With Volu­cap and Rotor Film on the 94th Oscar shortlist

The latest block­bus­ter The Matrix Resur­rec­tions was rea­li­sed in col­la­bo­ra­ti­on with Media­Tech Hub com­pa­nies Volu­cap and Rotor Film.

Wel­co­me to the Matrix! The Matrix Resur­rec­tions, the long-awai­ted fourth part of the Matrix fran­chise, has been scree­ning in Ger­man cine­mas now for the past six weeks. And it con­ti­nues what revo­lu­tio­nis­ed the film world when the first part was released in 1999: stunt sce­nes taking time and space to absurd lengths, an inten­se sound­track and a phi­lo­so­phi­cal plot all wrap­ped up in a block­bus­ter vehicle.

The work of Volu­cap and Rotor Film – com­pa­nies in the Media­Tech Hub Pots­dam – is on dis­play in the latest sequel when you see lead actor Kea­nu Ree­ves on dar­e­de­vil motor­bike rides, jum­ping through the air or in under­wa­ter sce­nes with often three-dimen­sio­nal came­ra angles. Work that has now also been hono­u­red by the Aca­de­my Awards: the ent­i­re pro­duc­tion team is now among the nomi­nees for this year’s 94th Oscars in the “Sound” and “Visu­al Effects” categories.

Matrix: Rea­li­ty or per­fect illusion?

The plot of the fourth part picks up after the pre­vious sto­ry: we are now in a bleak future sce­n­a­rio whe­re the film’s heroes Neo and Tri­ni­ty have to deci­de yet again bet­ween their sup­po­sed rea­li­ty, which turns out to be a com­pu­ter simu­la­ti­on, and a world ruled by machi­nes. But the plot of The Matrix Resur­rec­tions isn’t the only thing cent­ring on illu­si­on and rea­li­ty. The new film also has the filmma­kers explo­ring the limits of what is tech­ni­cal­ly pos­si­ble as a way of tur­ning the audience’s sen­se of time and space upsi­de down. Volu­cap mana­ging direc­tor Sven Blie­dung von der Hei­de descri­bes how chal­len­ging and inspi­ring it was to work with the direc­tor Lana Wachowski:

“Ever­ything in Matrix has a spe­cial aura one can feel. As a direc­tor, Lana has unusu­al ways of trans­por­ting her visi­ons to the screen. It was incredi­ble to work with her and crea­te effects with our tech­no­lo­gy and find new solu­ti­ons unli­ke anything seen befo­re.” It meant that they could rea­li­se things tog­e­ther that had been deemed impos­si­ble elsewhere.

Working tog­e­ther as co-direc­tors, the Wachow­ski sib­lings had alrea­dy ope­ned up new dimen­si­ons for cine­ma in the first Matrix film with the ‘bul­let time’ effect whe­re an object like, say, a fly­ing bul­let moves through space in extre­me slow moti­on and is shown in 360 degrees. Lana Wachow­ski worked with Volu­cap on using the volu­metric film tech­no­lo­gy to deve­lop new ways of cap­tu­ring 3D images of the actors. For examp­le, this makes it pos­si­ble to chan­ge came­ra posi­ti­ons after the fact and also look behind the actors. To do this, Volu­cap deve­lo­ped a volu­metric video sys­tem that can cap­tu­re 3D images of the actors and their sur­roun­dings on the move and out­side of the volu­metric stu­dio in cine­ma quality.

