Interview with Charlie Revai (Art Director, Australia) from The Matrix Reloaded and Revolutions (2003) and Enter the Matrix

By Paul Martin June 28th, 2012, in Enter the Matrix, Official Interviews, The Matrix Reloaded, The Matrix Revolutions

Archival interview with Charlie Revai from the official Matrix website.

BEGINNING THE SEQUELS

MATRIX: Were you involved with the first film in any way?

CHARLIE: No I wasn’t. I got to meet Owen [Paterson, Production Designer] and Hugh [Bateup, Supervising Art Director] on a film called Red Planet where I came on half-way through and took over a few sets; then they called me up about this.

MATRIX: How did you get into the film industry?

CHARLIE: I started studying interior design and didn’t finish the degree but left and started working in an Art Department on a film, and went on from there. That was probably fifteen or sixteen years ago. I’ve also done a lot of television over the years, most recently Farscape, and work on a Good Ghouls project, which is based on a kid’s series called Goosebumps – it was one of their stories. I have worked on a few Australian features; my favorite so far was the first Babe, which was great.

MATRIX: What was your first role when you stepped into this office?

CHARLIE: We gathered around and Hugh and Owen took us through all the scripts and storyboards, and then we got briefed on what we were going to do. Preliminarily it was broken up into three areas where the three Art Directors under Hugh were given different tasks, mine was mainly involved with scheduling the studios and sets. So I have to know the size of sets, how they were going to work in the stages that we had, and how many extra stages we were going to need, as well as looking after Second Unit.

At the same time, all the sets throughout both films were divided in three, so the three Art Directors, Catherine [Mansill], Jules [Cook] and myself got a third of all the sets each to look after. By “look after” I mean oversee the design of the sets, a lot of which had already been conceptualized, and get them built, which means a lot of liaising with Construction.

MATRIX: When the sets were broken up for the Art Directors, did you find you each had a particular type of environment?

CHARLIE: Yes, when the sets were broken up Jules was mainly given control of and made the liaison for sets the Visual Effects Department is involved with, working through the storyboards and knowing what goes on in every element of what they do. He has also got a lot of work to do on all the Zion sets, which are very heavily Visual Effects driven.

Catherine was mainly looking after the way the department ran as far as drawings went, making sure the drawings got out of here and that there were enough people to do all the drawings. There have been points where Catherine was very heavily worked during the beginning when we had to get drawings out and Jules is being very heavily worked now. I wasn’t that heavily worked in the beginning but once the schedule came out I noticed my workload increased.

MATRIX: How do you commence with each set?

CHARLIE: I’ll take the brief from Owen, usually with an Assistant Art Director of which we have quite a few here, and we just follow the design all the way through, watching it grow. It’s put onto paper, then the plans are sent out and they’ll be budgeted or estimated by Construction, they’ll come back to Hugh, the Supervisor, and depending on a financial decision as to whether the set needs to be reworked or we go ahead with construction, we start building it.

MATRIX: At what point are the overall budgets worked out?

CHARLIE: It changes for every project. The larger a film gets the harder it is to actually budget something that’s going to come in exactly as you thought. So with this, Hugh has taken the scripts and written a budget based on discussions with Owen, with the Directors, and probably with the Producers. But two years later, when it actually comes to building the set, a lot of things have changed; you might have saved a bit of money here, so you might be putting it to another set which you now know is a lot more important. It’s extremely difficult, and it’s a decision which Hugh has to make once he gets an estimate back from Construction or from Props Manufacturing, depending on what their involvement is in the set, as to how much it’s going to cost in the end.

MATRIX: How can budgets be estimated on such a huge film two years in advance?

CHARLIE: For the budgets I’ve done in the past you can basically tell by the size of a film. You know roughly that a film has this much money to be made with, and you can usually work out what percentage of that is going to be for the Art Department. There is no real formula as such, but if it’s a kids’ film you know that it’s going to probably be very location driven, it’s going to be very hand props driven, and there are not going to be that many sets. Accordingly, you allow a lot more staff in your budget: more in Decoration, more in Buying, more in Props Manufacturing, and less in design.

