Tom Kan is a graphic designer and filmmaker. We can see him in Lux Æterna, but he's mostly known for designing Enter the Void's and Climax's title credits. Interview made by phone on june 3rd 2019.
You’re a graphic designer, filmmaker, photographer. We first saw your work on Enter the Void’s credits scene but you had already done album covers as you worked with Pierre Buffin on Matrix.
Yeah, absolutely. In order to add some context, I’ve started my career as a graphic designer and photographer : I was making a lot of album covers before I've been shooting the pictures used for album covers. Then, as artists liked the universes I’d made for them, they started to ask me for music videos. I met Pierre Buffin (BUF Compagnie) because he was already making special effects for feature films and commercials. He had called me for a Nike commercial with Michel Gondry and he [Pierre Buffin] had loved my proposition but it was too electronic and modern for Michel so it didn’t succeed. Later, Pierre called me back, telling me « I’ve got an amazing project, I think you’ll do fine ». He trusted my work, I didn’t have a huge resume back then but he gave me the opportunity to work on Matrix 2 and 3. That’s how Wachowski’s special effects supervisor liked my work and made me work on Speed Racer, once again with BUF, and then, years after, on Cloud Atlas. I often worked with Pierre Buffin, as much as a graphic designer than as a director […]. In 2009 or 2010, he told me « I’ve got a project, I need a good graphic designer who speaks english, french, japanese, and I don’t know who to call except you […] it’s a great project, I give you Gaspar Noé’s contact details and you see with him ». I called Gaspar, I saw Enter the Void’s editing and obviously, I wanted to work on it, it was incredible.
Gaspar is a craftsman, his crews aren’t big. For Enter the Void, I visited him during the editing and he already had the idea of typographies coming quickly, one after another. You know Gaspar is mad about fonts and graphic design ? While coming in the editing room, there was a wall covered with film posters he liked and we talked about fonts.
Yeah, we can tell [he loves fonts and graphic design] !
Well, there’s that and mostly he collects movie posters and he had actually already done a quick edit with movie titles and I loved it. I got it because it was purely graphic design linked to movies. In the first meeting, we thought it would be cool to work on retinal persistence and I left with that in mind and I started to design by my own. I wrote names so it could impact his imagination. Let’s say that I take a futuristic font and I write « Saturn 3 » or « A Space Odyssey », a gangster font, or urban font and I write « New-York », « Reporter », things like that. We classified the fonts by genre and era and that’s how we adapted the designs and moved away from the movie titles to get closer to a logo for each character. Since I didn’t know him nor the crew nor the actors, working with Gaspar was him telling me « well there, for Paz de la Huerta, use these colors, this font fits her well » or on the contrary for Nathaniel Brown, we’ve made something more american-ish. You see, these were little details that personified things a lot, and even when we went through the crew directors, he told me "Oh, take this font, it suits great with the sound designer"; "Oh, Jérôme Pesnel the editor wants the Planet of the Apes font". That’s what made the richness of the credits. I ensured I made different things and that’s how we progressed with designing the movie. There isn’t any special effects, everything is still and comes out from Photoshop, and the editor put it all end-to-end and made it flicker. In my designs, some stuff became animated because in my motionless designs, I changed or moved an element step by step and it eventually became an animation. We didn’t use any animation, it’s cut. That was quite fun and we worked really hard on it.
Fonts research for Enter the Void.
Screen capture of Tom Kan : L'Art du Générique (extra feature of Climax"s french Blu-Ray
© Wild Side / Directed by Alexandre Poncet
After Enter the Void, you worked on a first logo research for Love’s synopsis. I’ve found it on your website (1).
Oh yes, indeed ! It was inspired by [he thinks] Robert Indiana’s sculpture. We started from this, he already had the synopsis but didn’t tell me anything about it and we’ve ended with those stains. It’s something we find on the final posters, it really is a mix between pink, sperm and stains. There was violence too even if it’s more dripping on the final poster, there still is this part of provocation. He wanted a very sober thing, black and pink suited him well, he didn’t want any pictures, only typography.
There is an alternative logo showed at Cannes Film Market 2014, did you design it too (2) ?
