Interview with Larry Roberts (Lead Pyrotechnician, USA) from The Matrix Reloaded and Revolutions (2003)

By Paul Martin June 25th, 2012, in Official Interviews, The Matrix Reloaded, The Matrix Revolutions

Archival interview with Larry Roberts from the official Matrix website.

MATRIX: As the SPFX Pyrotechnic Coordinator, have you found THE MATRIX 2 a big show for explosions?

LARRY: It’s a big show, lots of work, we’re using a lot of creative materials, and doing a lot of designing. It’s a challenging show.

MATRIX: Originally, how did you get into working with explosives?

LARRY: I have a military background, and then just hands on training, working with other guys of my caliber now, thirty plus years ago. I first got into film work in 1959, working on Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, and Lost in Space.

MATRIX: The movie industry must have been a very different place at that time.

LARRY: It was different. In that era, pyrotechnics weren’t quite as developed as they are now. We worked with a lot of bullet hits and smaller explosions, mostly gas. Now we’re dealing with high explosives, we’re dealing with lots of color; we’re creating different products.

MATRIX: How does Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea compare to THE MATRIX sequels?

LARRY: Not even, there is no comparison. THE MATRIX has got it all over everything with very good effects, great creativity and good story points.

MATRIX: In recent years, you go to a movie and there’s an explosion, but it doesn’t really belong, even though it’s a great explosion. How do you feel about that?

LARRY: I feel that they either need more time on the film, or it’s something they think is exciting, but if it doesn’t play, I’d rather not have it in there myself. I think it takes away from the story because, later on, you see them in the hospital and you know they couldn’t have lived through that, so it’s a little bizarre.

MATRIX: How do you think THE MATRIX is going as far as veracity?

LARRY: I think it’s great. Although I would say that 258 bullet hits in one vehicle and nobody gets hit, is a little bizarre. But we are dealing with a chase sequence here.

MATRIX: How long have you been on this project now?

LARRY: We started back in Los Angeles before Christmas of last year [2000], so it’s been a while, 5 months.

MATRIX: Did you do much testing at that time?

LARRY: We did a lot of tests. We did testing of bullet hits on cars and other materials, like foams and plastics. We did some pyrotechnic explosions and car crashes, that sort of thing. The difference between bullet hits on this show and other shows is, there’s a lot more of them, they’re bigger than most, and we’re shooting a lot of glass. We’re reloading, doing it over and over and over again for different scenes.

MATRIX: What shot are you working on today?

LARRY: We’re doing some visual effects elements: explosions, rings of fire, explosions punching through other explosions. Basically, elements the Visual Effects Department can use in the hands on for their visual effects in the film.

MATRIX: How extensive is the pyrotechnic process in, for example, today’s shot, from first prep to the actual explosions?

LARRY: We start by testing, getting the magnitude of the explosions we want, as well as the look of it, the color, and the density. We also try to get the right height for the cameras to be at for the explosions, where we can get the shot we want without damaging them. There’s quite a lot of testing, and it’s a lengthy process. We’ve been working on this shot for well over a month now, just testing and eventually coming down to what we need to do here for these explosions today.

MATRIX: All the explosions I’ve seen today have been slightly different, how is that achieved?

LARRY: In the beginning, we were using a gallon of gas with detonator cord and sparks. In this next explosion we’re using naphthalene, black powder, and map gas, which is a big blast of air, it’s a big fireball, and up through that fireball we’ll punch another fireball of a different color. So it’s a combination of using different quantities of explosives, and different explosives.

MATRIX: What is the biggest explosion being shot today?

LARRY: We have the Trinity car and the XT, and if you have the two cars crashing together, it would be about a forty gallon explosion because, at that point, we’re dealing with around forty gallons. Later on today we’ll be shooting off forty plus gallons of gas in a major explosion, just looking at the horizon, for a big fireball, which will also be tied in with the same explosion on the Trinity overpass on the freeway. All of these explosions today are different elements that they’ll eventually pull the best look from to create the Trinity overpass explosion.

MATRIX: Where does today’s shot fit into the second film?

LARRY: This is to simulate the twins’ vehicle exploding on the Trinity overpass on the freeway, and them imploding out of it to a degree. In retrospect, I think they’re superimposing the twins flying from this explosion out into the sky, with parts of the car and that sort of thing. These elements are instrumental in creating that digitally.

MATRIX: Did the Freeway set have an impact on you the first time you saw it?

LARRY: I thought it looked very real, it will be very convincing for the audience. The car chases, the motorcycle chases, the different things that they’re doing, all look very convincing.

MATRIX: As a Pyrotechnician, were there any particular challenges working on that set?

LARRY: Yes, some of the stunts with the vehicles were very challenging. There were bullet hits flying which had to be coordinated with the hits of the gunfire, and that sort of thing. I think the motorcycle chase sequences were probably the most dangerous, and most challenging, stunts I can think of at this moment, because so many people could have been hurt. With the camera cars chasing in and out of all the cars on the freeway, the coordination had to be precise.

MATRIX: Thanks Larry.

Interview by REDPILL

May 2001

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