An engrossing dystopian future. Bullet time. Cool as hell hacker nicknames. Badass sunglasses. Kung fu. A prophecy to save humanity. The One.
There’s a lot of iconic stuff in The Matrix, the seminal speculative fiction masterpiece that changed action and sci-fi films in 1999, inspired a generation of hackers, launched countless forum discussions about its religious and philosophical readings, and served as a metaphor for the trans experience.
But, perhaps, there’s nothing as iconic and unforgettable as the green “digital rain” that streams down at the beginning of each of the four Matrix movies.
This is the streaming cascade of vaguely Japanese-looking green characters on a black background that has become as iconic as the Star Wars opening scroll. For the last few years, a programmer has recreated it from scratch with astounding dedication nearing obsession, publishing code that recreates not only the original digital rain, but also all its variants, the necessary fonts, and his own custom versions.
Jeremy Sachs, a software developer who works for a games company, and goes by Rezmason online, calls it “a fan-made approximation of a very famous special effect from an influential movie.” Originally he published his project on GitHub in 2018, but has been working on it on and off since 2015. His work is so accurate that Lilly Wachowski, one of the two sisters who created, wrote, and directed the Matrix movies, said it may even top the original.
“Ahhh! Those are cool. Looks as good as (better?) than the original,” Lilly told Motherboard in an online chat.
Lilly said that the digital rain was invented by Animal Logic, an Australian VFX company that was hired for the first movie.
“The code is a fucking mirror people. We’re all made up of the same shit. Choose fucking love.”
“It was a bit of a journey getting to the final version and ended up going back to the drawing board many times,” she said. “The code had to do a lot narratively speaking. Had to convey a sense of a transfer of lots of information but maintained the visual capacity to hypnotize somewhat.”
Lilly said that she thinks it was Lana who eventually came up with “the idea of rain on a window pane.”
An idea that, she said, “really tied together a lot of metaphors for us. The worlds within worlds stuff we were doing with all the reflections and shit.”
Ultimately, according to Lilly, the code has a deeper meaning than most realize.
“The code works so well because it fits so well into the story,” she said. “The code is a fucking mirror people. We’re all made up of the same shit. Choose fucking love.”
“I found, recovered and cleaned up the actual symbols from promotional material in the Internet Archive.”
Sachs told Motherboard that he’s been a fan of the franchise and its looks for a long time.
“I always liked the visual language of the franchise. The official website was a gem at the time,” he said in an online chat. “When it was updated to contain set designs and video treatments from the first two sequels, I rushed to download everything I could. That's still on a scratched CD somewhere.”
He said that he’s always wanted to make the digital rain, which he considers “probably the most widely sought after screensaver in existence.”
In 2015, Sachs said he was working on an unrelated side project that wasn’t going anywhere and thought about digital rain again, and started putting together his project, which has recently gone viral on Hacker News.
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“I spent a lot of time at the start looking at the sequels' opening titles. It turns out there's a pattern in there, at least in the 2003 version, that may be completely incidental but I was able to integrate into mine,” Sachs explained. “I found, recovered and cleaned up the actual symbols from promotional material in the Internet Archive. That's when I realized this could be a definitive fan project. I really cranked up my attention to detail from then on.”
In 2021, when the first trailer for the franchise’s fourth installment The Matrix Resurrections was published, “the knowledge that someone out there was working on the official stuff, and that it'd have the fidelity of a 2021 film in a matter of months, was a real motivation to kick it up another notch,” Sachs said.
In the project’s GitHub page, Sachs said he recovered the glyphs that stream down the screen—the hardest part of the process—from an old Flash .swf file for an official Matrix product archived in 2007. Then, he reverse-engineered the new ones from a watch ad, and “lovingly synthesized” the rest from a behind-the-scenes VFX video.