LEADING HAND, PROP MANUFACTURE
THE ORIGINAL FILM
MATRIX: How did you get into the film industry?
NICK: Early on I studied industrial design at university, and straight after I left university I got into model making doing TV commercials, then I started in film work, and it just led on from there. It has pretty much been the only industry I’ve worked in now, and I’ve been doing it close to ten years. I worked on the first MATRIX in the Special Effects Department doing Breakaways, Dark City, and Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie was one of the first movies I worked on. I also worked on Mission: Impossible II, Kangaroo Jack, and Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones.
MATRIX: How long did you work on the original MATRIX?
NICK: Pretty much all the way through. The first one was quite different to what we’re doing here; I was working for Special Effects so I was involved with the bathroom scene and all the breaking walls when they’re going through the wet walls. I also worked on the Subway scenes – all the crashing into the impact zones in the subway walls and ceilings. Basically anything that broke, we made. I hadn’t done a lot of breakaways when we started that job, so that was a learning experience for me. We developed quite a few good techniques during the process of making all those things that the guys have used again on this film.
MATRIX: Did you have a lot of fun testing all the breakaways?
NICK: Yes, that’s always fun. I think one of the good ones from the first film was putting David Goldie’s [Breakaway Head Technician] head through a toilet bowl, and Laurence Fishburne [Morpheus] eventually gets his head put into it during the bathroom fight scene.
MATRIX: What kind of materials did you work with for the breakaways?
NICK: There was a lot of polyurethane foam, basically. All the bathroom tiles were made from plaster and talc and other pretty basic materials. We have also used polyurethane foam a lot on the sequels as well – with the Sentinels we made a lot of things out of urethane foam. It seems to be a pretty staple material for us – that and fiberglass.
MATRIX: Which particular project have you been involved with on THE MATRIX sequels?
NICK: I have been involved with the making of the Sentinels; that was pretty much my project to look after and it has been almost fourteen months now. We finished the Sentinels a little while ago and did a few other smaller projects, but the Sentinels just recently popped up again – we’re making a few extra ones and making some miniature ones as well.
MATRIX: When you started on THE MATRIX sequels did you know you were mainly going to be working on the Sentinels?
NICK: Yes, I was approached to do the Sentinels, and I was quite excited about it. We had quite a good amount of time to plan it, and it ran pretty smoothly; everyone was pretty happy with them in the end.
MATRIX: How did you start off with it in the beginning?
NICK: We had all of these 3D models that were sent over from Visual Effects and we were given a number of graphics. Initially we were given front view, side views and top view drawings, and that was basically what we had to start with. We had to estimate how we were going to make it, the sort of costs involved, the time, and the labor that it would take to do it all. We were allocated quite a bit of time to plan and research it, so I did a lot of that, initially.
MATRIX: What was involved in the research?
NICK: Looking at materials mainly, and the ways to make them effectively. The tentacles were a big thing; we went through quite a few different variations on how to make them, finally settling on casting the pieces individually in urethane foam. The cost in making the Sentinels was a big issue, so it was all about different ways of doing things and what they’d cost and how long they’d take, then looking at our schedule and seeing which would be the most suitable.
MATRIX: Were the illustrations you worked from drawn to scale?
NICK: Yes, although we ended up scaling that. Initially we had some drawings with a scale body drawn next to the Sentinel drawing to a particular scale, then we did a full size printout and stuck that out on the wall so we could stand next to it. At that stage Owen [Paterson, Production Designer] was involved in the working out of the Sentinel scale. We’d pin the drawing on the wall and stand next to it and eventually we settled on a size that was appropriate, and that Owen was happy with, compared to a person.
MATRIX: Had any of that been cemented in the first film; like exactly how big they were compared to a human?
NICK: Yes, we actually lifted stills lifted from the DVD for a rough reference; like the shots where the Sentinel breaks into the Nebuchadnezzar and is about to attack Neo and Trinity gives a rough indication of the scale. But if you look closely at them in the sequels, the style of them has changed a little bit from the first film; some of the details have changed. It’s like they’ve evolved and they’ve streamlined a little bit. They’re not the exact same Sentinels, so it didn’t matter if they varied in size a little bit. When we came to making the tentacles though, Owen was quite particular about getting the look right for those, so we referenced the first film a lot then.
