Go Behind the Scenes of One of Film's Most Famous (and Coolest) Effects

Make a list of seminal movies from the 1990s, and "The Matrix" is likely to appear on it. This neat behind the scenes video shows how the film achieved one of its most famous effects.

Known as "Bullet Time," the effect involves a freezing of or slow motion unfolding of action while the viewpoint changes. This was achieved by rigging up many stills cameras set in some sort of predetermined pattern (this was conceived of in a simulation to help envision the audience's viewpoint) and timed to go off in a very precise sequence. The filmmakers would then interpolate frames to make movement smoother. 

Of course, nowadays, such an effect might be done entirely with computers, but seeing it done with a practical setup is majorly cool and shows off the large amounts of planning and ingenuity that went into the effect. I remember my 12-year-old self being blown away by the effect when I first saw the movie. You can see the original bullet time scene below:

Though "The Matrix" was not the first to use the effect, it made it wildly popular, as it would end up appearing in many other movies, television shows, and even concert films. 

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3 Comments

Leigh Smith's picture

Brings back memories. This video was pulled from the BTS on the original DVD. Also you forgot to mention the technique now used in sports replays as well.

I believe the sports replays use a different approach. A 3D point-cloud is generated which is then used to reconstruct a 3D scene vs the frame-by-frame capture of bullet-time.

About a year ago Intel beefed-up this technique and created this Volumetric Video Capture studio:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nd6vrSL7i1s

I believe the original inventor of the modern version (1980) of this technique is Tim MacMillan.

John Gaeta and his team, used film cameras, (not digital ones) which -to some extend- gave them more precise control over the synchronization of the triggering.

Today, it surely is less difficult to produce similar (if not better) results like the "bullet-time" featured in the Matrix films but certain technical aspects, are still a headache to master. Almost 10 years ago we were featured on this very site discussing the difficulties of this technique. Today, it's still a nightmare to setup and a complete joy to witness the end-result.

Enjoy this complete BTS from concept to final result: https://vimeo.com/233867120