It came out of nowhere back in 1999. As the press set its sights on Star Wars: Episode I, The Matrix made a slow-motion bullet-time leap into the public’s consciousness, catching the critics off guard. The reviews were outstanding, the box office ($456 million worldwide gross) unexpected, and the DVD has pride of place in the collection of anyone who loves the format.
Four years later, there’s a new millennium, two new Matrix sequels and a brand new DVD. The Animatrix expands the concept further, a collection of nine animated shorts set inside and outside of the dream world. We talk to Michael Arias, producer of this audacious virtual spin-off project…
How is producing a direct-to-DVD project different than producing a movie?
We approached production of each episode exactly as we would a feature film, and the luxury to handcraft every element of this project was a very attractive aspect of Animatrix. So, even though these are short films, they are each really a mini-feature film. They’re more than a feature actually, because you could never maintain this level of detail and action for the length of an entire feature – it would just be too demanding of the film-makers, and too draining for the audience. Mamoru Oshii compared Animatrix with Yakult, a very dense strong-tasting Japanese yoghurt drink in a tiny bottle!
Were all the nine Animatrix features created and drawn at the same time? How did you balance your time between all the films?
They were made more or less all in parallel though some started while others were finishing (two of our directors did two films each). My time was very scarce of course, but I had great and very energetic partners – Hiroaki Takeuchi was instrumental in working out all of the business arrangements, and Eiko Tanaka was a fantastic producer (she produced two of Miyazaki’s films – My Neighbour Tortoro and Kiki’s Delivery Service).
How closely did Joel Silver and the Wachowski brothers work with you on the project?
As closely as they could, given that at the same time they were producing two extremely ambitious and complicated films, Reloaded and Revolutions. Andy and Larry were most involved in the story development process – they are themselves great writers, and full of ideas. But once we started actually making the films – I mean drawing them – Andy and Larry really sat back and just enjoyed watching our process.
To be honest, producing animation might seem like watching paint dry – such a laborious and time-consuming process – that they wouldn’t have enjoyed this aspect of it, I think.
Andy and Larry and Joel were all, without exception, enormously supportive of our efforts. And all three of them really enjoy good animation! The perfect clients, really.
by Judy Sloane