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Inside 'Speed Racer'


Into the Green
Emile Hirsch as Speed Racer darts through a race in "Speed Racer."
Emile Hirsch as Speed Racer darts through a race in "Speed Racer."
Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

To achieve "Speed Racer's" unique retro-futuristic, heightened reality look, all the live-action sequences were shot on a soundstage against a green screen, so that it could be composited together with computer-generated or computer-manipulated material. The set reminded John Goodman of a bare bones Off-Off Broadway production of "Our Town" he once did in a church basement without scenery or props, and he says it helped him focus even more on his acting.

But the close quarters got to Hirsch. He and the other drivers spent many hours inside car cockpits attached to a moving platform called a gimbal.

"They're slamming you around in this simulator, and it's hot and there are lights on you and you can't move because you're strapped in. You get frustrated to the point where you want to rip the thing apart," says Hirsch, who got his share of bruises. "Matthew Fox got it worse, though."

At one point, Ricci was tossed around so much she got motion sickness and had to step out to get sick. She insists she had a good time in the cockpit, anyway.­

Shooting in the controlled green screen environment actually saved money, notes Silver. "And it was all shot digitally. It's a matter of years when film won't be a factor anymore," he predicts. "It's going to make it a lot easier to make movies."

Nevertheless, he proclaims "Speed Racer" was a "technical nightmare" to achieve. After all, there were about 2,000 effects shots that were created or manipulated via computer software.

"Every frame in some aspect has had some level of beautification or texture or color added to it in order to fit it into the universe," says VFX supervisor and "Matrix" movies alumnus John Gaeta, noting that most shots underwent "the most sophisticated digital color grading ever."

Gaeta first strategized about the project with the Wachowskis over a few months starting in May 2006. While they wanted to be true to the spirit of the original cartoon, they decided to "go the full-blown, stylistic, expressive anime route, and needed to explore what action looks like and create a balance between reality and spectacle."