MATRIX: How long have you been working in film?
JOE: This is my 23rd year, and my father was in it for 45 years. He was a painter and a couple of my brothers have been in it now for about 35 years, and other brothers for over 20 years. There is a whole family of us: 6 brothers, my father, and my sister is in this business too, we’re all painters. We followed my Dad, he took us everywhere, on many different locations.
MATRIX: Do you remember some of the early films where you were on set with your Dad?
JOE: The Russians are Coming, The Russians are Coming, and The Hawaiians over in Hawaii, How the West Was Won, and he worked on Lassie for years. He was the Paint Foreman at Goldwyn Studios for 19 years, and that’s where I got my start, as soon as I got out of high school, boom, I was right into the business. Goldwyn Studios did all the TV shows for Quinn Martin, Dragnet, Tenspeed and Brown Shoe, there was a bunch of them, UFO, Today’s F.B.I., The FBI story. I worked for my Dad for about 10 years, then broke away and started doing independent films, then I met Butch West [US Construction Coordinator] and hooked up with him and took off.
MATRIX: At a young age, did you know you wanted to get into and work around film?
JOE: Yes, my Dad said I had no choice, I was going to work, that was it. I was a baseball player, I wanted to play ball and that’s all I wanted, but my Dad said, “You’re going to paint”, so I started out painting signs. My brother, Rick, was at Universal for 25 years and now he’s back doing independent films too, hoping to maybe retire soon.
MATRIX: What are some of the films you’ve worked on yourself?
JOE: Dr. Dolittle 2, we did Galaxy Quest and Deep Blue Sea, I wasn’t the Paint Foreman on that. We did Patch Adams, The Hunt for Red October, Enemy of the State, Crimson Tide, and Forget Paris, there are a lot of them.
MATRIX: Do you run your own company?
JOE: No, I’m in a Painters’ Union, so I don’t hire out of the union unless they run out of people, which is very rare. A lot of the work I get comes from people like Mark Mansbridge, the Art Director, or Butch West, our Construction Coordinator, who will call me and say they’ve got a job.
MATRIX: Is it your responsibility to orchestrate the number of painters?
JOE: I pretty much orchestrate that part of it, as far as manpower. I say, “Look Butch I have to hire 5 more guys or 10 more guys to get this done, it’ll take two more weeks”, and he’ll say fine, or he’ll say, if you can do it with eight then do it with eight. He is the money man, he runs the budget, I just have to let him know where everything is at.
MATRIX: Do you get called in to do practical set paint jobs?
JOE: Quite a bit, yes.
MATRIX: What do you enjoy more, practical or building a set from scratch?
JOE: Building from scratch by far. I like the character work and working with the Designer. When they say we want to make this look like it has been beat to hell, we want to give a lot of feeling to it. On Dr. Dolittle, we did a jail set, a really small set with a couple of cells, and there was a shot with a bear inside the room. The Designer said he wanted it to be really down, so we really gave it a lot of color and peels, a lot of feeling to it. He walked in and said, “Man, Al Pacino can film in this”. He was really happy, he loved it a lot, and it was just a small set, real easy to do. It made him feel like, wow, we can really film this.
MATRIX: Having been in the set painting business for so long, do you still get caught up in movie magic when you go see the films you’ve worked on?
JOE: Not really. I very rarely take pictures anymore of anything. I used to, I used to go “Wow, that was something”, and take pictures of it and show people. Probably my biggest challenge of all was this floor I did on A Time to Kill. It was an eagle about thirty foot round, the actual seal of the State of Mississippi. The Designer wanted it done in terrazzo. Terrazzo is cut rock that’s actually crushed with inlaid brass. They put the colors of rock they want in there and then polish it down and you’ve got crushed stone of all the different colors of the image you want. They wanted this thing like thirty foot round, it was massive, and we had a week to do it and we pulled it off. It was an insert shot of this guy’s head hitting the floor and the camera came right down on top of him, then they pulled it back to reveal the entire floor of this rotunda which was like a City Hall in Mississippi. They were really, really happy with that, the Director, Joel Schumacher, just flipped out. He couldn’t believe that floor, that it was painted. That right there made me feel really good, it was a nice feeling.
