In the collection of nine short films known as the Animatrix, the entry Final Flight of the Osiris is a standout. While the other films use the traditional anime style to tell Matrix-inspired stories, Flight employs nearly photoreal CG characters and environments to bridge the gap between the DVD release and the upcoming sequel Matrix Reloaded.
Flight is also special in that it’s the only Animatrix short that has hit the big screen. The film is currently running prior to screenings of Warner Bros.’ Dreamcatcher in theaters nationwide.
To bring the digital crew of the hovercraft Osiris to life, Matrix creators Andy and Larry Wachowski enlisted the talents of director Andy Jones and his team at Square USA Inc., which produced the digital feature Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within.
Animation Magazine caught up with Jones to discuss his involvement in The Animatrix for a story that will appear in the June issue. The following portions of that interview are exclusive to Animation Magazine Online.
AMO: How hands-on were the Wachowskis?
A.J.: In the beginning, there was definitely some collaboration. We had some conference calls. But throughout most of the heavy production they were down in Australia shooting the two Matrix sequels and were extremely busy on their own. There was more of a feedback kind of relationship where we’d send them tapes and get feedback. There was a little bit of open interpretation for us to come up with things, which is great. The script was only six pages, so it didn’t really go into detail describing all the action.
AMO: Were you aware of what the other six directors were doing?
A.J.: I knew the concepts and the fact that there were eight other films, but that was about it. We didn’t have a relationship with them. We weren’t talking with them. I think the Wachowskis kind of wanted it that way. They wanted the pieces to be their own stylistically. When you look at them, they are very different.
AMO: How long was production?
A.J.: A little over a year.
AMO: Eyes are often a problem with digital human characters. How did you get around that?
A.J.: That’s something I really push hard on. That’s exactly the problem. Most people look at the eyes. Even if the lipsync isn’t dead on, you still will believe the performance if the eyes are really believable. The motion of the eyes is really important in terms of dealing with character thinking and saying his lines. When animators were working on it, they would sometimes animate the eyes to do something that I just know a human wouldn’t do at the time. Also, the look of it is really important, the way it renders and the wetness of the eye, the fact that it feels organic.
AMO: All animators have to be actors as well. Is that role magnified when animating life-like characters?
A.J.: To me, there’s so much more subtlety to animating a life-like human character that traditional animators don’t really deal with as much. They do deal with subtlety, but it’s a different kind. There’s exaggeration and then subtlety is the secondary animation. We can’t just rely on exaggeration to sell a performance. It puts a lot of stress on the animators to make it believable.
AMO: Did the fact that Final Flight of the Osiris would be shown in theaters provide added pressure for the production?
A.J.: We didn’t know about it at first, which I don’t know if it was a good thing or a bad thing. The first half of the project, we just thought it was going straight to DVD. We always though we knew what we were doing, do it at a certain resolution. All of a sudden, halfway through, we get a call from Joel Silver saying ‘we want to put this on film.’ And that just shocked us. You shake and you can’t sleep at night because you don’t know if it’s going to hold up on film. The first time I actually saw it on film was at the Enter the Matrix premiere they had at Warner. I was sitting next to Lawrence Fishburne and Carrie-Anne Moss and all the actors from The Matrix. It was on a huge screen, practically 70mm, massive. It actually, surprisingly held up better than I thought. But it was scary.
AMO: The type of animation you do has critics who say, “why not just use real actors?”
A.J.: I’ve heard all the criticisms and stuff and the reason I think we did it is because you’re allowed to do so much more with your characters in terms of things that [actors] can’t do physically. Even though they are doing a whole bunch of wirework and all that stuff in Matrix and Reloded, for us there is no limit. There’s no limit to what you can do with the camera. There’s no limit to what you can do with the character. To have that power is great. To be able to completely animate the character for shots or to use motion capture or to use all these different mediums to drive the performance I think is very powerful in telling a story.
AMO: Do you prefer working with digital characters more than you do actors?
A.J.: I don’t have any experience in working with celebrities, but I do have experience working with actors and I really enjoy it. This process is great because you do work with actors and you do get to see a lot of the action up-front and see kind of what it’s going to look like in the computer. It’s kind of a fun way to make a movie. A little bit more tedious than live-action, but it’s exciting to me.
AMO: With this film, you guys push the technology even further than you did in Final Fantasy.
A.J.: Spirits Within was a learning process for all of us there. I think if we made it again today, it would be a much better film. We weren’t sure what we could do with this technology we’d created. That was just the tip of the iceberg. That’s why I think Final Flight is a bit more of an exploration into how to put together an action scene a lot better and how to do things with the camera and do things that we were just whetting our palate with on Final Fantasy.
AMO: What was the biggest challenge on Flight?
A.J.: The technical challenge of the opening sequence was showing that much skin. We had a lot of character guys working hard to create a system to simulate muscles to look like muscles under the skin and other stuff that’s really difficult to do.
AMO: What’s next for you?
A.J.: I hope to keep making films like this. I have goals of making Sim City-style films – like a comic movie, sticking to the look of the comic but keeping it really edgy and 3D.
The Animatrix will be available on DVD from Warner Home Video and Village Roadshow Pictures on June 3. Special features will include seven making-of featurettes, four audio commentaries and a preview of the Enter the Matrix video game.
See our feature on The Animatrix in the June Issue of Animation Magazine, available by subscription and at Barnes & Noble booksellers.