No, I didn’t see this one but send it to me !
Sure ! [I describe this alternative logo]
Oh yes, well maybe it’s not mine because sometimes with Gaspar we do a lot of different variants so maybe it’s that or maybe it’s my logo redesigned by the distributor… I don’t remember.
(1) Love logo project © Tom Kan
(2) Marché du Film 2014 official synopsis © Wild Bunch
Gaspar often remained faithful towards Laurent Lufroy [poster designer] with whom he works since Irréversible. As you’re both graphic designer, do you work together ?
We see each other quite often, we work almost at the same time, near the end of the movie’s shooting and the beginning of its exhibition. For instance, on Climax, I was working on the credits, I had already started working on the title design but I was so busy working on the credits that Laurent kept moving forward on his poster and his logo was better as a print and for the promotion. I don’t know why we didn’t use this logo in the movie. Was this because we took another direction in the movie, more global, more « Gaspar-ish » with the font he always use and that he didn’t want to logotype his movie, was this because this logo was too agressive ? I guess there are plenty of reasons explaining why it remained the poster’s logo and why we’ve made something different for the movie. It often happens. For instance, the distributors don’t always design the same posters as the production companies and director, so the poster was released with that font and we never used it in the movie. While in Lux Æterna, [the title cards and credits’ font] was used on the posters and Enter the Void’s poster was this building with a huge font but it wasn’t the electrical logo made by Thorsten Fleisch so it seems to be like two different experiences. Gaspar thinks of the print as a print and moving pictures as something else. Maybe in the future it’ll get closer but I believe he doesn’t need any marketing consistency. Enter the Void was so strong that when you see the poster on a side, the font on another, we’re not very bothered by the fact it doesn’t look alike. It’s true that on Climax we remember this agressive glittering blue-white-red font [while the title at the end] is completely different because it’s some kind of an hallucination under LSD. It’s difficult to talk about consistency, or there is at least no voluntary consistency.
Does Gaspar command the fonts to use ?
No, Gaspar briefes us separately, Laurent searches on his own, I do the same. I had started designing it, then worked on the credits ; I believe Gaspar went to see Laurent and they talked about the poster’s titles. Let’s say it’s a work done with three pairs of eyes since Gaspar keeps an eye on the process, asks us to try various things, while Laurent and I work individually, it’s interdisciplinary. I get on very well with Laurent, sometimes he gives an impulse that could affect my work and sometimes it’s maybe the other way around. But it’s two different works since Laurent has to create a poster which has to remain still and clear from far distance, while I have to animate a design. We’re always in touch because we’re working at the same time, there isn’t exactly a collaboration but we’re always aware of what the other is doing, as we’re working harmoniously with the same director. Gaspar leads, there is no competition since we’re working on different medium.
Apart from being a graphic designer, you’re also a photographer. On Climax, it was the first time since Irréversible that we see set photographs [shot by Tom], at least on a feature [there are official pictures of Ritual’s shooting]. Were you hired specifically as a set photographer ?
Not at all. Actually, he warned me a few days before the shooting, I thought he’d shot a few weeks later and he told me « Come, we’re scouting, it’s right next to your home » and I believed he was just prepping his project. I came by a thursday or a wednesday and he was ready to shoot […] less than a week after we’d met on the set. At that time, I didn’t know he never wanted anyone for the making-of nor that there were barely any pictures of his shootings. On Climax, it’d been 10 years we were working together and as I lived close by and that I didn’t have any specific job on set, I brought my camera and said « Hey Gaspar, do you mind if I take pictures ? » and he answered « No, go on, take pictures ». I thought « Climax is a small budget, there is no set photographer, I’m nearby so I’ll bring my camera and shoot pictures for the whole crew, as souvenir photos ».
You’ll notice on my website, I’ve made photo commercials for Perrier, Smirnoff, car brands, so I do have a good experience in photography and as I own my gear, I offered Gaspar to come by and to do some pictures. There is nothing worse than waiting on a set. You see what’s happening without being part of it, so as I had my camera, I came one evening at 9pm until 1 or 2am. Then I wanted to come by the next day and so on, and one thing lead to another, I was there every evening, but I wasn’t hired as a set photographer. I made this as a friendly gesture to Gaspar and wasn’t aware at all he never allows set photographs.
