INT: Reloaded Pt. 1
Apart from the directors themselves, Producer Joel Silver and Visual Effects Supervisor John Gaeta are two of the people most responsible for the on-screen brilliance of the MATRIX films. Having produced such blockbusters as DIE HARD, LETHAL WEAPON and PREDATOR, Silver is no stranger to big productions. Gaeta is a digital effects guru and the inventor of revolutionary technique known as "Bullet Time." Together, they form an interesting juxtaposition: lanky, bookish Gaeda and hefty, imposing Silver. I sat down with them to discuss their experience making RELOADED. How do you think people will view the MATRIX films 20 years from now? JS: I think what the Wachowski Brothers have done is theyve really made a movie that can be all things to all people. Its a science fiction movie, its an action movie, its a love story, and its also a very intelligent, complex philosophical story about what we are and what were doing. (to Gaeta) In terms of visual effects, what elements did you try to improve upon with the effects in this movie? JG: There were a lot of things. We wanted to create our own extension, our own evolution of the superhuman/superhero action that has been attempted in so many projects of the last 10-15 years. The physical realities of trying to move men in tights with wires is an obstacle that has prevented the real essence of that type of character from getting through. Thats where you (as a viewer) can get stopped in your tracks and lose your connection to the story. So, what we really wanted to do was to create a method that allowed us a limitless ability to show superhuman events. The approach we crafted was to use virtual humans in virtual environments effectively an all-digital scene to give the directors the tools to really get what they wanted. Flying, for example, is a subject that has been screwed up countless times throughout the history of film. We wanted to approach it like everything else in the MATRIX, as an experience within the mind, a subconscious event. So our approach was to make that a lot more mental, as opposed to a physical feat. Weve seen a lot of bad CGI movies lately, where everything in the frame appears blurry. JG: Blurring is an effective method of hiding mistakes.
But nothings blurry in RELOADED. JG: The MATRIX is about hyper-reality. Clarity and ultrasharpness are nuances that we spent a lot of time working on. It makes things ten times harder, of course, because the detail is there on the big screen, and when the action moves in ultra-slow motion, you are exposed completely. Every little detail is visible. It was a goal of the Brothers to make everything as clear as possible. The Wachowski Brothers are very much into the application of visual effects to reach a more fantastic design. Once theyve observed a process in any of the design disciplines, whether its production design, cinematography, visual effects or costumes, they become very astute at understanding the process and they start asking questions that fit within your process to try to discover new ways of getting detail. How would you describe the Wachowski Brothers? JG: Theyre very intelligent, very funny. Theyre very specific about what they want. They dont beat around the bush trying to find the thought or idea, they know it. Its a fantastic blend of the intellectual and light-hearted. Joel, youve made a lot of big, complicated movies. Was this project, with the back-to-back shooting, the biggest of your career? JS: The biggest, I think, of anybodys career. Youre dealing with a situation where the Wachowski Brothers had a passion for telling this story in so many mediums that it gave us the opportunity to really expand the notion of a story in a movie, because you have a video game (Enter the MATRIX) with an hours worth of footage with a lot more story, you have these nine animés (The Animatrix) which also, in some cases, directly impact the story, and you have just a whole sweeping area of production which is trying to have all of these elements come together at the same time. You also have 2 movies that are gonna come out six months apart, using technologies that have never existed before. Were not the military, so we had to just figure out the best way to do it ourselves, changing the way people make movies and tell stories. Were talking about a massive amount of new. Its all new. There seem to be lot of miniatures, a lot of practical effects in RELOADED in places where another director might have just used CGI. What was the importance of blending the digital with the practical? JG: You make different choices based on what the content is. We have two distinctly different worlds. One, the MATRIX, is a hyper-real environment. Its got a very clean, contemporary design. Then you have the real world, which tends to be more dystopian, an aged and arcane world. The textures and qualities of the detail in the real world at times lend themselves to the idiosyncratic results you get when you splatter paint on a surface. (Production Designer) Owen Patterson is a master at painting his sets and we thought, for certain scenes, that