Filmed in early 2022, the soberly-titled film Marinette is the first ever biopic dedicated to a sportswoman in France. It tells the story of Marinette Pichon, a pioneer of French women’s soccer and one of the game’s biggest stars, becoming the first French woman to sign on to the American professional league and the French national team’s most capped player.
Beyond soccer, and according to the wishes of director Virginie Verrier, the film is also a portrait of a girl from a working-class background with nothing to predestine her to this extraordinary career, and it addresses issues of domestic violence, the evolution and recognition of women’s soccer and the emancipation that the sport allows.
The film’s director of photography Xavier Dolléans AFC talks about the project’s origins and his preparation for the seven-week shoot.
“We had a lengthy pre-production phase, with preparations beginning in September 2021 for a shoot in January 2022,” he recalls. “Very quickly, there were a lot of questions: how will we film the matches? How will we reproduce American stadiums from a shoot in France? What cameras will be used? That kind of thing.”
“Those questions led us to MPC, which specialises in visual effects and has considerable experience in the crowd duplication techniques we’d need to pack out the stadiums that would form such a big part of the story.”
The production team filmed matches in several stadiums, including the Jean Bouin Stadium, a venue usually reserved for the French national rugby team’s matches in Paris.
Very quickly, Dolléans realised that duplicate crowd shots would be extremely time consuming. After discussions with MPC VFX supervisor Laurent Larapidie, it was decided the latter, along with a camera assistant, would establish a splinter team working independently of the main unit to manage the extras to realise the scenes in question.
“I had entire stadiums to fill with 70 extras,” recalls Larapidie. “We’d shoot those extras from different angles, frequently changing their props and clothing. We’d also change their positions frequently. It was a time-consuming exercise, and the ability to work autonomously on this part of the shoot saved us and production considerable time.”
“Obviously we used CG crowd simulations for the very wide angles, but being able to use ‘crowd elements’ gave us more opportunities to achieve convincing effects,” he adds. “I was immediately interested when I heard the crew had the URSA Mini Pro 12K on set. As a VFX supervisor, I always seek technical perfection: maximum resolution, less distortion, simple colour workflow and ease of management.”
Larapidie continues, “In general, what we want is a good depth of field with the least amount of noise and chromatic aberrations possible, unlike a cinematographer who will typically prefer a completely different visual. We’re not looking for the same thing.
“Also, it’s a camera that’s easy to set up, simple to operate and well thought out. I would not have been confident working with other cameras on the shoot. A quick run-through from the technical team to get up to scratch, and I was good to go.
“Plus, it’s relatively light, and we could mount it on a slider, keeping us mobile. That made handling it on the turf and changing angles easy. I’ve done a lot of stadium work in the past, but this was the first time I could shoot these crowd elements myself.”
The URSA Mini Pro 12K was equipped with Atlas Lens Co. Orion anamorphic lenses (and sometimes an Angénieux 56-152 T4.0 Anamorphic zoom) with most VFX shots captured in 8K at 48fps and shot for a 2:39 aspect ratio to match the main unit cameras.
VFX supervisor Niranjan Siva confirms the advantages of working with high resolution files in post-production. “We worked on 4K EXR files, down sampled from 8K by the lab, followed by an ACES colour-managed workflow. The added value lies in the ability to crop or zoom in on the visuals without sacrificing quality. It’s a welcome advantage for maintaining a high level of detail,” he said.
This is a sentiment shared by Dolléans. “It is not uncommon in the film industry that VFX is called upon to perform miracles using media that lacks detail and resolution. With Blackmagic’s 12K sensor, that problem doesn’t exist,” he notes.
In addition to creating packed stadiums, Dolléans used the URSA Mini Pro 12K to shoot plates for blue screen work, for example simulating the stadium behind the commentators’ box, as well as general views and beauty shots.
“When shooting the commentators’ box, we’d use a blue screen background to simulate the stadium behind them…”
“At the end of each day, when everyone was packing up the equipment, I would talk to the director, and she would tell me that she wanted to take advantage of the colours in the landscape to get some shots,” concludes Dolléans. “Access to a stripped back URSA 12K with one anamorphic lens allowed me to go out and film those moments without needing a support crew and really add to the film’s storytelling.”
Marinette is available in theatres now (June 7, 2023).