After you’ve done a few films and you read a script, you sort of foresee where your problems are and the scale of things. After discussions with Directors and Designers, you can to a degree know where your problems are going to be, so you write a budget accordingly.

FOX STUDIOS AUSTRALIA

MATRIX: In what way do you decide which set goes to which stage?

CHARLIE: The way I plan things is I’m given a schedule from the Assistant Directors, mainly from Claire Richardson [Key 2nd Assistant Director], and I try to figure out how best it’s going to work. Usually when I’m reading the script I can foresee how much shooting is going to be Second Unit (which is also one of my responsibilities), so I’ll get to know after a while how much time each set is going to be sitting in a sound stage. It might take us three weeks to get that set into a stage, Main Unit may shoot it for a day, and I’ll know that there might be two days of Second Unit work to come with it.

MATRIX: How closely do you work with Claire; do the ADs dictate to you when they want to film what?

CHARLIE: To a degree, we have to work quite closely. Claire can write a schedule which might be actor driven, but at the same time we mightn’t have enough space to do it, so there are a lot of compromises in both directions. There are times when they bring sets forward, a long way from what we were expecting in our big plan and we can’t deliver, so if we can’t deliver we have to offer up something else or they have to review what they’re asking for. At the end of the day, what they want is what we try to achieve, but if we can’t then compromises are made.

MATRIX: Could you talk a little bit about the facilities here at Fox Studios Australia and the stages that are being used?

CHARLIE: Here at Fox it is rather ambitious what we’re trying to achieve; there are one hundred and forty plus sets and bits and pieces that we’re trying to do, and there are not enough buildings here so we’ve had to go further out.

On the lot here we have a large stage called Sound Stage 1, which in these conditions – today it’s raining – it’s not very useable because it’s not extremely sound proofed; it’s a heritage building. It is 85m x 41m and 21m high, but because it has a ceiling arch we’re actually only working to about 15m. We have put a grid through there which gives us a reasonably large working area, but we can’t use the full 21m – we might be able to use up to 20m if we need to do a blue screen flyaway or a stunt. It’s good for that. That’s the highest stage we’ve got, but again, it’s not totally soundproof.

Stage 2 is a reasonably large space, it’s 64m x 46m and 15m high to the underside of the grid as a useable space, which is a very large stage. Sometimes when the stages are too large you have to put three or four sets in there, and then you sort of stitch yourself because you’re not actually able to turn over the stage. On this project where you’ve got one hundred and forty plus sets you’re constantly trying to give enough ahead to keep the crew going, which means that at the same time you’re pulling down behind filming and starting again, so huge stages aren’t necessarily a good thing.

Stage 3 is an average sized studio and the most ideal stage, it’s 40m x 33m and 12m high. It could be a bit higher, but if we had ten of those THE MATRIX would be easy to do.

Stage 4 is a lot smaller: that’s where they did a lot of the Bullet Time on the first film. It’s 33m x 22m and that’s 10m high as well, so there’s enough space inside to do a lot of those sorts of special and visual effects. We’ve got a good set in there at the moment, the Industrial Loft, which is the first time we get to see Smith take over a character called Bane. It involves two people coming through a skylight of an old warehouse that is on top of a building, and there’s just enough room in there to achieve it.

Then there are two television stages here, 5 and 6. We haven’t been using 6 all along; we’ve only had it for maybe half of the production, and we’re putting the lower more interior sets, like the Oracle’s Apartment, in there. They’re easier to light, but at the same time you can’t put any of the Zion sets in there because the stage isn’t high enough to achieve it.

There’s also Stage 29, which was the Construction Workshop to begin with, but we took Construction off the Lot and turned it into a Sound Stage, which is probably a bit better sound than Stage 1, but if the football is on in the field next door you hear the crowd.

MATRIX: So if there’s a football game on or if it’s raining what do you do?

CHARLIE: We have to have wet weather cover for our own sound stages, which means getting another set ready to cover the fact that if they’re shooting in 1 we need another set in possibly Stage 3 or 2, which they can go to if it’s raining too hard and they can’t record sound. We’re lucky with this project that there are bits of scenes which don’t require dialogue. Where there’s a stunt or where there’s an effect, whether it’s a mechanical effect or a wire effect, there’s usually more noise involved which makes it impossible to record the live sound, so we try and place those sets in those buildings.