ZION TEMPLE SET
MATRIX: For the Temple set, how did the colors develop?
JOE: We talked about this back in October  and we started looking at photographs and doing samples to get a feel for color for Owen [Paterson, Production Designer]. I started doing samples for him to figure on color and texture, to give him something to think about as it progressed along.
MATRIX: How much R & D and testing was there; have you ever worked this extensively with foam?
JOE: Yes, Little Nicky had a lot of foam. That was more charcoal and black, it was supposed to be like the devil’s home, like the center of the Earth, this is more like a natural cave. To get the right look, Mark [Mansbridge, US Art Director], Nanci [Noblett, US Assistant Art Director], Butch West and myself all took a trip one day and took a look at some caves. We took a bunch of photographs and got some samples from the caves of the different crystals, which were pretty unique, I learned a lot. The Directors wanted a natural looking cave, something that was really earthy, as though we’d come in from the center of the Earth. They wanted a wet feeling to it, so we gave the foam a real gloss and a lot of kick with mica. Basically, there are four colors in the Temple, it’s all in earth tone, which is raw sienna, burnt sienna, raw umber and burnt umber. Then there’s a little bit of gold that we shot into it to give it some depth.
MATRIX: Are there some areas you have put more work into; ‘hero’ areas?
JOE: Yes, there was a shot where they followed Morpheus up around the path and the camera came right across, so Owen wanted a little more extensive work there to give it more of a wet feeling, like it was really drooping and had a lot of crystal to it. When you see a natural cave, it has this quality in it, is very wet. You’ll see areas of the cave that are, basically, still moving, they’re alive. We took a lot of the mica and shot very, very light white into the crevices, and put the mica into it to give it a very crystal look, which gives it more depth. When you have your colors come out on the surface and it gets lighter inside, it gives it more depth, like you’re looking at something that’s still alive.
Another of the main sections is the bridge where they come across and Morpheus stands up on the podium. Owen wanted a very warm feeling of gold and yellows and a lot of crystal, and then the back walls were a lot deeper. He wanted a little bit more red to it, so when you stand back and shoot into it, you have that sense of more depth into the walls. With the face being lighter and the wall being deeper, you get the image of it being deeper than it looks.
MATRIX: Describe the process to get the crystals and the wet look.
JOE: First we lay it in with a really good primer to give it a hard shell. When the surface gets really hard like that we can do washes on top and control the wash with the color. The clears we put on were basically the best water-born clears we could buy, and we sprayed those on to give a good kick. Next we took some gold pearl and essence and shot that into crevices, then we took mica and basically just put it all over. Wherever we wanted to give it some white area we shot some white into it, then took the mica and dropped it into it.
MATRIX: Was there any trick with knowing the candles were going to be put into place?
JOE: No. The plasterer came up with a great idea, he made a mold of wax dripping, a flex mold, and we just wrapped it around each candle like a skirt, like a hula skirt almost, to give the sense that the candles were dripping. The steel of the candle holder itself is rebar, we took graphite and heavy shellac, then textured the whole thing and burnished it all back with aluminum foil to give it that real graphite platinum look, so it didn’t look like rebar. There are about 500 candles in the Temple set… there’s a lot of everything on this show.
Earlier you said the cave entrance is one of your favorite parts of the Temple set.
Yes, Tom Meikle the Lead Sculptor did such a nice job that we had a lot to work with on it. There’s a lot of veining that we did, and crystal, it also has a very wet feeling to it. We were really happy with it. All of the girders and bits and pieces here are plastic and wood. We textured it all with really heavy texture, painted it black, glazed it with a white to give it a real grayish look, and then started rusting it all down with dry colors. It was a pretty simple process. This is plastic that we did to look like 3/4 inch steel.
MATRIX: Is it still a surprise to you how effective paint effects are when making a piece of plastic look like heavy metal?
JOE: Sometimes, but a lot of it has really become an old hat now because we do it so much. You ask other people you’re working with if they know how we can accomplish something; it’s basically pushing this stuff to another limit to see if it’s going to work. You never really do the some thing twice, so it’s hard to see if it’s going to work if you’ve never done it before, but there’ll be somebody else who has actually done it, and they’ll put their two bits in, and you put something together and make it work. That’s one thing we do, we try to help each other out.
