Interview with Godric Cole (Set Designer, Australia) from The Matrix Reloaded (2003)

By Paul Martin March 22nd, 2012, in Official Interviews, The Matrix Reloaded

Archival interview with Godric Cole from the official Matrix website.

BACKGROUND

MATRIX: How did you get into the entertainment industry?

GODRIC: Quite a while ago in London, I started in the Globe Theatre, which was a project with Sam Wanamaker, an American in London getting together a Shakespeare theatre. He was fantastic, full of energy, a really good guy to work with, this would have been 1970, I think. The Globe Theatre, at that point, was a temporary theatre set up in summer, which only did Shakespearean projects. He gained grants from Shakespearean societies and also government grants, I think, to build a permanent theatre, which was opened, a couple of years ago, like 1997. Unfortunately Sam died before the first performance, which was a shame, but his spirit is certainly there, so that was the start of the industry when I discovered entertainment.

MATRIX: Did you study film or theatre?

GODRIC: No, not at all, I had been a traveler. I went to an art school to begin with and studied commercial art, which I didn’t enjoy, and went on to do sculpture, which I didn’t complete… then I took off traveling. I’ve been in construction as well, and prop making and set construction in theatre, and that led on to a love of architecture and detail. So very late in my life I went to university and studied architecture, because I felt I was getting too old and physically unfit to be able to carry on the construction side of things.

Now that I draw sets, having that construction background is actually quite an asset. It’s interesting to have an understanding of materials and methods, because there are so many ways of building a set. It depends on the country, or even the part of the country, as to what materials you’ll use, or how you’ll actually go about making something. Although it can be a problem as well sometimes, knowing what goes behind a set you can get waylaid with that. I actually suggest methods of construction, rather than telling, because that is not the thing to do. I have done many things over those thirty years, but for the past 15 years I have been involved in film, and that’s also television and features.

MATRIX: In architecture you have to be concerned with what goes behind the walls, did you find the transition to sets difficult?

GODRIC: I entered into it from the industry already, from a set construction background. I was actually only going to study for one year to get my drawing skills together, as I’d never studied technical drawing. So I basically had the idea that I was going to go for a year and enter back into the industry with drawing skills and be able to work in the Art Department. That did happen after 18 months at university, but going to university in my thirties, I found that I really enjoyed it. I suddenly put together all the links of the history of architecture I was especially interested in, which also helps with film, because you’re quite often working on period pieces – knowing a little about the history of architecture, the materials, or sizes etc. So I ended up staying for five years at university, while still working part time in the industry. I didn’t see anybody for five years basically.

MATRIX: vWhat are some of the films you have worked on?

GODRIC: I worked on the first MATRIX, and I have been on THE MATRIX sequels now, I think, for six months. Prior to that I was on a small Australian feature called Garage Days, which is about a rock band, which was good, it was very different to the environment of THE MATRIX. THE MATRIX is a very big film, there are so many people involved in it. On a smaller project, like a ten million dollar Australian movie, you have to be aware that you are going to so many more things in your capacity because there aren’t as many people, so it’s good to have people who can jump over and do different things. Like one day you might be dressing a set, and the day before you were drawing it or liasing with Construction. It’s good to work on small films, in fact they’re a better training background in a sense, you meet more people in different departments because they’re right next to you. Whereas on a large film like this you tend to be slightly more isolated.

WORKING ON THE MATRIX

MATRIX: What did you do on the first MATRIX film?

GODRIC: That was really quite funny, I came into that, maybe three months down the track. I was on location duties, going out to locations in the Sydney CBD, measuring buildings, drawing them etc. I was just new to Sydney at that time and hadn’t a clue where I was going, so I had this really fast learning curve about Sydney and its CBD. I got to know the streets, which was really good fun from the point of view that we had to take a street and hide a lot of things relating to Sydney, like shop signage for instance, and all the parking signs we changed. We drive on the left hand side of the road here, whereas this was a generic American city, so we had to change all the road markings and the traffic lights.

