SPEED RACER - Warner Brothers (2008)


After returning to the states in October of 2007, Kim Libreri (one of the original scientific and technical achievement recipients for the original Matrix bullet time effect) and now Vice President of Digital Domain, brought me into the company to start on the Wichowski's Speed Racer. I had met Kim during filming of Poseidon on the Warner Brothers lot in Burbank California at the famous Stage 15 (where they filmed scenes from Casablanca), but had never worked with him directly. With the recent acquisition of the company by Michael Bay and investors resulting in a change in DD's ownership, the company is now in a period which some are referring to as Digital Domain 2.0

Shortly before my stint at ILM was when Cliff Plumer, ILM's Chief Technology Officer, along with some of his team, Kim, and Mark Miller had relocated to help restructure DD. Everyone knew a sea change was happening with the business plan was expanding upon the phenomenal facility of the Digital Domain 1.0 that Scott Ross had helmed with co-founders James Cameron and Stan Winston.

The concept for a speed racer feature film from "The Creators of the Matrix Trilogy" was to style it half way between photo realism and Tatsuo Yoshinda's original Japanese anime series from the late 60's. This meant retaining the light weight, almost cheesy feel of the original series by having a lot of 2 1/2D environments on cards. As well as introduce the usual expansions and updates that are common when adapting material into a feature film medium. Since every comic and film the Wichowski's have been affiliated with has been R+ rated, the project was also they're first opportunity at writing a script more oriented toward a family audience.

I've always had a deep love for any medium that tells a story visually, be that it children's book, comic, anime, storyboard, photograph, etc... In Japan and Korea they definitely have a much more advance visual style in terms of their approach toward conceptual design, animation, and art direction then in Western cultures and there are many steps during the production process they do better then us. However, in the large budget mediums of Europe and America, the acting, editing, and production value tend to be higher and set the cutting edge standard for the world. Any project that is a synergism of both styles has typically always appealed to me. The Matrix films very much had this element and he certainly gives the Wichowski's credit for having the foresight to recognize interesting material from another culture and expand upon it for a mass audience.

Combined with facility restructuring, pipeline restructuring, and being their first venture into a Mental Ray pipeline, (just as Manex and ESC), Speed Racer was definitely an interesting project for the artists at Digital Domain to say the least. I did lighting, compositing, and motion graphic work on the film in what ended up being the longest push I've ever had on a project. When working 75+ straight days in a row you have absolutely no concept of time, you're tired every day no matter how much sleep you get, headaches occur regularly, you get little to no exercise, your social life is on complete hold, and you don't see much of your family. Even though this is not the norm for DD, Speed Racer ended up being all those things but it definitely made me stronger. Shot I lit on the cover of Entertainment Weekly...