MATRIX: How did you go about creating the molds in order to build the creatures?
NICK: The good thing about having the computer models was that we were able to take sections of the actual 3D model and then the computer program worked out the cross sections. We sent that off to a laser cutter and got some ribs laser cut, which gave us a 1:10 scale model, which is basically how we built up the original Sentinel with 35mm sections. We cut those out of urethane foam, mounted them on a stand, and then blended the ribs in to shape them all to the body, then we made all the eyes and the fittings and fixed all those in once we had a smooth surface. After that we textured it and put all the other detail on – there are some part lines on the exterior.
We did all of that to a stage and then a five piece fiberglass mold was made and we started making Sentinels out of that mold. So that was quite a long process. It took a few months to produce the model and then get it molded.
MATRIX: Do you know exactly how many pieces make up each Sentinel?
NICK: In total there are one thousand and fifteen pieces per Sentinel. That’s including the individual links for the tentacles, and the claws and some of the fittings we’ve put into them as well.
MATRIX: Is it true the tentacles were molded from swimming pool lane markers?
NICK: That was one of the initial ideas that was thrown up when we were researching them when we first saw the renderings. We got some samples and thought that because they were cheap they would work out, but we strayed away from it after thinking about for a while and we ended up casting them.
We made a pattern that we cast them all from, so we basically molded that, then recast ten hero molds from that pattern. We basically made all our molds from that because we cast them all individually. We made four and a half thousand of the tentacle sections in urethane foam, and they have a hole through the center so we threaded them all on a rope. There were fifty pieces per tentacle, a claw on the end, and a screw fitting that went on the other end that screwed into the back of the Sentinel.
We made enough tentacles for all of our hero Sentinels, then we had a few rougher Sentinels that got blown up and destroyed, so for some of those we joined up lengths of the tentacles (rather than molding each piece individually) in soft foam so that they could flex and move and bend. They were only for the background pieces, so they were a lot quicker to produce; the original ones took a while to make.
When we were going through the design process of the tentacles and had gone through the stage of locking down the shape, which took a little while, we had to fine-tune the angle of each tentacle and look at the amount of movement we’d get out of it. We designed the piece and looked at how the tentacle sections would join together and what sort of angle we’d get before they actually pinched together and stopped flexing.
MATRIX: That sounds like engineering; how was that worked out?
NICK: Jonathan Dyer [CAD Draftsperson] did all the modeling for that and we just sat down and worked out what we needed, as we had a pretty open brief as far as how we wanted to make the Sentinels. Once we had worked out how we would make them, we worked with Jonathan and he did any relevant drawings that we needed to manufacture the pieces. That tentacle flexibility issue was something we wanted him to check before we went ahead and made them to make sure we weren’t going to get a really stiff tentacle.
MATRIX: Was there ever any necessity for the claws to open and close?
NICK: No, we asked those questions originally, but basically they just wanted them fixed. We did a set number that were closed, then we did a smaller amount which were open, and later on the Visual Effects guys will probably add something to that. There’s a shot in the original film where they open their claws up and you see something like a radar dish, and they communicate that way, so they’ll probably be doing a bit more of that on these films.
Basically, what we presented with the full size Sentinels was the base work for the Visual Effects team to work from. There are going to be lots more live ones flying around and they’ll probably put in a lot of dead ones as well, but they need something to work from and for the actors to work around on set.
MATRIX: How many physical life-size Sentinels did you make in the Prop Manufacture Department?
NICK: The initial brief was for seven. The very first one we pulled out was a lighting stand-in, which was our hero for the Visual Effects Department; we made that one out of fiberglass. We had a few hooks on that and a big stand, so we could wheel that around whenever Visual Effects wanted to use it. Basically they’d put it on the set, they’d light it, and then they’d photograph it with a still camera, and use those photographs as reference for modeling their own ones. To make it look realistic in the CG world they had to see how the light reacted on the texture of the body. They also took photographs of the textures on the body of the Sentinel and used that as a texture map, so they can get accurate representations of what they’re supposed to look like in real life.
After that we did a rubber stunt Sentinel, which was dropped from quite a great height. That was used for a couple of shots on one of the sound stages, and then Effects grabbed that for another shot later on where they’re fighting with the APU. But basically, that Sentinel was made specifically for the dropping shot.
