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Reloading the Matrix to the IMAX

Bill Desowitz delves into the process of converting The Matrix Reloaded into the IMAX format.

Keanu Reeves manages to look even cooler than normal in the IMAX format of The Matrix Reloaded. All photos courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures.

The first thing Matrix Reloaded viewers will notice about the new IMAX version, opening June 6, 2003, in select theaters in North America and later on internationally, is the razor sharp imagery and greater color saturation despite that funky green hue not to mention Don Davis' more thumping score. In fact, with the preponderance of close-ups on the giant screen, you can almost count the pores on the actors' faces in the 15 perf/70mm large format. No matter what you think of the second installment of the mind-bending trilogy by the Wachowski Brothers, it's definitely a more intense experience in IMAX.

Mind you, this is no 35mm blow-up, but a full-blown IMAX conversion, courtesy of the company's DMR (Digital Re-Mastering) software. The process starts by scanning at the highest resolution each individual frame of the 35mm film and converting them into digital images; then the image enhancement tools prepares for printing onto 70mm film. DMR degrains, redistributes grain more naturally and sharpens and color corrects.

This IMAX version is no blow-up from 35mm, but a full conversion, giving viewers more detail, sharpness and color.

Matrix Reloaded marks the third DMR conversion for IMAX (Apollo 13 and Star Wars: Episode II Attack of the Clones were the other two). On November 5, 2003, the final film in the trilogy, Matrix Revolutions, will launch in IMAX day-and-date with the conventional 35mm rollout a first for IMAX, which is definitely attempting to mainstream its image with the help of studios and the CAA talent agency.

"IMAX is an ideal venue for the event Hollywood film," remarks Bruce Bonnick, sr vp technology. " Matrix [Revolutions] was a good fit. The bigger screen pulls you in more and there's increased color saturation, as DMR adjusts to both the IMAX screen and projections system, which pulls out substantially more light. And the soundtrack for the Matrix is powerful. I personally don't think 35mm systems have the head room to accommodate such soundtracks. IMAX is uncompressed and shows off the highs and lows."

Prior to Reloaded, the knock on IMAX's conversion has been the trimming of Apollo 13 and Attack of the Clones to accommodate a two-hour running time, and the altering of the original aspect ratio to conform to the box shape of IMAX screens. Both of these have been rectified. The platter system has been modified to handle up to 150 minutes and Reloaded's original 2.35:1 format has been retained at the request of the filmmakers, leaving a slight blank spot depending on the size of the particular IMAX screen.

An IMAX version of The Matrix Revolutions will be released simultaneously in theaters with the 35mm version on November 5, 2003.

As far as the DMR process, Bonnick reveals that it is now more automated than before. "We further enhanced the automated element of the remastering. It saves time. We let the computer do that and then we validate what it's done. It's much more reliable as far as a system predictor."

Indeed, while Apollo 13 took about 13 weeks to convert and Attack of the Clones took about half that, Reloaded took only three weeks. Work has not yet begun on Revolutions, which is still in post-production. In fact, IMAX was only originally scheduled to convert the third film, but after a very successful test, both Warner Bros. and the filmmakers decided to give Reloaded the IMAX treatment as well.

The Matrix Reloaded is an ideal movie to convert to IMAX, with its soaring images and innovative action scenes. Here, the sentinels plan their attack on humans.

"I'm sorry to say there were no challenges with the Matrix. The DMR conversion is very open-ended. We send data in and it converts it properly. It can handle anything, and the latest CGI developments are quite adaptable. One of the things we won't do is change the creative content. You can lower sharpness to compensate for [a lot of] close-ups, and we've developed statistical predictor tools for a system that makes these types of decisions. There's always an odd shot that requires some subjective evaluation. The artifacts associated with Attack of the Clones were of a different nature because it was all digital. Adjoining pixels were slightly off color to one another. DMR brought them back in line. One film had a flash going off, so we wrote an algorithm in four hours to correct it. On every film we become faster and faster to get it through the first pass."

Bill Desowitz is the editor of VFXWorld.com.

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