In the world of filmmaking, there are a variety of creative techniques that can enhance the storytelling and visual experience for viewers. One such technique is bullet time, which has become increasingly popular over the years. The technique makes time itself feel paused, allowing us, the viewers, to examine each detail in a scene that would otherwise have been lost in the blink of an eye. It is a fascinating blend of technology and artistry. But what is bullet time, exactly, and how does it work? 

What is Bullet Time in Film?

Bullet Time Explained

To truly grasp the concept of bullet time, let's dig into its definition. This will give us a solid foundation for understanding the ins and outs of this technique and how it's used in modern filmmaking.  


What is bullet time in filmmaking?

Bullet time is a visual effect that creates the illusion of freezing time while the camera continues to move around the subject. It's a visual effect that creates a slowed-down version of reality, where everything around the main subject seems to move in slow motion while the subject itself remains at normal speed. Imagine a bullet fired from a gun, and the camera follows the bullet as it traverses the air, capturing every minute detail. The term was coined with The Matrix and it's iconic shot of Neo dodging bullets in super slow motion. In fact, 'bullet time' was even written into the script for that scene.

Characteristics of Bullet Time:

  • Captures minute details
  • Slows down reality
  • Subject maintains speed

Where Did Bullet Time Start?

Origins of Bullet Time

Now, where did this technique originate? While it is more commonly used today, Bullet Time didn't make its way into filmmaking until the technology allowed it to around the mid-90s.

While the very first use of bullet time is often debated the concept can be traced back to a 1990s music video directed by Michel Gondry for the song "Like a Rolling Stone" by The Rolling Stones. 

In the video, the band members are shown moving in slow motion while the camera moves around them, giving an illusion of time stopping. In this case, a rig using two synchronized still cameras captured the images and the movement between them was created in post-production.

Rolling Stones  •  Like a Rolling Stone (Michel Gondry)

However, it was the 1999 sci-fi blockbuster The Matrix that popularized the term 'Bullet Time.' The film used this technique to such a dramatic effect that it left audiences worldwide in awe.

The original bullet time shot

In a world where cinema continually evolves, bullet time has made its mark, becoming a staple in the best action movies and sci-fi films. It's a testament to the power of innovation and creativity in the world of cinema.

Bullet Time Tutorial

How Bullet Time is Created

Creating bullet time requires a keen eye for details, a thorough understanding of cinematography, and a fair bit of technical know-how.

In this behind-the-scenes video, you'll see how they created bullet time in iconic scenes from The Matrix.

What is Bullet Time 'The Matrix' Behind The Scenes

Multiple Cameras 

The Bullet Time effect is achieved by using a series of cameras arranged in a circle around the subject. The cameras are triggered to capture images in quick succession. In Neo's bullet-dodge shot, there were over 100 cameras used.


Appropriate lighting is crucial to ensure each frame is captured perfectly. The light should highlight the subject and create a depth of field for the background.


Once the images are captured, they are then fed into a computer. Software is used to stitch these images together to create a seamless slow-motion effect.

The result?

A breathtaking sequence that seems to defy the laws of time and space.

Bullet Time Examples

Bullet Time Examples in Movies

While we already talked about the iconic use of bullet time in The Matrix, there are other great examples in cinema of the technique. While the methods of creating bullet time change from film to film using more VFX than The Matrix’s more practical methods, the cinematic effect is used for the same principles in slowing down action in time. 

X-Men: Days Of Future Past (2014)

This superhero movie made great use of bullet time in the Quicksilver kitchen scene, creating an action-packed and visually stunning sequence that portrayed the superpower of Quicksilver cinematically.

QuickSilver Kitchen Scene  •  X-Men: Days Of Future Past (2014)

Sherlock (2010-2017)

This popular BBC series starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes employed the bullet time effect in several instances, notably of John Watson and Mary Morstan.

Bullet Time Effect in "Sherlock" the BBC TV Series

Deadpool (2016) 

In the opening credits scene, we get to see an impressive display of bullet time achieved through CGI as Deadpool takes out a group of enemies in slow motion, with witty commentary thrown in for good measure.

Deadpool Opening Credits

It's clear to see why the bullet time technique holds such a significant place in filmmaking. It's more than just a visual effect; it's a tool that breathes life into cinematic storytelling, making the impossible possible.

In the words of Jean-Luc Godard, "Cinema is the most beautiful fraud in the world." And with techniques like bullet time, this beautiful fraud continues to captivate, amaze, and inspire us. So, here's to the magic of cinema, and the endless possibilities it presents. Until next time, dear readers.

Up Next

Best Movie Shootouts of All Time

As we have seen, the Bullet Time technique has revolutionized the way action sequences are depicted in movies, particularly enhancing the spectacle of shootouts. Speaking of shootouts, it would be remiss not to dive into some of the most memorable ones ever to grace the silver screen. So, tighten your seatbelts as we look at the best movie shootouts of all time in our next article. 

Up Next: Best Shootouts Ever →
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  • Kyle DeGuzman graduated from San Diego State University with a Bachelor of Science in Television, Film, & New Media. He currently resides in Denver, Colorado spending his time writing, filmmaking, and traveling.

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