John Gaeta

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Gaeta in Taormina, Sicily in 2021

John C. Gaeta (born 1965) is a designer and inventor best known for his work on the Matrix film trilogy, where he advanced methods and formats known as Bullet Time, Volumetric Cinematography and Universal Capture (UCAP). He is also known for exploring emergent and expressive new media platforms such as Photo Anime, NUI, HoloCinema and the Magicverse.


John Gaeta was born in New York City and grew up in Shoreham, Long Island. He eventually grew an interest in photography and the films of Stanley Kubrick and Ridley Scott. He entered New York University's Tisch School of the Arts to study film, and acquired a BFA degree with honors in 1989. He was introduced to the industry as a staff production assistant for the Saturday Night Live film unit, as well as doing camera and lighting work for a variety of media types and makers.[1] Some of these early work experiences included holography with Jason Sapan, stop-motion animation with Peter Wallach, motion control with Bran Ferren, nature documentary, filming birdlife for National Geographic Explorer, timelapse and experimental photography in Namibia, Africa on Miramax's first feature, Dust Devil.[2]

A few years later, Gaeta heard from a friend that visual effects innovator Douglas Trumbull was founding a new company in Massachusetts and needed technicians based on the East Coast. Gaeta went on to be drafted into the camera department of the newly formed Trumbull Company, where he was introduced and educated in a spectrum of innovative film formats such as 48fps VistaVision, 70mm Showscan, IMAX, OMNIMAX and stereo CGI, to create the ambitious simulator Back to the Future: The Ride for Universal Parks & Resorts.[2]

Following this special venue period (1991–1994), Gaeta became interested in applying computer-generated animation as a means of visualizing content and visual effects concepts for directors as well as for custom camera-path planning. This led to experimentation with emerging forms of space analysis including photogrammetry, stereo and laser radar. Trumbull Company was renamed Mass Illusion and started feature film effects for movies.

After co-supervising development for 3-D paint effect stylizations and LIDAR laser scanning(Reality Capture) for What Dreams May Come (1998 Visual Effects Oscar winner), Gaeta began his first solo effects supervision project for The Wachowskis' science fiction film, The Matrix.

Designing and testing The Matrix bullet time effects began in early 1996. This work directly overlapped R&D for What Dreams May Come. Shortly after the release of the original Matrix in 1999, Gaeta continued his exploration of content design through CGI visualization with longtime colleague Kim Libreri (Lucasfilm, Current CTO of Epic Games) by developing fully "virtual" scene and action layouts for use in realtime interactive composition. Scenes ran on the GS Cube, a machine consisting of 16 parallel processors each based on a PlayStation 2 and rendering at, then groundbreaking, HD resolution. The research was demonstrated at SIGGRAPH 2000. Later, he partnered with colleague Rudy Poat (Microsoft, Amazon VR), returning to real time cinema experimentation by inserting, possibly the first ever, real time composed and rendered, full resolution/2k content into a theatrically released movie, Trapped Ashes.

In 2000, Gaeta won Best Visual Effects at the 73rd Academy Awards for his work on The Matrix, alongside Janek Sirrs, Steve Courtley and Jon Thum. In his acceptance speech (both for himself and on behalf of Sirrs, Courtley and Thum), he dedicated his award to his son, Skylar, calling it "inspiration".[3] The same year, Gaeta was brought on as the senior visual effects supervisor to complete the Matrix trilogy including The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions. This pair of films were created in parallel and featured over 2000 visual effects shots. Many photographed and post processed at a custom built complex called ESC, located at the Alameda Naval Base near San Francisco. Overall conceptual design as well as research and development was initiated for the final two installments in January 2000. There were a wide range of effects content from large-scale man vs. machine-type battles, to anime-styled hyper-real moments. The centerpiece innovations and new methodologies presented through the Matrix universe was the creation of "Virtual Cinematography" and "Virtual Effects," phrases coined by Gaeta in 1999 and 2000.[4]

In fully synthetic scenes within The Matrix sequels, all aspects including principal characters, elaborate performances, dynamic events, and deep surrounding scenery were computer generated by way of customized "image based" rendering techniques. Content components were constructed from "universal capture" sources based upon real actors, production design and cinematography, in a "sample cinema" type process more analogous to producing virtual reality than to film making. Impact, evolution and expansion of these once emergent content forms can be seen in later breakthrough films such as The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Avatar as well as ongoing interactive research happening in games and military simulation.[5]

