Race is hardly your typical animated movie. It tells the story of Trance Caldron, who’s racing to win the Star Car Championship; as part of Team Earth, he deals in some political intrigue and foils a plot to take over the universe along the way. Race is rated PG-13, with suggestive images and language you probably wouldn’t find in Wall-E. Furthermore, the film is geared toward a specific audience of gamers and those who grew up on a healthy diet of Star Wars and Saturday morning cartoons. Even though the film is entirely self-financed, and completed on a budget that is not quite Pixar-level, the end result looks fantastic, with a staggering attention to detail.
Robert Brousseau, who directed the film along with co-director Scott Heming, answered some of MovieMaker‘s questions on the process of making Race, and what he’ll be working on next.
Rebecca Pahle (MM): Hyper Image, Inc., the company behind Race, was previously an animation and post-production studio. How did the decision to make a feature come about?
Robert Brousseau (RB): Well, part of the trick was that not only had we been an animation and post-production studio, but we also continued to be one throughout the process and beyond.
Just before we began work on Race, we had gathered a crew and created an infrastructure to animate multiple episodes of a series that Sony was doing called, “Roughnecks: The Starship Troopers Chronicles.” We worked on that for about nine months and as we neared completion we started thinking about keeping the experienced artists that we had on staff to make a movie of our own.
Our plan when we set out was to begin creating computer animated films on a budget that could fill a demand in the market. Back in 2000, CGI was still relatively new and the demand was growing. Our model was to make a film every two to three years with a budget 1/30th of the Pixar model. Obviously, we knew we couldn’t compete with the major studios on their playing field, so we set out to make a film for gamers and older kids instead of a family movie. We were all playing a lot of video games at the time and thought it would be great to create a movie that felt like it was based on a game, even though the game itself didn’t actually exist. Ultimately, that was the inspiration behind the style and tone.
MM: How did your previous experience in film help you when it came time to make Race? Was there anything about the process that was different from what you expected it to be?
RB: We came from a schedule-based production model for television and wanted to incorporate that into our moviemaking to keep the costs down. In other words, the creative, technical and overall quality of the product is subject to a delivery schedule and sometimes tough decisions have to be made to meet those goals. We knew that if we couldn’t hold a schedule, we couldn’t make the film on our budget.
Unfortunately, our original investors had to bow out pretty early in the process due to financial difficulties, so we had to quickly decide if we wanted to scrap the whole project or go it alone. Once we made the decision to proceed, we had to make a lot of sacrifices in order to make it work under a drastically reduced budget. At that point it was no longer feasible to keep the whole crew together, so we narrowed it down to our core of animation leads, Dean Jackson and Don Waters, along with myself.
All the plans we had laid out before were literally thrown out the door. We were left with a 99-minute, epic space adventure to complete and essentially only three people to make it happen. A daunting task to say the least.
Making alternate plans on the fly, we started using the income from Hyper Image’s post-production, editorial and graphics work to self-finance the movie. We essentially took any profits from the company for a five- to seven-year period and poured them back into our project. This turned the schedule-based production model into a funding-based one. This was the major difference between what we expected at the outset and the reality of getting it done.
MM: It looks like Race was influenced by some other sci-fi features (for example, I think there was an Alien reference in one scene), and then influenced by video games as well. What were your specific inspirations when making the film?
RB: Obviously the original Star Wars trilogy was a big influence, but also the first “Speed Racer” series and the Tom Cruise movie Days of Thunder. Those, I would say, are the most prevalent influences, but we were also inspired by video games, Saturday morning cartoons from the ’70s, anime and an amalgam of all the science-fiction series and movies we had grown up with.
MM: Who was in mind when you were on production of the film in terms of its intended audience?
RB: The film, as originally scripted by screenwriter Rhonda Smiley, was designed for an R-rated audience. The themes were far more anime-influenced with subject matter that was much more adult in nature. At the time, we wanted to make a film that looked like a video game, but had an edge that could bring a more western sensibility to the anime-style that was attracting many hardcore gamers and sci-fi fans.
In our minds, we were aiming for a narrow niche audience that had money and wasn’t afraid to spend it. Since we were keeping our budget down, we felt we could carve out a profitable place in the market.
Once the outside funding dropped out, however, we decided to tone down the film to appeal to a broader audience since it was going to take three times longer to finish than originally planned for. Philosophically, this was the most difficult aspect to tackle. There were many back-and-forth conversations and disagreements about the relative merits of a PG, PG-13 or R rating. Ultimately, we felt that the PG-13 was the most logical target to shoot for. It still held true to our inspiration, but didn’t narrow the focus so much that distribution would be problematic. Which it still was, but for other reasons.
MM: You have another feature in the works, N.O.R.M.A.L.. Can you share anything about that project? How will you balance feature films and post-production work in the future?
RB: Our next feature is a complete turnaround from Race. It’s far less ambitious in scale, but much more ambitious in character and accessibility. Written by Rhonda Smiley and James Hereth, N.O.R.M.A.L. is a comedy adventure aimed squarely at a family audience. We see it as a kind of Men in Black with furry animals. Although we’ve already begun animating, we’re hoping that the release of Race will validate our abilities to deliver a quality feature film, and draw in outside investors for the new project. That way, we can cleanly separate the service component of Hyper Image from the content creation. It will also allow us to remove the financing struggles from the film production process and provide a much better return on investment for all parties concerned.