Interview with Jules Cook (Art Director, Australia) from The Matrix Reloaded and Revolutions (2003)

By Paul Martin March 27th, 2012, in Official Interviews, The Matrix Reloaded, The Matrix Revolutions

Archival interview with Jules Cook from the official Matrix website.

THE ORIGINAL FILM

MATRIX: How did you come to be on THE MATRIX sequels?

JULES: I actually worked on the first film; I started off Set Designing and then looked after Second Unit for most of the shoot, which was my foot in the door for this one. For the sequels Hugh [Bateup, Supervising Art Director] rang me up and asked if I would like an Art Director’s job and I said yes.

MATRIX: Before you worked on THE MATRIX, what kind of things had you been working on?

JULES: I was a Set Builder for a long time, but I’d been doing a lot of Set Drafting for four to five years, and went to film school – Australian Film Television & Radio School – as well and did Production Design.

MATRIX: From Set Designing to Art Directing – what are the key differences?

JULES: Basically you don’t get as much design to do. You have to look after other people doing the design and then implement it, which is the main crux of what you do – getting it all put together on time, finished, painted and on budget.

MATRIX: On the first film, which sets did you have an input in?

JULES: Originally I did a lot of work with the helicopter crash, and the Visual Effects Department. I liaised with the requirements for what green screens needed to be where, and what action had to happen, and what was comped and what was real set.

MATRIX: What are the challenges of setting up a green screen set and does it have to be drawn up like a traditional set?

JULES: On the first MATRIX the design of the full Visual Effects shots were minimal, whereas on this film there are hundreds of them. Basically there is always a design that you start with, which is the set, and then it gets reiterated into either plate shots or full CG elements. Generally you think of the overall look, take a piece of it and just build that, and you’ve got a conception of what would actually be around it in regards to the green screen.

MATRIX: Are you involved with procuring the blue or green screen in any way?

JULES: Thankfully not on these films; I looked after all that on the first film. There are a lot of suppliers of that at grip shops, and there are a number of places in the United States that make and manufacture huge green screens and blue screens.

MATRIX: What special fabric is it made of?

JULES: It’s kind of a spandex felt. There are a number of different products, and it almost changes on every film, where the Visual Effects Supervisor selects the one he likes the one best. That’s what they’re actually going to comp to, and set their grading to and everything. So the fabric depends on the selection at the start of the film.

MATRIX: Which sets did you work on, on the original film?

JULES: The Subway and the train at first, which was interesting. The train was a real carriage pushed by a locomotive, so the carriage had to actually be certified although it wasn’t a real driving train. We added a completely false front to it to make it look like a Chicago train. It was filmed on a track where the ports are in Sydney. There was – it’s not there anymore – an old grain milling plant where the trains would come in, fill up with grain from the silos, and then take off again. It was a horrible location: it was the middle of winter, was raining and full of grain dust.

MATRIX: What were the logistics of getting the physical train onto the track?

JULES: The train on the track was perfect because it was a disused piece of track, which is the same as what we’re doing in the sequels. But actually getting it there was a logistical nightmare because we had to hire a specific locomotive company and they had to use commercial tracks to turn the train around for another shot, which could take almost a day to do.

MATRIX: Was the sequence with Smith and Neo filmed there as well?

JULES: A lot of it was. The start of it and the fight was shot within the station itself, on the Subway set. Then we had a setup in a stage at Fox [Studios Australia], which was basically the Bullet Time rig that I also had worked through a lot of because Second Unit did most of it. For that shot it was basically a green room everywhere – it’s quite hard to watch digital green for days on end – and then a series of cameras running around depending on the arc of the camera move, which would take shots one after the other in milliseconds. The cameras were then greened out, the actors did their thing in the middle, and basically you get a camera move with a number of still frames, put all the still frames together, fill in the gaps, and you’ve got Bullet Time.

MATRIX: Do you remember how long it took to put the subway shot together?

JULES: The Subway set took a while because it was enclosed in a building and the design of it actually had to work around the existing columns, the existing roof, and the existing structural elements – some of which weren’t very structural. Then we had to fit the train in, which was interesting: the first time we ran the train through, I was standing down the end of the subway and heard a rather large crash as the bit I’d missed off the top of the train took out part of the set. That was a slow run through because you test everything to the nines, so basically that was something we had to change rather quickly.

MATRIX: Having been on the first film and now on the second, what has changed?

