Inside 'Speed Racer'

Going Digital

The cars and the background scene were all created digitally.
The cars and the background scene were all created digitally.
Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

Using extreme sports and video games as inspiration, the creative team set about reinventing the sport of racing with fewer rules and constraints.

"We wanted Formula One cars to be able to move at the speed of sound and navigate these super tracks and be forced to do incredible acrobatics to avoid demise, all this while your adversaries are trying to knock you off the track any way they can," relates Gaeta.

Besides more than 30 minutes of racing footage, there's a ­computer-generated city, Cosmopolis, "and many shots in what we call 2½-D. It's a layering technique where we composite locations we've shot around the world. We would shoot exotic locations, add extra colors and details, and slice and dice it in post-production so that it looks similar to cell animation." Mountain, desert, and party mansion scenes in the movie are examples of this technique. The result: racing surfaces that look like ski slaloms combined with roller coasters taken to the extreme.

Gaeta and co-supervisor Danny Glass oversaw an in-house team, called Exhaust, of 20 people who created between 300 and 400 shots for the film, mostly photo anime effects in live action scenes. The rest were divided between a dozen effects houses: Digital Domain created on-track racing scenes, Sony Imageworks was responsible for mountain race sequences, and BUF in Paris did much of the rally racing, Cosmopolis and Royalton's factory. Other contributors included ILM and Evil Eye Pictures.

Digital work got underway a year before principal photography. The actors began in the summer of 2007, and continued through April of 2008. During editing, a screening room at the Warner Bros. lot was turned into a VFX editing room.

"All the digital effects from all over the world are e-mailed in Quicktime, and we have a person communicating with each vendor," outlines Silver. The Wachowskis review each shot as it comes in, and the liaison sends notes back to the vendor. "Then there's another VFX review three hours later, and so on."

A race scene from "Speed Racer." A race scene from "Speed Racer."
A race scene from "Speed Racer."
Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

Also in post-production, the film was converted to an IMAX format to open simultaneously around the country. There had been discussions of a 3-D IMAX version, but it was decided that it was too time consuming and not enough properly equipped theaters existed to make it worthwhile. The sequel, if there is one, may be done in 3-D. And all signs point to a sequel.­

Will "Speed Racer" be the Wachowskis' new trilogy? They certainly seem open to the idea, according to the film's stars. Ricci, sad to leave the set and the story behind, asked the directing brothers to write the sequel. Their response: "We're going to. Don't worry."

"They were as sad for it to be over as we were," relates Ricci.

To jump in the story and around the track, check out the movie. In the meantime, see the links below to get more information.

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  • Emile Hirsch, Matthew Fox, Susan Sarandon, Christina Ricci, John Goodman and Joel Silver interviewed Apr. 18, 2008
  • John Gaeta interviewed Apr. 22, 2008