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Mindhole Blowers: 20 Facts About The Matrix That Might Make You Say, "Whoa"

By Cindy Davis | Lists | February 13, 2012 |

By Cindy Davis | Lists | February 13, 2012 |

First off, this week’s entry was supposed to be Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, but since Val Kilmer and Robert Downey Jr. did nothing but verbally masturbate each other, with maybe only two pauses to let poor Shane Black get in any trivia, we’re moving on to The Matrix. And believe it or not, those boys were not in the least bit entertaining, so never, ever even think about bothering to listen to that commentary. In the end it was a good thing, because The Matrix is supremely re-watchable and there’s quite a bit of interesting background information available—I only tapped the surface with the DVD special features. The Wachowskis set out to make a very specific film and not only did they achieve their lofty goals, they surpassed them and managed to make Keanu Reeves almost watchable. Excellent, dudes.

1. Directors Lana (previously Larry) and Andy Wachowski wrote The Matrix as a comic book, incorporating all the things they like: Kung Fu, anime, science fiction and action. They told Producer Joel Silver that they wanted to “do anime for real.” The Wachowskis liked that in comic books, the action can be slowed down to show a moment. They wanted to do action in a different way and loved the wire work in Hong Kong movies—”…it’s very balletic, everyone has superhuman, supernatural grace.”

2. According to Visual Effects Supervisor John Gaeta (Speed Racer, Eraser), the opening of movie is very important. They wanted to alter the studio logo because studios are evil empires, bent on breaking the creative juices of the average director or writer. The filmmakers sent a message to audience that they “reject the system.”

3. Editor Zach Staenberg (In Time, Speed Racer, City of Ember) read the script and started talking to the Wachowskis while working with them on Bound. Staenberg found the “brilliant directors” thematically consistent and said they know exactly what they want. “The opening scene—in a classic great action movie way—grabs the audience. We don’t know if the woman is good or bad and who the good guys are. It encapsulates the style of the movie, which kicks ass and never stops.”

4. The Wachowskis (along with other artists) did extensive storyboarding and were very specific about what they wanted the film to look like. The Matrix was done in green tones and the Nebuchadnezzar in blue (blue is “too happy of a color” for the matrix—which is an oppressive place to be). Exteriors were manipulated to suck out the blue, at times they were made monochromatic or completely devoid of color. Though visual effects that had been seen before were used (mirror melting was reminiscent of Terminator 2), conceptually the effects were used in different ways. 20% of the film went through digital processing, but only to help tell the story. Gaeta felt the digital effects were seamlessly integrated, noting that one would have to go back to Alien and Giger to find the level of detail in biomechanics seen at the power plant. He does have to remind people that the stunts are real, not digital.

5. Carrie-Anne Moss (Trinity) related that the Wachowskis wanted actors who could do all the stuntwork; her screen test consisted of her fighting with the (Kung Fu) team from Hong Kong for three hours. The opening fight took approximately six months of training and four days to film. It was the first action sequence shot. On her last day of shooting, the Wachowskis gave her a bottle of champagne and said, “Congratulations, you’re now an action hero.”

6. The Wachowskis’ dream was to work with the man who had choreographed the fights in Fist of Legend, Yuen Woo-ping (Kill Bill: Vol. 2, Fearless). Ping didn’t know how they got his number and at first said he was too busy. They called again, Ping read the script and felt it was very good, so he decided to do it. The actors went through months of training with Ping and his stunt team (on a daily basis from October 1997 through March 1998). Hugo Weaving said he’d thought they would have only four to five weeks of training, it was a very involving, exhausting process. Ping’s challenge was to make the actors look like they’d been doing the fighting their whole lives. Carrie-Anne Moss remarked that most of the trainers didn’t speak English, there was one “go-between guy” who translated. For her wall flip scene, Moss trained first with padded walls and when it was time to film she had to do the stunt in one take (due to costs).

7. Staenberg said the Wachowskis stuck to their guns with the shooting schedule. When they began drifting behind, they polished up the first five minutes or so (of film) and sent it over to the studio. The studio was “blown away” and from that moment on, totally supportive. The film was scheduled for 90 days, shot in 118.

8. John Gaeta described the difficult corkscrew jump shot; they twirled Carrie-Anne around on a rotisserie and had a nice spiral, but because of the “Marquis de Sade type setup they couldn’t get a lot action out of her body.” Her feet were tied together and her body was too straight. Gaeta explained to the Wachowskis (who wanted Trinity’s legs kicking) that they could “Frankenstein” her—digitally cut her legs and then move them around a bit. The Wachowskis “tortured John the whole way through” and ended up with a big difference between what the scene started out and ended up as.

Jump at 3:35 mark:

9. Staenberg called it “A nice piece of writing” that we don’t meet Keanu Reeves (Neo) at the start of the movie—he isn’t seen until ten minutes in. Neo meets Trinity at a real Sydney S&M club called The Hellfire Club. Casting went out to patrons of the establishment and they all showed up costumed. The editor remarked that his favorite thing in the film was the blue squiggly thing on the television monitor (seen at the :23 mark).

10. Will Smith and Nicholas Cage both turned down the role of Neo. Sean Connery turned down Morpheus.

11. While shooting, cast and crew had a Chinese ritual of burning incense and had roasted pig barbecues every day.

12. In the scene where the bug enters Keanu’s belly button, a model torso, very specific to Keanu was created. In making the film, there was a mix of prosthetic devices, “pure animation” and digital effects (Neo’s mouth sealing). When the bug is pulled out of its case, it’s real—after that moment, the bug is digital. A model maker spent twelve weeks making the bug extractor.

13. For the scene with Neo in the medical area with pins, elaborate prosthetics along with real acupuncture needles—the ones in his head all real—were used. A specialist came in and placed the needles.


14. Graphic novel artist and Frank Miller collaborator (Hard Boiled) Geoff Darrow drew the Nebuchadnezzar set ; he also worked with them on Speed Racer.


15. The Construct was shot on a wraparound stage lit to the point where one couldn’t detect the walls or floor, described by Staenberg as a “dizzying experience, with no sense of the ground under your feet.”


16. The government lobby scene took about ten days to shoot. There is no CGI in the scene, just the actors with special effects—all the explosions are real. The office building was a real set, the helicopter on wires, all the firing, real as well as the water pouring in all over the place.

17. When Neo leaves the matrix the first time, he vomits—according to Staenberg, Keanu was really throwing up from some “bad chicken pot pie.”

18. The shot of Keanu hitting the ground and bouncing up was modeled on (and “mandated” that it should look like) Wile E. Coyote.

19. In the “Agent Training Program” sequence, all the extras are twins and some are duplicated many times. Logically, since the ATP was designed by Tank (Marcus Chong) he would have used such a shortcut. The crowd was shot separately from the main actors (Fishburne and Reeves); Neo and Morpheus acted against the crowd on green screen with Agent Smith represented by a light stand.

20. The Bullet Time (Warner Brothers trademarked the term) movements are an important concept in the movie—the places where we see if the characters can control elements with their minds. Each of those moments are about the characters having control. Bullet time is created using an array of still cameras; all the frames they shoot are assembled together. Though it sounds simple, a lot of problems are inherent. Still cameras need to be stabilized and to replicate the nature of one lens, the little distinct differences between each camera must be dealt with in post-processing. A universal lens must be created for all the lenses, with customized distortion and graining to every frame so it feels like all the same stock. The stabilization, lens attributes and grain equal a lot of post-processing.

Here’s a detailed explanation by John Gaeta:

Cindy Davis could kick your ass inside the Matrix or out.