we really wanted to follow his lead. So, we incorporated some of the same people to recreate textures like that. Our job is to sort of create extensions of the stuff that is happening on a macro level. We chose to do certain things in an analog fashion, but the truth of the matter is that about 95% of the effects are digital. And theres this gray zone, because we believe that the fluidity that you need to ride from the all-photographic shot into the all-digital shot really mandates that you steal and source every aspect that you can from the real. So, everything that you see in the MATRIX that is a fully digital environment and theres quite a lot, probably a lot more than you realize has effectively been constructed with new methods we created to acquire the form, shape texture - every nuance of the real things that weve made. Theyre kind of dimensional representations of the real. In terms of visual effects technology, was there any evolution between RELOADED and REVOLUTIONS, or did you even have time to come up with new stuff? JG: Theyre very different films, because (in RELOADED) understanding the architecture and power structures within the MATRIX inevitably leads the characters to understand who controls the MATRIX, who made the MATRIX and that happens outside the MATRIX. In RELOADED we find ourselves going into some of the deepest spaces in the MATRIX. In REVOLUTIONS, we spill quite chaotically out into the real world. This is a completely epic event unto itself, where you are now faced with the real underlying problem of the competition of the two last species on earth, Man and Machine. That whole film is really an order of magnitude beyond any of the creature films that Ive ever seen or worked on.
Did you feel any pressure to give this a happy ending? JS: Look, its a story, and the filmmakers have kept to the story. The third act, which is REVOLUTIONS, is monumental. Its bigger than it could ever possibly be. And it ends how it ends. Why are these rated R? JS: For science fiction violence. I dont know what that means, exactly. But these are action pictures, so (the MPAA) are a little tougher on it than a conventionally PG-13 movie. Its interesting that in Scandinavia it got a rating of what they call 11, which means that anyone seven years old and up can see the movie. Even in Germany, where they have very specific guidelines, it has a 15 rating, which means that everybody over 15 can see the movie. Its also troubling, too, because in the opening weekend people are going to be comparing it to Spider-Man or whatever, and theyre gonna need to realize that the largest R-rated movie of all time made half the gross of Spider-Man. So its troubling that theyre going to be comparing it to that. John, can you talk about the biggest or most complex special effects scene and how it came to be? JG: There are visual effects in the film that are completely computer-generated, every detail from foreground action with the lead characters close-up shots and all of that, every aspect of every other character, every dynamic of things exploding or falling apart, every single thing that you saw in the frame during certain scenes, for example, the fight against the Smiths which is not all completely digital all the time but the whole final third of that fight is completely computer-generated, every aspect of it. We began research and conceptual development on that scene in January/February 2000, and we delivered the final shots from that scene five weeks ago. That was the gestation period to get those kinds of shots out. There are other scenes that have taken advantage of that technology, but once you get to the level of complexity with the choreography that occurs in that scene, if you were to talk to (Fight Choreographer) Master Wo Ping, he would tell you how unbelievably difficult it would be to even coordinate a fraction of whats going on in the frame at any given time. So, what we did is that he, along with Larry and Andy, choreographed many, many, many events, which we then compiled together with some understanding of how they would relate to each other. But events that were occurring all in the frame at the same time that could never ever be put together at the same time. And with the camera moving so fast. JG: Yeah. Well, then you get to, besides the question of why you would do it. One, you can get towards superhuman events, obviously, with the characters, because you can create extensions off their performances. You now have complete freedom to compose. When you have a scene with, like, a minute of non-stop martial arts beauty, its as if youre John Lassitter crafting TOY STORY. You can now go into a scene and infinitely compose at will. Anything you desire. If I want a precise counter-move to some Kung-Fu move, I can place a camera so precisely, I can be exactly where I need to be for every single event that I want to see, when I want to see it. I can have perfect camera moves that you can never get with cranes, or I can have the opposite, if I want. Its about cinematic freedom.
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