There was one occasion where I had gone off with one of the Art Directors, we drove down this street where I was supposed to go and measure all the different signs, and Michelle [McGahey] mentioned to me that she thought there were 43 signs that needed changing. So I took off the next day to measure these signs, and hadn’t contacted her until about half past five in the afternoon (I’d been there since 9 o’clock) and she phoned me and asked me what I was doing, had I gone home early or something? I said no, I’m still measuring the signs, I said the actual number has increased slightly, we’re now at 180, or something like that. She didn’t believe me, so she came out the next day and we checked it out thoroughly, and yes, there were a lot of signs. It’s details like that, when you initially look at something, you don’t realize how much is involved in it until you go and start having a really close look. That happened for several streets in Sydney where we had to change a lot of things, and it was good fun.

Here in Sydney we’ve got parking meter ticket dispensers for parking, and they’re not in America. We couldn’t move them, these things stand like 1800 [millimeters] high, and we couldn’t take them out, so we had to come up with something to disguise that, not knowing exactly where the shot was going to be. That was a great little project to get onto: we came up with the idea of a similar thing that you can find in a Paris street called a column vendome, which is an advertising cylinder we actually stuck around the parking meter ticket dispenser, and that worked out quite well.

MATRIX: Did you measure every one of the 100 plus signs?

GODRIC: It got to the point, after maybe the first couple of dozen, that I realized there were only three sizes. These were signs that would hang under a verandah advertising a shop. I can’t remember now, but they were probably 2400 [millimeters] long, by 300 high and 150 deep, so it got to the point, after a couple of dozen, that I didn’t have to measure them, I could just look at them and say, right. But I did have to identify them all. This meant drawing, while I was in the street walking down with bits of paper flying everywhere, and attempting to do this huge plan of the street, identifying all the signs. Then I handed those to a Graphic Artist, who printed up vinyl signs to apply to those signs. There were several shots there, one of them during the day. If it’s a day shot you have to be a bit more specific, but again, not knowing exactly what was going to be shot, you have to cover your ass, so to speak, because we don’t want to see something that we don’t want to see.

MATRIX: What did you come up with to cover the physical signs with?

GODRIC: New shop names, or things that we just invented. Quite often we’ll use crew members, the guys you work with, so you get your name in there, your 15 seconds of fame.

MATRIX: Were you a Set Designer on the first film as well?

GODRIC: I was a draftsperson, which is basically the same, a Set Designer just gets a wee bit more money. The first one wasn’t as big, it had a smaller Art Department and, as I said before, on a smaller project your involvement is a bit more diverse.

MATRIX: How long were you on the first film?

GODRIC: I think I was there for about four months, basically doing a lot of the locations. For the opening sequence, where the truck rams in to the telephone booth, there was actually a lot of discussion about that which was really quite funny. That was when I first met Andy and Larry and they were quite funny about the way the truck would ram into the phone booth. They are actually animated in their description of a shot and how it’s going to take place. I think the discussion, from an audio point of view, was whether it was a V12 truck or a V8 truck, because one brother had a louder zoom or vroom than the other, it was quite funny. They were good, it was quite easy to understand what they meant.

That was quite an interesting set to work on, given the fact that there’s a garbage truck about to drive through a building and what that entails. From different aspects like: how this set was going to react when it did have a truck go flying through it, how Special Effects dealt with it, how Vehicles dealt with it, did the truck need to be braced up or did the set have to be very soft? The truck actually mounted the pavement, so we wondered if we actually needed to put a ramp from the road to the pavement, just a really short one. We thought we would have to, but with the weight of the truck, it didn’t move one bit, it mounted the pavement easily. But these things you have to take into consideration, and until you actually do it, you don’t know what’s going to happen, that’s the interesting thing about it all. It’s really quite exciting trying to rack your mind for possibilities that might occur, suggesting them, and coming up with some device to accommodate that.

THE SET DESIGN PROCESS

MATRIX: How do you know how much detail to go into, and where, on a set; how do you know what is going to be shot?

GODRIC: Those are questions that you ask. You ask, is this a wide shot or a close up? That process comes down from the Production Designer [Owen Paterson] and the Directors who have discussions. THE MATRIX has fantastic storyboards, which are a really amazing help, where shots are isolated and you can begin to see. From a floor plan you can work out distances and if there are people in front, or something like that. So you can actually, with experience, allow yourself to either have a lot of detail or very little, and that’s basically it, it’s as simple as that.