Then we made five other heroes, which we made out of polyurethane foam. They had foam bodies and all the tentacles to go with them and they were to be used for whatever was required. They had articulated legs – all the legs pivoted at their joints – and they were quite detailed. All up with those seven Sentinels, there were seven thousand pieces we ended up making!
MATRIX: Did you remain true to the detail in the original Sentinel illustrations?
NICK: Yes, we tried to get as close to the original drawings as we could. When we were doing the sculpt for the body, we photographed it when we were at the stage where we thought we’d blended in all the shapes and got the details correct. Then we did a wire frame of the computer model, setting the focal length and the distance from the object in the lens settings the same as the camera that we used, and did an overlay over the photograph so we could double check all of our shapes and measurements. We tried quite hard to get it as close as possible, and the way we sectioned up the body ensured that we had a pretty accurate model.
When it came to all the other pieces, we basically made the body without any of the little eyes and lenses that you see all over it, and then we turned all those up separately and placed them in. We were able to make exact copies of those because we had all the dimensions because Jonathan pulled all those pieces out for us and individually dimensioned them, so I have drawings for every lens and eye, so they’re all pretty accurate. We labeled all our eyes, doing one master of each, then turned those up and cast multiples of the required number. The hardest part was setting the legs because it’s such an organic shape and they all come out at different angles; so we also made those separately.
We had different sized legs with timber patterns that we took the molds from – again we made the legs in urethane foam in a mold, and they had an armature up the center of them. We got some plywood laser cut of the legs so they would all pivot together, then we bolted them together, and made them articulate and possible to pose without going to too much trouble. We just made one finger of the claw for the tentacles and then molded and made duplicates of that, and they ended up making up our closed claws.
The timber patterns were sprayed with a primer to seal them, and that also helped to show up any irregularities in the surface. I’ve kept most of the patterns just in case we need to make some extras or something bad happens to the molds.
MATRIX: When a Sentinel is taken to the set, do you take all the tentacles off it and just transport the body?
NICK: Yes, the body is separate. The tentacles screw in and they’re quite easy fitting, so if we need to move the Sentinels we just unscrew the tentacles and they get carried separately. We loop the tentacles and carry them over our shoulders; it’s the easiest way we have worked out. We thought we’d make trolleys for them, so we looked at different ways of carrying them, but in the end it was just easier to loop them one over each shoulder and grab a bunch of people to help carry them. The worst thing is that they pinch you in between the links when you carry them. When we initially made them they were quite stiff, and they have loosened up a bit since we have used them.
THE DESTROYED SENTINELS
MATRIX: A number of destroyed Sentinels were created where the insides were showing; how did you know what their insides looked like?
NICK: There was an initial concept drawing that Owen showed us that showed the internal workings of it where the armor had been taken off. We used that as a rough guideline and Owen gave us quite a bit of art direction. We would come up with a few ideas, or sometimes Owen gave us a bit of an idea, and we’d run with that for a while then show him what we had come up with; that process would go back and forth a few times.
For the insides we used some found objects – some manufactured rings and bits and pieces – things that we could get hold of in bulk. To do one internal section we cast half a Sentinel and dressed the insides in, then got Owen down to have a look at it and worked from there. We ended up doing almost a sub-skeleton underneath with some vac-form pieces, like an internal sort of frame, and then worked it from inside out.
Once Owen was happy with the look, we ended up casting roughly thirty Sentinels for all the damaged ones and bits and pieces. We cast a few half ones and some complete Sentinels that I spent a couple of days with a chainsaw cutting up. Owen did a walk-through and pencilled out what kind of damage he wanted: some had underbelly damage, and some were half blown away. After we’d cut them into pieces and cut chunks out of them, we dressed them accordingly.
MATRIX: When Owen suggested what sort of damage different Sentinels had, did he give any backstory as to what might have happened to the Sentinel?
NICK: Yes, a little bit. For instance, he’d look at a few and say they were flying towards the APU so they’d get shot from front on, and they’d have like a small wound in the front right-hand side or left-hand side, then a big exit out the back. He envisaged a few places where they would have been flying towards in the context of the film, you could see he had that in mind when he was going through it all.
In the casting process there were a couple of pieces that came out a bit warped, or even looked like they were a bit damaged, so we used a few of those. There was one that was all dimpled on top and looked like it had just flown into the underside of something and got damaged, and Owen loved that.
