Xaos' Wild Ride

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Dancing teapots, Russian nesting dolls, and cubeswith-legs that mosey up and down Escher-inspired staircases are all part of the quirky broadcast ID campaign that has helped craft a cutting-edge identity for 24-hour techie network ZDTV. This anthropomorphic universe emerged from the halls of Xaos (pronounced 'chaos'), the San Francisco visual effects and animation house that became famous in the early '90s for its characteristically organic and fluid "Warpo" CG style, seen in movies like Lawnmower Man and the title sequences for MTV's Liquid Television.

Founded in 1987 by Arthur Schwartzberg and Michael Tolson, Xaos had humble beginnings churning out bread-and-butter promos for Bay Area local television and corporate projects. Today the animation and design house is fronted by a core group of women who have driven the company into new creative and business areas. Chitra Shriram and Lisa Slates, originally Xaos animators, have served as co-CDs since 1998, and Christina Schmidlin was made executive producer in 1997. Under their leadership, Xaos has expanded an approach that president Schwartzberg calls "more organic, more painterly, more irreverent."

These days, the company not only masters the broadcast design arena, but also the more daunting visual territory of large-format cinema (Imax and the like). Large-format serves as the culmination of the company's visual expertise. Says co-CD Shriram, "It is so rewarding to have the color and screen resolution of film. We can now be sure in this format that people will see our images as we see them daily on our monitors - in fact, better."

Xaos' most challenging project so far, a ride film for the Volkswagen AutoStadt automotive theme park (see image at top), is set to debut this June in Wolfsburg, Germany. Wege zur Qualit„t (Pathways to Quality), is a four-minute, entirely CG 70mm motion flick that illustrates the theme of chaos and order. According to Slates, the project was tough because it was supposed to be a contemplative exploration, as opposed to the adventure-driven escapade of the typical ride film. "There was a challenge to make it exciting, with action that wasn't superfluous," she says.

Collaboration on concept and story between Xaos and VW paid off in the final product, which zips a pod of 30 people through a wonderland of abstract environments ranging from a mechanical forest to fields of repetitive geometrical shapes, and on to a coaster ride along auto- and engine-inspired curves.

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