NEBUCHADNEZZAR HULL BREACH
BY ADAM GRACE
PROP & MODELMAKER
Towards the end of THE MATRIX, flying security machines called ‘Sentinels’ attack and penetrate the hull of the Nebuchadnezzar — the craft that carries Morpheus and his crew through the remains of the Earth’s sewerage tunnels. The scenes depicting the breach of the hull were accomplished with a half-scale section of hull combined with computer-generated sentinels and laser beams.
The hull section was planned as a repeatable ‘breakaway’ set up, with both exterior and interior views of the destruction utilizing the same scale set piece. A section of the hull approximately 5m x 3m was built over a curved steel support frame, and covered by a specially cast and rigged shell complete with a tile pattern that duplicated the look of the CGI Nebuchadnezzar.
The tile pattern was created by making a pattern of a single tile piece. This piece was molded in silicone rubber, and then a number of tiles were cast in urethane resin. These cast pieces were assembled on a flat board in a repeating pattern. The resulting multi-piece pattern was then molded in silicone rubber so that large sections of the tile pattern could be reproduced both in rigid and flexible urethanes.
A section approximately 2m x 2m was cast in a flexible urethane elastomer, with the desired thickness built up in urethane foam layers. Within the cast foam layers were straps and cables, whose positions were determined after numerous tests. The resulting casting was cut along the tile joins, and placed within the larger 5m x 3m panel. The cables and straps enabled the panel to be torn apart on cue, and reset for numerous takes.
In addition to the breakaway hull, cables, wires and twisting beams were dressed into the shot. The beams were made from urethane foam sheet bonded to a heavy gauge aluminum foil. This enabled the beams to twist and bend, and to be reset for additional takes. The cables and wires were also rigged to break apart on cue. Pyrotechnic effects were incorporated into the set-up to help tie in the CGI laser beam and Sentinel action that would be added in postproduction. Weeks of planning, building, and testing culminated in a shoot requiring the co-ordination of up to 20 model and effects technicians.
THE GOVERNMENT LOBBY DESTRUCTION
The destruction of the Government Lobby has proved to be a popular sequence amongst viewers. The carnage was accomplished with a mixture of live action practical effects, stunts, visual effects and CGI enhancements.
Complemented by a pounding soundtrack, it culminates in an explosive finale. Miniature elements were built and filmed for the sequence, but were subsequently replaced with CGI effects. Though the models did not end up in the final film, their manufacture and set-up is detailed here.
To show the elevator explosion and its fireball travelling through the lobby, it was decided that a quarter-scale model of the live action set in its final state would be built. This was to be a limited detail model comprising the floor, walls, pillars, and figures positioned to match the live action set.
THE QUARTER-SCALE FIGURES
The figures were built around a wire armature skeleton wrapped in soft urethane foam. Generic heads, hands and boots were sculpted in plasticine, molded in silicone rubber, then copies cast in urethane resin. Various detailed items such as canteens, radios, walkie-talkies, rifles, etc., had patterns sculpted in plasticine, or scratch built from plastics and fillers. These, too, were molded in silicone rubber and cast in urethane resin. The uniforms were sewn from scaled patterns using cloth to match the full-sized costumes. The figures were then finally painted and detailed to match their live action counterparts.
THE QUARTER SCALE LOBBY
The quarter-scale Lobby set was built by the construction department while the figures were being made. The floors and walls were achieved by using compressed cement sheeting. This afforded a fire resistant surface for planned multiple takes.
The columns were made by wrapping ‘black-wrap’ foil around column base and top formers. Black-wrap is a heavy gauge black aluminum foil used by lighting and camera departments to block light or shield cameras and lenses during filming. The foil was then crushed in the center to achieve the destroyed look of the columns on the live action set. The whole set was rigged upside down within a tilting frame so that the model could be angled to adjust the look of the fireball as it swept through the set.
Another quarter-scale set was built that was basically a black box with the walls and black-wrap columns in the appropriate positions. Figure ‘shapes’ were achieved by using crushed and shaped black-wrap. The fireball was effected by rigging a propane tank with a solenoid release valve, provided and operated by the special effects department. A huge fireball was able to be shot through the model spreading out over the lobby floor. Numerous takes were shot with different gas pressures and durations. As well as adjusting the tilt of the set, the many variables offered the filmmakers a range of looks to choose from. Ultimately the resulting footage from the “black-box” set was sufficient to be used in the assembly of the final visual effect. A CGI elevator door spinning towards camera completed the Government Lobby destruction sequence.