Extract: “Splitting Time” — The Matrix Resurrections VFX by One of Us

The Illusion Almanac covers "The Matrix Resurrections" - VFX by One of Us

In this exclusive extract from The Illusion Almanac: Creating The Matrix Resurrections, One of Us visual effects supervisor Tyson Donnelly and production visual effects supervisor Dan Glass discuss the ‘split time’ effects sequences in which the Analyst (Neil Patrick Harris) traps Neo (Keanu Reeves) and Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) in a bubble of frozen time, allowing him to dart at high speed around them. Following a series of underwater tests for which Volucap created a submersible volumetric capture rig, the production ultimately opted for a dry-land approach, outlined below and explored in detail in the magazine.

Read the full story behind the visual effects of The Matrix Resurrections in Issue 2 of The Illusion Almanac, available now as an 90-page digital magazine formatted for Kindle. Download it from Amazon online stores worldwide — just search for “illusion almanac.” No Kindle? No problem – the Kindle app is free to download for IOS, Android and desktop.

Having abandoned the underwater approach, the team still needed to decide how best to capture split time action from multiple angles without compromising Lana Wachowski’s fluid filmmaking style. RED camera technician Gareth Daley came up with an inspired solution. “Gareth had this nifty idea to use a stereo camera rig,” said production visual effects supervisor Dan Glass, “but instead of offsetting for the left and right eye, the two cameras were aligned. That meant we could shoot different frame rates simultaneously.”

The split time sequences were photographed during the studio shoot at Studio Babelsberg using just such a rig, with One of Us co-founder Tom Debenham as on-set visual effects supervisor. The first camera ran at the slow frame rate of eight frames per second. This generated extreme motion blur, essential to create the sense of the Analyst moving at high speed. The second camera ran at the high frame rate of 120 frames per second, effectively slowing down the rest of the action. In post production, visual effects could also use this high-speed capture to generate footage at the regular frame rate of 24 frames per second. The visual effects team at One of Us blended together the footage to create the illusion of the Analyst zipping around the workshop while Neo and Trinity remain stuck in place. The underwater tests provided inspiration.

Working with dual-speed plates of the actors, plus additional plates of an empty set, artists at One of Us rotoscoped the actors to isolate them from the background, then treated and recombined the various elements to create the finished composite shots. “The footage of Neo they shot at 120 frames per second wasn’t always slow enough,” remarked One of Us visual effects supervisor Tyson Donnelly, “so we often did additional retiming on top. With the Analyst, we would either use the original eight frames per second footage or recreate the look of it using the footage from the other camera.” The extra frames in the high-speed footage made for a lot of extra work. “For the Analyst we were always doing five times the amount of frames that were actually on screen, because we had to extract him at 120 frames per second, apply the eight frames per second effect, then retime him back to whatever speed he needed to be. It took lot of choreography to work out everyone’s position and speed, a lot of intensive work that the everyday viewer might not recognise on screen.”

The final effect means the Analyst’s every movement is smeared by motion blur. One of Us sometimes reduced the blur by selectively blending in normal-speed footage of the actor’s face. “We didn’t want a blurry Analyst the whole time when he’s delivering a performance,” commented Donnelly. “Often we would mix in the sharp version of his face to catch his facial expressions and make sure the lip sync was on, otherwise it was uncomfortable to watch for the viewer.”

Extract from The Illusion Almanac: Creating The Matrix Resurrections – now available from Amazon

“The Matrix Resurrections” images © © 2021 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. and Village Roadshow Films (BVI) Limited. All rights reserved.

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