One of the things that The Matrix was famous for was "bullet time" cinematography.

I'm fairly sure that, while it was the first one to use the technique extensively and become famous for it, it wasn't the first to pioneer it.

So, which mass-released movie did pioneer it?

  • Must have had wide theatrical release - say, played in >500 movie theaters in USA or another country for longer than 1 week.

    If there are official movie world definitions of mass release, I'm willing to use that one - I just made one up for lack of anything better.

  • Must be a live-action (not animated) movie.

  • Doesn't have to be an American movie

  • Strongly prefer if there's some "professional" source that acknowledges that the technique used in the movie is indeed the same as Matrix's "bullet time" (e.g. a professional publication, or at least a well regarded specialist blog)

  • I have read around, and the use of still camera's to capture a sequence of stills around a subject was apparently pioneered in that Accept music video, but the first movie to put it through CGI and make it a seamless movement does appear to be the Matrix. Why are you "fairly sure" that it wasn't the first?
    – iandotkelly
    Jan 26, 2012 at 21:45
  • @iandotkelly - due to such a widespread use in Matrix. You don't usually plaster new and untested technique all over a major product, at least not in software engineering
    – DVK
    Jan 26, 2012 at 22:43
  • 3
    An interesting point - but IMHO I think perhaps the opposite is true, big budget movies are often the pioneers of new techniques - they have budget to try an idea, and a backup plan if it does not work as well as they hope. Richard Edlund (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Edlund) dramatically improved bluescreen techniques whilst working on Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica and The Empire Strikes back.
    – iandotkelly
    Jan 26, 2012 at 22:51
  • @DVK: there is a documentary on the bullet-time effect in the bonus of the DVD of The Matrix. In my memory, they claimed that they developped the technique for the movie.
    – Taladris
    Jun 18, 2014 at 14:56

2 Answers 2


Do you define bullet time as slow motion bullet dodging, or the spinny effect from multiple cameras in an arc?

There's a slow motion scene in the first Blade film where you can see the bullets moving through the air, giving the target enough time to reacting and move out of way. Blade came out in 1998, a year before The Matrix.

It's in the scene in Chinatown where Deacon Frost has captured a little girl, at around 2m45 in this YouTube clip (sorry it's in 4:3 squashovision).

The slow-spinny effect can be found in Lost in Space (also 1998) when they go into hyperdrive (around 1m20s in this clip).

Not a movie, but a similar spinny effect to The Matrix's bullet time can be seen in Michel Gondry's music video for The Rolling Stones' Like a Rolling Stone.

Also of note (but not a mass-movie), The Campanile Movie:

"a short film directed by Paul Debevec made in the spring of 1997 that used image-based modeling and rendering techniques from his Ph.D. thesis to create photorealistic virtual cinematography of the UC Berkeley campus."

"When I saw Debevec's movie, I knew that was the path."
-- Visual Effects Supervisor John Gaeta, WIRED 11.05.

Campanile project Master's student George Borshukov was hired by Manex Entertainment where he and his colleagues applied the Campanile Movie's virtual cinematography techniques to create some of the most memorable shots in the 1999 movie The Matrix.

The linked Wired article about The Matrix refers to both of these:

Fast-forward to the early 1990s, when another Frenchman, Arnauld Lamorlette, the R&D director for design firm BUF Compagnie, faced a problem similar to Laussedat's. Industrial clients examining buildings for structural flaws needed to see Paris from above. Parisian airspace, however, is tightly controlled; nonmilitary aircraft may fly over the city only on Bastille Day. Lamorlette found that by morphing between two photographs, he could generate a 3-D model: digital photogrammetry. BUF employed the technique to help director Michel Gondry create a music video for the Rolling Stones. Its radical camera moves - zipping through a room full of partygoers frozen in midmotion - caused a sensation in Europe. (BUF also used this method to make a Gap ad called "Khakis Swing" that was most Americans' first glimpse of the effect.)

Gaeta and Kim Libreri pumped up this technique for The Matrix: By triggering a circular array of 122 still cameras in sequence, they were able to simulate the action of a variable-speed movie camera that tracked completely around its subject. Because the cameras located on one side of the array were visible to those on the other side, however, they also needed a way to computer-generate photo-realistic sets so they could paint the cameras out of the frame.

Gaeta found the answer in 1997, at the annual visual effects convention Siggraph, where he saw a short film by Paul Debevec, George Borshukov, and Yizhou Yu called The Campanile Movie. The film - a flyover of the UC Berkeley campus - was generated entirely from still photographs. Like the 19th-century cartographers, Debevec and his team derived the precise shapes and contours of the landscape by triangulating the visual information in still photographs. Then they generated 3-D models based on this geometry, but instead of applying computer-generated textures to the models, they wrapped them with photographs of the buildings themselves. The trick worked spectacularly well. Instead of resembling something out of Toy Story, the buildings and the surrounding hills in The Campanile Movie looked absolutely real.

And here's the 1998 Gap "Khaki Swing" advert.


I think that the first recorded use of bullet time was in Kill and kill again in 1981.

Here is a link to the wiki entry: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kill_and_Kill_Again

Here is a summary of what wiki says about it:

Kill and Kill Again is a 1981 South African/American action film notable for being the first live-action film to use the visual effects known as bullet-time. It is a sequel to Kill or Be Killed (1980). Filmed in Sun City, Bophuthatswana, the film has a more tongue in cheek comedy approach than its predecessor.

The bullet-time scene occurs at the end, when Marduk has died and his chief guard is about to kill Dr. Kane while Steve is climbing up the outside of the building they're in. The guard fires his gun (at 1:36:10) and the bullet comes out very slowly and moves across the screen in a recognizable (but low-budget) early version of the famous scene in the Matrix. After ten seconds of the bullet flying across the room, Steve Chase has gotten up the building, gets inside the room, and deflects the bullet with a metal ashtray.

This very low-budget "Bullet-Time-Slice" sequence was achieved very simply, in-camera, with no post-production effects. The first shot of the bullet exiting the barrel of the gun was shot in close-up, with the barrel removed from the frame of the gun locked-off pointing downwards but with the camera also turned on its side, framing the barrel horizontally, but pointing down toward the floor. (When viewed 'upright,' this would then appear to be pointing at the subject in a correct manner.) A bullet, smaller in diameter than the inside of the barrel, was then dropped down through the barrel along with a puff of smoke from a cigarette. The bullet-and-smoke shot was filmed at 120fps to create the desired effect.

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