The years 2005–2008 marked a deepening of the pursuit of sample cinema with new ground covered in the feature Speed Racer. The advent of a new genre type, dubbed "Photo Anime", was the centerpiece of a retro-modern universe in which optimistic pop art design ("Poptimisitic") threaded through dramatic collage based editing and motion graphic heavy kung fu car action. Inspired in part by the production attitude of Sin City, the expressive animated cinema of Hayao Miyazaki and Andy Warhol, the Wachowskis focused Gaeta's sensibilities once more toward new forms of post cinematography, deploying end to end high definition pipelines, comprehensive green screen/virtual set processes, fully computer generated race worlds, "2 and 1/2 D" layering methodologies, "faux lensing" as applied to VR location photography (360 degree spherical capture) and "techno color" in pursuit of a different movie experience. In addition to visual effects design for the film, Gaeta was additionally enlisted to creatively produce the Wii game counterpart.[6]

Since 2000, Gaeta has been an avid proponent of image based universal capture, also known as volumetric capture and deploying it within next generation of immersive entertainment.

In 2009 he had formed a new type of development company, FLOAT (hybrid) and was its acting Chief Creative Officer from 2009-2012. Float (hybrid) specializes in discovering and developing intuitive "Natural and Human Interfaces" in an effort to change the way people engage, relate to and interact with live generated entertainment.

Working directly with the future media labs at Microsoft that birthed the prototype technology that led to the Kinect and Hololens, his focus was on discovering new forms of “experiences” within emergent "Natural User Interface" (NUI) paradigms. First of kind advancements were made toward intuitive, multi modal, full body gesture based navigation of characters through spatially complex and virtually tactile(reactive) worlds.

Nuiscopic (Natural User Vision) and Nuvie (NU Movie, Natural User Movie) were terms Gaeta coined during this period to describe a new form of gesture and spatial proximity driven real time perspective control and a creative target for it: interactive and navigable storytelling. Float prototypes were often conducted in connected “living room labs" or special venues and often utilized sensors, capture and tracking technologies, proto mobile device hardware, immersive projection, virtual reality hmds (military, pre oculus/vive), augmented and blended reality proto tech.

In late 2012, at the onset of Walt Disney's acquisition of Lucasfilm, John Gaeta was invited to join at the invitation of president Kathleen Kennedy to help catalyze next generation creative innovation. He helped found in 2015 the Immersive Entertainment division ILMxLAB, a joint venture between the Lucasfilm Story Group, Industrial Light and Magic and Skywalker Sound. Among the projects Gaeta helped develop was The Void experience Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire and the VR story series Vader Immortal.

In October 2017, as a direct report to CEO Rony Abovitz, John Gaeta took on the executive role of SVP of Creative Strategy at Magic Leap with a mission focus to collaboratively conceive and advise corporate direction on mid term emergent spatial computing, spatial web, massive xr platform strategies and premium content/worlds. One concept was Magicverse, conducted through a special projects/moonshot division he initiated called IPL which produces strategic analysis, concept, visualization/simulation and leading edge prototypes which depict future use cases, experimental interface and compelling human experiences. Due to struggles at Magic Leap, this chapter was brought to a close in December 2019.

2020-2021 John Gaeta created a new development hub (“Gelato”) focused on incubating a 21st century approach to The Matrix within emerging new media formats. With Lana Wachowski, a story premise for Animatrix 2.0 was born based upon the Origin of the Matrix. Additionally, Gaeta produced a Unreal Engine 5 special project titled The Matrix Awakens, and had a cameo in The Matrix Resurrections.



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  1. ^ "Matrix2: Bullet Time was just the beginning. F/x guru John Gaeta reinvents cinematography with The Matrix Reloaded." (Wired, May 2003)
  2. ^ a b "Artist Profile: John Gaeta". Archived from the original on 2016-04-07. Retrieved 2016-03-27.
  3. ^ John Gaeta, Janek Sirrs, Steve Courtley, Jon Thum Academy Award Acceptance Speech - Academy Awards Acceptance Speech Database, retrieved 2021-09-17
  4. ^ "'The Matrix' Revealed: An Interview with John Gaeta" (VFXPro, March 9, 2004)
  5. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2014-04-06. Retrieved 2014-04-25.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  6. ^ CGSociety - John Gaeta

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