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Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss Reveal Making of The Matrix Awakens

The Matrix Awakens

Is it genuine — or is it fictitious?

Epic Games collaborated with Warner Bros. and Lana Wachowski, director of “The Matrix Resurrections,” to produce a “technical demo” set in the Matrix universe to demonstrate the capabilities of Epic’s latest 3D authoring tool, Unreal Engine 5. After announcing it at the 2021 Game Awards on Thursday, the studio published “The Matrix Awakens: An Unreal Engine 5 Experience,” a 29-gigabyte free download for Sony’s PlayStation 5 (at this link) and Microsoft’s Xbox Series X/S (at this link).

The goal of the proof-of-concept is to pique the interest of digital artists in Unreal Engine 5, which Epic plans to release in 2022. “Making something look super-real should drive creators to think about how to use [Unreal Engine 5] in a game — or a film or TV show,” Epic Games CTO Kim Libreri said.

Lana Wachowski wrote and directed “The Matrix Awakens,” which stars Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss as Neo and Trinity, respectively (and also appearing as themselves). For the production, the actors supplied voiceovers. The actors and characters in “The Matrix Awakens” (including a de-aged Keanu) are all computer re-creations, with the exception of a brief video clip of Reeves. In its studio in Novi Sad, Serbia, Epic’s 3Lateral crew took high-fidelity 3D scans of Reeves and Moss’ faces as well as 4D captures of their performances.

“How do we know what is real?” says the narrator. “The Matrix Awakens” opens with Reeves saying.

After seeing the cinematic intro, users can play the game by firing at evil agents from a speeding automobile in a pursuit across a virtual city the size of Los Angeles, and then exploring the city in an open-world exploration. Along with the final release of Unreal Engine 5, Epic aims to provide all of the creative assets needed to create the virtual Matrix city (along with its AI-powered vehicles and pedestrians) next year. “We wanted to build a city that could be reused by anyone,” Libreri explained.

Libreri and John Gaeta, who worked on the VFX crew for the first three “Matrix” films, had lunch with Lana Wachowski a few years ago. “When I informed them I was developing another Matrix picture, they suggested I come and play in the Epic sandbox,” she said in a statement. And, holy crap, what a sandbox! I suspect a game business will be the first to create a true Matrix – a completely immersive, persistent universe — and Epic is certainly paving the way.”

“Whatever the future of cinematic narrative holds, Epic will play no small part in it,” Wachowski continued. VFX pros will be able to detect the difference between the actual Keanu Reeves and the version created by Unreal Engine 5, according to Libreri. However, he believes the platform and “The Matrix Awakens” assets will appeal to filmmakers trying to construct metro streetscapes fast and cheaply. He said, “I’m confident episodic TV shows will employ that.”

Unreal Engine is free to use for filmmakers; however, if a developer utilizes the content as part of an interactive game or virtual reality experience, Epic charges a licensing fee. Unreal Engine 5 is already being used to power the latest version of Epic’s enormously popular “Fortnite” game.

Why did Epic Games not make a full-fledged Matrix game? That either wasn’t on the table or wasn’t within Epic Games’ scope of objectives. “I think there’s enough of a structure to make a fascinating game,” Libreri added. He also mentioned that Warner Bros. Games (previously Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment) is the studio’s own games development and publishing branch, which adapts the studio’s intellectual property.

Many of the crew members who worked on the original “Matrix” trilogy returned for “The Matrix Awakens,” including Libreri, Gaeta, James McTeigue, Kym Barrett, Jerome Platteaux, George Borshukov, and Michael F. Gay, in collaboration with Epic Games and partners such as SideFX, Evil Eye Pictures, The Coalition, and WetaFX (the new name of Peter Jackson’s VFX shop after Weta Digital sold.

The demo demonstrates a variety of Unreal Engine 5 features. The MetaHuman Creator; the Chaos physics system, which simulates vehicle movement, character clothing, and building destruction; the Lumen dynamic global illumination system, which uses real-time ray tracing; the platform’s World Partition system, which makes the development of large environments more manageable; and Temporal Super Resolution, a next-generation upsampling algorithm that Epic claims generates rich, high-resolution images at low processing times.

The virtual city Epic produced for “The Matrix Awakens: An Unreal Engine 5 Experience” has a number of stats:

  • The city is somewhat larger than downtown L.A., with a width of 4.138 km and a length of 4.968 km (a surface area of 15.79 square kilometers and perimeter of 14.519 km)
  • It features 260 kilometers of highways, 512 kilometers of walkways, 1,248 crossroads, 17,000 destructible simulated traffic vehicles on the road, and 45,073 parked cars.
  • It comprises 7,000 structures and 27,848 lampposts, as well as 35,000 virtual MetaHuman pedestrians.
  • The city is only lighted by the sun, the sky, and “emissive materials” on meshes; there are no streetlights or headlights. Nearly all of the lighting in the night mode originates from the millions of emissive building windows.

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