With Volucap and Rotor Film on the 94th Oscar shortlist

2022-02-volucap-matrix
Image © Volucap GmbH

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.