In Kinski Uncut (Bloomsbury Paperbacks, London, 1997, pp322-323) Klaus Kinski addressed his son Nanhoï (Nikolai) with these words: “People will say that I am dead. Don’t believe them! …Don’t be sad, Nanhoï. The truth is, I can never die…”
Klaus Kinski passed away on 23 November 1991, but given what he said in his autobiography, did he really die? I heard a rumour that there was to be a new Klaus Kinski film. It couldn’t be possible, unless Kinski was right and he’d never died; unless there was another way, of course…
A few weeks ago I was very fortunate to meet up with Volker Helzle, Head of Research & Development at the Institute of Animation at the Filmakademie Baden-Wuerttemberg, and Executive Producer of a project called Kinski Revisited. He very kindly showed me the short film that he and his team had made to promote a non-existent new Klaus Kinski film and it was very impressive indeed. I asked Volker Helzle to tell me about the project:
“Our R&D group had a very strong focus on the development of tools for facial animation during 2003-2006. The Kinski Revisited project was initiated to test drive the technology towards its use in a VFX production to see if it could be used to replace a real actor’s face with a digital version. Nowadays digital actors in movies are more common with projects like Benjamin Button and Tron – however, when we started the Kinski Revisited project in fall 2006 this topic was only addressed by a few individuals /companies with extreme caution.
We explicitly chose Kinski because he was a very expressive actor and thus an even more complex character to be created digitally. We realized about one minute of a fictional trailer in which Kinski appears as an 81 year old, gently aged, giving statements about his upcoming movie. The footage we used is based on movies where Kinski was a leading actor, but the performance of his face was completely new, matching the audio recordings we did with a voice actor in a studio. We also worked very closely with a sculptor, Jan Ptassek (http://www.janptassek.com/) who created a plaster cast and silicon version of the aged actor.”
I have to interrupt here and advise you to check out the Gallery page on Jan Ptassek’s website to see a massively impressive close up of his Klaus Kinski sculptures! Now, back to Volker:
“When we started with the project it was uncertain if we could really achieve what we were looking for. This is the main reason why we did not clear any legal aspects with the copyright holder of the footage [Du dummeSau! note: Werner Herzog, of course, and the footage is taken from Woyzeck and Aguirre Wrath of God ] that we integrated our digital actor into. Moreover the main reason for the project was an evaluation of our technologies, not the publication of the result. The current situation is that we have a verbal agreement to show this work in the context of conference presentations. The feedback we have gotten from the Virtual Actor community was quite good. Our intention was also to convince the copyright holder of the original material to develop an idea for a short film in which the digital Kinski could appear. Unfortunately this did not work out. However the project has been a very big success for us. So far this video cannot be found anywhere on the web (can you believe that? it is possible even in 2011!).”
This is very true – it seems to be impossible to find. However, I have found a couple of photographs of an earlier version of the Klaus Kinski model on the Stern website (http://www.stern.de/digital/computer/computeranimation-klaus-kinskis-auferstehung-588439.html), which were used to illustrate an article about the project back in May 2007. Of course they don’t do the VFX trailer justice, but it gives you an idea of what Klaus Kinski might look if he were still here today!
It’s such a shame that the Filmakademie team are unable to share the film with us and that the talks with Werner Herzog’s people have not lead anywhere for the Kinski Revisited project. As Volker Helzle said, it would make sense to have Klaus Kinski reappear. Yes, especially in this year, the 20th anniversary of his death…
But all is not lost for Volker Helzle and his team as in a few months’ time they will begin working on a next generation technology test. They will be working on new production workflows introducing a dedicated sensor technology. I believe that this means they will be taking the facial movements of an individual and applying them to a CG model on a computer to make virtual actors (or vactors / synthespians), animating in real-time on a games engine, and then building on top of this by working with coding they have written themselves to create a workflow. Phew! That’s the techy stuff out of the way… But it’s bound to be very different to the Kinski Revisited project, and, sadly, won’t be featuring Klaus Kinski. Nonetheless, I feel privileged to have seen Kinski Revisited and hope that the feature film meets with huge success for the Filmakademie R&D Team. And if it does, who knows, maybe Werner Herzog’s people will reconsider and bring Klaus Kinski back to life for one more collaboration? After all, surely a CG Kinski would not be as temperamental as the real one?!
I must admit that when I heard about there being a 3d Klaus Kinski, my first thought was: Can I get to interview him? (I should be so lucky) But now I’ve seen Kinski Revisited, I’m wondering how I can get my hands on one of Jan Ptassek’s lifelike Kinski models!
And if you think a virtual-Kinski would not do it for you, google Kyoko Date, who was one of the first Virtual Idols to come out in Japan in 1997 complete with a fabricated back-story and discography. If Kyoko Date can have her own fabricated back-story, so can virtual-Kinski – at the end of Kinski Revisited it states that Klaus Kinski made many more films until the year 2098 when his data was destroyed by a computer virus!
If you are interested to find out more about the software they have developed at the Filmakademie, visit http://research.animationsinstitut.de where you are able to download the software free of charge for educational purposes.
Thanks to Saint John Walker for telling me about the 3d Kinski rumours and many, many thanks to Volker Helzle of the Filmakademie for taking the time and trouble to meet up with Du dumme Sau!, for showing me the Kinski Revisited film “for research purposes” and for telling me about the project in more detail.