On smaller movies though, that is more difficult because people are so busy, not saying they’re not busy on this, but quite often you might not have the money to have the luxury of the storyboard, and the Director is off being very busy, so there isn’t that communication. On the smaller ones you might have to, in the end, actually come up with more detail and talk to Construction, although the set is actually begun, the main bulk of the build could be erected and then you’re actually adding detail. And sometimes, as time goes on, or locations are not locked down or suddenly change, or weather affects something, you can find yourself suddenly having to change the details totally.

MATRIX: What is the process of creating a set design?

GODRIC: As a Set Designer on this show, I basically work with an Art Director or an Assistant Art Director, who will have discussions with Owen. I am briefed on that, and then I go on and either do some drawings or model making, whichever it incurs. I’ll go check out the storyboards to get the whole thing, and then I’ll sit down, talk about it with whoever I am working with, come up with something, then present drawings to them. Depending on whether Owen is passing through, he will drop in to see what I am up to, and he’ll add some comments that cut through the process of word of mouth through several people.

Again we’ll discuss it, whether something has to be changed or added, or whatever, then we print off a set of finished drawings. They’re given back to Owen, he’ll look at them again, it’s possible he’s had other discussions with the Directors, and changes will be added to that again. So it works back down, they’re handed back to him, possibly signed off, and sent to Construction. Before that they’re sent to Construction to get a rough idea of cost between all their different departments. If Special Effects is involved in it, then part of that set is isolated and sent to Special Effects, and they can add special pieces they need that we’re not actually aware of.

It’s a huge discussion; the whole thing is a large team of people adding bits in, talking to each other and saying this is needed, something you’re unaware of. Then suddenly you get the design back and change the drawing, which is great, it’s really good to have that at the end of the day, it can be total chaos, but it is sort of organized chaos.

MATRIX: s there a pattern of time that elapses from when you start with a set design to when it’s finished?

GODRIC: That varies, totally. On this project, THE MATRIX, most of the sets have been well planned, and given the size, you can roughly work out how long it would take to build and how long it would take to draw, and allow for changes in between. That time factor is accounted for, and it’s only when weather affects things for instance, that suddenly you can find yourself rushing with something. That rush enters into every department, if there is a change taking place. Basically, we have enough time to go in and do that, whereas on a smaller project, you can find yourself working quite late, doing longer hours; it’s not unusual for a set to be shot with wet paint.

MATRIX: As a Set Designer, do you have to concern yourself with color at all?

GODRIC: That would be more an Owen-type discussion. Some of the sets we’re scanning from the set drawings: we stick them into the computer, and then Photoshop ideas of color. With THE MATRIX we’ve got THE MATRIX brown and THE MATRIX gray, they’ve been used quite extensively, so most of the sets, we’ll know. I hand my drawings back to an Art Director who will apply different colors, then show them to Owen, and he okays them. The drawings are then handed on to the Scenic Department, and they apply them to the set and they’re lit. That can be a problem, because when you light something the color can change, and again it’s a whole bunch of departments all talking to each other, and the process carries on.

MATRIX: Have you used any of the Pre-visualizations to check camera movement etc?

GODRIC: You can tell that from a storyboard. Most of the storyboards are from an elevation point of view, so it’s actually the shot as per the shot from through the lens. From that you get an idea, and of course these are just initial ideas to base discussion on. You don’t really know the distance when you’re designing the set, later on down the track, if there’s a special shot, you can know that the camera is being craned in, or is an overhead shot, or is a long shot, or whatever. Then again, it comes into the detailed thing of knowing: is it close up?, Is there anything in front of it?, which decides how much detail you have to get into.

ZION TEMPLE

MATRIX: Have you done any work on Zion?

GODRIC: This model is a set we have to make for some pick up shots, it is the Zion Temple Entrance. This is to 1 to 50 scale. The brief I was given was that we needed about 7 meters height, and this set, I think, is going to accommodate 200 people, so you roughly work out floor size and the size of the stage we’ve got. I quickly drew this, then made a model from it, and our Production Designer came around, checked it out, and he decided it would need to be a bit smaller, which would change it a bit.

Quite an interesting thing was that I had put in some heavily finished sandstone as the edges, but the shot is a close up of people’s heads, so there was no need to have a rough edge. What will happen is a rostrum with a clean edge, with the shot coming up past people’s heads, showing mainly the background and the cave. This model we would pass onto a Scenic Artist and a Sculptor, and they would make the set out of styrene and a two-part foam, it is basically to give them an idea of the rough outline; this is a quick model.

