Watch: Behind the scenes of The Matrix Resurrections' dramatic jump
One of the special effects supervisors who worked on The Matrix Resurrections has revealed that one of the movie's biggest stunts almost didn't take place.
The Matrix franchise returned with a bang in the film, which sees video game developer Thomas Anderson struggling with faint memories of his past as the heroic Neo.
Boundary-pushing special effects have always been a part of the franchise, and that's something returning director Lana Wachowski — this time working without her sister — aimed to continue this time around.
But SFX supervisor J.D. Schwalm told Yahoo Entertainment UK that the team almost couldn't clear a stunt in which co-leads Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss jump off a building.
Schwalm said: "The most nerve-wracking one was when they did jump off the building. We filmed the jump in the morning as the last shot of the day after filming all night.
"But the evening of [the jump], we got word that we were not gonna do it. The studio and the insurance company and whatnot wasn't going to allow the actors to get on the rig.
"It was down to the wire and ultimately somebody showed up, gave the green light and it happened that day. It was pretty intense."
Schwalm's fellow SFX supervisor Pau Costa, who oversaw the Berlin half of the film's shoot, said it was a delight to work with a director as well-versed in the effects world as Wachowski.
Costa said: "She's a director who has done all of that stuff. You can tell completely that she has done a bunch of movies and she loves special effects.
"One of the first things I was told was that she wanted to do the most practical effects possible. "
Schwalm added that Wachowski's control over the movie and her clear vision meant that he was able to provide everything he was asked to do.
He said: "You definitely got pushed to your limits with some of the stuff and the timelines, but everything I was asked, she had thought it out really well.
"She had that movie in her head and knew what she wanted to see on screen."
The Matrix Resurrections is available now on Premium Video on Demand.
Read the full interview with J.D. Schwalm and Pau Costa, in which they reveal their favourite SFX moments from the movie and discuss how COVID-19 affected their work...
Yahoo Movies UK: I wanted to start by asking how you got involved in this huge franchise?
J.D. Schwalm: I was reached out to by someone from Lana's camp early on to say they were working on a super-secret ice cream project. They started explaining what was going on and you could really quickly put the pieces of the puzzle together and go "oh wow, they're making another Matrix movie". Obviously we were very excited to be working with that team. We knew the movie was going to be filmed in two different countries, with some filmed in San Francisco and the majority actually filmed in Berlin.
So I brought on my on-set coordinator Brendon O'Dell and then he headed off to Berlin and put together a pretty spectacular team. And then Pau came on board to handle all things mechanical effects in Berlin. I think the collaboration was great, worked out well and I think both of our work shines.
Pau Costa: I got a phone call from Brendon telling me they were going to do the movie in San Francisco but seeing if I was available to go to Germany, because I live in Spain. I went over to Berlin and started getting a crew together. Little by little, we did a bunch of the stuff in Berlin while they were preparing in San Francisco and giving us information.
JDS: It was really neat. Typically on a movie we always work with one supervisor and he oversees the entire show. It was really neat on this one because, just logistically, we couldn't be in two places at one time. So we worked with Pau, who's a totally world-renowned supervisor in his own right, to handle the Berlin stuff. That allowed us to focus really heavily on San Francisco, so we were able to put two halves of the movie together and I think it worked out well.
Did you feel the pressure going into it, because this franchise is so well-known for pushing forward both special effects and visual effects?
PC: Of course! They have always been among the best movies so, when I found out I was gonna do Matrix, I felt a lot of pressure. I watched all of the videos of the shootouts and all of the bullet hits in all of the other movies. Of course it was a lot of pressure, but it was really exciting for us to be a part of that.
JDS: My thing was that I knew we were going to be heavily judged for whatever we put on screen, just because the original films did really set the bar high. We knew we'd have to make stuff look good.
Yeah, if you're going to do a chase scene, you have to look at the one in Reloaded which is so famous and renowned.
JDS: We definitely felt it. I think we felt it more when they gave us the schedule for the motorcycle chase. It was like "woah, okay, let's see what we can do here".
When you first joined the project, was it a case of Lana giving you a long list of things and you saying "we can't do that, we can't do that" or were you amenable to most things?
JDS: The nice part about working with her is that she oversees so much of the film and she's hands-on with all of the stuff. She gets it because she has done it before with the original films and all of the other films that [she and sister Lilly] have done.
We were never asked to do anything that was absolutely impossible. Sometimes you get asked to do things that you can't achieve and we have to wiggle it around and try to explain what you can achieve. But she was always asking for stuff that was achievable. You definitely got pushed to your limits with some of the stuff and the timelines, but everything I was asked, she had thought it out really well. She had that movie in her head and knew what she wanted to see on screen.
That's not to say it wasn't extremely challenging. A lot of the stuff that was asked was difficult, complicated and involved new technologies. It was fun and neat collaborating with her.
PC: She really knows the names of the stuff and how to call it with where to put bullet hits and mortars. She's a director who has done all of that stuff. You can tell completely that she has done a bunch of movies and she loves special effects. One of the first things I was told was that she wanted to do the most practical effects possible. She likes visual effects, of course, but she wanted to avoid it as much as possible and that was really good working with her.
I wanted to ask about that relationship between special effects and visual effects. What was your relationship with the visual effects side like?
