PLF uses SOFTIMAGE|XSI to pre-visualize challenging scenes in the Wachowski brothers’ second installment of The Matrixtrilogy, The Matrix Reloaded.
FREE YOUR MIND…ONCE MORE PLF Pre-viz Helps Reload The Matrix
by Michael Abraham
In The Matrix Reloaded, the first of two sequels this year from directors Andy and Larry Wachowski, the ingenious filmmakers behind The Matrix (1999) continue a cinematic trilogy that invites audiences to imagine their existence on different terms. Again plugging into their unique vision – and to the talents of key collaborators such as Senior Visual Effects Supervisor John Gaeta – the directors take a truly comprehensive approach in bringing the movies from novel creative and technical concepts to the screen.The need to visualize in 3-D many of the most challenging scenes for both “The Matrix Reloaded” and for the third film, The Matrix Revolutions was integral to the Wachowski brother’s approach, as well as to the planning and production of the visual effects.
Pixel Liberation Front (PLF), whose pre-visualization work using SOFTIMAGE|3Dand SOFTIMAGE|XSI on such motion pictures as David Fincher’s Fight Club (1999) and Panic Room (2002) and Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report (2002) has been turning heads around Hollywood, was hired to provide the pre-visualization for the film.
When Colin Green founded PLF in 1995, he worked on such action fare as Judge Dredd(1995), which starred Sylvester Stallone, and Eraser (1996), starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. Green interfaced closely with John Gaeta on these projects, and through this process developed a shared understanding of the methodology for approaching the VFX production process – a process that would ideally encompass extensive pre-viz, technical planning and execution to ensure creative continuity from pre-production through to post. When Gaeta was given the chance to supervise visual effects for “The Matrix,” a then little-known film being created by the all-but-unknown Wunderkind directors, he sought out Green and PLF.
Although scheduling conflicts got in the way for that production, the timing was right when Gaeta came back to PLF to collaborate on the sequels.”We were, of course, thrilled at the chance to work on ‘The Matrix’ sequels,” says Green. “It was great to work with John Gaeta again, and it was a given that the ideas behind the effects would be groundbreaking. When we first saw the storyboards and concept art (drawn primarily by Steve Skross and Geoff Darrow) for the Freeway Chase in ‘The Matrix Reloaded,’ we knew we had a very rare opportunity to be involved in something really special.”The Freeway Chase is one example of the film’s mind-blowing moments, with Neo (Keanu Reeves), Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) and Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) battling agents, crashing cars, jumping from bridges and maneuvering motorcycles against traffic. It’s also an example of how PLF’s pre-visualization process came into play to ensure that the sequence lived up to the directors’ vision, and could actually be pulled off by the production crew on set and the visual effects team in post.
The entire process was carefully studied, not only by Gaeta and the rest of the VFX crew, but also by Stunt Supervisor R.A. Rondell, DP Bill Pope as well as many others to ensure that everything was coordinated creatively and technically to make the sequence as good as it could be.As was the case for all the shots on which PLF worked, the Freeway Chase seamlessly combines unbelievable stunt action with unprecedented CG and virtual cinematography. Lead Pre-viz artists Laurent Lavigne and Kyle Robinson created accurate digital models of all the elements in the sequence, including the set, characters, key props and set dressing. They also added virtual cameras that allowed the filmmakers to pre-determine each shot and scenario right down to the type of camera lens that should be used.“We could tell from the start that the Freeway Chase was going to require a lot of very precise pre-viz to achieve the level of precision choreography and stylization that was evident in the boards,” says Green. “We worked in SOFTIMAGE|3D and SOFTIMAGE|XSI for over four months to create and polish the sequence design with John, Larry, and Andy.” PLF’s artists then traveled to Alameda, California, to spend several more months supporting the shoot on set, translating the sequence from Softimage scenes into physical specifications that could be used by the location and stunt crew. Simultaneously, other members of the PLF team were developing pre-visualizations for the scenes to be shot in Australia.
All told, Green and PLF devoted the better part of two years to working on the productions, with Green spending nearly eleven months at Fox Studios in Australia, where he was joined by fellow PLF team members Lavigne, Robinson, Alex Vegh and Rpin Suwannath. The PLF team was joined in turn by Aussie artist Rob Nunn and Coordinator / Editor Duncan Burbidge.
The PLF team used XSI to pre-visualize in 3-D the filmmakers’ design of the so-called Mega-City, which appears in, and is central to, each of the sequels. “The Mega-City is really the ‘Downtown’ of The Matrix,” explains Green. “All of the action from both sequels was located within a comprehensive 3-D city map, which we built in XSI. We created some absolutely enormous scene files, and were definitely very happy to have SOFTIMAGE|XSI to help handle the task. The great polygonal modeling tools made this process much easier than it would have been in other applications.”
Green used SOFTIMAGE|XSI extensively on such scenes as the one showing Trinity’s dramatic exit out the window of a Mega-City skyscraper. The elaborate and complex screen action, which follows the character as she is pursued by an agent, required a full pre-visualization from PLF in SOFTIMAGE|XSI.
“To pre-visualize the complex camera animation style of these shots, we made considerable use of the Animation Mixer, the Constraint Blending capabilities, and easy rig-building interface in XSI. Having access to all of these tools inside the fast and responsive interface in XSI made a big difference for over-the-shoulder shot design sessions. It was wonderful to work with these tools.”