Actually, the last known pictures were shot by Maxime Ruiz [cinematographer on Pulpe Amère and who precisely plays the cinematographer in Lux Æterna] on Irréversible.
Okay, incredible ! So, I’ve made hundreds of photos, he has chosen a few of them. I’ve sent him all of them because they were mostly done for him as souvenir-photos and he could use them however he wanted to. I’ve spent a great time because sometimes I ate with the crew, I wasn’t bored because I had pictures to shoot. And eventually, if these pictures were used as press stills, there wasn’t any wage for that, it was a gift for Gaspar. I didn’t ask any money for these pictures and it wasn’t the purpose of it.
© Tom Kan / Shooting of Climax
Before being entitled Climax, the working title was Psyché, for which you had designed a first logo.
Yes, he had asked me this Psyché logo. At first, it was about this main character named Psyché which was… I won’t say broken as it’s the effect I gave to my logo, but she was a bit disturbed as we understand at the end that she’s responsible of all of this. But I think that he gradually dis-incarnated her in order to make the whole group of dancers as the main character instead of one specific character. I’ve worked a week on Psyché and he suddenly told me « It will be named Climax », but I think it was named Climax later during the shooting.
Yeah, actually the official announcement mentioned Climax but we couldn’t tell if it was the same project than Psyché, it was vague for us.
Yes, for everyone I think. It’s been named like this, I don’t think there really was another name.
When have you been asked to design this Psyché logo, and do you know if it was used on production documents ?
It was a logo made for the CNC [French official agency of movie and audiovisual productions], to finance it. It had been made at this moment. I had to make it quickly, in 3-4 days, and I don’t know why, it was weeks later that the name was changed into Climax.
Well, we talked a bit about that, it’s actually Laurent [Lufroy] who designed the Climax logo as we know it…
Yes, blue-white-red with the frame all around.
Alright ! Why do you think the graphic style was changed ? Psyché was a rather explosive logo presaging the chaos to be lived by the characters, while Laurent’s logo is more straight, even if some letters are sharp, it’s way less explosive.
I think Gaspar is behind that and it’d be interesting to ask Laurent about this. As in I Stand Alone’s graphic design, Gaspar doesn’t use embellishment or ornamentation, he’s more into heavy, impactful things. It looks like Laurent takes one direction, maybe he had the idea of the frame, there is the sharp-edged X, and maybe Gaspar wanted to have something a bit more thicker. Gaspar has specific tastes, he might like something, come back to it, think about it. At first, Psyché had this broken vibe from the character, we didn’t want to split RGB layers and maybe the Climax’s logo allowed him to go away from Enter the Void’s strong graphic aesthetics.
Nowadays, we realize that the title credits had a huge impact in the motion design industry. I mean, we found with Gaspar that during the last ten years, Enter the Void inspired a lot. We stopped counting every flickering, flashing colorful designs. A lot of people are inspired by it. There are even people who don’t realize their work is being inspired by Enter the Void, but we can tell that every saturated colors, RGB splits, flashes, strobes, are all part of today’s visual vocabulary. I saw on Instagram an ad campaign for an high-end clothes brand, there are flashes, strobes with yellow fonts on black backgrounds. The person in charge might not have seen Enter the Void, but might have seen something already inspired by it. Even Gaspar sometimes send me links of title designs or animations that looks like Enter the Void. Ten years after, there still is people who keep creating stuff that look alike. It’s true that it’s kind of a tribute but after ten years we think that there is actually no new development possible. If I had to redo Enter the Void today, maybe it’d be different, it’d be something else. Anyway, with Gaspar we’re into experimentation so maybe he’ll do another movie in which the credits will once more be a different visual research.
