After putting the finishing touches on chapters two and three of motion-capture VR experience “Jailbirds” earlier this year, writer/director Thomas Villepoux will next adapt his tale of freedom and confinement into a feature, Variety has learned.
Currently in development, the upcoming “Jailbirds” feature will nearly triple the runtime of a nearly finished short that Villepoux and producer Griselda Gentile will bring to Cannes’ Marché du Film next month. Deploying the same motion-capture techniques Villepoux honed on his three VR pieces, both iterations of the “Jailbird” saga will delve even deeper into the work of Belgian cartoonist Philippe Foerster, whose work in the cult comics mag “Fluide Glacial” inspired the recently completed VR series.
“Artistically speaking, the project already exists,” says Griselda Gentile, who produced the various iterations through her Be Revolutions banner. “We’ve already done the creative work on character design and decors. Now we’re just working on [building out] the narrative.”
“We’re going to follow the path that has worked very well thus far,” Gentile continues. “The first episode of ‘Jailbirds’ very quickly found success, and that allowed us to finance episodes two and three. Next we’ll release the short in a more traditional animated format, and we’ll use those 30 minutes to find financing for the 90-minute feature.”
Presented in competition at NewImages and Tribeca in 2021, the VR experience “Jailbirds: Bwa Kayiman” followed a pair of inmates, locked in a bleak and cheerless prison and lorded over by a spiteful warden. “Though the slight Booker (Elliot Delage) suffers from all the warden’s cruelties, the hulking Felix (Barry Johnson) lives in unexpected serenity, allowing his imagination to quite literally carry parts of himself far beyond the prison walls,” Variety wrote at the time.
Following a successful festival launch, both France Television and specialized distributor Astrea signed on as backers, allowing Villepoux to deliver the series’ next two acts in record time, to land Spanish star Victoria Abril for the closing chapter, and to world premiere those subsequent pieces at Austin’s SXSW last month. The Goya winning Abril will also return for the upcoming short.
“Working, as we did, with a real-time game engine allowed me to practically strap the [virtual] camera around my shoulder,” Villepoux says of his process. “I could shoot scenes in this virtual world as if on real set. And once we had the motion capture elements and assets locked in, we could shoot the short film in something close to real-time.”
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