It’s turning!… How Les Tontons Truqueurs put intelligent virtual technology in 90% of series sets

In the middle of the immense studio D of 600 m2, entirely painted in green, partitions equipped with a door and a window which do not overlook… anything. A minimalist setting for a high-tech shoot in progress.

In the Hérault studios of France Télévisions, in Vendargues, where the daily series is filmed in particular such a big sunthe company Les Tontons Truqueurs, which specializes in digital visual effects, is deploying “VFX on set” technology, which allows shooting with special effects in real time on set, visible directly in camera feedback and not in post-production as is traditionally the case.

Flash back: Les Tontons Truqueurs were born in 2017 in Gentilly (Val de Marne), created by Christian Guillon, a pioneer of digital special effects in France, and two partners (now out of the company).

“Christian Guillon had this intuition that the future of special effects lay in digital technology and that we had to look at innovations from video games, in particular the ability to do realistic 3D in real time because there was a need to bring and visualize the special effects on the film set, says today Pierre-Marie Boyé, director of productions at Les Tontons Truqueurs. In 2017, this new technology was not mature and it was thanks to the meeting with Toma de Matteis (deputy director of France TV Studio, in charge of fiction, editor’s note) and Olivier Roelens (head of productions, dramas and soap operas at France Télévisions and executive producer of Un si grand soleil, editor’s note) for such a big sun that we could put it to the test. »

Olivier Roelens adds and confirms : “Working just in time with one episode a day, we don’t have time to do all this post-production. This technology makes it possible to anticipate needs before shooting and to shoot in the studio, which secures the production process. We met Les Tontons Truqueurs in Lyon, before the beginning of the shooting of the series and their techno seduced us! such a big sun is the first series in which so much new technology is used, and the first to put special effects in real time »

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“We control the sun”

This highly innovative device was developed by Christian Guillon, now director of development and innovation at Les Tontons Truqueurs. In concrete terms, Les Tontons Truqueurs are designing virtual sets, which will be superimposed in real time on the green screen of the set, and previewed live by the film crews. This allows you to immediately see the shot sequence as it will be in the end, at the end of post-production.

The advantages: very realistic sets on sequences shot in the studio, and therefore greater freedom of staging and creation. And a considerable time saving since this technology reduces post-production work.

We go on site to take landmarks and markers, and then reconstruct them in 3D, explains Pierre-Marie Boyé. For example, a scene shot on Place de la Comédie in Montpellier, at the foot of a Haussmann building, with an overlay of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris which gives the illusion that the scene takes place in Paris… The environment filming is secure, we control the sun since we can change the sets according to the time of day or the seasons, it’s more comfortable and more economical. »

Infinitely reusable and modifiable decorations

For the producer, it’s a winning combo. Olivier Roelens can only congratulate himself on such progress: “It makes it possible to obtain effects that we couldn’t with such realism… What changes in filming, with this technology, is the quantity of virtual sets that increase. The shift is interesting: in season 1 of such a big sun, we displayed green backgrounds in the windows and injected images into them. Today, we even make set extensions: for example, we shoot a scene in the studio in a hospital corridor and the Tontons Truqueurs display a continuity of set with rooms. Today, we have virtual in 90% of our sets.

Mastery of this technology is increasingly important. In studio D of the France Télévisions studios in Vendargues, there are hardly any decorative elements and the actors are filmed directly in the virtual sets.

Unless there is an interaction like opening a door, hence the door and window decor elementsexplains Pierre-Marie Boyé. We have to find techniques for technicians and actors to understand virtual sets, but real-time technology allows many people on set to quickly see what is working or not. »

“It changes the way a lot of people work, including the actors, the choice of costumes, but the sets are reusable and infinitely modifiable, adds Olivier Roelens. Soon, we will have three then four filming studios, which will allow us to optimize this technology and increase studio filming. »

Studio C is indeed under construction in Vendargues, an empty box of 1,100 m2 to be delivered next June, which will benefit from the latest technologies to relatively easily shoot different series in different settings.

France TV Studio majority shareholder

A year and a half ago, France TV Studio took a stake in the capital of the company Les Tontons Truqueurs, of which it became the majority shareholder.

“We did this to support the development of the Tontons Truqueurs because these are techniques and ways of designing a shoot that interest us”, explains Olivier Roelens.

The digital special effects company, which has a turnover of one million euros, employs two permanent and six to ten intermittent workers daily.

There are three departments at Les Tontons Truqueurs: the manufacture of 3D sets with graphic designers, filming with operators, and R&D which works on complementary and innovative developments, says Pierre-Marie Boyé. And we are going to open a 4th department: getting closer to traditional special effects in post-production to have a greater diversity of offer. »

However, Les Tontons Truqueurs do not work exclusively for France TV Studio, even if it is its main client, the only series such a big sun requiring to shoot 260 episodes per year.

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Spotted by the cinema

And it could well be that the small Hérault entity has a boulevard in front of it… As Pierre-Marie Boyé points out, ” audiovisual filming with special effects in real time is a booming market “: ” There is competition that is being created, but we are already preparing for phase 2, which will be to shoot in front of a huge LED screen of around one hundred m2, on which we will balance the images, which eliminates the special effects post-production. This is Disney drew the first for its series The Mandalorian… This type of screen is interesting but will not completely replace green screens, they will be complementary. It represents an investment of around 650,000 euros for the equipment, a million in all with the men, that France TV Studio will make within six months. Such an investment would have been out of our reach if we had remained alone “.

“Today, we do a lot of internal and external demonstrations because many professionals do not know the potential of these technologies, adds Olivier Roelens. It will allow us to run a showroom for France TV’s internal teams. »

The prospects for this type of special effects are huge. And it may well be that the cinema has spotted this potential: for the first time in 2022 (finally?), the Académie des Césars has added a new award to its prize list, crowning the work of the creators of special effects. In 2019, the turnover of the visual effects industries in France amounted to more than 13 million euros.

“French cinema is very stingy with special effects, as if it were a bit shameful for such a noble discipline, when this award has existed for ten years at the Oscarsobserves Pierre-Marie Boyé. The New Wave had promoted the natural setting and this school of thought is still valid but it is changing. »