On Lux Æterna, the colors are even something else, flashes are quicker and maybe the design matters less, on Climax the key is more about the placement of the credits, the fact that it’s not at the very beginning or at the very end. Anyway, it’s an actual raw material for Gaspar and, as a graphic designer, it’s a pretty nice thing as we’re not often lucky enough to work with a director who has an actual idea of what he’ll be doing with the credits. Credits have a purpose, which is not only to be informative : it’s either disturbing at the end of Lux Æterna to blow you away and make you feel dizzy, or it’s so strong at the beginning of Enter the Void that the scene on the balcony feels very quiet and peaceful. That’s what I like, each time there is a reason : why are we doing that this way ? It’s not only illustrative, even if Enter the Void’s credits purpose was at first to evoke Tokyo’s streets at night under drugs influence and then it became something like a curtain raiser. I do think there is an actual function. What I really like in Climax, more than the design, it’s the credits purpose which splits the « before » and « after » the sangria and I think it’s really well thought from him.
I guess that given the deadline, you might not have so much time for Psyché but were there a few logo researches ?
Yes, we always do a few different versions, then we chose one and work on it.
(1) Psyché 's logo - © Tom Kan
(2) Official Climax's logo by Laurent Lufroy
(3) Climax's by Tom Kan , as it's shown in the movie
Right before Climax’s Cannes screening, Vincent Maraval had posted a video called Molly in the Darknet. Can you tell us more and are you behind it ?
What video do you have ?
There was a screen full of red-orange pixels and filled with « X’s »…
[he hesitates] Well, it is true that I designed it. But I don’t know anything else. I think he also published it, hasn’t he ?
Oh, really ? So it was a year before Climax was screened in Cannes ?
No, he published it just before Climax was about to be screened and I think it was to put up a smokescreen. There was a moment during which we didn’t know at all what it was about and they [Vincent Maraval and Gaspar Noé] published a lot of fake news with some actual details.
I had done the « coming soon » design with a yellow font and border on a black background. There is one with the catchline « Ready for retinal circumcision » which was made during the shooting of Climax. He had told me « do this, we’ll tease a bit ». When we designed the « coming soon » cards with the yellow tones on black background, we had in mind a « warning » sign.
Molly in the Darknet © Tom Kan
About Lux Æterna, besides being a cameraman, you were also a first-time actor, do you have any anecdote to share on the shooting ?
Actually, it’s because I was a cameraman that I became an actor, but I’m not actually an actor ! I don’t know if you noticed but in Gaspar’s movies there are Vincent Maraval, Laurent Lufroy (as a dog-handler in Climax) who also appears in Lux Æterna, Maxime Ruiz as a DoP… For Charlotte and Béatrice, the alchemy works really well whereas they are two personalities who seem to be so different from each other. But once again, it’s Gaspar’s trick, maybe he talked with them backstag. He says « Well, you can just talk about witchcraft » [note : we know for instance that for the opening dialogue, Béatrice Dalle was asked to talk about Pasolini without explicitly showing it], but he doesn’t give many directions. There are even things in the movie that I didn’t notice even while being on the set every day.
So in Lux Æterna, it was the job of an extra, but I had an actual camera which was really recording. And as I didn’t know what to shoot, I thought that I would shoot a second axis to follow some characters. I wasn’t aware that Gaspar would do this split-screen.
Laurent Lufroy (left) and Vincent Maraval (right) cameos in Love (© Wild Bunch)
Gaspar said that his camera assistants, Lazare Pedron and Marie Queinec, also recorded on their sides.
Actually, when we see me walking in the corridors, I was filmed by Marie and Lazare told Gaspar « If you have a second camera, Tom can shoot with it » and that’s how I’ve ended with a camera and made a few shots for the movie. Gaspar briefed me directly, you can feel he really likes to shot and at the moment you have the camera, he tells you « No, lower, more like this », he has his own eye but the shots mix well together and I was wondering how Gaspar would have shot each scene, what axis would interest him more… Anyway, I was once more delighted to be a part of his project.
Another interview dedicated to Enter the Void's credits was made by Art of the Title.
A huge thanks to Tom Kan for his availability and complicity.
Interview conducted, transcribed and translated by Alexis Veille. Translation corrected by Alice and Adam.
Lux Æterna © Vixens Films / YSL
The way the movie will be broadcasted isn't known at the moment we're publishing this interview.