PC: We had really good contact with [VFX production supervisor] Dan Glass, so he would always say "give me the most and then later on I can help you guys". We had really good relationships. He'd be on top of it and we'd just look to see what he could help us with.
JDS: With the work in San Francisco, we had zombies flying out of the sky and landing on cars, huge hordes of people and then all the work on the motorcycles and helicopters shooting rockets. Dan and Lana both wanted to make a lot of that San Franciso work — the part where they're in the Matrix — look as real and as natural and grainy and artistic as possible. Not like a computer simulation.
So a lot of their driving force was to do as much as they could practically. I think almost every gag you see in San Francisco on that chase was a practical gag, at least in some way. A lot of them were then handed off to visual effects. I think the helicopter crashing into the building is the only one that's pure CG. But every explosion, every car flipping and all of that was all done practically.
Even the helicopters when they're zipping down low on those streets, that was all practical. They had two stunt pilots in these little helicopters with miniguns and they flew them between buildings that were so narrow it seemed like they just had feet on either side of their blades. At 3am in San Francisco, they were down there zipping helicopters between these skyscrapers. It adds to the atmosphere of the movie, having everything that can be done in front of the camera. It was really fun.
What was your favourite gag or set piece you were able to pull off?
PC: I think the best thing we could do is all of the break-aways, like in the bathroom scene. They're fighting in the bathroom and breaking all of the walls and doors, with dust coming out of the cracks. Then when the guy leans down with a glass thing and gets hit on top of it. We made that out of sugar glass. For me, that whole scene was the most fun part we did in Berlin.
The bullet hits in the bar were fun also because we put 400 squibs in the wall. We made tonnes of break-away walls, but you can't really see it in the movie. The walls are made of lightweight foam and we put tonnes of squibs in there.
JDS: When I watched the film, my favourite gag was one that Pau and Brendon did in Berlin. When he goes up against the wall and makes that perfect, round-looking break-away impact on the wall. I remember I called Brendon right away like "how many times did it take you to do that?". To me that was something I had never seen before and you could tell it had a huge mechanical effects influence on it. So that was my favourite gag in the show.
In San Francisco, I'm going to give credit to somebody else again. It's when the stunt guys took Neo and Trinity and went off the roof of the building. We collaborated with [stunt coordinator] Scott Rogers and his team on that gag and helped build some of the infrastructure around it. But ultimately that was one of the more amazing things I've seen in my career.
How much of a difference does it make to you guys' job when you've got people like Keanu who want to be so involved in everything?
JDS: It's fun. It's much more enjoyable when you're collaborative with the movie stars and my guys who were on set every day really enjoyed it. You're able to ramp up the action a little bit when you have actors who are collaborating and focusing with you on the work, because they have a better understanding of everything that's happening and knowing what's going to happen and when.
You're able to ramp the action up a bit as opposed to a lot of the times when you have children actors and things like that when you have to keep everything tamped down. But actors like that are very aware of everything, so you can go bigger.
I also wanted to ask about COVID. You started before the pandemic and then came back to it later. Does that make your job easier or harder?
JDS: That's all Pau because in San Francisco, it was fine. We were free and clear.
PC: They finished in San Francisco then we had like a week of preparing, then all of a sudden the movie just got stopped. We couldn't believe it. It was really crazy but it kind of helped us a little because there were more people available. When we started it was difficult because everybody was so busy, but when we started again we were able to get guys with more experience and stuff. We were one of the first movies that started after COVID, so we had tonnes of people wanting to work with us. We had more time to prepare as well.
I asked about favourite gags earlier, but are there any things you couldn't pull off — any white whales?
JDS: In San Francisco, we had a couple of asks that we tried for. We were going to mount miniguns on some helicopters. They were dummy ones which actually shot flames instead of bullets. We thought we had it all the way down to the last minute. Then the FAA [Federal Aviation Administration] stepped in and ultimately we weren't granted permission to do it. So that was a little bit of a bummer. A lot of work went into the guns. Other than that we pulled off the majority of asks.
PC: We also had big flamethrowers ready to go and a day or two days before, they decided they didn't want to use them for the scene. They're back in pieces now, I guess. That was really fun and I wish we could've used them.
JDS: The most nerve-wracking one was when they did jump off the building. We filmed the jump in the morning as the last shot of the day after filming all night. But the evening of [the jump], we got word that we were not gonna do it. The studio and the insurance company and whatnot wasn't going to allow the actors to get on the rig. It was down to the wire and ultimately somebody showed up, gave the green light and it happened that day. It was pretty intense.
I wanted to ask about the importance of the big screen experience. I was lucky enough to see this film on a massive cinema screen. Given your job, how important is it to you that people see this with the biggest screen and the best sound possible?
PC: I think it's the most important thing. These movies are made for big screens. I always try to go to see big movies. It's good to see on a big TV too.
JDS: 100%. It speaks for itself. If you watch the same film in the cinema and on your TV at home, you instantly see the difference. All of the magic that we put into the films, you get 100% of it in the cinema and a little less at home.
As a final question, if the phone rang tomorrow and it was Lana asking you to do Matrix 5, what would you say?
PC: I would do it!
JDS: Sign me up!
The Matrix Resurrections is available now on Premium Video on Demand.
Watch: Trailer for The Matrix Resurrections