Bullet time  

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Bullet Time refers to a digitally enhanced simulation of variable speed (i.e. slow motion, time-lapse…) photography used in films, broadcast advertisements and video games. It is characterized both by its extreme transformation of time (slow enough to show normally imperceptible and un-filmable events, such as flying bullets) and space (by way of the ability of the camera angle—the audience's point-of-view—to move around the scene at a normal speed while events are slowed). The first movie to use the Bullet Time technique was Blade in 1998, where bullets were computer-generated and digitally implemented. However, the actual term Bullet Time is a registered trademark of Warner Bros., the distributor of The Matrix. It was formerly a trademark of 3D Realms, producer of the Max Payne games.

This is almost impossible with conventional slow-motion, as the physical camera would have to move impossibly fast; the concept implies that only a "virtual camera," often illustrated within the confines of a computer-generated environment such as a game or virtual reality, would be capable of "filming" bullet-time types of moments. Technical and historical variations of this effect have been referred to as time slicing, view morphing, slow-mo, temps mort and virtual cinematography.


The Bullet Time effect was originally achieved photographically by a set of still cameras surrounding the subject. These arrays are usually triggered at once or sequentially. Singular frames taken from each of the still cameras are then arranged and displayed consecutively to produce an orbiting viewpoint of an action frozen in time or as hyper-slow-motion. This technique suggests the limitless perspectives and variable frame rates possible with a virtual camera. However, if the still array process is done with real cameras, it is often limited to assigned paths.

For many years, it has been possible to use computer vision techniques to capture scenes and render images of novel viewpoints sufficient for Bullet Time type effects. More recently, these have been formalized into what is becoming known as free viewpoint television (FTV). At the time of The Matrix, FTV was not a fully mature technology. FTV is effectively the live action version of Bullet Time, without the slow motion.

In The Matrix, the camera path was pre-designed using computer-generated visualizations as a guide. Cameras were arranged, behind a green or blue screen, on a track and aligned through a laser targeting system, forming a complex curve through space. The cameras were then triggered at extremely close intervals, so the action continued to unfold, in extreme slow-motion, while the viewpoint moved. Additionally, the individual frames were scanned for computer processing. Using sophisticated interpolation software, extra frames could be inserted to slow down the action further and improve the fluidity of the movement (especially the frame rate of the images); frames could also be dropped to speed up the action. This approach provides greater flexibility than a purely photographic one. The same effect can also be produced using pure CGI, motion capture and universal capture. It is thought that the opening sequence from the late 1960s Speed Racer cartoons partially inspired the Wachowski Brothers to incorporate the Bullet Time effect into The Matrix.


Antecedents to Bullet Time occurred before the invention of cinema itself. Eadweard Muybridge used still cameras placed along a racetrack to take pictures of a galloping horse. Each camera was actuated by a taut string stretched across the track; as the horse galloped past, the camera shutters snapped, taking one frame at a time. (The original intent was to settle a debate the governor of California had engaged in, as to whether all four of the animal's legs would leave the ground when galloping.) Muybridge later assembled the pictures into a rudimentary animation, by placing them on a glass disk which he spun in front of a light source. His zoopraxiscope may have been an inspiration for Thomas Edison to explore the idea of motion pictures. Template:Harvard citation

Muybridge also took photos of actions from many angles at the same instant in time, to study how the human body went up stairs, for example. This is the effect used in The Matrix, and other movies, and is achieved roughly the same way as Muybridge set up his shots. In effect, however, Muybridge had achieved the aesthetic opposite to The Matrix's bullet-time sequences, since his studies lacked the dimensionality of the later developments. A debt may also be owed to MIT professor Doc Edgerton, who, in the 1940s, captured now-iconic photos of bullets using xenon strobe lights to "freeze" motion.

Long before the emergence of a technology permitting a live-action application, bullet-time as a concept was frequently developed in cel animation. One of the earliest examples is the shot at the end of the title sequence for the late-sixties Japanese anime series Speed Racer: as Speed leaps from the Mach Five, he freezes in mid-jump, and then the camera does an arc shot from front to sideways.

