1999’s “The Matrix,” directed by the Wachowski siblings and starring Keanu Reeves, is one of the best and most influential sci-fi movies ever made. The story was incredibly unique, and the movie was loved by fans and critics alike. However, possibly the biggest outcome of “The Matrix” was the advancements in behind-the-scenes technology it brought to the table.
As a very high-concept, cyberpunk science fiction film, “The Matrix” was already a difficult project for people to wrap their heads around. What was even more head-scratching, however, was the film’s visual effects, for which it won Best Visual Effects at the Academy Awards. One piece of tech stands above the rest: Bullet Time.
Bullet Time is a technique used throughout the “Matrix” series, in which a moment takes place in incredibly slow motion, with the actors and environments practically still, but the camera flows throughout the scene at speeds that should be physically impossible. And it is – unless you fake it. Bullet Time was achieved by positioning dozens of cameras, either on a real set or a green screen soundstage, at very specific points. During the take, these cameras each take a single still image at an incredibly precise moment. By lining all these pictures up end to end, you end up with a shot that shouldn’t be able to be filmed.
On top of this clever trick, “The Matrix’s” visual effects artists also developed some of the first virtual camera software. With this technique, artists create hyper-realistic 3D computer models of the sets used, then use a virtual camera to “move” around the space. The end result, while in reality is just a very specialized version of computer animation, leads to scenes that are tremendously photorealistic with insane camerawork.
“The Matrix’s” influence can be seen all over today’s film industry. The virtual camera technique first pioneered here was used in 2019’s “The Lion King.” Its crazy stunt work inspired countless superhero films as well as Keanu Reeves’ other huge action franchise, “John Wick“. Similar to “Star Wars” before it, “The Matrix” brought new technology and techniques to the film industry, alongside a pretty great movie.