"Duelist" is the story of the officer Yakovlev (Pyotr Fedorov), that takes place in the second half of the 19th century. For big money Yakovlev shoots on duels instead of other people and dreams to take vengeance on old enemies, because of whom has once been deprived of a noble title and was banished to the Aleutian Islands.
To instantly overview the whole volume of sets and scenes i made a fast series of sketches, that later were developed more carefully. That allowed me to find relations between them, find keys. Also that gave me ability to roughly evaluate all aspects of art department production and create the plan.
Despite the comparatively big budget producers approach was the same, as on independent movies. They have allowed the director Alexey Mizgirev to realize the unconventional vision of the 19th century St. Petersburg. First of all Alexey and i had decided to avoid traditional view to the city as it usually appears in historical movies.
It had to be the new city, and the viewer should be stunned by unexpected reality, he must learn something new about that life and time. As a rule historical film use paintings as a references, but here Alexey Mizgirev has found some photos of 1860 —1870th Petersburg. They were rather strange scenes and they weren't common to our perception of that era. They created a feeling of finding unusual truth. We moved on this way — to avoid official ceremonial representation, to turn to life which has not remained, to trifles and parts which all forget. So that there was no feeling that you have come to the museum.
Street objects, as demanded a serious artwork, have been grouped in 3 complexes. Each of them allowed to shoot not only one scene, but some different.
The main idea, that forms visual style of the movie, was found in the city after a flood photo , which has really occurred in St. Petersburg at the beginning of the 1860th. It was an idea, that organized all. Water has gone, having left behind dirt, silt, streets was filled up with peat, horse manure and garbage. We even constructed a street with the barge that was taken out on a pavement. The flooded street and the barge at once aggravate the situation. It does not look as a shot from a traditional costume movie. It chokes, you want to understand what had happened.
Tchaikovsky Street with the barge
That photo with a barge was recreated on real Tchaikovsky Street, and according to the screenplay that place initially did not play a major role. In fact, it was just the street in front of the military goods shop. But for us any object was an occasion to create unique world.
St. Petersburg after a flood
Some real locations had to be finished by means of computer graphics, though the main locations tried to be found or constructed. For example, the episode at a fair was removed from real Kazan Cathedral as it was initially planned, to the green screen, because on the eve of shootings the colonnade suddenly began to be renovated, having absolutely killed the texture. And our idea, key for the image is history, a patina, a dirt layer. It was necessary to keep cathedral old and dark, even on a CG.
The technic, in which sketches are performed, reflects orientation to the photo, but not to a painting. These are photorealistic sketches on which the improvements, necessary for shootings, are added to the real locations. It was expensive and inefficient to build everything from scratch, therefore we wanted to involve live samples as much as possible. We used them in absolutely other quality, but kept the texture of real buildings. The principle of all movie is the neighbourhood of contrast parts, as, for example, the neighbourhood of a cathedral and a fair, luxury and simplicity, greatness, power and something rough, dirty.
Buffooneries at St. Isaac's Cathedral
So, the buffoonery, which has to be built initially from scratch, was placed in the building of the St. Petersburg state art and industrial academy, constructed once at the expense of the baron Shtiglits. We have found a patio to two floors from arches and columns with the excellent texture of a stone and old paint. The buffoonery was arranged there, having raised a floor by two meters. We covered it with earth and piled boards. This is a classical room with difficult and rich architecture, but we made an earth floor there, cut off arches on two meters and broke their proportions, constructed a wall of a junk and boards. We absolutely transformed that space.
Final sketch of a buffoonery
One of the fundamental ideas of the movies visual is a history in every object. In search of the necessary buildings we have watched all mansions in St. Petersburg and area. We needed the decayed luxury, which has remained in the past. There were many such interiors about ten years ago, but now they promptly disappear. It is impossible to look at a restored luster of ceremonial palaces: intense color, everything is fresh. There is no feeling that people live there.
The idea of the withering aristocratism more belongs to the main character rooms — the officer Yakovlev. He has returned to St. Petersburg from exile, and aiming to recover his name and noble honour. It is a squat of the 19th century. It is absolutely real place, mansion of the same baron Shtiglits, Our hero, in accordance with the circumstances, could not return to his family’s mansion, had to take some thrown palace, but use it with his own fashion.
The principle of all movie — the neighbourhood of contrast parts, collision of the spaces which are not corresponding to each other. So armory, in which our hero cleans and collects weapon, situated in the dining room, and the scene of the first duel occurs in the ballroom.
Original Shtiglitss mansion was empty — neither furniture, nor light. We did not want to restore the building according to images of the 19th century, though detailed watercolours have remained. My aim was to add dominant colour to the pale hall. In addition to furniture we add frescos which look unfinished have been added. For them I used several not completed Michelangelo's frescos and the image from the Sistine Chapel. They were cut off and led to such look as if they have been thrown begun.
The ballroom with frescos
All movie based on small combination of colours. It is strongly contrast, with a large amount of black, the limited gamma of shadow, ochry, foggy tones. But there is always one main colour, in this case it’s red. Here is also the murder scene therefore blood on a floor is that main colour. The gold flickering in the dark and splashes of red.