The Paris-based effects guru, 40, has directed the special effects and post work on films like Costa-Gavras' Mad City, Wim Wenders' Par-del... les Nuages, and Leos Carax's Pola X. He's also done some fine commercials work, for clients like Volkswagen, American Express and Yoplait. Just recently, he signed with Montreal-based Voodoo Arts, part of the international consortium of post boutiques linked through Ron Soodalter Associates in New York.
Kwak, however, has strutted his stuff for years through the Paris effects house ExMachina. One of his most memorable scenes was from the 1995 Wim Wenders and Michelangelo Antonioni film Par-del... les Nuages (Beyond the Clouds). In it, John Malkovich strolls through a museum as the figures in Renaissance paintings come to life, turning a head or moving a hand ever so slightly. The quiet emergence of the characters from 2-D to 3-D is very subtle, but creating it was incredibly painstaking for Kwak and his crew, who had to recreate the paintings with actors. The seven-minute sequence took almost five months to complete.
In the 1998 Leos Carax film Pola X, Kwak's dream sequence shows a naked couple, clinging to each other in a slippery, sensual embrace as they are whisked through a dark canyon along a madly flowing river of blood. The effect is simultaneously nightmarish and beautiful, and the eerie visuals were all produced in post. "The characters were shot in a swimming pool, in normal water, acting like they were in danger," he says. The background set was created in CG, and the transformation of the water to blood was done with in-house software developed by the engineers at ExMachina.
Despite his big-film affiliation, Kwak has always had his hand in commercials production. His most beloved spot is for Volkswagen, in which a lightning bolt strikes a giant VW icon atop a factory on a stormy night. The metallic VW then melts mercury-style in different directions, oozing into the building onto the bare steel bones of an indistinguishable vehicle. Sparks fly, and the metallic skeleton is transformed into a sleek new Polo. On the project, via DDB in Paris, Kwak was limited to working on existing footage. Using extracts of the original film, he rebuilt all the scenes on the computer. In the spot, lightning bolts strategically ricochet off various graphic elements in the scene, and Kwak took it upon himself to meticulously construct each one himself. "I wanted a very special look for the lightning in the film. I know some software exists to produce lightning, but I wasn't very happy with it. We drew everything by hand. It took one month and 10 people."
Currently, Kwak is morphing ghosts around babies' buttocks (we're not making this up) for a Pampers project via Saatchi & Saatchi/Italy. He's also directing more than just the effects on the short films Dual and Omega, both of which he wrote himself. Despite his already long list of accomplishments, he wants to extend his reach. "Imagine you are building bicycles," he says. "Everyone knows you because you build good bicycles, so you imagine that all your life you're going to build them. It's the same with directors here. Everybody knows me in France as a visual effects person. I want to go out of the system. I need to prove I can do something else."