Interview with Cindi Knapton (Assistant Art Director, Australia) from The Matrix Reloaded and Revolutions (2003)

By Paul Martin May 15th, 2012, in Official Interviews, The Matrix Reloaded, The Matrix Revolutions

Archival interview with Cindi Knapton from the official Matrix website.

THE ART DEPARTMENT

MATRIX: What is your background?

CINDI: This is really only the second film I’ve worked on; it’s new for me to be in the film business. Previously I was an Architect, so my training is in architecture design, not in film. I’m learning about film lighting, film sets that you take apart, how much the Set Decorator does, and how much I do as a designer. It’s really interesting how much the Production Designer [Owen Paterson] sets the tone for everything, and then each person fills in the blanks and tries to create the Production Designer’s and the Directors’ vision.

MATRIX: How is the work sectioned amongst the Art Directors here?

CINDI: There is a Supervising Art Director, Hugh Bateup, three Art Directors, and four Assistant Art Directors, so we pretty well split the work into thirds. We did the Merovingian’s Chateau, the Industrial Hallway, and we did the Oracle sets early on because those were existing sets we had to get back together. I’ve been working on the Sewer and the Mjolnir Pipeline, the Nebuchadnezzar Loading Dock, the Logos Loading Bay, the Mjolnir Crash Site, and the Mjolnir Foot. You’re all over the place doing all kinds of things. There are somewhere between a hundred and thirty and a hundred and eighty sets – you get different stories – so there are probably about fifty sets that our team is doing.

MATRIX: There are two films being filmed back to back; are they being filmed in succession in any way?

CINDI: No, they’re being filmed by actor availability and Wire Team availability. There could be sequences that are at the very beginning of the second movie and at the very end of the third movie that are shot on the same day. There aren’t too many things that are repeated like that, but it’s shot as convenience and scheduling and budgeting works out. The actors have to really make some jumps and leaps. For instance we have two sets, the Sewer Main and the Mjolnir Pipeline, that are right next to each other and are being shot on Monday and Tuesday. One is at the end of the second movie and the other is at beginning of the third movie.

MATRIX: The designers also have to make leaps from one world to another: from the rusted decaying world to the cleaner lines of the Matrix.

CINDI: Yes, on all of the Merovingian’s sets you could put your finger on anything and there would be no dust at all; it was all in perfect condition because that’s the way he designed it. But there are a lot of shabby elements on the sets where there’s a lot of deterioration. It’s fun. I like it because I like history and have always appreciated historical films; I love historical detail. Because my training is really as an architect in the contemporary world I have a lot of resources for doing something like the Industrial Hallway. I can do a lot of the doorframes and overhead lighting straight office sets, but it’s nice to do a variety.

MATRIX: How precise do you have to be when you’re drawing sets?

CINDI: It’s very precise, especially on things like the Industrial Hallway where you go through a door and you go into another set. When you walk down the Industrial Hallway you open the door and you’re in the Merovingian’s Chateau, you open the door and you’re in the Teahouse Alley. All those sets have to meet up to each other and they have to look like they actually work, so when you’re filming backwards from the Merovingian’s Chateau you actually look like you could go into the Le Vrai Restaurant. It all has to flip around to each other.

We do things in millimeters, but the thing you learn is you always want to end in a zero or a five. You don’t ever want to make something 83.6 millimeters because nobody can do that. You can do eighty millimeters or eighty-five millimeters. In computer work the numbers always come out 1,185.6 millimeters, and who is going to do that? It’s just 1185 and you’re all set. We’re still human beings working with hammers and tools, so there’s only so accurate that we can be.

MATRIX: Do you have much contact with the Construction Department?

CINDI: A lot because we draw the sets and hopefully we’ve drawn it clearly enough for them to understand it… but sometimes not. Sometimes it seems so obvious to us, but we’ve left things off the drawings or there are incongruities on the drawings, which doesn’t happen very often but it happens. We work with them to interpret the set again because so much of it is their decision making. We say what we need to have and ask if we need to change anything make it easier for them to build it or take it apart.

For instance, on the Abandoned Apartment set they did all the framing, it wasn’t important how all the joinery went together as this set is not that precise. You knew it was going to be sloppy and dirty, so there’s a lot of overlap.

THE ABANDONED APARTMENT

MATRIX: Explain how you follow through on the Production Designer’s vision and what the differences are from set design to architecture.

