LES EPESSES, FRANCE – “We are all voyeurs to some extent when we see an intimate film,” said director Martin Scorsese. The stage production “Le Mime et l’Etoile” at Puy du Fou takes matters to another level, as the audience is not only drawn into an intimate story, but also gets to view it through the lens of a film being made in the earliest days of cinema.
In the process, Le Mime et l’Étoile takes us on an incredible journey from the beginning of film, through the transition from silent to talking pictures, and from black and white to color. Drawing on video mapping and other multi-media production elements, the show immerses us in its story, so we are not only watching director Mime Mimoza’s unfolding love for the actress Garance, but are actually inside the film they are making as it progresses from era to era.
Supporting this production is a beautiful and delicately balanced lighting design by Maxime Chotard that relies on the subtle power of the CHAUVET Professional Ovation Rêve E-3 from CCT Management to create evocatively textured settings that harmonize visually with the entire set.
Describing this unique production, and lighting’s role in making it come alive, Chotard noted: “The artistic approach to, Le Mime et l’Étoile is radical. The idea is to offer our visitors a new and unexpected historical experience. In each of its creations, the Puy du Fou strives to move and immerse its visitors in the story it tells. What could be more immersive and original than shooting a film in black and white? This is also the major artistic and technical challenge of this show: in an instant, the stage, its sets, and its actors turn into black and white, while transporting visitors into the story of Mime Mimoza and Garance.
“At the Puy du Fou, lighting, in both its artistic and technical senses, is a servant of the story and the staging it accompanies,” continued Chotard. “I therefore worked with two main threads, which were initiated by my concern about the monotonous character that lighting could take on once the transition to black and white had been made.”
During the two years, he worked on completing this intricately complex project, Chotard had to meet a variety of challenges. “ I had to adopt a less traditional approach to lighting,” he said. “The idea of working with light in shades of white quickly emerged as I delved into historical references, historical photos and film archives. The idea was to be able to depict the ‘Age of Enlightenment’ in color, with its first glowing filament lamps, but also to preserve these strong historical markers when the transition to black and white was triggered at the start of filming.
The idea of a “grey” light also quickly emerged during prototyping with the costume design team, noted Chotard. Additionally, the permanent video-mapping of a large part of the set required close collaboration from the very first content creation meetings, right down to the colorimetry, to arrive at consistent gray and white tones between the two techniques.
With no color involved the production’s black and white film scenes, Chotard and his team, which consisted of lighting techs Geoffrey Fuentes, Renaud Turcot and Kevin Bellay; along with tracking operator Théo Pajot, had to work methodically on directional light. They carefully studied the positioning of the lights in order to create a balanced, versatile coverage.
Helping them accomplish this were their 47 Ovation Rêve E-3 ellipsoidal fixtures. “During comparative tests, the Ovation Rêve E-3 quickly became the obvious choice,” said Chotard. “They offered an impressive flow, enabling me to create powerful laterals and assertive textures while maintaining excellent light quality. We position most of them laterally, but we also used some for downlight textures and counters.”
Not surprisingly, given the multi-dimensional nature of the production, precise programming was essential to lighting the perpetual movements of the actors without flooding the space. Dynamically tracking the actors with light was critical to keeping the audience members focused on the action.
“The theme of cinema and the idea behind filming is to create perpetual motion,” explained Chotard. “This allows precise lighting of the action zones without flooding the rest of the space with light. From the very start of the show, the main characters are adorned with their own luminous halo, which accompanies them throughout. Occasionally, these halo lights fade for a few moments, to immerse the actors even more deeply in the scenery, or to add dynamism and variation. That’s what the camera’s eye is all about! To achieve this, we chose to develop a technical solution tailored to our needs and operating constraints of running up to eight performances a day, seven days a week, with very short 30-minute intervals between each performance.
“We also relied on multiple on-board sources for mobile sets and machinery,” he continued. “The show’s main set, representing a street in front of us, is entirely video-mapped. The actors move in front of the set, but also within it. Inevitably, the lighting had to be as close to the actors as possible. No fewer than 450 light sources animate the sets, accentuating the dynamics created by the travelling effect so typical of cinema.”
Making it particularly challenging to achieve this effect was the configuration of the stage, which has an opening of almost 28m, and a relatively limited depth of 5m for most of the show. This made it especially important to control the lighting while still maintaining a natural look. Moreover, the dolly set sometimes reveals a large square with a luminous carousel at its center. In this space, the design team had to find a lighting setup that could be an extension of the street shown, so as not to lose the link, while bearing in mind that this area would not contain any video-mapping.
Through their diligent effort and collective imagination, Chotard and his team have been able to meet this and many of the other challenges that have arisen in this project. Sometimes these challenges have been unique, he says, noting that “operating constraints of theme parks are very different from those of the entertainment or theater market.”
In the end though, the net result is the same: to provide the audience with the chance to escape from everyday life, and enjoy being voyeurs, if only for a moment.