In 1980 Tim Macmillan started producing pioneering video work in this field while studying for a BA at the (then named) Bath Academy of Art using 16mm film arranged in a progressing sequence of pinhole cameras.

The first music video to use bullet-time was "Midnight Mover", a 1985 Accept video. Bullet time became popularized when John Gaeta and team expanded it temporally and into the digital arena through the incorporation of frame interpolation and image based CGI within the film The Matrix (1999) and through view-morphing techniques pioneered by BUF Compagnie in music videos by Michel Gondry and commercials for, among others, The Gap. Gaeta said of The Matrix's use of the effect:

"For artistic inspiration for bullet time, I would credit Otomo Katsuhiro, who co-wrote and directed Akira, which definitely blew me away, along with director Michel Gondry. His music videos experimented with a different type of technique called view-morphing and it was just part of the beginning of uncovering the creative approaches toward using still cameras for special effects. Our technique was significantly different because we built it to move around objects that were themselves in motion, and we were also able to create slow-motion events that 'virtual cameras' could move around – rather than the static action in Gondry's music videos with limited camera moves."

In popular film culture, Blade was the first film to illustrate super human reflexes dodging bullets in a scene in a park when the character of Blade fires at Stephen Dorf's character, Deacon Frost. Computer generated bullets are also used to illustrate the concept and slow motion camera work.

John Woo is also famous for incorporating slow motion shoot outs in his movies, such as A Better Tomorrow and Hard Boiled. These films would later influence media such as Max Payne and The Matrix series.

In 2003, Bullet Time evolved further through The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions with the introduction of high-definition computer-generated approaches like virtual cinematography and universal capture. Virtual elements within the Matrix Trilogy utilized state-of-the-art image-based computer rendering techniques pioneered in Paul Debevec's 1997 film and custom evolved for the Matrix by George Borshukov, an early collaborator of Debevec.

Other applications of the concept

Other early applications of the concept:

  • Requiem: Avenging Angel (Video Game), 1999. "Warp Time" power.
  • Zotz, 1962. Rooftop fight including "slow-motion" dodging of a pistol bullet.
  • Speed Racer, 1967-1968. Opening sequence.
  • The Return of the Pink Panther, 1975. Inspector Clouseau practices kung-fu with Cato in slow motion.
  • Trancers, also known as Future Cop, 1984. This film features two slow motion scenes involving Jack Deth's actions. One of them involves him saving Helen Hunt's character from being shot.
  • Videoclip for Accept "Midnight Mover", 1985.
  • Videoclip for Suede "The Wild Ones", 1994. Dir. Howard Greenhalgh.
  • Videoclip for Bjork "Army of Me", 1995. Dir. Michel Gondry.
  • Videoclip for The Rolling Stones "Like a Rolling Stone", 1995. Dir. Michel Gondry.
  • Videoclip for Sting "Let Your Soul Be Your Pilot", 1996. Dir. Emmanual Carlier.
  • Videoclip for Smoke City "Underwater Love", 1996. Dir. Tim MacMillan
  • "Little Bitty" Alan Jackson video 1996.
  • Videoclip for Coolio "C U When U Get There", 1996.
  • Video for Meat Beat Manifesto's "Helter Skelter '97", 1997, directed by Ben Stokes
  • "Landscape", 1997. This short computer animation by Tamás Waliczky won a prize at the 1998 Prix Ars Electronica cyberarts competition.
  • Videoclip for Van Halen "Without You", 1998
  • Videoclip for Garbage "Push it", 1998
  • The movie Buffalo '66 (1998).
  • The movie Lost in Space (1998) features a scene similar to bullet-time: When ship enters hyperspace, all the action freezes, but the point of view moves slightly in an arc.
  • The episode "Wink of an Eye" of the original Star Trek television series is entirely based on bullet-time: The villains exist exclusively in hyperspeed and attempt to utilize it to take over the starship USS Enterprise and her crew.
  • The music video for the song "Guilty Conscience" (from The Slim Shady LP) features Dr. Dre and Eminem speaking as good and evil consciences to three different men frozen in Bullet Time.
  • The film Wing Commander (1999) performed poorly at the box office, though the trailer gained some notice for its inclusion of the film's bullet-time scene, showing people, and a spilling cup of liquid, captured in mid-air.
  • The film Titus (1999) contains a simple bullet-time scene near the end, as Lucius kills Emperor Saturninus.
  • Videoclip for Meat Beat Manifesto and title sequence for Howard Stern's televised radio program, both directed by Ben Stokes of the influential film/video/design consortium H-Gun
  • Videoclip for Korn "Freak On A Leash", 1998.
  • In Super Bowl XXXV, CBS employed a system of cameras that allowed for bullet-time-like effects on its broadcast. This system proved to be the difference in upholding a replay challenge on a Jamal Lewis fourth quarter touchdown by showing that he clearly broke the plane of the end zone. The Bullet Time was accomplished using cameras only, without any computer interpolating.
  • In the opening sequence of the IMAX documentary Michael Jordan to the Max, Michael Jordan executes a slam dunk in bullet-time while practicing at the United Center.
  • An episode of the animated series Futurama ("Three Hundred Big Boys") features a scene in which Fry enters a state of hyperspeed after consuming one hundred cups of coffee. In this state, he is able to observe individual wingbeats of a hummingbird.
  • In The Fairly OddParents (season 1) the episode Power Mad!, Timmy, in his video game, was attacked by ninja bunnies which throw carrots and it is in bullet time. Also in The Fairly OddParents: Wishology, Timmy was in a spoof on the Matrix with some bullet time.
  • Select episodes of the TV series Angel following Season 4's "Home" (4x21) have featured stylized bullet-time action sequences.
  • Many episodes of the TV series Smallville use bullet time.
  • A Half-Life 2 mod, SMOD, at any time you press a certain key.
  • Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood also have bullet-time.
  • Also Max Payne is one of the first video games to incorporate "bullet time" into its gameplay
  • In an episode of Jimmy Neutron, Maximum Hugh, Jimmy's Dad consumes marshmallows while in slow motion, bending backwards when Jimmy throws them at him, recreating a key Bullet Time scene from The Matrix.
  • In the video game "Resident Evil 5", the main villain "Albert Wesker" uses Bullet Time in every battle; he is able to easily dodge bullets.
  • In the penultimate level of the Nintendo 64 Game "Conker's Bad Fur Day", "Bank Heist", Conker at one point is shot at by the Bank Security and he dodges them with Bullet time in a similar way a'la The Matrix.
  • Also, in the Gamecube game "Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes", the characters Solid Snake and Gray Fox are seen using Bullet time to evade Bullets.
  • In the series, Kamen Rider Kabuto, the system of the rider implements the power of "Clock Up" which allows the user to fight enemy monsters called Worms in hyperspace, where fights seem to be minutes is actually seconds or less in normal time.
  • In the game Fallout 3, the targeting system V.A.T.S. uses bullet time
  • In the American Dragon: Jake Long episode, "The Hong Kong Longs," during a 1972 flashback scene, Fu Dog jumps almost to the roof, and then the camera pans around the room while Fu is frozen in mid-air.
  • During the 2007 NBA All-Star Dunk Contest, replays of the dunks were shown in bullet time, so, while the dunk contest participants are in mid-air, the camera goes around them and then they would slam dunk the ball.
  • The game Mirror's Edge also incorporates bullet time. A form of bullet time called "Reaction Time" allows the player to plan their next action without losing momentum. It slows down Faith's movements and allows her to dodge bullets, disarm enemies with ease, pull off a difficult stunt with certain accuracy and most of all makes the game look beautifully dramatic in slow motion. However, it must only be used in certain situations or else it will take a lot more time to be used again.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Bullet time" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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