Some sce­nes were filmed direct­ly in the Volu­cap stu­dio, while others were shot on the various sets. The Volu­cap team then con­struc­ted spe­cial came­ra sys­tems, rigs and con­trol units so that they could shoot in volu­metric film out­side of the stu­dio, and this inclu­ded the first hand­held came­ra sys­tem ope­ra­ting simul­ta­ne­ous­ly with eight film came­ras, as well as various mobi­le volu­metric came­ra sys­tems on tracks, cables or cra­nes. Using arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence, the spe­cial­ly deve­lo­ped mul­ti-came­ra sys­tems were “mis-trai­ned” to crea­te a sen­se of shif­ting time and space on came­ra, says Sven Blie­dung von der Hei­de. Ano­t­her sys­tem mer­ged the per­for­mance and cha­rac­te­ris­tics of several actors into a sin­gle per­son. A high­light of the col­la­bo­ra­ti­on was the world’s first volu­metric under­wa­ter stu­dio which was built in space of two mon­ths with a depth of seven metres at a wareh­ouse in Berlin.

A loca­ti­on offe­ring short distan­ces and cut­ting-edge technology

Wachow­ski, who had pre­vious­ly filmed Cloud Atlas in Babels­berg, didn’t just return with the Matrix shoot becau­se of the volu­metric stu­dio – she was also bow­led over by the short distan­ces and the enthu­si­asm of the filmma­kers at the stu­di­os: “For me, the most important aspect of any filmma­king faci­li­ty is always the staff or crew that runs that faci­li­ty. If you are wel­co­med and sup­por­ted by peop­le who also love this art form. You will make bet­ter art and this is my expe­ri­ence at Rotor Film and Volu­cap. Our film got bet­ter becau­se of the peop­le who work and pro­du­ce there.”

This didn’t just mean that lar­ge parts of the shoot were based in Pots­dam-Babels­berg and Ber­lin during 2019 and 2020 sin­ce Wachow­ski then retur­ned last sum­mer to over­see the com­ple­te post­pro­duc­tion at Rotor Film on the Babels­berg stu­dio lot. The direc­tor worked clo­se­ly with the post­pro­duc­tion facility’s team on the sound mixing, dia­lo­gue edi­t­ing, sound design and sound edi­t­ing. Rotor Film’s Cine­ma Sta­ge is one of the world’s lar­gest and most up-to-date art stu­di­os for film post­pro­duc­tion and spe­cia­li­ses in the com­ple­te ran­ge of image and audio post­pro­duc­tion. Thanks to having several stu­di­os ope­ra­ting at other loca­ti­ons, the com­pa­ny is able to hand­le jobs such as colour gra­ding, sound mixing and edi­t­ing simul­ta­ne­ous­ly. This means, at the end of the day, that the­re can be con­stant and direct che­cking of image and sound and the crea­ti­ve pro­cess is in align­ment with the con­tent. “Apart from the equip­ment, we set gre­at stock on a crea­ti­ve team and effec­ti­ve work­flows,” says co-mana­ging direc­tor Hol­ger Leh­mann. It was “a gre­at honour” for him and his team “to work with Wachow­ski on Matrix 4″.

While the film’s sto­ry has Neo and Tri­ni­ty figh­t­ing arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence and machi­nes, it’s in fact thanks to arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence and sophisti­ca­ted visu­al effects that their sto­ry could even be brought to the screen in the first place. Tho­se cine­ma-goe­rs keen to find out whe­ther the per­fect illu­si­on is achie­ved and which rea­li­ty Neo and Tri­ni­ty opt for this time round can still see The Matrix Resur­rec­tions in various cinemas.

About MTH Blog

The media tech­no­lo­gies of the future are alrea­dy being used today – not only in the enter­tain­ment sec­tor, but also in a wide varie­ty of indus­tries. Chris­ti­ne Lentz meets up with tech enthu­si­asts, estab­lis­hed com­pa­nies and rese­ar­chers for our mon­th­ly Media­Tech Hub Pots­dam blog to tell the sto­ries behind the inno­va­ti­ve busi­ness models.

About MTH Blog

The media technologies of the future are already being used today – not only in the entertainment sector, but also in a wide variety of industries. Christine Lentz meets up with tech enthusiasts, established companies and researchers for our monthly MediaTech Hub Potsdam blog to tell the stories behind the innovative business models.