How The Matrix Bullet Time Works?
If you still haven’t watched the Matrix trilogy, go watch it! Go! Now! The trilogy (umm… except the third one!) is one awesome visual treat package, overlaying an incredibly mind-bending cyberpunk plot.
One of the jaw-dropping scenes in the first movie, The Matrix, is where Neo, the protagonist, fights one of the agents on his way to rescue his mentor, Morpheus. When Neo tries to shoot him, the agent being a sentient computer program, he dodges all the bullets fired at him. Soon when Neo runs out of ammunitions, the agent shoots at Neo. This is where the camera almost freezes time (like in the Max Payne game) to show us an ultra-slow motion perspective of the event. The camera appears to orbit around Neo as he dodges the incoming bullets by bending backwards with a steady foot on the ground, defying gravity.
The process involved in the making of this scene is quite interesting too. It is technically a 3D rendition of 2D shots! To make the ultra-slow-motion possible from all the angles, it makes sense that the character needs to be captured from all the angles instantaneously. That is exactly what they did!
Keanu Reeves was put in the middle of an array of still cameras. The backdrop was of course fitted with green screens to composite the rest of the elements like the rooftop, environment, and CGI bullets. As Keanu performed the movements necessary for the scene, the cameras around him continued to capture the movements at short intervals.
This how it looked when filming that particular bullet time scene:
Update: Wikipedia has a nice video explaining this.
And later, in the post-production, these shots were painstakingly rendered (in render farms) and combined together to create moving frames. With interpolation techniques used in between the frames, the choppiness was significantly smoothened.
But as technology evolved, I guess the directors got lazy with the second movie and went full bizarre on the third one!
I hope this post was insightful. I’ll answer your questions every week. Please post your questions in the comments, or send an email to [email protected].
This post was first published on June 6, 2005.