CINDI: By the time I started on the film, Owen had been probably working on it for at least a year, maybe a year and a half, and on almost all the sets he’d worked with a group of Conceptual Designers. They had three-dimensional sketches, cartoon-like sketches, which showed the feeling and the color and maybe little character studies, as well as some of the hand props that the characters would be using, but didn’t necessarily fill out all the spaces.

For some of the sets, like the Merovingian’s Chateau, we had complete computer models. Owen had worked that out intricately, so the work that was left for us to do there was to assist in color selection and decoration elements.

But a set like the Abandoned Apartment hadn’t been storyboarded and there were no conceptual drawings, so Owen did a very simple plan and we worked from there. I looked for images that he was interested in: I found a villa in Sicily that he liked that was just a single sheet that showed a lovely wall that was decaying. When I showed that to him he said those are the colors we want to work with, and because that set is in the Matrix we should use the green range of blacks. That’s why, when you look at the set and the black on the flowers on the walls, the black is not truly black, it’s a green black so we know we’re in the Matrix, not in Zion or the real world.

Starting from that collection of images he liked, we continued to develop it into three dimensions – similar to what I would have done for an architecture client. The difference is that here all I do is show the outside profile of what I want the room to look like, and the Construction team decides how they’re going to build it behind the walls. They decide what is the cheapest way, and what is the best way for them to build it someplace else and put it together back in the Sound Stage.

As an Architect I would have been responsible for the structural safety, the fire safety, the exits and all those issues, but here it doesn’t matter. I just show the outside profile, and everything behind the walls is somebody else’s choice; we are really just concerned about how it looks.

The Abandoned Apartment set was a great opportunity because here the Set Decorators got to do a fantastic job with the curtains, and some really great upholstery finishes where they’ve shredded it and made it look like it’s disgusting. Also, the Set Finishers took this beautiful wallpaper I designed and made it look like it’s a million years old, and like it has been waterlogged and water damaged.

The story we developed behind this set was that it was a sort of chinoiserie apartment and that there perhaps had been a fire upstairs, so there was fire damage. I even had certain sections of the ceiling where there was fire damage and there was smoke in certain directions, and the water would have come from the smoke and the floor had to come up in a certain place so it all matched. When you look at it now, it’s all decaying pretty evenly. It’s wonderful to look at this masterwork: to have a Scenic Artist make the plaster look like it’s falling away and the wallpaper look like it’s so old.

For the wallpaper I used the theme of opium poppies, so it’s a drug theme sort of alluding to the use of the red and the blue pill, and your choice of what you’re going to do. This apartment is where the Captains make their decision about what they’re going to do for their next action, and how they’re going to take over from the machines. They sit in this room and discuss, so it’s kind of their “think tank,” it’s their conference room, much like the Sub Metro is another conference room for them to talk. This is a little more intimate; it’s smaller.

MATRIX: Is it usual to make yourself backstory for a set before you design it; does that help you design in any way?

CINDI: Yes, it helps me have a sense of logic. I know when you’re working in film it doesn’t have to be logical, and that’s something I hit up against a lot because, as an Architect, this piece of wood should stand on top of this piece of wood and would have been done in this order in the real world. Because it’s film the order doesn’t matter, but it helps me to have some kind of logic to frame what I’m doing so I’m not just making it up, so it’s not just fantasy. I actually think that this would have happened over here, so it makes sense that these stains match those stains, or else it’s just chaos.

MATRIX: What was the process from the beginning through to the end on the Abandoned Apartment, and how much involvement do you have in it?

CINDI: This one was unusual. As I said, it was one that hadn’t had a lot of attention ahead of time, so I was very involved in this one. I showed Owen the pictures, worked out the plan, and showed him what I thought would work for the window wall, but he said he wanted it a little deeper with a little more wall so we’d see more of the wall texture. A lot of subtlety is that, again, from having an architecture background I’ll design a room that’s logical. It doesn’t matter where the windows and walls are, it just has to look good on film.

This was a funny set because it’s really just two rooms – or one room with a divider in it. We needed to have a place where Neo and Trinity could hide, one corner separate from the group discussion, so it needed to have a little bit of division. It was really about scale. Owen wanted it to feel large – somewhat reminiscent of the Lafayette Hotel from the first movie.

I got to do my own design on a lot of the motifs, but that’s unusual, it’s usually more of a team process because there were so many people involved before I even started. There are so many people who draft sets, and even when you’re drafting and you do exactly what you’re told, you still have an opportunity to put a little bit in there. So each person who touched this set had an opportunity to add a little bit of their personality or their ideas.