MATRIX: Are sets ever designed to fit into a sound stage?

CHARLIE: We have had a few redesigns on this show because when we look at the schedule and we see a set is going to have to fit, and if it’s too big and that’s the only place we’ve got to put it, unless we take it away from Fox (which is not usually ideal) we have to redesign it to fit into a stage. For instance, we’d like to put a set in Stage 1 but only Stage 3 is available, so we redesign the set to fit in Stage 3.

Currently we have the Unfinished Floor set, which was always going to be a huge set that would have taken up most of Stage 2, but now we’re only taking up half of the space of 2 because we have to have two other sets in there. So that was a redesign, but at the same time it kept the integrity of the design, and the way they’re shooting it you wouldn’t notice it’s fifty percent smaller.

ON SET

MATRIX: How much time do you spend on set as an Art Director?

CHARLIE: If I have a set that’s about to be shot I’ll be down there for the first day and hang out until at least they turn over. With Second Unit I tend to spend a bit more time than I do on Main Unit because I feel quite comfortable that the Assistant Art Directors can look after the sets. In one way I have to give Second Unit what they need, and at the same time get them out of Main Unit’s way, so it is more complex. They pick up a lot of the stunts and the blue screen elements, so they are a bit bigger because blue screen elements require bigger spaces and they require parts of sets. A lot of the stunt work holds up the stage so you have to work fairly close in getting the sets out.

MATRIX: Do the stunts in these films affect the way that sets are designed?

CHARLIE: A big consideration is given to them. The Chinatown Teahouse was one of the first sets we shot, and the original drawings of the Teahouse totally changed once the Wirework Team were out here and we started to understand exactly what they were trying to do. Once they’d rehearsed on a floor with the set marked out (with no set standing) and decided what they were going to do and the Brothers approved it, then the entire ceiling on the set changed. We try to foresee such times but sometimes we can’t.

For the Teahouse we couldn’t foresee the amount of wirework they wanted to do, but on sets like the Merovingian’s Great Hall you can tell instantly when you read the script that there’s a huge amount of wirework to be done and people are flying everywhere, so you design it that way. You design a lot of the elements to pull out – you know the camera’s going to be punching through a wall in a certain area, so you make sure that pulls out. You know there’s a wire pull on Neo flying through something, so you make sure there’s either a void that they’re lighting through, or everything is removable.

With Special Effects it’s a bit different, like in the Hel Coat Check. Once we’d designed that set we discovered that of the thirty columns Construction had to build, there were only eight columns that weren’t destroyed by Special Effects. The consideration had to be then that we were constantly pulling the set, which was supposed to look like a squashed element: we had to change the structure of the ceiling to accommodate no columns being in there, but make it so it could still stand up. For that there was a lot of external work that had to happen to the set.

MATRIX: Stunt people were also running on the ceiling of that set.

CHARLIE: Yes, it’s the same thing with the stunts in that set, people are thrown into the walls, and five bad guys die and three good guys get away, and during the mayhem there are people flying throughout the room. So while the set was gridded, all of a sudden we had to build tracks into the ceiling (which were running diagonals) and hide them, then all these other lines started to appear. Owen has always foreseen that line symmetry in a lot of these sets; those sorts of elements really play hard. So when you get that sort of thing happening, you have to really think about how the camera is going to see it, how best to hide it, and ways of hiding it. Some of those stunt shots might take a day to prepare, but at the end of the day you’re not going to notice where the wires are; you can’t see the breaks in the set.

MATRIX: Do you interact with every department for every set?

CHARLIE: There is a fair amount of interaction, but I only tend to use it when needed; not every set requires every department to be involved. Some of them are very straight sets where it’s just four walls and there’s drama going on as opposed to action. As soon as there’s action creeping into it, it does involve a lot of liaison with other departments. Luckily this film has sort of been set up so we have a lot of meetings, which sometimes are bad, sometimes are good, but generally there’s always a discussion going about problems foreseen, and usually there are representatives of all departments there. It’s an open forum where you can talk about whatever you want and it’s discussed and it’s solved. That has been very good rather than trying to head off on your own and trying to gather all the information and bring it all back; it speeds up the process a lot.

