J. Paul Peszko outlines The Animatrix, an ambitious anime-inspired undertaking that supports and expands upon the theology of The Matrix trilogy.
Unless you are a recent arrival on the planet or you have been off-world exploring rotanium ore deposits on Comtron Nine, then I dont have to tell you what The Matrix is. And, Im certain you know what The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions are. But what in the name of Morpheus is The Animatrix? If you guessed that its an animated version of The Matrix, you guessed the obvious, and you guessed wrong. Its not an animated feature at all, but rather a series of nine animated short films, created in anime style to be released as a collection on DVD and VHS by Warner Home Video June 3, 2003. But you don't have to wait until June to begin to view The Animatrix shorts, you can begin viewing the first of four of them online at www.theanimatrix.com. The Website started streaming The Second Renaissance Part 1 on February 4th and will continue with The Second Renaissance Part 2, Program and Detective Story through May. Another sequence, The Final Flight of the Osiris, will be released in theatres on March 21, 2003 at the head of the new feature Dreamcatcher.
Beyond The Matrix
These feature quality short animated films, each between six and seventeen minutes long are not a rehash of any of the live-action Matrix features nor are they based on a given storyline. Instead they tell new stories set in that futuristic virtual world created by the Wachowski brothers, Andy and Larry. Viewers of The Animatrix will learn new details of the genesis of The Matrix and meet new characters whose adventures are inter-woven with the fabric of all three feature films.
The Wachowski brothers vision for The Matrix is one that extends far beyond the theatrical trilogy, and the world they have created is so rich that weve chosen to tell these inter-connected Matrix-related stories in multiple mediums, Joel Silver, executive producer of The Matrix trilogy, explains. The Animatrix takes fans beyond the boundaries of the movie screen and into the vast realm of The Matrix, introducing them to new characters and scenarios that further the trilogys mythology and amplify their cinematic experience."
"In particular," says Silver, "The Final Flight of the Osiris serves as chapter 1.5 in The Matrix trilogy, giving fans an electrifying ride though the events that occur following The Matrix and directly impact the story told in the video game Enter the Matrix. In turn, this chain of action sets off The Matrix Reloaded. Its not crucial that fans see Final Flight or play Enter the Matrix to enjoy The Matrix Reloaded, but their movie-going experience will be immeasurably enhanced and they will gain a deeper understanding of the world of The Matrix.
Michael Arias, Japan-based special effects and digital technology consultant and one of the series' producers, agrees that there is a lot more story there than can be crammed into three feature films. "The idea is basically that each Animatrix episode will flesh out or illuminate some facet of The Matrix story, or riff on a topic tangential to the films. The truth is that Andy and Larry have thought out the story perhaps I should say the 'history' of The Matrix in such detail and going back so far before the first movie even begins, that there are more than enough ingredients. I think theres probably as much story in Andy and Larrys heads that wont make it into any of the features, as there is actually told in them."
A Tribute to Anime
Although The Animatrix is intended to deepen the experience for fans of The Matrix, for the Wachowskis it is also a sentimental return to their roots as they pay tribute to one of the forms of pop culture that spawned their own cinematic imaginations the uniquely Japanese genre of animated futurism known as anime.
"Theyre big fans of Japanese animation themselves and I think they saw anime as a perfect medium for pushing The Matrix story in directions that wouldnt be possible with Reloaded and Revolutions. At the same time, they are paying some tribute to folks like Kawajiri (Ninja Scroll) whose work has inspired them over the years," says Arias. This film will not be streamed online like the other eight segments, but will rather be released in theaters with Lawrence Kasdan's Dreamcatcher starting March 21.
One of the driving forces motivating the Wachowski brothers as they planned The Matrix was to achieve in live-action that same soaring freedom of movement and imagination that had wowed them in their favorite anime films. Classic works such as Katsuhiro Otomo's Akira and Mamoru Oshii's Ghost in the Shell had a key influence upon The Matrix series.
Did they succeed? Peter Chung (Aeon Flux), who directed the Matriculated segment of The Animatrix, certainly thinks so. "To me, The Matrix looked like a live-action animated film. The (Wachowski) brothers used digital technology to blend the two mediums. In many cases it seemed they were actually animating their actors."
The Animatrix brings together some of the most respected and innovative veterans of Japan's flourishing and globally popular animation industry and turns them loose in the Wachowskis teeming fictional universe. Also recruited for the project were two U.S.-based directors, Chung and Andy Jones (Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within), whose work has been strongly influenced by anime. All of the directors of The Animatrix episodes were personally selected by the brothers, who supervised the production closely from first concepts to post-production.
