Most people when they hear bullet time, just think of The Matrix, as thats where it really became well known. But there were so many other movies before The Matrix.
Eadweard Muybridge 1887
In 1887 Muybridge shot this guy jumping about, where all the cameras fired at exactly the same time. Of course there wasn’t really a good way to display it as such, but he definitely shot the footage. The only way he could have probably displayed it to a viewer is through a Zoetrope.
Modern Day Films
There was then many other photographers played with this technique even right up to the mid 1980s, who did very little with the technique more than Eadweard did, but for this post, we will look at modern day movies, to see what are the first using Time Slice Photography.
Accept – Midnight Mover (March 1985)
In 1985 a music video was created with multiple cameras, and they have chosen frames out of each camera to create a bullet time effect spinning around the band almost all the way through the video. From counting the cameras, it looks like 17 were used to get this effect.
Wing Commander – (25th June 1995)
This is in our opinion the first really good Bullet Time effect. It’s well made, has no morphing going on, and is well aligned and smooth. The movie isn’t amazing, and kind of bombed in the cinemas, but it was definitely iconic and a shame it isn’t remembered as pioneering.
The Rolling Stones – Like A Rolling Stone (October 1995)
The director Michel Gondry created a video re-releasing The Rolling Stones track Like a Rolling Stone that was first released in 1965. He used multiple cameras and then morphed between each of them to create like a jumping effect, merging from one camera to another. Considering the tech they had then, a really good job.
Smirnoff Advert – (1996)
One of the first true, aligned and professional bullet time uses was in an Advert for Smirnoff, showing 2 scenes of bullet time use.
Gap Advert – Swing – Matthew Rolston – (Produced in Aug 1996 but released April 1998)
Matthew Rolston is a Hollywood music video directing god… he literally has worked with almost everybody. He was brought in to create an iconic advert which would be Gaps first ever advert which used Bullet Time perfectly throughout the video.
Lost In Space – (April 1998)
The first feature movie to use Bullet Time was Lost in space. As the space ship goes into HyperDrive and blasts its way through the sun, you see the crew frozen in air floating about. To be honest, it was really badly done, there is a lot of morphing artefacts where software has tried to guess extra images to make the transition smoother, and the jumps are poorly directed. Its the type of thing you would expect students to do or an experiential party. A serious shame, as they had the right ideas, just didn’t execute it well at all.
The Matrix – 11 June 1999 (UK) Released
And this was when the world believes Bullet Time started, many think it didn’t exist until this point and the The Wachowskis and John Gaeta invented it.
John Gaeta is quoted in Empire magazine number 136 from 2006 –
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.