Effects-laden 'Matrix' sequel has Keanu Reeves wondering
by Colin Covert
'I'm getting tired of saying 'groundbreaking.' How many times can you say 'groundbreaking'?" griped "Matrix" producer Joel Silver.
Then again, how many synonyms are available for the kind of pioneering special-effects work being done on the "Matrix" sequels? If the original film raised the bar for integrating live action and photorealistic computer-generated imagery, "The Matrix Reloaded" high-kicks that sucker into orbit.
The sequel calls for speeding semis to crash head-on, for Neo to battle a hundred clones of his nemesis Agent Smith simultaneously, and for new adversaries to phase out of physical form, into a ghostlike cloud of electrons, and back again in a flash.
To realize those unprecedented demands, Oscar-winning visual-effects supervisor John Gaeta had to move beyond cinematography. In order to send the camera slithering under the axles of a thundering 18-wheeler or flying through a skyscraper canyon at 2,000 miles per hour, his team had to create a virtual camera that could go where no Panaflex has ever ventured. They used multiple high-definition video cameras to sample their actors' faces and physical environments, fed the digitized samples into computers and manipulated the results to create unprecedented visuals.
Keanu Reeves grinned as he recalled the process of fighting a regiment of Hugo Weavings.
"It was basically me fighting nine guys, stuntmen with masks," he said. "Then wherever your eye went, they would always put Hugo there" by superimposing his face on the stuntman's head. "My stuntman and I did motion capture, which was the source material" for their movements when the battle was done with computer-graphic imagery.
"There was, like, 6 terabytes of memory in the computers for these digital cameras, and the hum and the heat from the computers and all these guys trying to capture my face," he marveled. "I'm like, 'What are you guys doin'? Why do you want to do this?' And they're like, 'Because!' "
Reeves' experiences as a digitized actor have been mostly positive ("I hear the digital Keanu is fantastic," he joked), but he does have some reservations.
"From the directors, it's like 'Mwa-ha-haaa, now I can control you; I have you!' Where that will go for the actor, I don't know," he said. "For an actor now, you participate even though other people, the director and editor, choose your performance in those takes. With the digital aspect, you're no longer participating in the process. Already in 'Sweet November,' they put artificial tears in my eyes. If you do want to digitally alter my performance, what I want to have is performance approval."
Still, when it comes to a scene that calls for an actor to make a kamikaze dive through the glass wall of a skyscraper and fall 100 stories, most performers will probably be happy to let their digital clones do the dirty work.
"You're seeing scenes that were not photographed, where the camera doesn't exist," Silver said. "The scenes are constructed in a computer."
That's different from the digital filmmaking of George Lucas because "you're dealing with reality-based scenes," he added. "I'm stretching the word there, but it's not 'Shrek' or 'Toy Story.' You're dealing with characters, actors. And it's designed so you really can't distinguish between the real actor and ones and zeroes. Closeups on faces and emotions coming through, some really remarkable scenes that the audience will never know there's nobody in it.
"There's a moment in the very beginning of the movie when Carrie-Anne [Moss]' character dives through the window. You see these two guns go by the camera, and the camera moves past her face. She goes out the window and down, and there is nothing real about that. Nothing. No guns, no girl, no window."
Now that's groundbreaking.