Jayme Gutierrez (Fame Focus is a YouTube Channel about Hollywood Movies using VFX):

Nowadays for most affects you just boot up a PC and hey presto! A fully digital photo real spider-man double. Ok, it’s a little more involved in that and we’re not saying that VFX don’t require a huge amount of very talented people who are ever expanding the possibilities of what could be done on a computer. However, back in the late 90s when directors, Lilly and Lana Wachowski were making their first installment of ‘The Matrix’, computers weren’t so powerful but despite that, they still managed to push the boundaries of what could be done at the time and that’s what we’re going to talk about right now.

Jayme Gutierrez (Fame Focus is a YouTube Channel about Hollywood Movies using VFX):

Now it’s no surprise that the first effect we’re going to be talking about is the one known as ‘bullet time’- not only is it the most famous one that have been used four times in the movie, but it’s also the one that happens right at the beginning of the movie. Before you go skipping this part because you’ve already seen how it was done by using a bunch of cameras lined up in a circle behind a green-screen, let me just say that what may have seemed obvious at first glance is often more involved in what you may have imagined. Okay, they were definitely suspended on wires for this shot, but you get the idea. The bullet time effect was way more involved in just the obvious ring of cameras.

Jayme Gutierrez (Fame Focus is a YouTube Channel about Hollywood Movies using VFX):

Just look at the difference between this jerky footage picked up by the cameras and the slower, much smoother final edit. This shot in particular has 120 still cameras taking photos in succession. Now, seeing as the standard playback rate for a film is usually 24 frames per second, the 120 photos captured by the cameras would only last 5 seconds. However, in the final version, it’s a lot slower- lasts about 10 seconds, seems to speed up and slowdown in places and looks way smoother.

Jayme Gutierrez (Fame Focus is a YouTube Channel about Hollywood Movies using VFX):

So how did they do this? Well before they even began setting up cameras, they needed to first create a three-dimensional computer-generated simulation of the scene. This then gave them all the information they needed to set up the shot. Information such as where to put the cameras, how far to space them apart, what frame rate to shoot at. But even with all that information, getting the cameras set up with the correct focus adjustments that would have needed to gradually change as the camera comes closer to the subjects and getting them to all point exactly in the right place must have been quite tricky; hence the wobbliness. So they had to adjust frames and slightly warp other ones in post-production to smooth things out of it.

Jayme Gutierrez (Fame Focus is a YouTube Channel about Hollywood Movies using VFX):

Next question: How do they control the speed of the cameras? Well seeing as the sensation of the camera moving around Neo is actually an illusion created by placing one camera after another in a ring and having them take photos in succession at a constant interval, increasing the space between cameras would allow it to travel further in the same amount of photos. So to speed sections up, they set them further apart and to slow them down, they bunched them closer together. Finally, to make the shot even smoother and slower they use the process that digitally created additional artificial frames based on an approximation between each existing reel frame.

Jayme Gutierrez (Fame Focus is a YouTube Channel about Hollywood Movies using VFX):

This process is called interpolation and is what gave it that “buttery smoothness” and extra slow motion while also making the shot last twice as long. After that, they tracked the whole shot to a 360-degree computer-generated environment using actual on location photographs for the texture. The only problem with this shot is while dodging the bullets, Neo manages to make his guns disappear too- he throws them on the floor and then they’re gone and they’re back again. Maybe they momentarily disappeared due to some kind of glitch in the matrix from him moving too faster or something.

Jayme Gutierrez (Fame Focus is a YouTube Channel about Hollywood Movies using VFX):

If anyone could come up with a better explanation for this, please let us know in the comments as we’d love to hear. For the scene where the agents plants a bug inside of Neo, a combination of CGI and animatronics were used. The shots where the bug is being placed on Neo’s stomach was CGI while an animatronic torso was used for the shots where we see the bug wriggling its tail just before entering and later on for the bug moving under the skin just before being removed.

Jayme Gutierrez (Fame Focus is a YouTube Channel about Hollywood Movies using VFX):

One of the reasons why most of the effects in this movie still look convincing today is down to the well-made decisions of when to use CGI- or other post-production techniques-and when to use practical effects. A nice example of this is when Neo’s on his way to see the Oracle and looks through the car window rather than using a green screen and editing the moving footage in post-production. They used some good old fashioned ‘rear projection’ projecting pre-recorded footage of the moving background on a canvas outside of the stationary car. This was done deliberately to give the Matrix a sense of vagueness to compliment Neo now seeing the Matrix as something that is not real.

Jayme Gutierrez (Fame Focus is a YouTube Channel about Hollywood Movies using VFX):

The shootout scene in the lobby was another masterpiece of practical effects, pyrotechnics, wirework and well-choreographed gun thee. And as if the place wasn’t quite destroyed enough, they topped it off by blowing it all up-the shot that is. It was actually a scale model of the set only scaled down and upside down in order to get the flames to appear as though they were spreading along the lobby floor. The elevator door was then added in post-production creating a nice blend between CGI and practical effects.

Jayme Gutierrez (Fame Focus is a YouTube Channel about Hollywood Movies using VFX):

Another example of a nice blend between CGI and practical effects was with the helicopter crash scene. This was comprised of several plates or layers all tied together with the help of some CGI. Let’s walk through the sequence and see how it was put together. First, we have a stunt guy being pulled along the rooftop on location. Next, Trinity in the chopper with a CGI background. Then, a shot of a hollow rope with a squib going offside-and if you look carefully you can see the gun fires before the squib explodes.

Jayme Gutierrez (Fame Focus is a YouTube Channel about Hollywood Movies using VFX):

Next, Trinity in front of a green screen and now we start to get more layered. We have Trinity on a rope, the model chopper, Neo on a green screen and the CGI building. Then, the model chopper and CG background with some post-production camera wobble back to the multi layered shot. Then, we have an awesome mix of CGI and practical pyrotechnics with more camera wobble on the final composite. Now, a practical effects’ explosion plate on top of the CGI building with more camera wobble and a plate of Trinity swinging in front of a glass sheet on top and finally back to the previous multi-layered shot with post-production camera wobble, finishing with Trinity facing the other way round in front of the glass and a green-screen. Just to finish off, let’s watch the whole take in real time.




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