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On The Fast Track
"It's difficult to describe the feeling of driving a racecar,” admits Roush Racing team driver Kurt Busch. "There are so many elements that a driver experiences during a race. When you go 180 miles an hour, the wind pushes your car down into the racetrack. It feels as if your car weighs four times the amount that it actually does because of the speed that you carry through some of the corners. And there are 43 drivers racing inches from each other and the wall.”

As part of their extensive effort to capture every thrilling detail of NASCAR racing, the filmmakers scouted the NASCAR circuit and prepared to shoot race events in Daytona, Talladega, Bristol, Martinsville, California, Richmond, Rockingham and Charlotte. Wincer and the production team also immersed themselves in Speed Week, two weeks of racing and race-related activities at Florida's Daytona International Speedway that precede the season-opening Daytona 500. "I was amazed by the sheer logistics of the operation, from the drivers and their race teams to the numbers of fans in the campgrounds to the size of the telecast, the merchandising trailers and the number of hamburgers sold in one weekend,” Wincer marvels.

Once he experienced the speed and intensity of NASCAR racing first-hand, Wincer looked for innovative ways to capture these powerful elements of the sport on film. "The IMAX camera is so big, it can be very difficult to follow action that is moving that fast,” Wincer explains. "But to capture the speed, I knew we had to keep the camera moving, we had to get the camera on the track with the cars and we had to find a way to get a camera inside a race car.”

Indeed, it was a daunting challenge to orchestrate filming the frenetic race environment with a camera the size of a bar refrigerator that weighs over 200 pounds and requires four people to carry it. The highest-resolution image capture device in the film industry, the IMAX 3D camera takes 17 minutes to load and shoots only three minutes of film at a time. (The average 35-millimeter film camera shoots 10-minute film rolls.)

"In a lot of ways, the fact that Simon hasn't spent 20 years working in large format films was a great benefit to NASCAR 3D: The IMAX Experience,” observes producer Lorne Orleans. "He wasn't limited by expectations of what you can and cannot do with the tools, which meant he often made really wild suggestions like, ‘Let's put the camera in the car.' And we managed to pull it off.”

Wincer wanted to devise a way to put the IMAX audience in the driver's seat for a more visceral perspective than those provided via video monitors mounted inside cars for televised race coverage. (Video simply doesn't provide high enough resolution and image quality for the large format; additionally, because the racecars travel at such high speeds, when they corner, it's possible for the centripetal force to cause the tape to slip off the heads of the video recorders, making the footage unusable.)

"From the beginning, Simon said ‘We've got to put the audience in the racecar. That's key,'” Hylton recalls. "Everyone said ‘You can't do it, the camera is too big.' When you say we can't do it, that gets all of our guys excited to find a way to do it.”

With the IMAX production requirement in mind, Jack Roush and his team at Roush Racing custom built a NASCAR car with a suspension equipped to handle the 600 pound weight of the 3D camera. Constructed with removable panels to enable six different camera positions, this special rig was used to capture the driver's point of view and low angles beside the car as it rocketed around the track. The result is an unprecedented glimpse into the racing experience.

"To say that the racing community was incredibly supportive of our production is an understatement, but the team at Roush Racing went above and beyond the call of duty,” Orleans praise

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