“ShapeShifter,” the latest computer graphics experience from Charlex, opens mysteriously on a dark car, speeding through the night on winding mountain roads. The eye-catching visuals accompany a haunting musical composition and prose poem, read by Gabriel Byrne.
Moments later, the car bursts into a new dimension: one of dreams, with a supernova-like explosion. The vehicle then disintegrates into countless bits that plummet to the surface of an alien planet. The pieces combine into fleet creatures that represent the car’s soul: a puma, a trio of sprinting antelope, a pair of swift-moving fish, and a massive bird of prey–all of which tumble past booming flora.
The film was conceived, created, and finished entirely at Charlex, and it is a showcase of the studio’s creative and storytelling abilities. The Charlex team, developing “ShapeShifter” from inception to final picture, worked in teams as small as three and as large as 15 while 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 says.
“We always like to have projects in the studio that allow us to experiment and explore,” explains Charlex president Chris Byrnes. “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 became ShapeShifter. “I wanted to try something different,” says 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, says a spokesperson. As the project evolved from a tale of shape-shifting to an exploration of the car’s spirit and soul, Charlex tapped Fitzgerald Scott, to pen the prose poem, “Dreams,” that accompanies the visuals. The musical track, composed by Stimmung’s Peter Lauridsen, gives the effect of being in a beautiful, but disquieting dream.
“This is easily my favorite professional project,” says Jesse Newman, lead compositor. “It strikes a perfect balance between exploration, design, and effects. Because the team was so small, each of us 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.”
Charlex is a full-service creative studio based in New York City specializing in visual effects, animation, design, and live-action.
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
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, Andrei Savu
Rigging: Andre Stuppert, Charles Le Guen
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