LOCATION SHOOTING

MATRIX: There have been a couple of location shoots in buildings and streets in the city; how do the logistics change for those types of sets from an Art Directing point of view?

CHARLIE: It depends which unit is shooting it. I’ve looked after a few of the city locations so far. One of the biggest has been an explosion [of the Power Station] we did down at White Bay, which was one of Jules Cook’s sets. The Main Unit elements of it were about two nights and the rest of it was a Second Unit element, which was to capture the explosion and do the plate shots, which were for Trinity coming off her bike and going into a bunker. The logistics of the set, for me, had already been set up. That was in a private property area so it wasn’t too bad, when you go out to public spaces it becomes a lot harder.

We did some plate shots that are for when the main characters are in the Lincoln outside the windows – the Lincoln was shot at Fox and the background was all shot in the city. There were huge logistical problems with that because we blocked two blocks of the city, and we had to make the city look like a generic city, so there was a lot of redressing that we try to do all on the day. For that we have a team that starts early – we show up with a truck and we dress the streets – and we have a team that ends late who pulls it down at the end of the day.

So far the biggest logistical problem has been where we had to dig a hole in the middle of a main road and put a camera in it for a very quick transition shot that we might only use twelve frames of: a truck driving over a camera and then the camera going into a hole. That took a night to achieve, and it took a week beforehand to dig a hole in the city.

MATRIX: How does one go about digging a hole in a city street?

CHARLIE: You hire a very good Location Manager. But also, Sydney has become very film friendly, so you can go to the council, tell them you want to dig a hole in the city, and they understand what you’re trying to do and will immediately give you your options and tell you how to go about it. The Location Managers have been briefed fairly well on what the city will tolerate, so it is getting a lot easier to do that sort of stuff, but I’d say that ten years ago it would have been extremely difficult.

At the same time you have to get permission to close down a block – you legally can’t actually stop someone walking through your shot. You hire security people who are polite and you get them to liaise with the public and try and control the crowd, but there’s no way you can actually totally lock down an area and stop people accessing it.

LE VRAI RESTAURANT

MATRIX: In order to make a generic city street, does the Art Department cover obvious street markings?

CHARLIE: Sometimes we cover up. It’s also a matter of reading the shot; if you’re taking a plate shot of the city you don’t cover the signs because you know that it’s going to be a plate shot, so it goes into a computer and if there’s anything nasty they’ll scrub it out. So they’re quite easy.

With the traveling plates on the street, we tend to block a lot of signage. While we wanted building elements – we wanted everything from a certain height – we knew that under a certain height is all we would see. Above it we didn’t care because we’d never see it, it was top of frame and was going to be lost. I tend to not cover anything until I see where the camera is, and then get out and do something about it because if you have to cover everything in two blocks you’ll be there for weeks trying to do it.

Then again, sometimes we go to locations where we have to add something because there’s nothing there. A few weeks ago we were doing a Saturday shoot for when Neo, Morpheus and Trinity walk through a crowd to a lift and then we cut to inside a restaurant [the Le Vrai Restaurant], which was shot at Fox. The shot was of them walking through the foyer, where the camera was eighteen meters in the air looking straight down on two hundred and fifty people going one way and our three characters going the other way. Right on the edge of frame, leading halfway through the frame there’s a huge clock, which isn’t at the location, so we made a fake clock, stuck it on the wall, prayed it didn’t fall off and they got the shot.

It took us probably two hours to line that clock up, it took two hours to get the camera in the air, and it probably took another two hours just to rehearse the right movement. The frame was so wide and so high and we only had a limited number of people [extras] so we had to make sure that over a ten second shot we got our value for two hundred and fifty people. For a lot of the early rehearsals they had a fantastic crowd for half of the shot, but then they had nothing, so that was a lot of rehearsal timing. They were really pleased with the shot at the end of the day.

