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December 2014
Issue: May 1, 2008

DI: GIVING 'SPEED RACER' ITS HYPER-STYLIZED LOOK

LOS ANGELES - When you work with the Wachowski Brothers, there's no such thing as a typical day at the office. To achieve the high contrast, brilliantly saturated color scheme the Wachowskis envisioned for Speed Racer, their hyper-stylized live action feature version of the classic animated series, the innovative duo turned to gifted young colorist Maxine Gervais and the digital intermediate team at Pacific Title & Art Studio (www.pactitle.com).

Shot with Sony's F23 HD cameras, Speed Racer is a hybrid of CG animation, live action and digital capture. Gervais worked closely with the Wachowskis and VFX supervisors Dan Glass and John Gaeta to blend thousands of mattes and multiple layers of imagery (over 2,000 VFX shots in all), finessing each frame to produce a spectrum of colors pulsating in perfect concert with the high-octane action that propels the film.

"There were times when I wasn't sure if the technology could handle what we were asking of it," says Gervais, who used Autodesk Lustre Incinerator with GPU-accelerated and Infiniband multicore render nodes connected via SAN in order to be fully scalable and flexible.

"There was no precedent for what the filmmakers wanted in terms of color. They pushed me beyond the limits of color saturation. At the same time, we had to achieve this super-saturated look without blowing out the actors' skin tones or getting grainy."

Gervais and the Pac Title team also met the challenge of creating two entirely separate DIs for the digital cinema and film versions of Speed Racer.  Rather than taking the usual approach - color timing the DI for film and then converting it to a digital cinema version — the Wachowskis wanted their DI mastered to digital cinema standards. 

But Gervais' painstaking work on the digital cinema version could not simply be converted to film, which translates color much differently than digital. So she came up with a unique color recipe for the film version that strikes a remarkably close resemblance to the digital cinema release.

"I didn't know if I could achieve on film what the Wachowskis wanted for the digital version," says Gervais.  "But the Lustre came through beautifully, and we discovered that with the right approach, film can handle even more than our clients expected - or the test data suggested."

To accommodate the Wachowskis' non-traditional approach, Pac Title customized their DI pipeline for the Speed Racer workflow, and in addition to supplying 2D VFX for the film, the company coordinated the ingest, color space conversion and release of all VFX source material to numerous vendors around the globe. This established a level of consistency and image quality control rarely imposed in the early stages of post production.

"I learned so much from this experience," Gervais says.  "I'm still learning from it.  That's what's great about working with inspiring filmmakers who give so much thought to the post production process."