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THE MATRIX RELOADED

Creating Virtual Cinema
The visual effects process for The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions began in March 2000 at the production's in-house visual effects division, ESC (pronounced "Escape”), where John Gaeta, visual effects supervisor of the Matrix trilogy, has supervised the creation of over 1,000 virtual effects shots for Reloaded alone – dwarfing in size and scope the 412 VFX shots created for The Matrix.

Gaeta's primary innovation for The Matrix has come to be known as "Bullet Time,” a revolutionary technique for depicting cinematic action in the style of Japanese animation known as animé. Bullet Time refers to a conceptual state of being inside the virtual reality of the Matrix, in which a character – primarily Neo – obtains a "mind-over-Matrix” capability. The creative process for bringing Bullet Time to the screen is called "virtual cinematography,” a digital solution developed by Gaeta and the Matrix filmmakers to depict these "mind-over-Matrix” moments in slow-motion, as seen by a camera moving at regular speed.

To execute the impossible, the Matrix VFX team painstakingly arranged 120 Nikon still cameras along a path mapped by a computer tracking system, fired the cameras in sequence around the unfolding action and scanned the images into the computer. After the computer interpolated between the scanned frames, the completed series of images was combined with a digital background. The result allowed Gaeta's team to manipulate the imagery at any given speed without losing clarity.

But this initial version of virtual cinematography was deemed inadequate – "almost arcane,” as Gaeta sees it – for rendering the super-human events the Wachowski Brothers envisioned for Reloaded and Revolutions. Their ambitious scripts called for Neo to battle 100 Agent Smiths at once and fly at 2000 miles per hour over the Matrix megacity (a sprawling metropolis over ten times the size of New York). Gaeta also had to find a way to show 250,000 Sentinels snaking through a massive tunnel, and then ignite a scorching fourteen- minute freeway chase that involves two high-velocity martial arts battles, a motorcycle pursuit into oncoming traffic, characters leaping impossibly between moving vehicles, and a spectacular ballet of crashes, explosions and virtual destruction.

"It was evident that we couldn't go any further by utilizing the technology from the first Bullet Time shots,” says Gaeta, who won an Academy Award for Visual Effects for The Matrix. "It was too restrictive and too labor intensive. The concept of Bullet Time needed to graduate to the true technology it suggested.”

In other words, realizing Reloaded and Revolutions' visionary action sequences required technology that didn't exist yet. Familiar territory for Gaeta and the Wachowskis, but this time around, the filmmakers took their ambitious plan to advance virtual cinematography exponentially further than one can imagine. "They decided to create images that no one could copy,” says producer Joel Silver.

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