INT: Reloaded Pt. 2
The Animatrix is a collection of nine animated shorts inspired by the live-action films set to be released soon after The MATRIX RELOADED hits theaters. Known to be ardent fans of Japanese animation, directors Andy and Larry Wachowski sought to use the craft to delve deeper into the MATRIX universe. I got a chance to chat with Michael Arias, the producer of the Animatrix collection, and Mahiro Maeda, director of the episodes The Second Renaissance Parts I and II. Could you tell us a little about the idea behind the Animatrix and how you got it off the ground? MA: Andy and Larry are enormous fans of Japanese animation and Hong Kong action movies and the MATRIX is an incredible synthesis of all these different influences. So, they had this crazy idea of doing an animated anthology of MATRIX stories. Theyd already done a series of graphic novels on the web and they wanted to do the same thing with animation, specifically Japanese animation. The basic idea was to get the 10 best animation directors in Japan and let them each go nuts in their own personal style. To jump-start the process, I asked Andy and Larry (Wachowski) to write us a few rough sketches or outlines that would give the directors an idea of what they were interested in. So, they wrote outlines for The Second Renaissance, Kids Story and The Final Flight of the Osiris. Did Andy and Larry have much creative involvement in the making of the episodes? MA: No, basically they backed off as soon as the stories were locked in place. I mean, they looked at our storyboards and character designs, but they had absolutely nothing critical to say about the different visual styles. Each of the episodes is done in a very distinct and very different graphic style. I got the sense that they were very excited to watch these things blossom. (to Mahiro Maeda) Could you talk about your visual approach to The Second Renaissance? MM: One thing that I wanted to avoid was making it too stylized; I wanted to make it very straightforward. Since this is the genesis of the MATRIX, I wanted to tell the history in a straightforward way. At the same time, I wanted to make this into a mythology from the standpoint of the machines.
What is can you do with animated shorts that they havent done in the MATRIX movies? MA: Well, there are a lot of things you can do with animation that you cant with live action. Live action is basically graphic, whereas animation is very surrealistic and metaphorical in nature, and youre conscious of the fact that youre watching an illustration. In The Second Renaissance, for example, [Maeda is] telling this story where there are no characters to speak of. Its almost a documentary in shape. It takes place over hundreds of years and has a cast of hundreds of thousands. It obviously would have been an incredible challenge to do that with live action. (to Mahiro Maeda) What impression did the first MATRIX, which was so heavily influenced by Japanese animation, have on you? And what did working on the Animatrix mean to you? MM: The biggest impression I had was that something new had arrived. I felt that it would create a new wave in the world of entertainment. Even though a lot of people talk about the influence of animation on the MATRIX, thats not the way I see it. In Japan, animation is usually created on very low budgets. Because of the financial constraints, they have to come up with creative ways to entertain viewers. I feel that Japanese animation has been heavily influenced by American entertainment. In the MATRIX, that influence of American entertainment on Japanese animation turned back to Hollywood. So, its sort of a circular movement. Does this mean that there wont be an live action MATRIX prequel, since youve got one on the Animatrix (in The Second Renaissance Parts I and II)? MA: I havent heard Andy and Larry say anything about doing a prequel. I think theyre probably ready to do something different. Having over the last few years visited their sets in Australia and San Francisco, Ive never seen anything like that even comes close to the size and scope of these productions. The Final Flight of the Osiris looks very much like the MATRIX live action films, whereas the other episodes of the Animatrix portray the world in very different ways. MA: Thats one of the great things about animation. For every story theres a different visual style. Youre not so married to the real world as you are with live action. Andy and Larry love comic book art and they love animation and that includes all these different styles very Japanese styles, very European rough sketchy styles that they use in Kids Story, and the kind of hybrid 2-D and 3-D style that Maeda-sans film has. Was there any thought of running Osiris before the RELOADED, since it is referred to in the film? MA: I think that more than anything else that it was a timing thing. It was probably of great interest to Warner Brothers to leverage it as a promotional thing. So they ran it before DREAMCATCHER, which was released far enough in advance of RELOADED. Speaking of promotional, with both The Animatrix and Enter the Matrix coming out alongside RELOADED, theres this huge marketing effort to this, but with products that arent just ancillary, theyre integral to understanding the story of the films. MA: Personally speaking, Ive always felt that The Animatrix has a lot more to gain from the promotional muscle of the MATRIX films than they do from us. I dont think people are going to see the Animatrix and then say oh yeah, maybe Ill go see RELOADED. If youre thinking of the Animatrix as a big commercial for the franchise, its a very, very, very ambitious commercial. I think Andy and Larry wanted to make the Animatrix, not so much to embellish their own universe, but because they like good animation.
If The Animatrix takes off, is it possible that more animated shorts will be produced? MA: Yeah, I guess, but its an extremely hard way of making movies. It takes a lot of patience, and its not a cheap way of making movies. How long would it take to make a sequel to the Animatrix? MA: Well, we definitely learned a lot making this one. Ive been involved with the project for three years now, actually producing the films for about 2 years. We sort of staggered them and, at various times, worked parallel. Theres an enormous amount of animation being made in Japan, so everyone, particularly the really talented people, are extremely busy. So I think an enormous challenge would be assembling another team like this. It was an incredibly difficult project at times, working across continents and with different directors, each of whom is a respected auteur. There was a certain amount of competition among the directors, some of whom we couldnt even put in the same room together. (to Maeda) What was the most challenging aspect of making The Second Renaissance? MM: The hardest part was that there was no main character in his film. And theres no particular story either. MA: To turn it into something that seems like a story that actually has a beginning, middle and end. MM: It was very challenging to create something with all the visuals I had in my mind and put it together so that it would be attractive enough for the viewers. Some of the stuff is pretty graphic. Was there any kind of limit to how far you could go? MA: Nope. Andy and Larry told us to put it all in there.
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