JULES: The budget is different, the whole thing of shooting two films concurrently, and a number of things in regards to the way Visual Effects have moved in the last four or five years. There’s a lot more that you can actually do with virtual people and CG elements that means that it’s less cost for them, which means it’s less for us to do in regards to them. There are a number of shots that are completely CG, which could not have been in the first MATRIX; they would have had a number of Art Department or Special Effects elements.

MATRIX: If the original film were made today, what would have been done by Visual Effects rather than practically?

JULES: Somebody doing a large flip in mid-air and then having Keanu’s face put over them, for example, can now be done with other techniques where you’ve got a motion capture person and a different capture system for the face, and those two are put together. So you can do a lot more dramatic moves, especially with the camera, because the camera can be semi virtual in certain areas. The sets are photographed, scanned, and tiled now, so you can basically build a set, photograph it, put it in CG, and you’ve got the set. In there you can move a virtual camera around as much as you want.

MATRIX: What do you mean by “tiled”?

JULES: Basically photographing the set completely, then putting it together onto a 3D frame, mapping it all over, and you’ve got the set that was shot.

THE SEQUELS

MATRIX: How long have you been on this project so far?

JULES: Probably since February 2001, so nearly a year-and-a-half.

MATRIX: What was one of your first roles when you started on the production?

JULES: Setting up the Art Department initially, and then basically working out who would be good to bring on in regards to Set Designing all the other areas of the Art Department. We went through the budget, all the sets, the scripts, and then weeks of storyboard meetings, getting from the Brothers [Larry & Andy Wachowski, Writers / Directors] and the DOP [Bill Pope] what it was we were actually going to look at, how we’re going to shoot and what happens on each set etc.

MATRIX: Who is involved in those meetings?

JULES: The Special Effects and Visual Effects Departments, the Stunt Riggers, the Stunt Department; anyone who has to actually physically do anything on the set pretty much.

MATRIX: What kinds of things come out in the storyboard meetings?

JULES: Basically we chew through how we’re physically going to do a lot of the work in that early process, which changes as you go through set by set, and generally changes completely, but it gives you the initial scope of how you’re going to accomplish something like that. For example, a sixty foot jump off a roof: where the lights have to be, where the screens have to be, and to account for every department so their requirements are fulfilled. Then you go away and put the set together to accommodate those requirements.

MATRIX: As the sets follow through, how much coordination do you have with those different departments?

JULES: A lot. Especially when you’ve got a large effects shot, you’ve usually got a large amount of lights because you’re doing a super fast photo shoot. It changes for every set as well.

MATRIX: How was the distribution of work worked out between the three Art Directors?

JULES: We worked them into blocks. I got a lot of the big Visual Effects ones, but it was also divvied up so that someone looked after a sequence as well. The Merovingian’s Chateau scene was looked after by Catherine [Mansill], and I looked after the Matrix City Street rain scene, and Charlie [Revai] got a lot of the ships. That can keep the continuity flowing because it’s too hard to get your head around everything.

MATRIX: Were you chosen for Special Effects & Visual Effects heavy scenes for a particular reason?

JULES: Partially because I know the Effects guys very well, I worked with them on the first film, and because that’s what I do, I’m very into the Effects side of things.

MATRIX: Can you elaborate more on the structure of the Art Department?

JULES: Basically Owen [Paterson, Production Designer] is the head one at the helm, then Hugh [Bateup, Supervising Art Director] spends a lot of the time running the budget and that sort of thing. Then between the three of us Art Directors – me, Catherine and Charlie – we divide up the sets, make sure they get in the stage and in front of the camera at the right time etc. We started off with a number of Assistant Art Directors who then swap around looking after sets making sure they’re drawn, and down through the drafting process.

MATRIX: What percentage of sets have been drawn vs. worked up on the computer?

JULES: Worked up on the computer is still basically drawn. A lot has been drafted in the computer depending on what sort of set it is. If it’s something with a lot of baroque detail, for example, it’ll usually get hand drawn because you can give a lot more feel to it that way. If it’s something that’s really heavily aged, again you’d do that by hand just because you can get the feel for it. If it’s something really complex – like circles interlocking with each other – you’d do that on the computer because you don’t have to work out the calculations. Generally, you look at the set, work out what you have to do with it, and go from there.

I spend most of my time on the computer, and probably about 40% of my time at the drawing board.

MATRIX: Which programs do you use?