What is the model made out of?

The yellow/orange part is photocopy paper – I chose the orange because the actual set is a sort of orange/ochre color, so that fitted in quite nicely and gave a better idea. The rest is fome-cor. To start these models, we’ll draw up a plan, then apply the plan to a piece of fome-cor and physically cut out all the areas. This model has been given different levels, this is the actual stage floor here, the first level is plus 500 millimeters, and the second level is plus 1000, to give the idea of that. The models are quick and easy and not precious, given that as discussion goes further, today we’ll probably have more discussion about this one, and I’ll have to start cutting it up, so you don’t get attached.

These are pieces that actually came out from the States; they were a part of the Zion Temple set there. They’re stalagmites, although they’re pretty big. I would zip down to Stage 4, measure them, come back up, and proceed to make these little models. These are actually, again, just paper folded and rolled.

MATRIX: How do you make the decision what material to use for a particular model?

GODRIC: The size, the scale, and the availability of the materials that we’ve got. Most of the models we create in the Art Department would be for discussion. Quite often we’ll start with one model and cut it up, add bits to it, make it smaller, make it longer… so therefore the fome-cor, which is a really easy material to work with, is great for that application, for change. This model possibly could become more elaborate, then we’d send it off to the Model Making department, who build in heavier duty materials, and the model will find itself on the construction floor for those chaps to work from.

MATRIX: Having drawn the floor plan, did the model take shape as you built it?

GODRIC: Yes, it did to a degree. For instance, in attempting to create a rock type surface, it would be really wrong to have extremely smooth spaces. Working from the floor and just crumpling bits of paper gives a more organic feel, plus it’s easier to mould into an odd sort of shape. So this model is just a guideline, although the heights are correct and the overhang is correct and to scale. The actual curvature is debatable, and can be left up to the sculptors to determine. They are possibly going to use styrene and cut into it with electric chainsaws and things like that, then there’s another surface over the top of that, a two part foam from a spray, which will give the finished feel to the rock, and then it’s painted.

MATRIX: How does this structure connect to the Zion Temple made in Alameda?

GODRIC: It’s part of it. I watched some of the rushes for this shot and, basically, we could only see about two feet above the character’s heads, and they were maybe standing 10 to 15 meters away from the surface. So it was quite difficult to see from the rushes what was there, but with the reference photographs from the cave in America, we were able to work out the surfaces, the distances and heights, and finishes. It’s good to see those work-in-progress photographs, which helped, if you do have to reproduce something.

MATRIX: I heard they were sending back a couple of stalactites from the US, is that what you used for reference?

GODRIC: Yes, that is what these two models were taken from. These stalactites were sent over from America because they were movable pieces, so it was easy to transport them out. They are really tall, like 9 meters, or something like that. I made the model from the two pieces that are down in Stage 29.

By sending those pieces over here, the guys who are going to make the cave can get an idea of the finish applied in America. With the different countries, there are different working techniques, different finishes, and over and above that we have to try to get the finish to match really well. It’s interesting to see how other countries work, materials they use, etc., which can be different from one country to another. As well as being a finished piece these stalagmites are actually quite interesting from an ongoing point of view.

MATRIX: Do you ever make a plan from a model built by the Model Makers?

GODRIC: This photocopy gives you an idea of a model made by the Modeling Department, Lewis [Morley, Concept ModelMaker]and Co, it gives you an idea of scale. This is part of the Temple Entrance, I’m not sure of the process this one went through, but I think it was discussion and then straight on to a model. Now we’ve reached the point where the model has been okayed, and I’m drawing up some levels to expand on this to explain to the Scenic people and Sculptors basic sizes and levels. I’ve transferred this photocopy onto a floor plan, which is just a really small area within the set itself, the Temple Entrance. I’ve made an elevation, which is this drawing here, this is an elevation looking thataway on that plan. It’ll probably be carved out of foam, and then a two-part foam sprayed over that. After that process, I go onto this one, which is just basically giving the actual heights and levels from the lowest point to this point here, the top, which is about 3 meters.