MATRIX: Where was that shot done in Sydney?

CHARLIE: In the Governor Phillip Tower, which you probably would have seen in Mission: Impossible II – it was the evil guy’s building. In real life it is where the Premier’s offices are along with other government offices.

For that location, we also made the walls inside look like black granite. We covered sandstone with a painted lightweight foam that had paper on it, and then we stuck our clock on top of that so it looked like a big black band leading in; basically pointing to our characters. There was extreme symmetry in that shot, everything was about lines.

MATRIX: From an Art Direction point of view when do you find out where the location is and that there will be a clock?

CHARLIE: I knew that from the script – there was a clock reference. We saw the location in June 2001, and we were going to start shooting it at the beginning of the shoot for Second Unit. We wanted to get that all done because we were starting to shoot the restaurant early, then September 11 happened and we lost access to a lot of buildings. A lot of people became very edgy and wouldn’t allow film crews in or any risk at all. It wasn’t until three weeks ago that we finalized everything and could get into the location. So I actually knew about the location and I knew what we had to do there – it had been approved – it was just a matter of waiting until the owners agreed to let us back in. It was where the Brothers wanted to do the shot, so nothing else had been looked at.

MATRIX: How long were you going to wait for the building to become available?

CHARLIE: By the time we got to June this year, if we weren’t getting that building we would have been looking at another building foyer somewhere else. Unfortunately for us we designed a lot of our restaurant knowing that that foyer was the opening shot. There were many design elements in our restaurant and bathroom – a lot of the colors and a lot of the forms as far as the squareness and the shape of the tiles – which were based on the design of that building. So if we didn’t get that building it would have created a larger problem in that we would have been finding another foyer and potentially doing up elevators as well, making them into our set, which is what we didn’t want to do.

MATRIX: Had reference shots been taken of the foyer for the designers?

CHARLIE: A long time before I started there were surveys in the city, talking and working through the script. Owen and Hugh, mainly Owen, had been on location surveys and Owen had in his mind where some of these areas were going to be shot and where some of the locations were. He knew that this clock shot, which was shot almost two years later, was going to take place in the Governor Phillip Tower. When I came on board and Karen Murphy, an Assistant Art Director, came on board, we looked at the building and chose the elements we needed. We also liaised with Owen about where the cuts were and how it was all going to work; we then designed from that point.

The restaurant wasn’t conceptualized as much as other sets because it was location driven. Once we finalized that we were going to shoot it there, we started to design it. We had a concept in the storyboards that only showed a very small sequence of what happens in the restaurant, which related to some code – when somebody turns into code. So we knew some of the action that happened in the restaurant, but we didn’t know anything about the styling, all that happened and grew out of the location. So when we’d lost the location after we’d already shot all the restaurant and bathroom, it created a problem.

THE SUBWAY STATION

MATRIX: What was the most challenging set you worked on?

CHARLIE: They’ve all been challenging. I started off with the Railway Station, which Hugh has now taken control of. The railway station was challenging in that we had a concept for the railway station, we knew what had to be achieved and we knew we needed a train. We had already established the train from the previous film, and the challenge there was how do we do it this time? Last time they shot the train in a disused grain silo down at Ultimo, which is right next door to where they did the explosion in the bunker [for RELOADED]. That piece of railway has now been disconnected so we couldn’t go back there.

I managed to find the train in the outer suburbs of Sydney in a paddock, so we got our original train back. Then it became a problem of where to build the set, which had to be on a railway line, and in this case it’s a much bigger film so we needed to put it in a shed. When we started looking at sheds we looked at Newcastle, which is miles out of town, then we started looking at big paddocks for railway lines which we could run this train through. Then we decided to find the location and then start… we knew we had to redesign what we’d already designed.

So the biggest challenge was actually finding a place to put the railway to achieve what we had to do, and then rework the design to achieve what Owen wanted.

MATRIX: Did I hear correctly when you said you found that train in a paddock?

