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SPEED RACER

The Hyper-Stylizer World Of "Speed Racer"
Speed's quest for racing glory takes him around the world, from the Thunderhead racetrack in his hometown to the multi-continent Casa Cristo 5000 road rally to the Grand Prix in Cosmopolis. To create the varied settings and action sequences, the Wachowskis called on the expertise of some of the most innovative designers, visual effects artists and digital photographers in the field, many of whom they'd worked with in the past. The directors handed the critical task of overseeing the creation of the film's 2000-plus visual effects shots to visual effects supervisors Dan Glass and Oscar winner John Gaeta.

"We wanted to have locations from around the world that would normally be impossible to shoot, like exotic foreign cities, arid deserts or icy mountain roads,” explains Owen Paterson. "Places where most directors wish to shoot but couldn't because it's either too remote or can't accommodate a film crew. Instead, the decision was made to take the best of those rare and exotic locations and ‘virtualize' them, allowing the visual effects department to incorporate them into scenes.”

The final imagery in "Speed Racer” was created using actors against green screens joined with high-definition digital image captures of far-reaching locations, including Italy, Morocco, Austria, Turkey and Death Valley. These images were captured by a small camera team using ultrahigh resolution digital still cameras and later pieced together to create 360-degree panoramic backgrounds known as QuickTime Virtual Reality (QTVR) spheres, also informally referred to by the "Speed Racer” team as "bubble photography.”

Dan Glass notes, "Because the bubble photography unit is made up of only a few people and requires considerably less equipment than a full-scale production team, we were able to use exotic locations that typically don't give access to large film crews.”

"The idea is to get freer and freer with our creative process,” offers Gaeta. "When the images captured were tiled together, it created a panoramic view in which you could put the camera where you want in postproduction, and see what you want to see at pretty much any focal length. We expanded on our ‘Bullet time' concept from ‘The Matrix' with ‘Racer time,' which is similar to ‘Bullet time' but includes attention to planes of depth.”

The Wachowskis were the first filmmakers to utilize Sony's F-23 HD camera, which had not yet been released to the public when principal photography began.

"We used the first five F-23 cameras that Sony made, and the cameras performed beautifully,” says director of photography David Tatersall, who had worked on "Star Wars: Episodes II and III,” both shot in HD. "This was a perfect choice for the look that Larry and Andy were aiming for. We composed our shots to look very sharp, super saturated and very glossy.”

"We pushed the colors beyond the usual limits to produce what we called ‘poptimistic' or ‘techno-color' imagery,” adds Glass.

To render the film's myriad of visual effects shots, the Wachowskis achieved what they called a "live-action anime look” using a visual-layering technique that allows the foreground, mid-ground and background to stay in focus, much like that of traditional 2D animation. This technique came to be called by the filmmakers "2½D technology.”

Glass explains, "In the film, each layer—the foregrounds, mid-grounds and backgrounds—were created separately. The way these planes move against one another has a quality we've all grown up seeing in cartoons; it's like a second language to children.” Intentionally striving for emotion over realism and blurring lines of perspective, for instance, was quite liberating for the visual effects team. "We're playing against perspective and creating images that deliberately break the rules.”

"Anime is such an expressive forma

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