JULES: AutoCAD for drafting, and then a 3D package in order to model up areas. I don’t spend a lot of time modeling, but for some things it’s good to get a feel for it, then you draw it up or pass it on to somebody else to draw the rest of it up.

MATRIX: How do the Directors convey to you what they want?

JULES: The best thing about the Brothers is that they’re comic book writers – they work from the storyboards, so then basically the storyboards are what we work from and we can almost build the sets from the storyboards. What we usually do is build a model of what we can glean from the storyboards the set would be, then we’d sit down and go through areas of it: where we want to shoot this, where this and that is to happen etc. Usually it’s pretty straightforward and they don’t have to say very much initially because you’re working from something that has come straight from their brains.

MATRIX: So the storyboards are treated like a bible here in the Art Department?

JULES: To an extent, yes. They tend to change it a bit when they get on set, but you get that. You can see a shot in the film, particularly from the first MATRIX, where it’s exactly the same as the storyboard, and looks like a comic book shot, which is what makes it look so great.

There are a number of elements in the sequels that are too big to storyboard, and there has been a lot of computer pre-visualization going on as well, so things like that will also be taken into account in regards to what we shoot.

MATRIX: Does the Pre-visualization Department take your set drawing and create the environment, or vice versa?

JULES: It’s a crossover of both. Initially a large model of Zion was constructed and the overall concept of Zion was put together. From there, very rough basic block models were put together so that both the Visual Effects Department and the Art Department are working on the same idea of where things happen, and even down to what size they would be. For instance, if there’s a platform we both know what size it’s going to be, and it relates back and forth to both of us.

In regards to the pre-viz, as far as I can gather their work is talked through with the Brothers – what they want to get shot with a virtual camera and 3D objects etc. We would then input our set and quite often go back and just say we’ve got this right, or we don’t have that right, so we need to adjust this in the Viz to make it work with the set we’re thinking of building. The camera angles need to work with the set we’re going to build, as do where things would actually physically be on the set and where they would be in a virtual environment.

MATRIX: Do you work as closely to the concept drawings as you do to the storyboards?

JULES: Like the storyboards, they’re another perfect tool to have because you have something that the Brothers have worked on and tossed out ideas they don’t like. You get to a point where you have to have something they do want so you can, to an extent, work straight off a drawing, or sketch that you’ve got without asking questions. A good example would be the waterfall that comes out of the end part of Zion, with pipes that flow off down the side of the internal part of Zion where everybody lives. We have created the top – the end of that tunnel – and to an extent we’ve worked straight off the sketch. What we have created definitely has the same feeling.

MATRIX: Does the concept art also dictate color?

JULES: We established in the first movie the feeling of when you’re in the Matrix – that you have that kind of sickly green hue to it – which carries through everything; there are a lot of green-grays. Within Zion and the ships we started with a kind of blue steel feel, and that has basically been carried throughout Zion, so a lot of the colors were already established and you play on them from there.

MATRIX: So the Painters almost had a template to go by from the first film?

JULES: To an extent. We still have the original color swatches that we used in the first film, which was the start of the process, then we got the Scenic Artists to come through and do a huge number of samples for each set. Whether it was marble or steel or whatever, they did a painted sample, and that’s the basis for starting.

THE SUPER BURLY BRAWL

MATRIX: Was any group of sets more challenging than another?

JULES: The Super Burly Brawl, as it was called, which was fighting in the street [Matrix City Street] with torrential rain and everything had to be waterproofed and tanked. Then moving into the Matrix Crater and the sequence where they have the fight at the end of the third film was a bit mind-numbing. Everything had to move and fly out of the way so you could get stunt rigs in there.

Basically the Super Burly brawl has four elements: they’re on a street surrounded by other Smiths [Matrix City Street], they have a large tussle, then they fly up into the air, they get thrown through a building and have a fight inside the building [Matrix Building], and then they come out of the building, fly up into the air and drop into the street and smash the crater [Matrix Crater], which is the last set that we did in that shoot.

MATRIX: Did you follow the entire sequence through?

JULES: Yes, with the exception of the mid-air parts, which we didn’t have a lot to do with because they’re entirely blue screen. The other three sets we went through and worked out how to tank them, how to do the rain and how to contain the rain, etc.

MATRIX: For the Matrix City Street, why was it decided to go practical with humans in Agent Smith masks operating mannequins?

