MATRIX: What does being a Concept Illustrator for THE MATRIX sequels entail?
DAREK: Because the film is so up there as far as the vision and the concept, from the illustrator’s point of view it is an amazing project to work on. In this case we are going to deal with whatever the brothers have got in mind as far as the future of it goes. We are not really informed about the ending of the film, we are finding out as far as we’re working on it which way it is going to go.
MATRIX: What other projects have you worked on before arriving here at THE MATRIX?
DAREK: I work in live action animation. Recently I finished a film, Windtalkers with John Woo, that is a completely different subject to this, the second war. For the last five years I was working for DreamWorks’s Animation Division, which was challenging and interesting. I was the Production Designer on The Prince of Egypt, and then I developed feature projects for DreamWorks Animation. Before that I worked on The Broken Arrow with John Woo, and Armageddon, with Michael Bay.
MATRIX: Armageddon was a pretty big and bombastic film; how does what you’re seeing here compare to that sort of large production?
DAREK: It is very interesting for us illustrators to work on big concept films. Armageddon was a film with a concept as well because there were asteroids that had to be designed, and then elements and surfaces of the asteroid had to be designed. Whatever project has a big vision and challenge for the illustrator is a great project to work on. It is difficult to compare, obviously they are different. Armageddon is a much more technologically driven film and more realistic than THE MATRIX, but they are both great challenges as far as the subject and illustration go.
MATRIX: Does your experience on this project differ to working on an animation?
DAREK: I think it is refreshing. I have the opportunity to work in both medias, so I try to put my animation experiences to live action, and put my live action experiences to animation. Both are medias using film techniques, especially these days where the live action films go in a much more animated way; it is obviously not a traditional animation, it’s a computer animation, but based on the same principles that the traditional animation used to be. In this case, it’s very helpful for me to use my knowledge from animation films to design live action, using the movement of the cameras in the drawing and things like that. I use advantages in both medias and try to combine them, putting that into the illustration to show the directors.
With an animated film you have different challenges than live action. Artists in films are mostly used to deliver the visual interpretation of ideas, and these ideas are then passed on to the world to be built. We work in teams, we work together. For THE MATRIX we have to fill in the vision for the purpose of the production; in animation it is the same, but everything to be drawn has to be designed. THE MATRIX is much more precise, but then live action is: we create the images to capture the shapes, the designs, the atmosphere, the vision of the Directors, and then they pass that on to the next department dealing with the subject.
MATRIX: The ideas that Larry and Andy have, how are they conveyed to you?
DAREK: We have a primary meeting and we talk about an idea and then they say, “Do the sketches, have a go at it”. I have a few days to work, then we meet and I show the sketches, and we narrow down the idea – which way they want to go as far as my input goes, and as far as they want something captured in the film. At that point it goes into final rendering.
MATRIX: Do you have a preferred technique you use to illustrate?
DAREK: Obviously the easiest way to convey the sketches to the Directors is with pencil and quick values of rendering, where it shows roughly the atmosphere and the climate of the illustration, but at the same time is the easiest way to illustrate the idea for that particular exercise. After looking through those pencil sketches it goes into the final rendering which, very often, I do in markers and pastels and gouaches and things like that. Again the technique is defined for very quick artwork because it’s not a fine art piece that is going to be exhibited or anything like that, they are basically illustrations for the purpose of the production. In this case this illustration is to show the Art Department, and for them to show to the construction people to confirm what is possible to build, and what is going to be built physically.
MATRIX: Although you have colored your illustrations, is color one of the things that is also defined later on by the Art Department in the set building process?
DAREK: The color palette was defined in the first film; we know what colors we’re using in which world. But then, even for the purpose of illustration, it is still a huge open area of introducing the atmosphere using colors and different palettes.
MATRIX: How has it been working with Larry and Andy Wachowski?
DAREK: Great; we’re getting there. It is very interesting because they’ve got a defined world of THE MATRIX in what they want, but at the same time there are areas where they allow us to contribute and give the illustrator a chance to come up with ideas.
MATRIX: Initially, how did you come to be working on this project?
DAREK: I was obviously interested after seeing the first MATRIX film. It captured the imagination of the audience who reads comics, watches science fiction films, and has been waiting a long time for the film that suddenly made something possible, as far as the science fiction world goes. When I heard about the sequels, it was a great opportunity to jump into that and work on this project.
MATRIX: Have you had the opportunity to read the script for the second film?
DAREK: I haven’t read it yet; with the secrecy of the script we can’t take it out of the studio. I have started reading, but haven’t finished yet because, basically, we have to deliver the work and it is such a challenge to do. We have the brief from the Directors, and whenever I can spare an hour, then I will sit down and read it – I haven’t had many spare hours.
MATRIX: There are many different illustrators here, what is the specific nature of the illustrations you’re being asked to draw?
DAREK: The Directors probably saw nature in my portfolio. Somehow, I don’t know why, I work on films with huge, epic scales, and I think the elements in Zion, as far as design goes, require this sort of epic approach. That is probably what they saw in my illustrations, and why they have asked me to design the Zion Temple in a sort of church style.
MATRIX: Your desk is covered with a number of reference books; are these books the Directors have suggested to you as a look they want, or is this something you have gleaned from their descriptions to you: that you will find inspiration between these particular pages?
DAREK: Larry and Andy give us direction and then, as I said, there’s a margin for us to bring ideas in. Books help during the time I’m showing the primary sketches to convey the idea, where the idea is coming from, and which direction it is going to go. It helps to have photographic references around illustration because of the sketchy way you’re approaching the primary sketches. It is often much easier to scribble the idea, show the photograph and show the reference from the book, and that way they know if it is the right way to go, or we have to change and go in another direction.
MATRIX: Is there ever an occasion where you have to draw an illustration from a number of different angles, as you would a set?
DAREK: Not yet, we are still on the edges of development. At the moment we are designing particular areas of the film with main broad concepts, then we’re going to start defining that. I think some illustrators have already started defining some areas, but I am on the projects that are still up there, they are not abstract, but they are coming from the abstract to the first primary shapes.
MATRIX: Being surrounded by a number of different artists, are you affected by their different styles?
DAREK: Partially yes, partially no. Because we have to deliver something on the target, we have to look at what we do and what the other artists do, but at the same time we have to find our own private areas to come up with a different approach, with something that hasn’t been seen before.
MATRIX: Do you find there is a lot of pressure to create something that has never been seen before?
DAREK: Maybe it looks like that, but I would never put it as a pressure, but as a challenge. Obviously, we are artists who always want to come up with a solution for the target, a visual solution for the target, and this is what keeps us going.
MATRIX: What are your expectations of the sequels based on what you’ve seen?
DAREK: After seeing the first film, it is a pleasure to work with Directors that can deliver such an interesting film. We still don’t know the end of the whole film, but there is a trust that the guys are definitely going to do something we haven’t seen before, and it is great to be a part of it.
MATRIX: Thanks Darek.
Interview by REDPILL