MATRIX: When you first saw the plans for this set, did it seem like a bigger challenge than any you had faced in the past?
JOE: No, I thought the freeway was bigger, although I thought this was quite large for the amount of time we had – we only had about three weeks to paint this whole place.
MATRIX: How much manpower did this project take?
JOE: I think it took about eight painters three weeks, we did this in about 15 man days, which isn’t a lot, it’s very little. We used a lot of Airless sprayers, then did all the washes with Hudson sprayers. We basically started at one end and worked ourselves all the way back to the entrance at the other end.
MATRIX: Do you have an estimation of how much paint you went through in this cave?
JOE: I know it took 600 gallons of lay in. We made the primer the lay in, so when the primer went on, it became the actual lay in of the cave itself. Normally, if you’re plastering something or you’re using foam, you’ve got two different mediums, and those mediums need to be primed because they won’t accept the age the same. If you use a really good primer, like an enamel undercoat, it dries hard enough to where you can glaze it or put your age over the top of it and it won’t attack it. You have to get a hard enough surface so it doesn’t attack. So we sealed it, and used that for the primer and the lay in at the same time, so that saved quite a bit. As far as colors, we used a lot of dry color in our paint; the dry color is mixed into the color itself, which gives it that rich feeling. I’d say that was close to another 500 gallons, so we’re looking at over 1,000 gallons of paint here, easy.
MATRIX: Did how many square feet of surface you had to paint come up?
JOE: Yes, there are approximately 64,000 square feet on this set, so I based the paint on that. I asked Tom [Meikle] the foam guy and carver, because he knew how much foam to buy, and he said it was roughly 64,000 square feet, including the floor, so it’s quite a bit of square footage.
MATRIX: There are some incredible instruments on this set; did you have anything to do with the detailing of them?
JOE: Yes. What Owen felt he wanted was for them to become very industrial, like they’d been here for hundreds of years. The instruments had to have the sense that they were constructed of heavy metals and steel and a lot of stainless steel, then he wanted everything to be in a blue cast. Basically he wanted a warm feeling with a blue cast, which at first I couldn’t understand because warm and blue are different. If you’ve got something that’s blue, it’s cold, if you’ve got something that’s warm, it’s red, and they don’t mix together so well. So we glazed everything in rich brown colors, then came back with the blues over the top to give the instruments a cool feeling over a warm surface. They’re supposed to look very industrial, so when they were built we left a lot of the stuff the way it was, and then we put some ages to it.
MATRIX: What kind of condition were they in when you first worked with them?
JOE: They were a lot of junk, there was nothing to them. When they built them they used a lot of cheesecloth and wraps. A lot of it is wood, the metal stuff we left alone basically and tied a lot of it in.
MATRIX: What was your involvement on the Freeway set?
JOE: Owen wanted a very green cast to the freeway, and he wanted the walls to have a feeling like they were moving. Like a picket fence effect when you’re a kid on a bike, and when you see the picket fence it’s moving along. When we did the freeway wall sample for Owen, we did it on this stage before the cave was built, it was 16 X 16 feet, a big sample piece. We had it plastered and I did all the aging on it, bringing up the colors from the bottom, but Owen wanted more, he said he definitely wanted a look of fingering, so I did it again, and he said that’s it. After that I did a green cast over the whole thing to give a menacing feeling to it, and Owen said, “That’s it, this is what I want. You can see how far it’s got to go, it’s a mile and a half one way, and then a mile and a half back”. It had to be at least 5,000 gallons of paint we went through, I don’t even know, I didn’t really keep track, there was so much paint flying out of that thing.
Before the walls were built they had 14,000 4 X 8s of OSB board, which had to be primed on one side; it took at least 3,000 gallons just to do that. Once they were primed, they were put up on walls: they built jigs, laid the walls down, stapled them all up, stood the wall up and plastered it. We oil based the front of the wall, it was plastered, and then they shipped the walls out to be painted, it was quite a process. It’s amazing that this all happened right in here where Zion is now. It went on for months on end, building walls to get them stacked out front, and once they got them stacked out front they would take them away and start standing them up as the K Rail was being laid.