JULES: There were one hundred Smith dummies, and then we had fifty humans in Smith masks in order to operate the dummies behind by turning their heads, which was fun and freaky to watch.

It was discussed for a long time as to whether it could be done with Visual Effects. There were a number of shots we felt could be contained on camera, so we went through a number of processes to actually prove whether it could or not, and whether or not you could get a dummy that looked close enough to Hugo Weaving to actually sell it as being Smith. Eventually it came out that we could. We produced enough Agent Smiths to fill at least one side of the street so that we were saving on every visual effects shot because you don’t have to put Smiths in the background; you can actually get that shot on camera.

The rain also went through a number of elements. The Special Effects Department went through the actual physicality of putting the rain in the set, and all we had to really do was make sure that the set could hold water and wasn’t going to spill out into the studio and go through all the lighting wires.

MATRIX: How was that achieved?

JULES: We basically built the set as a tank. The street itself was a flat box running along with a little lip at each end so that the water wouldn’t run off the end, and it had to be able to contain a certain amount of water, two inches or something like that. Then we laid a colored latex top to simulate asphalt so the water wouldn’t bounce as much, and so the people who were jumping around on top of it had a semi soft thing to land on.

MATRIX: Was latex used because it had traction as well?

JULES: It was; the latex has kind of a supple, sticky surface to get some edge in the fifty millimeters of water we had. The street had real gutters that had a valve system in order to sustain a certain level of water at all times. You could put a block in and the water would stay at that level and whatever was an overflow would tip out into the drains and back into the system.

MATRIX: How long was the Matrix Street set?

JULES: It was a little thinner than a street and ended up eighty feet or one hundred feet long [24 to 30 meters]. So almost every shot, whenever you’re looking down on it, is a huge visual effects extension on each end.

MATRIX: What were the challenges of laying a latex street?

JULES: We did a lot of testing to get the color right, which was the hardest thing, and in the end was not quite as successful as we would have liked. We laid it in stages – where you’d lay a portion of a grid, let that dry over a day-and-a-half, then come back the next day and fill in the bits in the middle. That meant we ended up with lines, but under the water we could get away with it because you can’t see a lot of what is happening under there. We basically topped it off by spraying road markings down the center and either side.

MATRIX: Do you recall how much time was spent shooting on that set?

JULES: Main Unit were in there for about seven days or something like that, which was a long time compared to some other sets we’re shooting. Second Unit was in there for days and days, even weeks.

MATRIX: How involved are you with a set once shooting starts?

JULES: It depends on how the schedule is working. I generally work through the schedule with the First AD [Assistant Director] or Second AD the best way to shoot it, and whether that works for them and their cast. I also go down to the set every morning just to make sure everything is going well and that they don’t have any problems, then hopefully leave it for the rest of the day until the next morning.

MATRIX: Did the latex road surface hold out until the end of shooting?

JULES: It did. The only problem we had with it was that it started to turn a little white with water and people walking all over it, so it had a few color fluctuations, which again you get away with because there was a large reflection all the way along on the water.

THE MATRIX CRATER

MATRIX: When I spoke to Damien [Drew, Assistant Art Director], he mentioned you had procured some mud samples; what were they for?

JULES: There is a scene in the Matrix Crater where they have busted down through a street, which was one of the sets that we looked after. The Special Effects Department had come up with a number of examples of mud because we wanted a real gray, almost monotone feel for the walls; we didn’t want bright red mud at the bottom of it. As it ended up, the mud was probably a little yellow or latte colored, but having those we could say that was the closest we could get in regards to safety, color, the EPA, and what you can actually use in regards to mud. That was the closest color we could get to the walls.

MATRIX: Who is the EPA?

JULES: The Environmental Protection Agency. There are only a certain amount of things you can use these days, for instance, you can’t use a certain type of smoke because it will affect people’s lungs, especially in a studio set. And with mud you can’t just pump it straight out into drains, especially the amounts we were going through.

MATRIX: Why were you going through huge amounts of mud?

JULES: We had torrential rain coming down onto a muddy set, which was then piped out. The set also had to be cleaned every day, we were in there for over a week, and then Second Unit came in and cleaned up a few shots as well. In order to make the mud safe so it didn’t have bugs in it or sit there and stagnate, we actually had to get rid of it all and start again each day. The mud was easy to match once we got the color down pat. It was just a formula basically – this much Bentonite to this much water. The Special Effects Department looked after all the mud, so I’m not one hundred percent sure what they used, but there was something called Bentonite, which is a very slippery kind of substance, it’s like very fine earth that they use in oil rigs.