CHARLIE: Yes, it’s a long story but basically after they finished using the train on the first film it was given to someone who defaulted on it. It was on the State Railway lines on one of their sidings, so they called up somebody who specialized in moving trains and he took it away for nothing. And that’s where I found it in his paddock. When I called him he said he always thought we’d call one day. He was quite amusing. And then actually seeing it there, it was the train exactly as it was shot: it still had the same graffiti on it, it still had the right signage, it still had the pseudo door panels from the shot where Smith comes storming off the train where only one door worked. It had only ever been dressed for one particular shot, and it was all still there.

MATRIX: Wasn’t it a bit rusty with mice running through the seats?

CHARLIE: The inside was full of junk but all the seats were still there. Everything was still there. It was up on blocks, its little bogies had been taken off and were sitting beside it. So basically we got exactly the same train back for REVOLUTIONS. This time we gave it a new interior and we fixed the doors so that at least half the doors open and close and the other half are fake. We had to get it reworked so it was safe to run on state lines – it’s actually certified so it can run through the city if we need to shoot it in any of the tunnels in the city.

MATRIX: How did you go about moving it?

CHARLIE: Anything is possible. Luckily the guy who had control of it specialized in moving trains around Australia, so we put it on a low loader and we put it back on the tracks at Everleigh, which is where some of our workshops are, which is also where we ended up shooting the station. We put it straight into our workshop, back on its wheels, and started working on it. There were restrictions on getting it back into the city, but it was the only way we could do it. You would’ve had to have been up very early in the morning to have seen it moving… but it made its journey back to us.

MATRIX: Afterwards will it go back to the paddock?

CHARLIE: We’re in discussions about what happens with it now. It’s a bit too big to send back to Warner Bros.’ archives. The opinion is it should go up to the Warner studio complex up on the Gold Coast and be stored there. It’s a reasonable American train interior based on Chicago trains and it can be carted around the country and it can run on rails, so it’s actually quite a good asset as far as film production goes. It’s been made for a film production so it has the ability to have all the lighting cables put through it, and it has got the right lighting panels in it. It’s definitely not a passenger train that can run on a suburban line anymore, but for a film crew it’s pretty good.

This time the Lincoln is going back to the Warner Bros.’ archives, whereas last time the car didn’t. So if you’ve a very keen eye you’ll notice a slight difference in the green Lincolns – we couldn’t get the same model. So there is a year difference in the age of them – they’re slightly different cars. I think there’s a slight grille difference and there’s a slight dashboard difference.

MATRIX: For the Railway Station set, were the platforms actually built for the shot?

CHARLIE: They were. When we read the script there were three stations, and we’ve achieved the three stations at the one location on the one railway line by basically hiding the other stations within stations. So the footprint of the plan is one station, and then within that is a smaller station which is Mobil Avenue, you pull off the Mobil Avenue walls and you can see what we call Station A, you pull off another wall which is next to the railway line and it becomes a double platform station which is Platform B.

ENTER THE MATRIX GAME

We actually did a fourth station at the same time for the game [Enter The Matrix], where we had to change the numbers and graffiti it. The ones you see in the film aren’t graffitied, but the ones you see in the Game are. Second Unit did that, which was a bit of a huge day because we would shoot the graffiti station then clean it all up and go back to shooting Platform B. That was because we only had the cast for so many hours, then they had to come back to Fox for Main Unit shooting. After that we’d go to the other cast, which meant the other station, so we did the graffiti again then clean it up, etc.

MATRIX: So someone was literally on standby to do graffiti?

CHARLIE: Yes the Standby Painter [Sahil Kitchell, Standby Painter 2nd Unit], using removable paints, which was usually hair spray. She took photos of it every time so hopefully you won’t notice. Luckily it was going to the game, which means that although I’d like to see it on the big screen, at the end of the day it’s being shown on a television in someone’s lounge room, which is a bit more forgiving than a big screen – you won’t notice the imperfections so much.

MATRIX: What other allowances have you made for the Enter The Matrix game?

CHARLIE: Luckily the game has been following through on sets that were already established. If they weren’t established then they were unique sets, and there have only been a couple of those. The first set we shot was an underground set called the Sub Metro, which is about the captains of all the ships and the crews meeting. To get there in the film we see our main Nebuchadnezzar crew come into the meeting, but in the game you have two other ships arriving – the Logos crew and the Vigilant crew.

