The Matrix (1999) – From paper to Celluloid
I really wonder how the Wachowskis managed to win over Warner Bros doubts and got the film rolling into production. Just think will a studio dare to invest a good $62 million on a project relying the duo that had just one movie under their belt? For Warner’s it would’ve been nothing more than a gambling. Perhaps they gained confidence on the project as the Wachowskis got entire story board drawn much like a graphic novel, and their plan for the project was complete, well before shooting. This indeed impressed the studio. That was 1994.
The Wachowskis had drawn great influence from Japanese animation works which were their personal favorites. The duo themselves have mentioned Katsuhiro’s ‘Akira’ (Japanese, 1988) as an influence for their work. A very strong influence in relation with the visuals of action sequences of Matrix was derived from Mamoru Oshii’s animation feature ‘Ghost in the Shell’ (Japanese, 1995). In Matrix the brothers wanted to bring alive the visual style of those animations.
The pre-production was pain staking that ran for months. Along with Warner bros the Australian production house Village Roadshow pictures joined the project. To cut costs much of the film was shot in the studios, Sydney. No actors who have played the lead characters in the film were the first choices of the directors. It was too hard for the actors to fit into the shoes of the characters, for they claimed very high physical fitness which the actors obviously lacked. They were put into rigorous training sessions to hone them to fill the bill, the character claimed.
The action choreography in the film purely leans on the martial arts noting distinctly the maker’s love for the same. The stunts were choreographed by one of the most famous stunt coordinators of the Chinese film industry, Yuen Woo-ping, who is also a director. He is known for his Drunken Master (1978) and Iron Monkey (1993). Both these films were mile stones for its lead actors Jackie Chan and Jet Li respectively. For young viewers he could be instantly recognized if introduced as the stunt coordinator for Stephen Chow’s ‘Kung fu Hustle’ (2004). He along with Jet Li had contributed a lot in developing the “Wirefu” technique which marries kung fu with performances using ropes. More often mentioned as Rope technique in Hollywood, it gained instant popularity. Even now it remains as one of the widely used stunt techniques.
The film visual appeal is matchless for its time for it attracted four Oscars all of which is on the technical side. In fact the director duo never wrote the script for a trilogy, for they were doubtful or perhaps little skeptic about the reception of the film. Given the complexity of the film content their skepticism is justifiable. Only the immense success of the film triggered the sequels (Though the sequels reduced too much of action fan-fair rather than being profoundly thoughtful as the first part.)
One of the best things the film popularized in the visual effects section is ‘The bullet time’ as it is popularly called. Bullet time allows a shot that is progress, to glide in slow motion while the camera moves around the character or an object at normal speeds. This technique is a visual analogy of the time-slice technique used in photography for years. It is to put an array of properly organized still cameras which would shoot the same shot simultaneously, of course at different angles from where they are being installed. When the images of this camera array are stitched together they create the final image. The only difference between the two beings, instead of completely showing up a frozen subject in the later, in bullet time the subjects move in slow motion. In simple bullet time is indeed an improvised and advanced version of its analogical time-slice technique.
During the making the makers intended to achieve their shot in mind by actual movement of the camera through the scene. But the visual effects designer of the film John Gaeta had other idea as implementing Wachowskis original of moving the camera into the scene will be hard to achieve. His suggestion was rather simple. Instead of triggering the cameras simultaneously they were triggered one after the other one of the other with a very short interval of time. This created the slow motion effect where in the camera captures the subjects in motion as they actually progress. These resulted in a spectacular and breathe taking visual treat.