MATRIX: How are the safety parameters defined?

JULES: Generally common sense is a good one to start with, but there is a book that lays down what you can and can’t do in regards to heights above floors, where you need a handrail etc. Those things are generally logical, but there are also a number of things that are set in stone that you have to do.

MATRIX: Fighting in mud is not something a booklet could anticipate; how were the safety parameters set for that?

JULES: Just common sense. Because the Special Effects Department looked after the mud, they made the call on the safety issues that they feel had to be adhered to by the rest of the crew and cast. They couldn’t pump the mud straight into the drains because it would harm the environment, so they had holding tanks and got rid of it a separate way.

MATRIX: What was the Matrix Crater made from?

JULES: We selected a number of rocks that would actually give the feel of a splintered and broken crater and pulled molds off of those. The rocks were actually some sandstone outcroppings that we found around the Fox Studios Backlot – we pulled molds off those and then blew foam into them. We got a number of elements that we wanted, then pieced and foamed them together and carved them. And there you have shattered shards of rock running up this crater face. We also went to a quarry quite a way out of town and had a look at what happens when rock and earth splinter, and took a lot of photographic reference of that. We went through a number of things for photographic reference on what it would look like when you smash down through a street.

MATRIX: Did you ultimately define what would happen?

JULES: We were just guessing, really. You get an idea of where pipes would be, so we dressed in broken pipes in the areas they would be beneath the asphalt – things like that. We put in electrical wires and where the main storm water came out, which would be a lot lower under the street than your average electrical wires. Set Dressing made some broken pipes from polystyrene because we wanted to snap them off and make them look dead, so it was easier to use something that’s easier to break, and then they were painted to look real. They also dressed some broken dangling wires around the set sticking out through the wall.

THE MATRIX BUILDING

MATRIX: How did the spider web crack in the Matrix Building progress?

JULES: We worked out initially where that would actually happen and then carried on to what the crack should look like and what the Brothers wanted in the effect, which came almost straight from the storyboards. The main problem with that set was physically getting the camera in to get the shots – half the set would come out for one shot, and then have to go back in for another shot.

To an extent the pulling apart of the set was in the plans, but for as much pre-planning as you can get, you still quite often find yourself wondering how to achieve something. We had planned that set enough to make things unclip: the roof came off and the walls could come away. It still takes a bit of time, and when you’ve got a film crew sitting there watching you do it, it can be rather uncomfortable.

MATRIX: Is that where models become so important?

JULES: Definitely, because you can actually physically put a camera in there and see how you’re going to shoot it, and therefore work out what is actually in the way to get that camera angle.

MATRIX: Doesn’t the Pre-visualization Department do that as well?

JULES: It depends on the shots. Pre-viz is usually for large visual effects sequences. There was a film called Panic Room where pre-viz was used to work out how the sets should work in regards to walls moving out of the way of camera as the camera moved etc. It’s a good tool, and it’s becoming more and more useful tool in regards to how you’re actually going to physically shoot something.

MATRIX: How do you feel technology is going to go in regards to film; are Model Makers and Set Designers going to be required anymore with pre-viz arriving on the scene?

JULES: Yes, a physical thing in front of you is a lot easier for everyone to sit around and point at than something in the computer. I think both of them have different merits and the same use as well. The 3D animations look fantastic, but I also love making models and being able to actually lift the roof off and see inside it and how you’re actually going to do it. It means we can actually work from the model – we can float areas of the model that are going to float. The model can then go to the Grips Department and they know that the wall comes out because it says “float” on the back of it, so they then know that they can get a camera in there etc.

THE REROUTING FACILITY

MATRIX: Were there any other entire sequences you were involved in?

JULES: Damien Drew and I worked on the Rerouting Facility sequence, where Trinity fights the Agents inside the sixty-fifth floor, beats them up, jumps out the window, and falls all the way to the bottom. A lot of that was reasonably simple, especially with design – it’s an office building – so the dressing was desks etc. But then you’ve got all the elements of people getting thrown through walls, and people having to jump up in the air through the ceiling, and the challenge of where the camera was actually going to film it from because they were quite tight little corridors.

MATRIX: The Security Bunker that exploded had to explode in a certain way; how did you make sure that happened?

