The Huddersfield Daily Examiner (UK), November 13, 2003
The mind behind the Matrix
by Jenny Parkin
So just how did Brighouse woman Janet Yale end up jetting all over the world with film stars such as Keanu Reeves? She explains her amazing career in special effects to JENNY PARKIN.
FIVE thousand Sentinels, battle machines, gunfire, smoke, fire , debris and catch-all, general chaos.
This was the special effects list for just one of the scenes in Matrix Revolutions.
And Brighouse woman Janet Yale was at the forefront of making them happen.
The third, eagerly-awaited Matrix film opened at Huddersfield's UCI Cinema last week.
But viewers will have no idea there's a local link to this world-away Hollywood bombast.
Janet, 45, is executive producer of ESC Entertainment, a company set up specifically to find creative and technical answers to the challenges of the script on the Matrix sequels.
What began two years ago with five people in an empty building, set to handle a few computer-generated effects, turned into a workforce of 300.
Something that flashes by on the cinema screen in just a few seconds can take months of hard work to perfect.
Janet, who lives in San Francisco, says: "The workload just kept growing. Originally, five of us got together to do the bullet time shots in the first film.
"For Reloaded, we were just set to handle one scene, called the burly brawl, where Neo (Keanu Reeeves) fights multiple Smiths.
"But we ended up doing the freeway chase and the opening and closing sequences, among others.
"For Revolutions, we put together a scene known as the super burly brawl fought between Smith and Neo, we also took on the main siege sequences where humans battle the Sentinels in Zion's dock."
To achieve this, Janet and her team created a computer-generated Keanu that had to look and move exactly like the actor, as well as whole cities and other sets.
Janet explains: "Most of our development work was spent finding a way to make our computer-generated faces match those of the actors as exactly as possible.
"For Revolutions, we also had to work out how to integrate pouring rain and lightning into everything.
"This sounds like it should be easy but it actually makes even the simplest shots a problem.
"It's always harder to make shots match reality than a fantasy world. The human brain is so used to seeking things like faces and rain that even if you can't figure out what's wrong with it, you know that something is."
Janet continues: "For the siege sequences the biggest problem was sheer volume.
Many of the shots have more than 5,000 Sentinels plus multiple battle machines, gunfire, smoke, fire, debris and general chaos, all to be achieved by computer.
"We shot a lot of pyrotechnic elements - it's always fun blowing things up - but there's really no way to do a swarm of flying Sentinels, other than in computer generated images."
Janet, who went to Whitcliffe Mount School in Cleckheaton then St Hugh's College at Oxford University, began her amazing career in 1980, working for a London company on film title sequences and optical effects.
She says: "This was before computer graphics and all film effects work was done with chemicals, rostrum cameras and optical printers.
"It was basically a craft skill, there was no formal training for it. I stumbled in with an English degree and no real idea of what I wanted to do."
Janet took a temping job, answering phones and somehow never got out of the industry. She has been involved since computer-generated images first took off.
In 1993, she was working for a London company called CFC, now called Framestore CFC - one of the biggest effects companies in London.
Janet says: "We decided to open an office in Los Angeles and I went out to help set the place up. I never came back."
Janet, whose partner is an animator and writer in the movie industry, returns to Brighouse to see her mother every Christmas.
Working on follow-up films to such a massive hit was daunting.
Janet says: "Everything is difficult, from living up to expectations, to the security issues.
"Most movies take between 12 and 20 weeks to shoot. The Matrix sequels shot for three months in California then 10 months in Australia."
Movies with a high quota of special effects are hard on actors - it means they do a lot of "acting against nothing" where computer creations are to be added.
"There's also a lot of extremely boring nonsense where we gather vast amounts of technical data," says Janet.
"For the Revolutions end sequence, where Neo and Smith fight in the sky, they had to be rigged in complicated flying harnesses that allowed them to twist and tumble as if it was a combined fairground ride and flight simulator!
"It was very, very painful for them, not to mention great fun for motion sickness.
"Plus the whole sequence involved constant torrential rain so it was a pretty wet and miserable experience."
Janet says her most enjoyable shoot was a freeway chase for Reloaded, on a one-mile section of road, especially built.
"It was great to watch. The stunt riders were amazing," she says.
Janet has been involved in almost 100 films including Mission: Impossible 2, Armageddon, The Nutty Professor, Mighty Joe Young and Con Air.
But the ones she's enjoyed most have included lower-key Coen brothers films The Hudsucker Proxy and The Big Lebowski, rather than the "special effects monsters".
Now she's working on The Ladykillers, the Coens' remake of the original Ealing comedy with Tom Hanks in the Alec Guinness role.
And that's not all. Janet will be back to work with Keanu again on the film Constantine, and also with Halle Berry in Catwoman.
She says: "I found my way into this business completely by accident.
"I was very lucky. It goes to reinforce what one of my college tutors told me - that there are a lot of jobs out there that school careers advisors know nothing about ..."