MATRIX: Have you always worked in film?
SIMON: I first worked in England, coming up through the ranks from a tea boy; my father was a Production Designer. I stayed with the business, and came over to America in 1988, and have been a Production Designer in films and commercials and also, when it’s a good enough project, I come along and do illustration work and design work – and this is definitely one of those projects.
MATRIX: What are some of the other projects you have worked on?
SIMON: Judge Dredd, Superman II, Superman III, Flash Gordon, Clash of the Titans, and Sleepy Hollow.
MATRIX: How did you get involved in art and movies?
SIMON: My dad. I started off in the film industry under my father as the tea boy, then I went into music and stage design, but I thought the musicians were crazier than the film people, so I went back to films. The great thing is being able to design objects or sets or environments and seeing them built by, most of the time, wonderful craftsmen. That object or set is able to have its own life behind the actors or in front of the actors, which you would never normally have the chance to do in real life. To me, the biggest high is getting to see what you come up with having its moment… unless they’ve shot it really badly, or it’s out of focus in the background.
MATRIX: Art Departments vary in size; what role do you typically fill in an art department?
SIMON: A lot of times I’ll do specialist things, like specialist props, or a set that needs a lot of time given to it or a number or props. For instance, if the filming is in an airplane or a spaceship and a lot of time and effort has to go into one thing, I will usually help design it with the Production Designer. I’ll take it through from conceptual stage to the design stage to the building stage, and then look after it on set, where you hand it off to the shooting unit.
MATRIX: Is it usual that an artist will follow their designs onto the set?
SIMON: I’m sort of unusual in that way, but there are a few of us around in Hollywood who are like that. It may not even happen on this one because it’s being shot in Australia, and I doubt they have the money to take us down there. As long as we can give them a package they feel comfortable with, that they can achieve, then it is as good as done.
MATRIX: How do you feel when you walk onto a set that you have been a part of creating?
SIMON: It’s great… when they start shooting and you’re not panicking anymore. Up until the point they actually chuck you off the set to physically start shooting, you’re never finished. You get to a point, especially two weeks before they start shooting, where it’s all coming down to the small end of the funnel and people are going crazy trying to get all the little things finished. When they start shooting and they’ve chucked you off the set, you can basically sit back and rest. The next thing is you see it in dailies over the next couple of days, and see how they’ve shot it; that’s when it has either worked or hasn’t worked.
MATRIX: In your estimation, is this a large production?
SIMON: The biggest one I’ve ever been on for the amount of shoot days they’ve got. They’re also doing two films back to back, which is a fairly tall order as there’s a hell of a lot to be done in one go.
MATRIX: How long have you been on this production?
SIMON: Since May . We’ll probably be here until March , or whenever they don’t need us anymore. We’ve only just finished on the second film and are starting on the third. The third film is going to be all visual effects, so we have to create that world, they need a lot of detail. It is like an animation, we have to draw every side of the object, so it’s a lot of work.
MATRIX: Are you enjoying working with Owen Paterson, the Production Designer?
SIMON: Yes, it’s working very well. As Production Designer, especially on the size of this film where you’ve got so much going on, you have to hand off and trust the team you have around you, so you get the best you can. All of us artists develop an illustration to a certain stage, Owen will come in and give his opinions or critiques, and then the Brothers will come in and have their points of view. It’s a matter of honing down; you eventually get to a point where everyone is happy. Then they find out how much it’s going to cost, and sometimes we have to rethink or redo, normally that doesn’t happen, but sometimes practicalities do come in.
MATRIX: What mediums do you use to create your illustrations?
SIMON: Usually it’s pencil work to begin with, it’s very rough and you keep on honing it down until you get into a pretty tight pencil line. If you’ve got time you render it with markers and a little bit of Photoshop if you’ve got time, if not it’s usually very quick marker pens or pencil. Because there has been so much of it I’ve been drawing mostly in pencil lines… one day I hope I’ll be able to go back and color them in.
MATRIX: When you read the scripts for THE MATRIX 2 and 3 did you feel that Larry and Andy were pushing the envelope beyond the first?
SIMON: When I first read the scripts I went, “Oh my God, this is amazing!” Then I saw the storyboards for some of those particular scenes and that’s when it really blew my mind and I felt we were going to be working on something incredibly special. The script leaves a lot to interpretation, it’s like when anybody reads anything we all have slightly different views on what we have just read. When I saw the storyboards, it was way beyond whatever I was thinking. It’s going to be pretty wild.
THE MATRIX shows are very strong visually with the Brothers’ comic background, and with Geof’s, Steve’s and Owen’s work, and even the location guys. These are going to be remarkable movies, and I think people are going to have to see the movie maybe four or five times before they can get it all – I certainly will.
MATRIX: Thanks Simon.
Interview by REDPILL