MATRIX: Is the inside of a Sentinel completely mechanical?
NICK: Yes. The outside is supposed to be like a big armor plating; that’s how Owen described it to us when we were initially cutting them up. Working on the original damaged Sentinel we used a bit of tank reference to get the look for some of it, especially the texture. So you’re seeing it as a really heavily armored machine, and then the inside of it started to go a little bit towards the bio-mechanical side. When we started actually cutting them, which was a lot further down the line than when we started building them, we ended up putting a membrane over the mechanical parts – we made a thin silicon membrane – which is where the goop actually came into it.
We ended up making quite a lot of horrible, sticky goop, which Owen saw as coating the mechanics on the inside of the membrane. Ultimately we made about two hundred liters [approximately 53 gallons] of that to dress all of the blown apart Sentinels on stage whenever they were required, which got pretty messy.
MATRIX: Is the goop something that was made in Props Manufacture?
NICK: Yes, it’s the basic formula for kids’ slime, so it’s nontoxic and it has got great, goopy, stringy properties, so it looks pretty good and it hangs there for a while. You can make it runny or a bit thicker; we would often use the thicker version so it would hang there on set during several takes, so it wouldn’t just run off and you’d have to redress it every five minutes. It was a bit of a rush to get that out too – once they decided they wanted a whole lot of it, we needed a bit of time to mix the chemicals and get it all blended. That was fun – we had everybody mixing up buckets of goop in the workshop.
SENTINELS ON SET
MATRIX: The first time that you put a Sentinel onto a set, how did it feel?
NICK: It was great to finally see it there. The first time we actually put it together with all the legs and everything even before it was painted was also pretty amazing. Everyone just stood back and went, yeah, that’s cool! We were all itching to see it because we’d been working for so long to produce the bodies, and then all the legs and everything – all the individual pieces separately – so we couldn’t wait to actually put it together and see it, we’d been looking at the drawings for so long. That was quite a buzz; everybody was really happy with it.
MATRIX: Do you remember which scene it was that the first Sentinel was shot on?
NICK: I think that was the tunnel set where they crashed the Nebuchadnezzar. The actors had all run out through this sewer main with the Sentinels chasing them, and Neo used his powers to kill or stop the Sentinels, and they dropped from wherever they were in the tunnel to come crashing to the ground. We used four of them on set at one time – that was a few days of shooting there – and then we went to the dropping Sentinel, which was the stunt Sentinel.
MATRIX: Being made of rubber, didn’t the stunt Sentinel bounce when it was dropped?
NICK: That was something we were quite concerned about, because when we actually pulled it out of the mold the first time there was a bit of guesswork as to the best way to make it. It actually had a fiberglass shell with a foam rubber skin laid up into it, and then it had a fiberglass core. We used a fiberglass ester resin which is slightly flexible and gives a little bit, and we tested it as soon as we pulled it out of the mold; we lifted it up and bounced it, and it had a good bounce to it, but it was alright. The tentacles weigh quite a bit, so once we put those on it was weighed down a bit.
I think you see a bit of a bounce in the first take – we were all watching the monitors because it was quite a dark set with a lot of atmosphere going on there, and on one of the cameras it went out of frame and the Camera Operator couldn’t chase it as I don’t think he was expecting it to actually move that way. So there was a second take for that shot.
MATRIX: Did you have the opportunity to spend much time on set?
NICK: Yes, I spent a little bit of time on set with them initially, and now that the APU scenes have come up with all the battle scenes and the thirty damaged Sentinels I’ve been helping them out a little bit. We have some other guys who basically move the Sentinels in and out and dress them on the set, so I haven’t had too much to do with that.
MATRIX: What are the Sentinel’s eyes made from?
NICK: They’re actually vac-formed plastic; they’re just thin clear plastic shells and they’ve been back-sprayed so they still retain the glossy finish. They are actually like lenses or eyes, so to speak, and all the ones that we did are dead Sentinels so they’re quite a dull red. When they’re alive and moving around they actually glow, and that was, again, one of the things that we nutted out before we started making them. That was a big question from Visual Effects and they had a lot to do with whether they were going to be glowing. We needed to know whether we were going to have to put lights in all of the Sentinels, and whether there was a glow between all the tentacle links.
