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American Cinematographer Magazine
Rebooting a Sci-Fi Spectacular
Cinematographer Bill Pope, ASC revisits an action-packed realm on the much-anticipated sequel

The premise of The Matrix Reloaded seems straightforward enough. Having discovered the location of Zion, the city of free humans, the Machines have dispatched thousands of Sentinels to destroy it. Meanwhile, Neo (Keanu Reeves), Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) and Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) are racing against time while battling Agents and a host of new villains to get the Keymaker (Randall Duk Kim), a man with access to all the doors into the Machine world, safely out of the Matrix.

Bringing the dystopian vision of directors Larry and Andy Wachowski to the screen was an immense logistical and creative undertaking, however, even by the standards set on the first film. "The Matrix seems like child's play compared to how busy and complicated Reloaded is," confirms director of photography Bill Pope, ASC. Featuring approximately 70 sets and 1,227 visual-effects shots (compared to The Matrix's 200), Reloaded took up all available space and equipment at Sydney's Fox Studios. Jokes Pope, "I've had several friends come into town to shoot commercials, and they've rung me up and said, "We were going to invite you out to dinner, but we're not now because you've taken all the gear and crew."

Pope felt it was important to maintain the visual aesthetics that he and the Wachowskis had established on The Matrix. "Neo's story of the fight for survival of the human race against the machines was always conceived of as a trilogy," he explains. "The hope is that one day the three films will be cut into one huge movie, so each film has to tie in visually with the others. In addition, the Matrix itself has strong, recognizable visual themes and motifs. So while Neo, Trinity and Morpheus do indeed go to many more places within the Matrix [in the latter two films], the basic look needs to stay the same. It would be both confusing and detrimental to the story to have visual variation within that computer-generated universe, as it would within the real world."

Check Your Weapons
Whereas a striking feature of The Matrix was the use of 300-fps slow-motion shots, the filmmakers opted for a broader range of speeds on Reloaded, both under- and overcranking the camera. Pope explains, "While we did do some 300-fps shots, most of the high-speed sets were lit for 120 to 150 fps. We also worked in the 70- to 90-fps range, and undercranked speeds such as 21 fps and 23 fps, to speed certain actions up just a touch. I generally like to work at T2.8, but that was an impractical stop for this movie, most of which was shot at T4. For the high-speed photography, we had to achieve stops of T16 and T22."

As he had on The Matrix, Pope favored Kino Flos when lighting the actors. The fluorescent sources "put out a negligible amount of heat and provide a great sheen on bald heads and the exotic leathers the actors are wearing," he explains. "To avoid green skin tones, I didn't gel the lamps, because so much of the light bounces off the clothing and sets that you don't really have to add green to the lamps. I did use some green gels every now and then when we got closer to the heart of the Matrix, but it was just the slightest amount, like 1Ú8 Plus Green."

One complex sequence in-volves a virtual French chateau, the foyer of which is all but laid to waste as Neo battles Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving) and other villains. Lighting this scene presented several logistical complications. "We established that this opulent chateau had sunlight coming through large windows at the back of the foyer, as well as through some smaller windows set into a dome in the ceiling," says Pope. To replicate the sunlight coming through the rear windows, Australian gaffer Reg Garside built two large lamps based on Dinos, which each held 72 Par cans. These lights were hoisted into the roof via a system of pulleys that allowed them to travel and be panned and tilted to the desired degree, depending on the shooting stop, which was often T16 for the high-speed photography. To light through the windows set into the dome without revealing the lights themselves, Garside placed a white cyc behind the windows and built an elaborate system of greenbeds with motorized platforms. "The interior was lit with large softboxes that had to be built above, around and through the middle of the wire-harness rigs, which made life interesting," Garside cracks.

To the Center of the Earth
Although much of Reloaded is set within the weird and wonderful environs of the Matrix, the heart of the story concerns the city of Zion. "In The Matrix, we find out that Zion is a free city near the center of the earth, which is where the people on the Nebuchadnezzar come from," says Pope. "In Reloaded, we go to Zion." Production designer Owen Paterson describes the central habitat section of Zion as "a huge, 7,000-foot-deep cylinder with floors that are about 6 meters apart. On every floor, there are houses running the perimeter of the cylinder. Down the center is an elevator that's connected by walkways attached to the walls every 43 meters. It's a huge space - in theory enough room for 250,000 people to exist - all serviced and maintained by the engineering level."

Pope points out that "the people of Zion do the best they can to recreate the world that doesn't exist any more, so they have built in artificial sunlight, as though they've managed to banish evil from the center of the world." To achieve this effect, Pope established an overall ambience with space lights, and then used "checkerboarded" Dinos and Dinettes (mixing spot and medium bulbs) mounted on Condors to provide atmospheric shafts of light. "The checkerboard provides a hot area with a nice gradation at the edges - the light doesn't just stop dead," notes Garside. One poignant scene in Reloaded required the transformation of the artificially created day into night. Pope describes this as "one giant cross-fade that takes place over about 10 seconds. However, it wasn't quite that simple. The scale of the sets, as well as the limited space in which we had to work, made it a logistical challenge."

For the area in which hoverships like the Nebuchadnezzar dock, Pope again established a bright ambience. "Conceptually, the bright, sunlit feel is provided by a huge shaft of light bouncing off the oval roof. This shaft comes from the center core of the loading dock, a raised part of the building that the main lift shafts rise up to." Although the shaft itself is a visual effect, the bounce light on set was provided by thousands of Par cans pushed through large panels of custom-made light grid diffusion.

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© 2003 American Cinematographer.