challenge for Lajoie and his team: "We had to build with a precision of one thousandth of an inch on each axis, four levels of drawing that could move north, south, east and west." Problems with depth of field complicated this task. So much so that more modifications to the creation of the animation stand were necessary. Petrov's multi-leveled technique would have required a minimum of ten inches of depth of field. However, while adapting the IMAX camera to properly work for an animation stand, Lajoie discovered that they were able to achieve a depth of field of only two to three millimeters. A call was put into the IMAX corporation and Lajoie was able to secure an enlarger lens "which is more flat, which gave us four inches" but that was still not enough. The solution came by modifying the animation stand itself. Petrov needed space between the planes of glass in order to paint different sequences. Lajoie found a solution by placing the glass planes on rollers so that they could roll in and out like drawers. This allowed Petrov to complete his work and at the same time reduced the amount of space he required, thereby solving the depth of field problem. "It took six months to think about it, to develop it, to conceive the part of the software that we needed and to put all the electronics together and to do the proper tests," Lajoie said of the ordeal. "We're using probably the most sophisticated technology in the world for cinematography, but at the same time, we wanted to control it totally so that it was just to serve the art. Technology is a tool; the content is much more important. My objective was to relieve Petrov of that kind of pressure so that the camera and movement were reliable and he wouldn't lose time thinking about the action and the light."

Creating a Dream
In March 1997, Petrov arrived from Russia. Blais Productions bought a house outside of Montreal to serve as both a studio and living quarters for Petrov. In order to accommodate the custom made animation stand, which was set up in the basement, a hole needed to be cut in the living room floor. Once everything was in place (Lajoie even ensured that the height of the surface of the stand was custom made to suit Petrov), Petrov, his son, Dimitri, his camera assistant Serguei Rechetnikoff, and the production team from Pascal Blais began what would turn out to be two and a half years of work.

To ease the transformation from 35 mm to 70 mm, the production team used a video assist so that Petrov was able to see the evolution of the process, therefore easing some of the pressure. "Any registration problem or any problem with the smoothness of the camera movement," says Lajoie, "can be seen on the screen quite easily. The duration of the shots have to be longer, because there is so much information to grab from the image." However, Petrov was not accustomed to such technology and would still calculate all the scenes in his head. This astonishing demonstration of human ability was baffling to Lajoie. "Animating a boat in rotation with a character on a moving sea, and to be able to animate that frame by frame by memory, I mean, it's just...I don't know what to say. It's Petrov."

Petrov's camera assistant was also cautious of the new technology. Blais claims, "Serguei would double check every axis [there are up to seven axis]. All the calculations of these curves of acceleration and deceleration...he would note them down, re-calculate them and correct them. The computer wasn't accurate enough for IMAX. It was accurate enough for 35 mm, but when it came down to IMAX sometimes it would square off a digit or two. He would change these figures. He was more precise than the actual computer. Sergei's level of accuracy is unbelievable. His log book is an art work that you could frame and hang in a museum. He took note of every single detail. His nightmare was to have Alexander re-shoot a scene because of one of his mistakes."

There were a lot of pressures involved with the making of this film. Not only was it a new technology for virtually everyone involved, but it was also a much more expensive format. "It's a lot of risk. It's a lot of pressure. You spend an awful lot of money before seeing a frame of it. You need reliable people. You need reliable technology," claims Lajoie. After spending one month animating 500 feet of film, the exposed stock was then sent to Japan for processing. Petrov was forced to nervously await the results. "You can imagine the pressure on [Petrov] not knowing if he was going to lose one month of his life or not, working six days a week, twelve hours a day," adds a sympathetic Lajoie.

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