I did some tests on that with some fiber optic cables and worked out a few ways of doing it, but then the answer was that they were dead so we didn’t need to light them. All the live ones Visual Effects were going to produce, so we just did a glossy lens with a red color to it for our dead Sentinel eye.
MATRIX: The Sentinels also look like they have gills.
NICK: Yes, they do look like gills; there’s a bit of a mix of creatures to a Sentinel. When we first saw it and were shaping it, we filled it with polyester putty. When we did the final coat and it was all pink, it looked like a skinned animal on a rotisserie when we had it on the stand. It looked like some creature we’d just killed and skinned and were about to barbecue. When we got to various stages you could see different sorts of animal skulls, and you could see the gills, they almost look like shark gills, they’ve got a little pointy tab on top. In the first film the gills were actually rectangular cutouts, so that changed quite a bit; he’s got quite a bit more style to him this time ‘round.
The mandible looks very crab-like, and then we’ve got lots of feelers – there are two rows of them on the underside of the body. They look quite evil when you see rows of them and their legs are tucked up.
MATRIX: What has been the most challenging thing for you in the last fourteen months?
NICK: Getting all the Sentinels out and making the whole project run smoothly has been the most challenging thing, as well as looking at some of the technical aspects and actually creating the body; making sure we got that right. Because we knew that Visual Effects were going to use them and put their models in with the dead ones that we’ve made, made us make sure that we built them as accurately as possible. So that took quite a bit of effort and time to get that right.
Early on we had a meeting and asked John Gaeta [Visual Effects Supervisor] what sort of shots we were going to use, because they said they were going to have some walking around in between our dead ones. John mentioned that if the built Sentinels worked out, they’d use them and there would be a close-up switch. They’d do a CG Sentinel zooming up towards one of the actors, and then they’d do a close-up cut to a live one we had built. As soon as he said that, my heart dropped and I knew we had to make sure they were perfect.
Logistically it was quite a big job – we had quite a few people working on it – so I had to make sure that it all ran smoothly and didn’t run over budget.
MATRIX: On the sets that had dead Sentinels, smoke was piped through them; did you have to make allowances for special effects?
NICK: For those we used all the dead broken ones, so they had lots of cutouts and holes in them, and we made a bunch of hollow tentacles that we cast with a steel pipe up the center and then we pulled the pipe out afterwards so they had a hole up there. Special Effects used all of those to pipe smoke up through the set – basically they were a nice bit of hosing – and then into the Sentinel. They just dressed those pipes into the Sentinels, and in some of the places they drilled holes and connected them in the right spot. At other times, because they were dead and all lying apart, they dressed them into holes and around the Sentinels and used those to pipe the smoke on. That was a good way of doing it; it saved trying to hide hoses and pipes and everything.
MATRIX: How involved are you once a Sentinel leaves the Prop Manufacture Department and goes onto set, as far as laying them out?
NICK: One of us from Prop Manufacture is always there whenever they’re getting moved around – one of the guys I shaped it with, Dion [Horstmans, Senior Prop Maker], is basically a Sentinel wrangler now. Whenever they need to be moved or wrangled around on set, he’s out there with whoever he needs at the time – whether it’s a big move or a small move – he’ll get the appropriate number of people to help him.
Then it comes down to the Set Dressers. Brian Dusting, who is the Set Decorator, will walk around and just do a rough layout, deciding where to place them, and we’ll work out then and there what’s going to look good. There are a few specific ones that they want in a particular position, but generally they dress them around then stand back and have a look to see what’s going to work. After that the Brothers will do a walk-through, and they quite often move things round and we’ll just tweak them to whatever they like. Then we walk away and wait, and then move them again for another shot.
MATRIX: The storyboards for this film have been precise; have you referred to them in any way?
NICK: I personally didn’t get involved with that. They used the boards for some of the shots, but with the shots where there’s a lot of carnage and where there’ve been so many Sentinels out there, I think they just use them as a rough guide. We just dressed as many as we could wherever, basically filled in the spaces.