JULES: Explosion-wise that was up to the Special Effects guys. Between the Special Effects Department and us, or Breakaways and us, we worked out that we had to have an actual solid set that would stand the weather because it was built outside and needed to for last a certain amount of time while it was (A) getting built and (B) being shot. Then elements of that came away and we actually moved in a broken blown up set, and the Breakaway Department came in, and built up the area that had to break around that, filled it full of explosives and petrol, and set it on fire.

MATRIX: The explosion was almost done in reverse then?

JULES: Yes, although it depends, every situation is different. That set was outside and in quite a high wind area, so it could only be left there for a day, and it had to be completely covered so it didn’t blow down. It had to be rigged with explosives when no one could actually go in there, so again there were the safety factors of how we were going to physically do it.

MATRIX: Were the desks for the Rerouting Facility specially made?

JULES: Sometimes we do, and certainly in regards to a scene like that where you have a desk that gets shot to pieces. The best way to do that is design a desk, and then you can replicate it easily three times. If you go out and buy one, you’ve then got to match it perfectly, which you can do, but you’ve still got to make two more or three more of those desks for different takes of it getting shot to pieces. So making it can be easier, depending on the use of it.

You’ve also got to work within, again, the storyboards. You can see from the storyboard that this gets shot up as she runs along past it, so that just makes it easier: we have to build the chair, we have to build the table, it needs some holes in the wall.

MATRIX: The “everyday” detail in the Rerouting Facility Security Room was quite incredible.

JULES: Yes, it comes down to the finishing and dressing is what really makes the set; if the finish looks wrong then obviously you can tell it’s a set. The nice thing about that was Suzanne [Buljan], our Graphic Designer, went in there and went nuts, doing things that you would find on locker doors etc, fleshing it out with a personal feel to it.

MATRIX: That was another set where names of crew members showed up.

JULES: Yes, usually you like to get your own name in there somewhere. In the first film there was a photograph used in the scene when Thomas Anderson is getting interviewed by Agent Smith and he had this file, which is a picture of my parents in their hippy days with my dad and his big old afro. I think they wanted a photograph that replicated Neo’s childhood, so they grabbed a picture I had in my diary, I signed a waver, and basically a picture of my mum and dad are in the film.

ZION

MATRIX: How is it decided what each set is built of?

JULES: There are a number of standard elements that you run with, depending on the set. If it’s something that needs to be really heavily aged with a pitted look, and it’s a thousand years old or whatever, polystyrene is great because you can just hack into it. If it needs to be rock you can actually pull real rock molds, blow them with foam and you’ve basically got a replica of that rock. Then if you’ve got a flat wall it’s easy; it’s just a piece of plywood.

MATRIX: Were you involved with any of the sets with the pipes?

JULES: Yes, the Stairs to The Brain, the Command Level Elevator, and all of the Waterfall sequence – I spent months working out how that was going to work – just getting pipes to fill a space, and how they’d bend and create niches and space. The idea that Owen had with those sets was the feeling that because there is a waterfall and there are a number of pipes, to give the feeling that the pipes were like flowing water. Actually getting that to work was kind of tricky.

Some of the pipes had to be structural – they held up lights and different elements – they were basically like a drainage pipe so they would be strong enough for that. The rest of them were just polystyrene, which is a very easy medium to work with and you can cut it easily. You can actually fillet it and bend it to make elbows, so there were a number of ways of getting something like that to work a lot easier than trying to make it out of timber.

MATRIX: How do you bend the vast number of elbows in the Stairs to The Brain set?

JULES: Basically you take a number of wedges out of it, and then just fold it up and you get a curve in it. Trying to actually put that set down on paper was mind numbing; it’s not that kind of set. You can get most of it down until you come to wrapping things around corners, so you just need to stand there and look at it. We had some great guys in the Construction Department who nailed it.

MATRIX: Is it very often that you have designed a set while building?

JULES: In a situation like that, there’s an obvious use for it, because it’s too hard to draw and you want to see what is going to work because as you go you tend to change things slightly so they can work. Once you get to the point where you need to have something wrap around the corner where all the pipes are, you can just follow it ‘round.

MATRIX: Would a model not have served the same purpose?

JULES: A model is an element we used, but more for discussion purposes than the actual physical building; with the exception of the Matrix Crater, where we actually built the model of what we wanted and gave that to the Carpenters to work off as the initial shape of the whole thing. And then you have the finer details, which you put in afterwards.

