One of the most groundbreaking special effects to come out of The Matrix was bullet time. I’ve previously blogged about bullet time, but this time I also have an excellent video to share with you about this. So put on your Matrix sunglasses and give the video below a quick watch; it is very interesting!
First and foremost, what exactly is bullet time? In a nutshell it’s a stylistic way of showing that you’re in a virtual reality by slowing down time in a way that allows the viewer to clearly see and absorb everything that is happening. For example, a bullet shot out of a gun moves too fast to see clearly, but when the motion is slowed down via bullet time, every element of its movement is crystal clear.
Bullet time works by first modeling the action in a computer simulation. The main goal of the simulation is to get the timing of the scene down, as during the actual shoot each camera has a specific moment in time to capture a specific frame. For The Matrix, the effect required 120 cameras along with 2 motion-picture cameras positioned along a rig, designed so it can be transformed into any shape required (S curves, arcs, spirals, and more). With this rig, any elapsed real world time can be slowed down or stopped via a process akin to suspended animation.
The bullet time guru in the video goes into a lot of technical detail regarding what can and cannot be done regarding bullet time, including the many options for camera angles, time alterations, and the possible directions of movement relative to the action. I don’t want to go into these highly technical details in writing, but if this is your ‘thing’ please watch the video for more detail.
In the final analysis, bullet time is a relatively new way to photograph things, and I expect its usage to continue to grow over time. Although the technique was born from The Matrix over 10 years ago, to this day it is still not widely used because of the large amount of camera and computer animation work required to make it work. That said, the technology is apparently improving to the point where soon it won’t be quite so time and labor intensive to achieve the effect. Let’s hope so, because it’s extremely cool!