The Vigilant crew arrive via an underground water tunnel. For that we went to a suburb called Balmain where there’s an old reservoir sitting on a hill. We put the water back in it, we dressed pipes into it, and we pulled our boat through it, tracked along, so it looked like you were in an underground cavern full of pipes and piers. And then we built on part of our set because we knew we had to incorporate it. So there was a water area and we had the boat that had been established in this other shot, which you only ever see in the game, and when you see the film you’ll see a boat there which is how the Vigilant crew got there.

With the Logos crew – Niobe arriving with Ghost – we used an alleyway that we had already established, which was where Neo first meets the Smith upgrades, and we just used the same alley.

There is another crew arriving as well, who arrive on motorbikes. For that we built a flat and added it to our other alleyway, which we’d redressed from another alleyway that was part of Chinatown. We turned the camera around, shot it against this other wall, and there it is. For us it was an extremely cheap set because we’d already built it. We only had to build one more flat, which we made look like a dirty office with a door in the middle of it, and that was it.

I have looked after parts of the game and it has been quite easy to accommodate because most of the script has been written around what was already available. The small sets where they need something else you just have to change to the mentality that you’re shooting television, which at the end of the day you sort of are. So you try and keep it cheap. You try and keep it knowing that it’s going to wind up in an aspect ratio which is a lot less than cinema, so you can get away with a lot more or you can get away with a lot less.

One of the biggest sets we’re building just for the game, where there is only one Main Unit scene that takes place, is a set called the Logos Main Deck, which is where most of the game’s core is set around. It’s where you’re always seeing Niobe and Ghost going off on their missions.

THE SHIPS

MATRIX: How do the storyboards and concept illustrations help create a set?

CHARLIE: This is just one board for the Logos cockpit, which is during one of the final sequences in the film. From this one board we can see that we need to create a special set just for what it illustrates. We try to build only one of everything, but in the case of this cockpit we’re going to have to build three of them – this being one of them. But we’re not building a full cockpit with this one; we’re only building what we see here.

The background element is probably going to be blue or green screen; it’ll be a digital element. There’s a possibility that we will have to shoot the spikes as either a miniature, or as a full thing to camera, or run the camera into them. The rest of the set will be a mechanical effect where parts of it break away. So the chair will fly off to camera, the person in the chair, which in this case is Trinity, will go flying off to the left, and that’s the shot. So it is potentially six frames, but to achieve those six frames we’re going to build a set.

As far as storyboards go we looked at this shot and knew it was there, but it wasn’t until we actually sat down and discussed this set and how the Logos cockpit was going to work that the storyboard dictated we would be building a single set for one shot.

MATRIX: Does one set stand out in your mind as being a particularly good job when you walked onto it?

CHARLIE: They all have so far. My favorite, the one I probably enjoyed the most as far as the action I knew that was going to take place, is the sequence into the Hel Night Club. Not necessarily the Night Club itself, but the lead up in the car park and the Hel Coat Check where they then burst in to the Night Club.

I’ve looked after all the ships, so I’ve seen the Nebuchadnezzar be rebirthed, which was sent back to us. It was sitting in a yard outside of Warner Bros. in LA. When it came back here parts of it were pretty well rusted and had to be reworked, and a lot of the set had to be reestablished and we had to rebuild it. There were no ground plans – the only set of plans we had weren’t the final plans, which was a bit of a challenge!

Watching every ship after that evolve was good; they were always in Stage 5. I had a very good CAD Set Designer, Jacinta Leong, on that – you’d give her the brief with Owen, keep your eye on what was going on, and she kept me well informed. The Logos is the last ship and the smallest, which is Jacinta’s last job, and I’m seeing that all coming together now.