MATRIX: The Elevator to Zion Command Level had some very interesting props.

JULES: Yes, there are a couple of different areas in that. Because Zion is under siege, there’s an area in RELOADED where they come down and you can see them wandering through as they go back to their homes, and then in REVOLUTIONS the lights have gone out because the Sentinels have attacked up the top. So people have set up siege lighting and power generators in order to run it all.

Everything has a purpose: you start with an idea, make something up that looks right, and then you grunge it up, put it on set, and it looks great.

THE ZION TEMPLE

MATRIX: The Zion Temple had been partly filmed in the US, what were the logistics of joining it to the part filmed in Australia?

JULES: We actually filmed the entrance into the Temple here; the Temple itself was shot in the States, and it was huge. What we shot was like the entrance to a church, I suppose, there’s a small kind of nave then you come through into the main body of the church. Everyone leaves their shoes outside and they come in and they dip their feet in the pool with the crystals running through it, then they go through into the Temple proper.

That was another tricky set in regards to having to dress it for non-Siege and Siege scenes, because in the Siege it’s barricaded with chain and bits of steel – which were all fake – and the other was peaceful and nice. It was a challenge to work within that confined space, and then confining it again with more dressing – it made it a bit of a nightmare for the rest of the crew even though it might look good.

MATRIX: How did you go about matching the colors and shapes?

JULES: We brought a container load of columns and stalactites over from the Temple set in the US so that we had the way they’d been painted, and the way they’d been made, right there in front of us in order to make that as similar as possible on the other sets.

MATRIX: The paint finishes looked slightly different: in the US it looked shiny, whereas here it looked matte.

JULES: Part of that was due to time, but the other part of it was the entrance itself, because it was enclosed and actually open to Zion itself; open to where everyone lives. It had a slightly dirty feel until you got into the area where the crystals and the water were coming out, and everything was touched with a bit of a pearlescent glow to it. It was to highlight the area of crystals in the middle, and make that look warmer and more angelic.

Christian [Huband, Set Designer] did the early concepts, and he had done a lot of hand drawing and freeform sketching in regards the elevations. We actually made a model, and again we built the set straight off the model because, being a cave, the best way to look at it was in 3D. So we produced it like that and cut it into bits. The Carpenters built frames, paper was laid over the top of that, foam was sprayed onto it, and then you’ve got a rocky limestone-like texture straight away.

MATRIX: In the United States the bulk of the Temple set was built from polystyrene.

JULES: Yes, we have different bases of working, although we have used foam here a lot as well. The polystyrene was interesting there because it actually didn’t have any support; and everything was built with polystyrene, so that was quite amazing.

MATRIX: How does Owen, the Production Designer, help you understand the environments you are working with?

JULES: You have your basic knowledge of how Zion is laid out, with the Dock at the top and you go right down through the stages, right at the bottom is the Temple, which is the place where everyone comes to congregate. With the crystals themselves, Owen wanted to get a really pure feeling so that this place seems like kind of the mother load of the Earth. You glean that from the script as well. As you go through the script Larry and Andy are very descriptive; they use a lot of similes in their writing, so you can kind tell what something looks like and how it feels.

MATRIX: Do you flick through the scripts frequently?

JULES: Generally, when you come to start a set if you’ve got time you would read through the passages that relate to it, and what the dialogue is and what happens, just because you need to refresh yourself after a year and a half as to what actually does happen in there.

THE APU

JULES: In regards to sets, I also looked after the APU and the Sentinels, which has been the highlight of doing this show, definitely.

MATRIX: Where did you start with the APU?

JULES: We started with Geof Darrow’s [Concept Illustrator] drawings, basically. We also got some early models from the Visual Effects Department that they’d had a look at; some really rough, quick animations to see how it was going to work. Then Sergei [Chadiloff], our 3D Computer Modeler, started putting it all together in pieces, which was a mammoth task. You know – this toe matches to this – and how it all connects and how it moves. He went right through the entire body of the APU, putting all that together in 3D, then printed it out and worked on it through drawings. Those drawings then went down to our Props Manufacture Department who made the pieces, worked out how to engineer it and make it solid. Sergei basically took Geof’s illustrations and the animations and ran with it, modeling the parts so they worked, so they looked good, and so they had the kind of feel that they wanted.