Like I said earlier, there were a few particular Sentinels that they wanted in some spots. There was a scene where the Sentinels are attacking the APU Ammo Loading Bay, and there was one particular Sentinel that we dressed for that shot because it gets shot by an APU up the rear as it’s flying towards the Loading Dock. When we were cutting up those ones Owen had specified that they needed one cut in that particular fashion or damaged in a particular way. That one was dressed in specifically, but the rest around it were just dressing; it was quite easy to create a good scene of carnage with all those bits and pieces.
SENTINELS FOR THE USA
MATRIX: Are you also creating miniature Sentinels?
NICK: Yes, that’s the latest project we’re doing; we’re still producing them at the moment. We have made a set of miniature Sentinels at 1:10 scale, and they’re getting sent over to the US for a miniature shoot. We made twelve heroes that were very detailed and looked fantastic with all the little detailed legs and everything all in place. For the hero miniatures we cast exact duplicates of the original one including the tentacles; we put a fair bit of time into them.
We also have to make one hundred and eighty non-hero miniature Sentinels, which all get dropped through frame for a particular shot, so they have to be quite tough. Being background pieces they didn’t have to be as detailed, so we’ve made them complete with rope tentacles. We re-sculpted the body a little bit, and tucked the legs in on the underside of the body so that they wouldn’t get damaged and would be quite resilient. We cast them in a soft foam, so they are actually squash-able little Sentinels… we have been very tempted to put a squeaky valve in them.
MATRIX: What will happen to the Sentinels when the production wraps in Sydney?
NICK: That will be in the next couple of weeks, actually, so we’re starting to pack them up, and they’re all going to get shipped over to the States to do whatever they like with. All the damaged and broken ones are going to get neatly packed into a large shipping container, and then the hero ones we’ve made will get individual boxes; they will all get packed separately. We’ve already sent two Sentinels over to the United States during the course of filming.
We’re also in the process of making two more full size Sentinels for Special Effects in the States as well, which they’re going to blow up for an explosion scene.
MATRIX: Are they being made out of different material because they’re going to be blown up?
NICK: They’re being made out of fiberglass, which is the same as the first lighting stand-in that we made, but they have requested quite a thick fiberglass shell. They’ll have a quarter inch fiberglass shell, which is very tough, because I think they want to be able to do a reset on that shot. We are sending a couple of complete bodies and they’ll cut them up how they like.
MATRIX: Will all the molds be kept as well?
NICK: I don’t know what is going to happen with those just yet. They may even get shipped over to the US so that if they need to cast anything out of them they can. I think the APU molds are being stored here, so maybe the Sentinel molds will be stored with them.
It’s pretty amazing what we did: we only made one Sentinel body mold. We’ve got the silicon rubber, and then there’s a fiberglass shell over that to strengthen it, and usually out of silicon you only get (depending on the material you use to cast with) about fifteen really good detailed pieces. With the size the Sentinel is, and the amount of fine edges and detail that was in it, we really only expected to get a handful of good ones out of that mold, but in total we probably cast about thirty-five Sentinels out of it. And it’s still in pristine condition. The guys really looked after it when they were casting because it’s a really difficult thing to mold, and there would be a lot of work in recasting or remolding the piece.
MATRIX: Do you have any idea of the time frame it took to build the Sentinels?
NICK: Off the top of my head it was probably – from the molding stage once we’d already sculpted the body – about two months that we took to make them, and actually make all the links and the tentacles and stick them on, and actually have a complete Sentinel.
MATRIX: What other projects did you have the opportunity to work on, on this film?
NICK: There was a crystal cavern in Zion, just off the Zion Dock, where there was a magical waterfall and crystal outcrop growing from a crevice in the cave. I looked after getting all the crystals made and installed. They actually had water flowing through that set – it was when the Sentinels were attacking Zion, and all the characters were barricaded in with all the guns set up, fending off the Sentinel attack.
MATRIX: How did you go about making crystals?
NICK: Again, they went through quite a laborious research process because there were quite a few to be made, and we’re talking about some very large crystals. I stepped in after the research was done – one of our Sculptors, Belinda Villani, was working on testing the crystals and the materials. Basically they were clear casting resin, but there are quite a few different types of clear casting resins that you can use, and it was a matter of finding the most cost effective and lightest way to make the bigger ones. The small ones were easy – you just cast them solid. Then we had to do some lighting tests with them and check the colors that were coming out, because they all throw different colors depending on which resin you use.