MATRIX: Wouldn’t the poppy wallpaper normally be a Set Dressing job?

CINDI: Actually, wallpaper would fall into Scenic Finishing, so that means it would be done by the Painters. The people who produced this wallpaper were friends of the man who was running the Scenic Department; we had a guy in Erskineville make the wallpaper for us.

I blew up the design a couple of times because I wanted to put a full panel up for Owen to get a sense of what it really looked like. That’s one thing that is really important to me as you’re designing – if you can try to blow it up to full size and really look at it before it goes up on set and before we spend too much money. This is a very expensive gold wallpaper that we overprinted, so it had to be right. We needed real wallpaper because we knew we’d peel it off and you want to have some of the backing piece left. If we didn’t have that we would have had to make a fake backing sheet and then put our printed sheet on top of it, and we couldn’t have gotten the luminescence of the gold.

The wall covering on the bottom of the walls is a store-bought product. One of the reasons I think they picked that is because of the motifs – the medallions there are similar to the medallions that are on the shutters and around the fireplace. A lot of it has to do with what is available. The cornice trims and moldings are what the manufacturer had in stock at the time for a reasonable price. But there is still that home decorating element: I’ve got a budget of five hundred dollars – what can I do with it? You have to stretch it as far as you can and buy what you can.

MATRIX: Are you a hand illustrator or a computer draftsperson?

CINDI: I draft with pencil on velum. I have drafted on computer but it doesn’t seem to be favored so much in film. We have worked with computer drafters, but I think that the Art Directors and Production Designers are also pencil drafters, so they’re more comfortable working with pencil drafters. Sometimes they do computer modeling and they appreciate computer modeling as well, so you have to be able to do both.

I’ve done a lot of Photoshop work in complementing the hand drafting just to get the images, and a lot of Internet research. When I did the Abandoned Apartment set I probably used the computer thirty percent of the time, and drafted seventy percent of the time – working them together.

We’ve done the Zion sets on the computer and the Production Assistants we have working on the Zion sets are Photoshopping the finishes on top of that. We’ll do an elevation, say, of the Zion Elevator and all the railings and the edge of the Dock in the computer so it’s just an outline drawing. Then the Production Assistants will go onto the Internet and find a picture of rusty steel and they’ll start rubberstamping it into the areas. So they’ve got these beautiful absolutely exquisite renderings that look so real and they’ve got the depth.

MATRIX: So it is a type of pre-visualization.

CINDI: Yes, and it also helps the Scenic guys. It really helps everybody to get a picture of what we’re doing. It’s very interesting – we’re really blending our technologies a lot.

THE MEROVINGIAN’S CHATEAU

MATRIX: What was the first set you did when you came onto the show?

CINDI: I think the first thing we did was the Merovingian’s Chateau because that was such a big one that had been thought about for such a long time. That involved seven different sets that were linked together: there was the Great Hall, the Library, the Upper Hallway, the Lower Hallway, the Basement, the Parking Garage and the Keymaker’s room. All these pieces had to fit together, so the team I was on all worked on those together.

Owen had computer-modeled the Great Hall and he had rough modeled all the other sets, so we had something to start with. We knew the scale he was looking for and we knew the sense of movement – how all the sets connected to each other. He had worked with the Concept Artists who had illustrated the upstairs, the downstairs, and how many doors you go through – that’s all that set is – hallway after hallway, running and turning, running and turning.

They had really worked that all out, so it was a matter of taking those concept sketches and trying to turn them into orthogonal drawings. You have a three-dimensional sketch and you have to turn it into something very flat that you can measure and say this is three meters high. Because Owen had already done a computer model, we could get some pretty good scale numbers off that. And then it was a matter of going to the Internet and researching villas. We looked at a lot of European chateaus where we thought we were going to match the exterior of our chateau to a real chateau. The Hermitage [State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg, Russia] website is excellent, it has 360 degree views of all the rooms at the Hermitage, so we could see the chandeliers, and the balustrades, and all the things that we needed for our chateau – all the details were there.

We also looked at a lot of Venetian villas because we had that underground feeling – the floor pattern in the Lower Hallway came out of a typical Venetian piazza. So we borrow all these things and put them all together, looking for the classic European feeling, The Merovingian feeling: Western philosophy, Western European heritage. You have to have the visual imagery that matches that philosophical style because there’s so much storyline. Larry and Andy have thought about the history of philosophy so much that you have to give the visual clues that backup their story. You have to match the same sense of opulence that they’re speaking about, and they’re speaking about the history of Western man.