Initially we went through how the structure was going to work in order to hold the thing up. There were also a number of positions that had to be set, which would need strong points to hold them up with wires, etc, so all that was worked out to a certain extent, and then Martin [Crowther], the APU Head Engineer [in Prop Manufacture] built the frame that would fit inside the fiberglass casings that make up all the components, and linked it all together. They’ve done an amazing job with rams running here; the whole thing can actually hold itself up.

It’s fully articulated, and can be locked off in different points as well. The only problem with it is the weight is kind of centered, and it actually needs to be balanced.

MATRIX: How tall is the APU?

JULES: It’s nearly four and a half meters up [approximately 14.75 feet], and that’s one to one, someone actually sits in it. There are a lot of shots we’ll use this for, although anytime it has a large amount of movement it’s a fully CG object. The Visual Effects Department will use the APU we built to get all their textures, and they’ll put it into a number of poses and use it to see how the light plays on different areas of it. Then we’ll use it for close-up shots of people sitting in it when it’s stationary, etc.

The APU has something like a pilot seat with arm controls for the guns, and pedals etc, which we call the carriage. We replicated the carriage to go onto a motion-based system where someone can sit in it, and you can get a huge amount more movement than you could in this three ton object. So you can actually tilt the carriage, pivot it, and move it around as it would inside the APU. Those movements gets tracked into an animation of a CG APU as it moves, and walks, and does whatever it has to do.

MATRIX: When is the four-and-a-half meter APU itself going to be filmed?

JULES: Initially it was talked about as using it as a lighting standard in order to get the lighting working right and to see how the light plays on objects, and it was always going to be used for a number of shots, generally close-ups on faces. Now we are actually putting it onto the stage with people doing dialogue scenes when it’s static, and initiating the odd move in, say, the shoulders, and then cutting to the CG object doing the rest of the move.

MATRIX: At the moment, the Universal Capture Unit is also capturing material for use in the APU scenes.

JULES: Basically the pilots in the APUs are having their faces captured for when we have a fully CG APU with a fully CG pilot in it, for which there are for a number of shots. With Universal Capture, their faces can be very easily replicated and matched onto a CG object, which will be a human, obviously. They will also be using a mock-up of what the seat will actually be so the pilots can get the feel of using the arm controls and flailing their arms around, so they can actually pick the points of where their arms are moving when they’re shooting.

For a number of shots there are fully CG people in the APU, in a fully CG APU, in a completely virtual environment. We haven’t had anything to do with that, except for the overall look.

SENTINELS

MATRIX: In the first film, were the Sentinels completely computer generated?

JULES: Yes, and now for the sequels we have had to build a number of them. We needed them predominately for dressing throughout a number of battle scenes, and a number of scenes when they’re in the sewers outside of the ships – we needed dead Sentinels lying around.

We started off by taking the 3D model, putting that into a CAD program, and cutting it into a number of stations, which gave us the body shape. Then we made a number of stations that matched it one to one and slowly built up the body, adding all the pieces. The trickiest part was the tentacles and getting those locked down; actually deciding how to build them. Each Sentinel has exactly one thousand parts: the head is one part, then there are all the legs, all the claws, and everything. I think we have built something like twenty-six or twenty-seven Sentinels now.

MATRIX: How long have they been being made for?

JULES: From conception and when we started drawing them, probably twelve months.

MATRIX: What has been their process of creation?

JULES: One cycle we went through was breaking them down from a computer model into something that could be farmed out as a number of drawings. From there the Props Manufacture Department or Model Makers take the drawings, put them all together, and then start doing the final finish: getting the prototype to look perfect and working out the best and cheapest way to make a number of them. And because something that size can become incredibly heavy depending on how you do it, they worked out the best way to actually build it; what foams to use in order to make it. Then from there we took the molds, blowing out the real Sentinel heads so they were lighter weight, attaching all the pieces, and putting a frame inside so you can actually attach everything to it put it all together.

In a film you have things that are close to you and others that are way off in the background, and you can get away with a lot more when it’s further away. So you tend to try and make background things out of cheaper, lighter, easier and quicker materials.

MATRIX: So not all the Sentinels have been made from the same materials?

JULES: There are definitely hero Sentinels and some that are background dressing. We’re now at the stage where we’re about to go through and break a lot of them up, making them dead Sentinels that have been shot to pieces by APUs. So they’ll have bits of their innards hanging out, and there’ll be lots of Sentinel gore everywhere.

MATRIX: Thanks a lot Jules.

Interview by REDPILL

June 2002

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