Charlex‘s latest creation, ShapeShifter, opens mysteriously on a dark car, speeding through the night on winding mountain roads. It is set to a haunting musical composition and prose poem, performed by Gabriel Byrne.
Moments in, the car bursts into a new dimension – a dimension of dreams, creating a supernova-like explosion. The vehicle disintegrates into countless tiny bits that plunge into the variegated depths of space. The pieces plummet to the surface of a dreamy alien planet, where they alternately combine into fleet creatures representing the car’s soul – a puma, a trio of sprinting antelope, a pair of swift-moving fish, and a massive bird of prey – all tumbling past a relentless explosion of flora booming to life.
The film, concepted, created and finished entirely at Charlex, is both a showcase of the studio’s creative and storytelling abilities and a testament to the teamwork, persistence and dedication that define their efforts. The Charlex team developed ShapeShifter from inception to final picture, working in teams as small as three and as large as 15, writing, re-writing, pulling reference, designing, storyboarding, modeling, rigging, texturing, animation, lighting and 2D and 3D compositing.
The project began as a challenge of sorts, when Charlex Founder and Director Alex Weil – the creative force behind the 2006 classic One Rat Short – asked a handful of Charlex designers to imagine a project of their choice. “Our original intent was simply to have an unfettered creative outlet for the many talented people that are part of our company,” Weil said.
Charlex President Chris Byrnes weighed in, “We always like to have projects in the studio that allow us to experiment and explore. We started with an empty canvas and the mandate to make something great, with no limitation to our artists to submit their creative ideas and treatments, resulting in a great range of choices.”
Co-Director/Designer Diana Park created the original design that ultimately became ShapeShifter. “I wanted to try something different,” noted Park. “My inspiration was crafting the image of a machine creating nature. Usually it’s the other way around, but conceptually and aesthetically, I thought it would be fun and challenging to mix the two.”
The biggest challenge was creating a sense of story and continuity to what was initially a string of loosely connected ideas. As the project evolved from a tale of shape-shifting to an epic exploration of the car’s spirit and soul, Charlex tapped Fitzgerald Scott, writer, author, poet – who had successfully collaborated with Weil in the past, to pen the powerful prose poem “Dreams” that accompanies the visuals. Together with a stirring musical track composed by Stimmung’s Peter Lauridsen, the effect is that of being in a beautiful but disquieting dream.
“It was a thrill to have Gabriel Byrne do the voice acting for our piece,” stated Weil. “Adding talent of this caliber to this work really helped give it shape. Fitzgerald’s deeply evocative words helped us to convey the idea of the dream, while Gabriel read the part as though he himself was in a dream state, giving the piece an entirely new life. It was a great experience and a wonderful example of the collaborative and additive nature of the creative process in filmmaking.”
Jesse Newman, Lead Compositor, “This is easily my favorite professional project – it strikes a perfect balance between exploration, design and effects. Because the team was so small, each of us has got our fingerprints on the project. The amount of problem solving required was awesome, one of the greatest components of the project. Pretty much a dream job.”
Director: Alex Weil
Narrated by: Gabriel Byrne
Co-Director and Designer: Diana Park
3D Lead/Animation: Adam Burke
Animation Development/Animation: John Karian
Lead Compositing Artist: Jesse Newman
Executive Producer: Chris Byrnes
Producer: Reece Ewing
CG Supervisor: Keith McCabe, Myung Lee
Lead Lighter: Salar Saleh
Lead Character Technical Director: Steve Mann
Lead Modeler: Alex Cheparev
Lighting/Texturing: Mike Marsek, James Fisher, John Cook, Frank Grecco, Cesar Kuriyama, Keith McMenamy, Anthony Patti, Tom Cushwa, Jina Lee, Jeff Chavez
Matte Painting: Jina Lee
Modeling: Hung Kit Ma, Han-Chin Lee, Anthony Patti
Animation: John Wilson, Sam Crees, Jay Randall, Carlos Sandoval
Rigging: Andre Stuppert, Charles Le Guen, Andrei Savu
FX: Greg Ecker, Johnathan Nixon, Mitch Deoudes, Santosh Gunaseelan
Editors: John Zawisha, Kevin Matuszewski
Compositing: Blake Huber
Director of Engineering: Robert Muzer
Chief Engineer: Jerry Stephano
Pipeline: Michael Stella, Dan Schneider
Coordinating Producer for the Director: Jen Cadic
Additional Editor: Eli Mavros
Music Composition: Stimmung; Peter Lauridsen
Sound Design: Stimmung; Andres Velasquez
EP of Audio: Stimmung; Ceinwyn Clark
Mix: Headroom; Fernando Ascani
Associate Producer: Michael Kaufman
Color Correct: CO3; Stefan Sonnenfeld
Prose Poem: “Dreams” written by Fitzgerald Scott