Driven by the legacy of his late brother Rex, who died behind the wheel, Speed Racer teams up with the mysterious Racer X to fight race fixing in the whirlwind world of motor sports he so loves.
For this project, the Wachowski brothers wanted to use VFX techniques as means to create a revolutionary visual grammar. In homage to Yoshida's pioneering TV-series, their idea was to create a live-action film version of this franchise that would use the aesthetic codes of 2D animation.
Working in close relationship with other VFX vendors on the show, BUF produced three key sequences of the film: the rally races (the 2nd race of the film), the arrival in Cosmopolis and the interiors of Royalton's office headquarter where his cars are designed and manufactured.
For the Full-CG Cosmopolis, a city map was laid out and each building and manually placed to communicate the complexity and richness of this place. Production provided concept designs of major buildings. Hundreds of different 3D buildings were modeled and textured. Further, a new technique was developed internally to convert 3D camera moves in 2D layer animation to create a complex animé look.BUF also executed much of the rally racing: the setup, the locations and many key sequences that take place on the Starting Line, the Arches, the Dunes, the Ice Cave and the Cortega and Brandenburg Finish. Using extreme sports and Japanese animation as inspiration, BUF helped the creative team to reinvent the way racing is filmed, creating new car stunts and fresh angles to provide stunning car action.
"We wanted Formula One cars to be able to move at the speed of sound and navigate these super tracks doing incredible acrobatics to avoid demise, all this while your adversaries are trying to knock you off the track any way they can," relates John Gaeta, VFX general supervisor for Speed Racer. "We use 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.
BUF also created all of the sequences in the Royalton Building. Combining 2D techniques for the animation and 3D techniques for the sets, BUF designed the sequences of the streetcar visit (training aquarium, car factory, museum...), the T180 Factory where the new car prototype is being produced, the Penthouse (matte painting based a 360-degree bubble), and the joyride of Sprittle and Chim Chim in the alleys of the Royalton Building.
Throughout the entire production process, the main challenge for this project was to balance a certain realism with stylization: Speed Racer is a one of a kind movie at the frontier between live action and animation.