MATRIX: Did you have the opportunity to speak to them about it?

CINDI: I have had very little contact with Larry and Andy, so it’s mostly through Owen. When you read the script and see the character names that are famous philosophers or characters from mythology, you start to read about the Merovingian and the others. It was a big deal for us to research that and see what it meant, and that gives you a lot of clues.

There were also things like the Merovingian’s logo. I made a stab at it thinking, big M, big guy, big ego. When Owen saw it he wanted more frills, so we got some swords, we got some more frills and I put a crown on it because I thought he thinks he’s the king of everything. I put all that on there, not thinking about it consciously, and I saw a show on Napoleon two weeks later and saw that was where I got it from; Napoleon was just an N with the laurel leaves. The Brothers liked it, but it was a shot in the dark, a guess after looking at the Chateau and knowing a little bit about the history.

MATRIX: There were a lot of sculptures on that set; can you talk a little bit about those?

CINDI: The sculptures were really Brian Dusting’s [Set Decorator] baby. The idea is that they’re all the same character – they are all the Merovingian – although it’s not a representation of the actor’s face, it is one person. Again it’s the ego of the one person who controls everything. You can see that in the mural at the back where we’ve got the big M at the top of the mural in heaven, puppeteering the angels who are puppeteering the little people, you and I, down here slogging it out in the mud. He’s totally in control, he loves himself, and he’s got pictures of himself everywhere.

Some of those statues are based on actual statues of the Merovingian; there are a couple of statues that are supposed to be the Merovingian, so we found the body poses. Then there are classic warriors that we worked on combining with the architecture because the two guys at the base of the stairs had to light your pathway up the stairs, but be turning enough so that when you came in the door you got a good look at them. There was complex geometry in that room. The guy who was the model for that actually works in Props Model Making, so we took lots of photographs of him and tweaked him around to make him do his thing.

MATRIX: A lot of action went on on this set, did you have to make allowances for that?

CINDI: Yes. On the Abandoned Apartment we had no idea what the action was, I just imagined what I thought was happening and we just left the floor space really clear. The furniture was really easy to move and the walls moved away easily so they could do whatever they needed to.

In the chateau the action was really choreographed; they had been rehearsing with a mock staircase in California. Once we got our staircase established in Australia, they built an identical staircase in California and rehearsed with that staircase, so it was very precisely worked out. Owen had a really good idea of where everybody was going to fly into and who was going to be thrown into what pretty early on. Some of those things changed at the last minute, but that was pretty tight. Anything that had a fight sequence in it we had known ahead of time so we could plan for it.

If it’s a dialogue sequence it’s up to us to guess how the camera is going to move based on reading the dialogue and looking at the pacing of it. The scene in the Abandoned Apartment was intercut with sequences of them going to the Power Station and the Rerouting Facility, so you knew it was going to be fast. But then Morpheus had these words that were so powerful you knew it would be static shots of Morpheus talking about providence and the paths that the captains were on so there’d be some strength and static. They wouldn’t be moving too fast because you want to really hear what he has to say.

LOCK, TRINITY & HAMANN

MATRIX: How well do you know the scripts?

CINDI: Pretty well, but not as well as I should. You have to know everything and how all of the little things relate to each other, and you look for certain things. Right now I’m working on Commander Lock’s Office, so I’ve gone through all the references to any graphics that are in Zion because we’re designing a table for him where he has got some moving and some static graphics.

What is Commander Lock responsible for? He’s responsible for defense. So I looked up everything that’s in the script about APUs and Defense Ducts and broadcast levels, and anything I can possibly find about the ships, like any mention of geothermal reports. Then I read through the scripts again looking for everything about the Osiris that I possibly could find. When you’re trying to design one element, that’s all you’re looking for then, and next time you’re looking through it you’re looking for something else. It’s like a research project when you go to the encyclopedia, but you only look for one topic at a time, you don’t notice the other topics.

As this project goes on you start to know who is playing each character. We knew who the big cast members were, but I didn’t know who’s playing Ghost, and now that I’ve met Anthony Wong and he’s a real person, I read the script and understand what Ghost is doing there and find it interesting. I relate to it very differently than I did the first time I read it. When we came back from Christmas break [2001 – 2002] Hugh made us read it again and I have had to go through it at least one more time since Christmas. It’s the Bible; every word is a clue to the relationship between storyline and design, you just have to squeeze it right out of the script.