But a project of this breadth and scope doesn't just come together overnight. The rudimentary concept began to germinate some six years ago. The Wachowski brothers and producer Joel Silver first discussed the idea of recruiting anime artists to help tell the larger story of The Matrix universe in 1997, during their Japanese press tour in support of The Matrix. There they met Michael Arias, who served as their guide through the labyrinth of the anime industry. A CG animation consultant who speaks fluent Japanese, Arias had been working closely for years with leading anime studios such as Madhouse Studio and Studio 4°C and could appreciate what the Wachowskis and visual effects supervisor John Gaeta had accomplished with The Matrix.
From left to right, director Andy Jones (The Final Flight of the Osiris), and writers/directors Shinichiro Watanabe (Detective Story) and Koji Morimoto (Beyond).
When Silver returned to Tokyo several months later to promote Romeo Must Die, he invited Arias to produce what eventually became The Animatrix. "We started out with a list of our favorite anime directors, folks who we wanted to be part of our dream team," says Arias. "Obviously some of these folks had scheduling conflicts, and some just werent interested. But I think in the end we ended up with a pretty killer line-up. Its been very gratifying for me, because its given me the opportunity to work closely with some of my personal favorites, such as Kawajiri, Morimoto and Peter (Chung)."
The Wachowskis and Silver also invited composer Don Davis to join them on The Animatrix journey. Davis has formed a close creative alliance with the Wachowskis starting in 1997 when he composed the score for Bound, the off-beat thriller from the brothers. The Wachowskis and Davis again collaborated on The Matrix in which he used a mix of classical compositions, popular music, electronic synthesizer effects and even a touch of the avant-garde. The Wachowski-Davis synergy continues with Davis handling all composing duties for The Matrix franchise, including the two new sequels, first video game and all nine episodes of The Animatrix. In many components of The Matrix franchise, he found the opportunity to expand on musical themes he had established earlier in the original feature.
"There was, actually, quite a bit of cross-pollination between the projects," Davis notes. "The Second Renaissance, which covers the backstory of the war between the humans and the machines, utilizes a number of themes that appeared in The Matrix, particularly the music that accompanied the power plant sequence, and I had a chance to develop them further. Final Flight of the Osiris had a visual and dramatic characteristic that was close to the movies, mostly because the animation was similar to the quality of a live-action film, so I was able to score it as though it was part of one of the movies. There are some thematic materials that are presented in Final Flight, which I was able to reprise and develop in Reloaded.
The Line Up
Mahiro Maeda directs the two-part epic The Second Renaissance (written by Larry and Andy Wachowski), which supplies the backstory for the entire Matrix trilogy, recounting the history (only hinted at in The Matrix) of the rise of intelligent robots in the early 21st century, their war for survival with the human race, and the eventual construction of the Matrix.
In World Record, the story of a champion sprinter whose superhuman exertions push him through the Matrix barrier, Takeshi Koike creates a heightened sense of visceral physicality that recalls the bulging comic book panels of Golden Age comic book giant Jack Kirby.
In Detective Story, Shinichiro Watanabe, the creator of the acclaimed near-future crime anime Cowboy Bebop, creates an original visual device with which to suggest the simulated nature of the Matrix: Xerox-like black-and-white images that also set a perfect mood for this story of a hard boiled private eye on the trail of the toughest femme fatale of them all, the Warrior of Zion known as Trinity, voiced by Carrie-Anne Moss.
Andy Jones The Final Flight of the Osiris ties in directly with the main storyline of the series, depicting the struggle of a band of human revolutionaries to deliver a warning message to Neo and his companions in Zion a message whose eventual delivery serves as a key plot point in The Matrix Reloaded.
Other episodes tell what the Japanese animators refer to as "side stories," ranging from incidents in far-flung outposts of the human struggle against the machines (Matriculated) to poignant, Twilight Zone-style vignettes of daily life inside a Matrix environment. A notable episode of this type is Koji Morimoto's Beyond, in which a group of teenagers discover, to their delight, a tiny programming glitch in a forgotten corner of their simulated Matrix neighborhood. Still others, like Kids Story, featuring the voices of Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss, illuminate the backstory of a character (The Kid) who we will also meet in The Matrix Reloaded.
So Matrix fans, enjoy! There's certainly enough here to please your palate and more.
J. Paul Peszko is a freelance writer and screenwriter living in Los Angeles. He writes feature articles, interviews and reviews as well as short fiction. He currently has a feature comedy in development and has just completed his second novel. When he isn't writing, he teaches communications courses.