K Rail is the center divider on a highway and down the two sides. It basically looks like a K shape when they pour it, so if a car does hit it, the car will immediately roll off of it, it won’t shoot over it to the other side. That had to be built, and then it was poured with ordinary concrete. They rebarred it and poured it, and as they poured it we stood the walls on top of it, and then we’d come in behind them and start aging these walls down. It took about 2 months to do that.
MATRIX: What kind of process was the K Rail?
JOE: That was a basic age, we kept everything the same, which was a medium wash made out of raw umber and then there was a deep wash made out of black and raw umber, the two washes together. We shot a toner back over the top of it to soften the wash itself.
We also did the freeway signs. We got real signs from Caltrans and we flipped them over because we couldn’t use the actual wording. So we flipped them over and I laid them all in with a primer, matched the green up, then redid all the signs, aged them and sent them out, and they stood them up. That was a big job too. All the trucks that you see in the show with Morpheus, like the Metropolitan, and all the cars, we had to age every single one of them as well, including the police cars. There were about 120 vehicles, and about fifteen 40 foot rigs that all had to be painted and aged.
MATRIX: Was it a full paint job on the cars?
JOE: Everything, we did it all because everything had to be in a tone of green and very drab colors. If there was a red that was too bright, it had to be taken down. If there was white we had to take it out and make it a tan. Everything had to be taken out that was bright, it all had to be very, very down in color. It was a big process, it was huge actually.
MATRIX: Were you with the production when they were discussing using the highway in Ohio or other possible locations?
JOE: Yes. They talked about Akron, Ohio for a while, but when they scouted it, they felt it was too cold. I guess there were a lot of trees there as well and it was real green, but there’s no life in THE MATRIX, as you know. I was on Dr. Dolittle 2 at that point, they hadn’t even started this yet, there was only the Art Department, and a few people scouting at the time. They had Model Makers building models of the freeway, at that time they were just figuring out how and where to do it. Mark has lived up here before, so he knew about this runway out here and he said it would work.
MATRIX: You would have been called on to the production whether or not they built the freeway because of the other sets.
JOE: Exactly, because of the Temple set and the Park set, the tenement buildings.
MATRIX: What was your reaction to having a job go from big to gigantic.
JOE: The Freeway set, once we got over that, I knew it would calm down because painting the apartment set wasn’t that much. It was big too, but we just used Airless sprayers, shot the whole thing out, rolled the brick colors on, aged it, spattered it, and pretty much walked out, we’ve done many of those. The freeway was the hard one, we’ve never done anything like that, nothing compares to that freeway, it was massive, paint wise.
MATRIX: What are some of the unique challenges of aging various things?
JOE: When you paint something, or age it, you want to make sure that it belongs. For instance, if you walk into something you’ve painted and go, whoa, right away you know that if you see it, it’s not right, but if it feels that it belongs into that nature, then you’ve done it right, that’s the way you look at things. Owen really wanted the Park set to have the feeling of being run down because they’re tenement buildings, he wanted this feeling of them being very menacing. We’ve done a lot of those, they come by nature, so we just made that set look down.
MATRIX: Has there been anything in particular with THE MATRIX 2 AND 3 that you’ve really enjoyed?
JOE: Pretty much all of it. It has been a challenge and I’ve been away from home for the last six months now working on this, but I’ve spent a lot of time at it and enjoyed it all. I really liked painting this cave, it was a lot of fun, as were all the vehicles on the freeway and the tenement set, everything, the whole nine yards.
MATRIX: Are you looking forward to the films?
JOE: Yes, I’ll definitely go see them, I’d like to see how it came out. I don’t know how much time we’ve actually got on screen – I think it’s about twenty minutes we’ve put into this film – so we’ll see what happens. The Directors came over and thanked us for the paint job on the Park set and the freeway. They were really, really pleased with it and said dailies look absolutely fantastic. I haven’t had a chance to go over and see dailies, but they keep coming back saying they really like the colors and the sets and the way it looks.
MATRIX: Thanks Joe.
Interview by REDPILL