This is a guide for our Sculptors to show them the levels, and identify each layer, they will carry on and make it look like a limestone rock formation, so these are like little pools that trickle down the way. This is quite a hard thing to do because it has such an organic type feel that we’re trying to get, and then draw that in plan, and then from the plan make elevations. It’s enjoyable, but it’s something you have to have your head together to do, it’s not something you’d be doing at the end of the day, it’s more something for early in the morning, when you’re more alert.

EXPLOSION – FEBRUARY 14TH

MATRIX: Did you approach the Bunker Set in a different way because you knew it was going to be blown up?

GODRIC: No, initially not. With the Bunker Set, there were several bunkers made. There was one that stood there to have the initial set up shot, then that was actually craned out, and another set was brought in, which was loaded with charges. That was blown up, and in the process some of that set actually remained, and pieces of rubble round about are now being added to the set. From a Set Dressing point of view, with an explosion no one ever knows what extent it is actually going to come to. There were some areas that were shown to be a concrete wall for instance, and part of the plywood was blown away so you could see the timber structure behind it, so that’s going to have to be touched up for the next shot.

In the back of your mind you know it’s going to get blown up, but when you’re drawing it, you’re drawing something physical that’s going to be there, you’re thinking about it, how it’s going to work out. As that goes on down the line and Special Effects gets involved, for instance, they’re going to specify certain pieces they want fixed to the ground, Dynabolted to the concrete, so it’s not going to move. From a danger point of view there are certain things that have to be soft materials, because someone could be injured, or someone has to jump on top of it, or whatever. Those are more of the details you get, but the initial set was just constructed as a factory development in a little industrial area.

MATRIX: Why didn’t they just blow up the first set that was there?

GODRIC: Well, the first set was practical from the point of view that people could open doors and things had to work. The second set that was craned in was basically, if you can imagine, there was a cut made horizontally through that set, and the base part of it in the final shot would be there, and the top part was blown off. The top part was a softer material, which was able to be blown away, and the bottom part was a harder material which would stay. So for that reason, that was why they had to crane the initial one out after the establishing shot, and then have the breakaway one brought in to be blown up.

MATRIX: Will Visual Effects add to that shot? Whatever the softer material was, as it flew off, it will have to look like chunks of concrete.

GODRIC: That’s true, that’s what happens the day after. That was a night shoot, the explosion was at night, so for the next couple of days, Scenic Artists and Special Effects arrive with rubble that is painted, so you can’t see the polystyrene or the balsa wood. Scenics come in and touch up areas that are exposing the material the set was built of.

I think it is in the process of being dressed and touched up right now, but I’m not sure when that set is on our shoot calendar; given the weather is okay right now, it’s a good time to do that. The weather was a problem with that set, it set the guys back because it rained for two weeks almost. So right now it’s a good day, and I imagine there are people out there right this minute getting things ready and touching everything up, applying the rubble.

MATRIX: In your design, did you have to allow places in the set for the explosives to go?

GODRIC: That was discussed through an Art Director, Special Effects and Construction. Sometimes Special Effects will actually do their own builds because that is a specialized area. For explosive charges they know the materials they want to use, and that enters their smaller Construction Department, so that was totally their gig.

THE LAST WORD

MATRIX: When did you first read the scripts for the sequels?

GODRIC: On my first day. I did the very bad thing of reading both scripts back to back, so at this point in time, six months later, you know which set you’re on… but where does it sit within the script itself? You do go back and read a little bit of the script to remind yourself actually what set you’re at, but it’s good to have seen some rushes, that helps with everything, it allows you to determine what you might have to do and where it is. Knowing the characters and having worked on the first one also makes it easier.

MATRIX: Were the characters and plot developed in a way you had anticipated?

GODRIC: That’s a really difficult question. The characters were developed anyway, having had THE MATRIX 1, and having THE MATRIX 1 to look at has made things a lot easier from a visual point of view. As far as parts of the script go, there again, the characters were already established, that helps immensely. Some of the other parts, like the motorbike chase for instance, a chase is a really hard thing to write, and when I read that, it worked so well. It really read, it was easy to visualize. And then having seen the cast and crew preview, it was exactly that, it was really good. It was well done, obviously a lot of thought went into it.

MATRIX: Thanks Godric.

Interview by REDPILL

February 2002

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