Behind the scenes of The Matrix

By Jesse Keith

All over the world, hundreds of thousands of computer graphics enthusiasts–also know as nerds–view computer generated animation and movies on their home computers. The most dedicated of these craft their own comedic shorts, fight scenes or whatever their hearts desire with the latest computer graphics or animation software. Yet, few could ever dream of wielding the power required to create the awe-inspiring effects that mesmerized millions in the Matrix trilogy. That kind of power is reserved for the chosen few–the gurus, the kings.

Head of Production Tools at ESC Entertainment and University of Calgary alumnus Andrew Pearce just happens to be one of those lucky few and he’s coming to Calgary to share the secrets behind his art and his success.

Pearce is going to take us behind the scenes in a non-technical presentation of how shots are bid, put into pre-production, story boarded, refined and finally taken to the finished frames that appear in the movie. The presentation will go through dailies of the production process, starting off at the crude beginnings and following the shots through to their completion.

"It seems like every day when you see the daily you’re just seeing incremental changes, but by the end of it all it’s really traveled a long distance," Pearce explains. "I show some of the early shots and as they progress you see small, small refinements and hopefully by the end of it you’ll get the experience of being as bored with the shot as you can possibly be and then see the excitement of now that it’s finished it actually looks pretty amazing."

Pearce’s statement sums up the sad truth: developing computer graphics isn’t all glory. The road from crude animatics to immaculate quality shots is long, intricate and expensive. Pearce estimates the cost of effects for the Matrix sequels was well over $100 million, with ESC Entertainment working for about four and a half years on Reloaded. Some of the scenes in Revolutions took nine months and hundreds of iterations to complete.

"For the simpler shots, where there is just a little bit of background compositing, those can be done in two or three weeks," Pearce explains.

But folks who saw Revolutions will remember the chaotic last stand of General Mifune as he battles the hordes of sentinels in his armored personnel unit.

"That one shot they worked on for pretty much the nine month period of production for Revolutions," recalls Pearce. "There are, I think, 132 variations of just the final composite, which probably means there were 50 iterations of the animation and 30 tests of the sentinel swarms and uncounted tests of the [facial] looks."

The intricacies involved in the creation of the Matrix sequels are hard to imagine and ESC Entertainment left no stone unturned.

"[We] did cloth analysis to figure out how light reacts to cloth, did motion capture of the actors heads, doing expression after expression after expression, and then we mapped it into the digital characters," explains Pearce.

This sort of technology allowed the actors to be digitized, creating maximum realism in the digital scenes. For example, creating digital maps of the actors allowed the mass replication of agent Smith.

Still interested in special effects and computer graphics? If you are, Pearce’s presentation will include tips and suggestion he’s learned from his experience in the industry on how to make your dream come true.

So listen carefully, maybe you could be "The One."

Andrew Pearce speaks at 7 p.m Tue., Mar. 23 at the Orpheus Theater, SAIT Campus. Visit to register.


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