There is one scene in a set I’m looking after now called the Zion Command Center where there’s a scene on a monitor that is of Niobe in the Logos. We’re shooting that scene before we shoot the Logos, so consequently if you look downstairs [in the Art Department] there’s a piece of wall from the Logos Main Deck which we haven’t built, but we’ve built one little piece of wall for the background of a shot on a monitor. A lot of thinking ahead has to happen, because you read a script and all of a sudden there’s just one little insert shot, that I know when we shoot the Logos that set won’t be there anymore because we don’t have the stage – I can’t save it – so we have to get that shot before Main Unit get in there.

MATRIX: Each of the ships have very subtle differences; how did you understand those differences?

CHARLIE: All through Owen. For instance, the Logos is the smallest ship: if you look at the Main Deck of the Logos it only has two Ecto Chairs, which is where you plug people in to go into the Matrix. The Nebuchadnezzar has seven chairs and for the Vigilant we lose a chair, but at the end of the day it’s the same core as the Nebuchadnezzar. The Mjolnir has the same core element of chairs, but we spun them around.

We always change the color of the ships, and when you actually see the film, the stage size of the Vigilant and the Mjolnir is exactly the same size as the Nebuchadnezzar, but they all look different. The Mjolnir looks huge, but if you look very carefully there are elements of the Neb still in there. It was a matter of stripping back and covering: you either cover something up to give it a different look, or you take it out and you’ve got another look again.

MATRIX: In what way do the colors change?

CHARLIE: They are very, very subtle because they are all blue based. The Vigilant looks the same as all the others, but when you look at the detail of it you start to notice that it’s completely rusted. It’s a rust bucket that is about to go into repairs – the hundred year repair is about to happen on it a bit too late. The Mjolnir is a bit more tidied up; it’s even better than the Neb.

THE LAST WORD

MATRIX: Were you a fan of the first film?

CHARLIE: After it came out there was a lot of hype about it and I still hadn’t seen it. When I went to see it I still thought it was just going to be like a kung fu film, but straight away I picked up on the philosophy, I picked up on a lot of background in it, and became an instant fan of it. The amount of times I’ve watched it on DVD is just phenomenal. And there are still elements that I can comb through and still pick out a little piece, which I always enjoy.

I find it’s a great film to study as well; I can see people studying it in years to come. It’s got a value where you can see it purely as an action film and you can see it purely as an intellectual film – it’s not often you get that sort of crossover in films. I think it has been captured well on the sequels as well.

MATRIX: Working so intimately on a project for so long, do you feel you know what the films will be like when they hit the screens?

CHARLIE: I have in my mind what they’re going to be like… but I really have no idea. What I found driving the first film wasn’t only that it was an action film and an intellectual film – there was also very good sound to it. The soundtrack was exceptional for what you were seeing. While I mightn’t have liked some of the music that’s in there, I found that it creates emotions which you can’t capture making a film. That’s the other part of filmmaking, which I’m not involved in; the post-production area where sound is such a huge part of an experience now.

Recently I’ve been watching 1950’s French films and it’s very cut, cut, cut; there’s no sound mix. It’s very raw, yet what you’re seeing is very dynamic. The most recent one was Wages of Fear [Le Salaire de la Peur, 1953], which as far as the images go is very driving, so I tried to work out why it didn’t move me as much as a film today, and it was the sound. This project relies a lot on how it’s going to sound in the cinema.

Something else we don’t see here that’s done in post-production is the grading. I know there are going to be green tones, which I can see to a degree when we’ve been designing sets. There have been colors we’ve been allowed to use and then colors we we’re not allowed to use. It’s not that often that you work on a film where you are color driven to such a degree. I know there’s a difference between the Matrix and Zion, and when you see the film you’re going to feel another sense where the sound is going to drive your emotions.

MATRIX: The last question: can you shed light on where number plate sequences were derived from?

CHARLIE: I knew the Brothers had something going on with numbers, so I decided to research a few of the number plates, looking for biblical references. I went through different bibles and even the Koran looking for references – I was open to all religions. I went out there looking to give people something to find if they look close enough at the film, and if they’re diehard fans who are into action films and breaking apart the elements. If you look at number plates and go searching through the bible you will find references to dark angels and to evil Smiths and other bits and pieces.

MATRIX: Thanks Charlie.

Interview by REDPILL

May 2002

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