Working out a good way to make the bigger crystals, which were as tall as me and quite wide, was a challenge. They ended up weighing about twenty kilos [approximately 44 pounds] – they were pretty heavy. And then we had to mount those projecting out from the wall in a cantilever position, so we had to make sure they didn’t crack and drop off on somebody; there was quite a bit of work in installing those.
MATRIX: What inspired the shape of them?
NICK: I got hold of some real crystals, and again Owen was involved with the art directing of the look of some of the crystals. We did a bunch of casts that were shaped by looking at the original crystals that we had – the real ones – and they were the start of it. After that there was a sketch and a little scale model was made as to the growth and the setting of the crystals.
Ultimately the actual individual crystals were copied from the real ones, to a degree, and then there was a little bit of artistic input in those. We also did some clear vacuum-formed plastic shells and put something like crumpled up cellophane, a clear plastic, inside. You could see through it, but it gave a slight shimmer and distorted the light enough to give the illusion of it being a solid piece and slightly different. We blended a mix of those in with the cast crystals.
MATRIX: Did you work on Machine City?
NICK: Machine City was the last big project, and it was quite an epic as well. There was a lot of vacuum-forming in that, a lot of it we did in-house, and some we sent out because there was so much to do. We utilized some existing tentacles for that because it was part of the whole machine thing, so we recast some foam pieces for that and made up some new ones. There are a lot of umbilicals stretching out from the pipes that Neo walks across, and they were all cast pieces and polystyrene pieces that we made up. There are also a whole heap of dressing pieces and terminating pieces that we vac-formed in plastic, as well as all the tiled surfaces – the texture on the pipes Neo walks on are all vacuum-formed tiles stuck over plywood formers.
We had lots of little projects come in, in between jobs. We did lots of lights; we ran a series of thirty lights at a time with different designs. There was a time there where we were making them for the Ammo Loading Bay and the like, so we’d do a test one, work it out, and give it to the Lighting guys – we were working quite closely with them. A lot of the time it was around thirty units that we had to make, so we’d get all the materials and form a production line.
MATRIX: How much creative freedom did you have with the lights?
NICK: For some of them we’d get a rough sketch, so we got to work out the best materials to make them, and the best and cheapest process to make them. Sometimes they’d just give you a rough brief with a piece and you’d get to do a little bit of creative work on it, so that was good.
MATRIX: Have you read the scripts at all?
NICK: Yes, I actually read the third one first because that involved most of the Sentinel activity. That was when I first got in – I had a look through the storyboards and read the script. I still haven’t read the second one; I haven’t got around to it. I kept on meaning to do it and just didn’t get a chance to. I should probably read the third one again because most of it’s forgotten by now except the key bits.
MATRIX: Did the script help you produce the Sentinels in any way?
NICK: Yes it did in terms of seeing what they did. It always helps to know what you’re producing is going to be used in, and what sort of sequence, and whether it’s an action shot, or what sort of action is involved with it. It gives you a bit of perspective on how it’s going to be utilized.
It helps to the degree where you get to pick how many close-up shots you’ve got, and what sort of finish you put on, and to what degree you finish them as well. So if you get a specific Sentinel, say, for some of the hero shots, we’d go to the storyboard and say it’s for this shot. That’s where you’d also pick some of the damaged ones. You know you’re going to see this much of it and it’s not an extreme close-up, so you get to finish your pieces accordingly. You know if they’re background pieces you don’t have to spend so much time finishing them, and they can be a little rough and you won’t really notice it.
MATRIX: Is everyone looking forward to seeing the films on the big screen?
NICK: Of course, they’ll be great – when we were doing the first one you got that buzz as well. Halfway through the production of THE MATRIX the Brothers put on a screening for us and we all got to see a bit of the action. It was rough, the wires were still in place in some of the action sequences, and the music wasn’t the final music, but it gave everybody quite a lift. And it gave you a glimpse of what the Brothers saw and what we were producing. That was amazing. They did the same this time, although I didn’t get to see that, but it was the same thing; everyone got such a buzz.
After seeing what they did with the first one, this is just bigger and better; there’s so much more in it. After seeing the first one you always wonder how far they can take it because the visual effects got such a rap on the first film, but after seeing what we have seen around here, it’s pretty amazing. It’ll be good to see the final picture.
MATRIX: Thank you for your time Nick.
Interview by REDPILL