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‘The Matrix Awakens’: How the Unreal Engine 5 Tech Demo Celebrates the Reality-Bending Franchise

The December 10 launch of "The Matrix Awakens" reintroduces the boundary-pushing universe with Unreal Engine 5 as a free download for PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S.

The Matrix Awakens Epic Games

“The Matrix Awakens: An Unreal Engine 5 Experience”

Epic Games

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The reality-bending of “The Matrix” from 1999 has become more of a reality in 2021, with the advent of the metaverse and the merging of our digital and physical lives. Which makes way for the return of the groundbreaking franchise with director Lana Wachowski’s “The Matrix Resurrections” (December 22), reuniting Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss as Neo and Trinity. But, as a teaser, we have the December 10 launch of “The Matrix Awakens: An Unreal Engine 5 Experience”: an interactive tech demo that reintroduces the boundary-pushing universe as a free download for PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S. Fittingly, Reeves and Moss appear in both real life and CG shots that are indistinguishable.

The idea for “The Matrix Awakens” was hatched at a dinner between Wachowski and Kim Libreri and John Gaeta, who were responsible for the game changing VFX on “The Matrix.” Libreri is currently CTO of Epic Games and Gaeta continues to innovate VR and other interactive experiences. Wachowski informed them of her plans to make the fourth movie, and asked if they wanted to reunite with her to spearhead the latest cutting-edge VFX. “We told her we were involved in real time and interactive entertainment, but suggested a ‘Matrix’ interactive celebration to introduce the universe to a younger gaming audience on new consoles,” Libreri said.

“And she was super into it,” Libreri continued, “and Warner Bros. has an awesome game studio and wanted to help facilitate it. And she wrote it [including] the dialogue for Keanu and Carrie-Anne. And she supervised the shoot that we did in Babelsberg Studio [in Germany] because we couldn’t get there because of COVID.”

The Matrix Awakens Epic Games

“An Unreal Engine 5 Experience”

Epic Games

The demo kicks off with a cinematic, in which “The Matrix” comes full circle with Reeves talking about the blurring of the real and the unreal. Then he morphs into Neo and steps into a car with Moss’ Trinity on an explosive adventure with car chases and third-person shooter blasting. All of this takes place in a 16-square kilometer open-world city populated with realistic inhabitants and traffic.

The demo serves as a showcase for the new Unreal Engine 5, which allows users to control the action and build immersive, high-fidelity environments, thanks to the real time engine’s procedural tools, along with SideFX’s Houdini software. Procedural modifications can generate the size of the roads and the height of the buildings, all the way down to the amount of debris on the sidewalks.

“You’re choosing which car you shoot at, and every time that you hit a car and it blows up, it will all be different,” added Libreri. “All the traffic within that gameplay is simulated. You even get to trigger the ‘Bullet Time’ shot at the end. And then, finally, you can do whatever you want in the city: walk around, turn into a drone and fly around, and toggle all the features and see how the city was built. And we will give this city and all the AI that drives it to all Unreal Engine customers once it gets released in its final form next year.”

The Matrix Awakens Epic Games

“An Unreal Engine 5 Experience”

Epic Games

For Gaeta, returning to “The Matrix” has been a fascinating experience, not only because of the tech advances in simulation and AI mechanics, but also to reflect on how the world has caught up to its reality-bending premise. “In light of ‘The Matrix’ as a cautionary tale, we’re going boldly into these new mediums, so we need to do it in the right way, the people-centric way,” he said. “We think the metaverse is an art form as much as anything else — it could be a lifestyle for people. We’re really active in the zeitgeist of building the next thing. And it is interesting reaching back while looking forward.”

Libreri, who’s been at the forefront of virtual production innovation (including Unreal’s collaboration on “The Mandalorian”), envisions even greater creative possibilities for the real time engine. “The next wave of games are going to engage people in ways that they can have some agency over stories and participation in the stories,” he said. “So I think the next five years, you’re going to see a revolution in this. The challenge is that, for many traditional filmmakers, it is really mind blowing to understand [the possibilities]. You can make an animated show for kids or an anime-type thing for teenagers in the engine, because [viewers] can customize their characters, share stuff, and head toward this metaverse.”

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