MATRIX: Did you have the opportunity to work on Trinity’s Bedroom set?

CINDI: Yes, that was a really interesting one because you know Trinity is tough but here she is in love with this great guy. She has found the One, the man that the Oracle has told her is the man of her dreams. So she has a soft side, but we’re not going to see that outside of the bedroom because she’s a real hardcore person and she has been fighting all her life. Her apartment is pretty ordinary, it’s just like the other apartments in Zion except for the last little niche. It’s a little softer but it’s not corny, there are no candles and glitter, but it’s still warmer softer rock so it’s a little more sensual without being cheesy. It was a very interesting game to play with that.

The other bedrooms where they’re in the ships are all pretty straight – you don’t see much of their personality – but this is Trinity’s actual room so she has created her own personal space there.

MATRIX: Can you imagine ever going back to architecture now?

CINDI: One theory I have is that this creative process will liberate my architecture so that I could go back and maybe enjoy architecture more and not be so confined by the budget and the scheduling. Perhaps my clients may be a little flexible or allow me to do something a little crazier. I might push myself a little further if I did go back and do that, but right now this is very liberating. We have a schedule and we have a budget, but it’s nowhere near as responsible as architecture.

Although we have to keep to a budget on every one of these sets, so it’s very strict, but if there isn’t money for something we can leave things out. With a client with a house you can’t leave out the stove or not buy that one person in an office a desk. In film we can figure out a way to shoot around something: we can’t afford that wall, so we’re not going to have that wall. We left walls out of some of the sets to save money – but you can’t do that for an architecture client. If something doesn’t fit together in film you throw a prop in front of it because nobody is ever going to walk back there, so nobody ever knows.

MATRIX: As an architect you were responsible for safety; who is responsible on film?

CINDI: Everybody has a responsibility for safety here, but I don’t decide how the wall is held up. As an architect I would decide the size of the studs, and how it was tied into the ceiling and the floor, or I would design the beams tied into the structure of a skyscraper. In a small building, I would design the superstructure and if it fell over it would be my fault. Here, the Construction guys are responsible for whether it falls over or not. If I see something that is dangerous it’s my responsibility to speak up about it – everybody on all the teams has that responsibility to say something is not right.

As a licensed architect when I used to sign the drawings, if anything went wrong I would be in a lawsuit. Here it’s a team process and we work with the Construction team together – how should we design this, how should we build it?

For instance, we’re working on Hamann’s Office right now, and we have three different kinds of foam that are going to come together. We have a blown foam by one team, we have a sculpted foam by another team, and we have foam over plywood by the Construction team. They’re all the pieces that have to fit together, so we have to work out our methods and materials. We’ve been discussing it and discussing it so everybody knows what they’re doing. They’re going to have flame tests to make sure the lights don’t get too close to the foam and burn. Everybody is concerned about safety and about the best and the fastest way to make the set, and also the least expensive way to make it. The best way that it will work for the filmmakers so they can take it apart and get the shots they need as well as be able to light it.

MATRIX: Do you know what happens to these sets after they have been filmed?

CINDI: Most of them are trashed and parts of them are saved. When we finish with a set we’ll do a strike plan very specifically, saving bits that we think we can use again in another set, not even in the same set, or something that we think we might need for a portion of that same set in the future. We’ve got a shed full of bits and pieces we can borrow from that are shapes that we think we might use in something else. If there was anything that was remotely pipe shaped in the first half of the movie we saved it because Zion is full of pipes – so anything that could be a column that could be turned into a pipe – we’ve got it.

MATRIX: How did you feel when you watched the 20 minute clip shown around Christmas 2001?

CINDI: It was so exciting and it was terrific to see, it’s so new for me and it’s shocking to me. I was in an actual movie theater and that is the big screen and something that I did is up there. A lot of what they showed at Christmas was the Abandoned Apartment set with Morpheus sitting here. The framing was tight to Morpheus in his red chair so I could only see a small amount of my wallpaper over his head, but it was still my wallpaper.

It was great to see it, and it was great to see it looking so good. It was perfect to do just before Christmas because you were a little tired after working a little bit too much, and you saw that and felt it was all really worth it. We do our set design, but we’re not necessarily here maybe to see each set get lit, and we’re not here for the whole day to see it filmed so you don’t see what happens. And you never know what the Editor will do with it, so you don’t know how that’s going to work out. To see 20 minutes edited together we all felt we’d done something really neat.

MATRIX: Thank you very much Cindi.

Interview by REDPILL

January 2002

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