Hollywood Science: How to Make a Digital World

The high-speed stunner Speed Racer resets reality by creating a fantasyland out of nothing but computers and imagination
To craft realistic digital backdrops, location scouts took photographs of exotic landscapes like the tops of the Austrian Alps and California's Death Valley. Then VFX engineers stitched the images together to create a virtual 360-degree world, called a bubble. The bubble is used only during the production of the film; the landscapes and backgrounds seen in the movie are completely digitally re-rendered. Warner Bros.

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Filming conventional high-speed action fare is hard enough, but to bring the classic cartoon Speed Racer to life, the Wachowski brothers had to contend with 300mph racecars sporting fanciful features like robotic reconnaissance pigeons and wheels that can rotate 180 degrees. With 2,300 visual-effects (VFX) shots—twice as many as last year’s eye-popping 300—it heralds the future of summer-blockbuster fare: The entire movie, aside from the human actors, exists only in a computer.

“It’s a film about racing cars with no real cars and no real racetracks,” says Kim Libreri, the vice president of advanced strategy at Digital Domain, a visual-effects studio responsible for many of the race scenes. In our photo gallery, we present a step-by-step guide to constructing an entire movie world from scratch.

Click here to launch the gallery.