Interview with Phillip Keller (Storyboard Artist) from The Matrix Reloaded and Revolutions (2003)

By Paul Martin May 8th, 2012, in Official Interviews, The Matrix Reloaded, The Matrix Revolutions

Archival interview with Phillip Keller from the official Matrix website.

MATRIX: What is your background?

PHILLIP: I’ve been doing storyboards for feature films for about five years, I started doing commercials and videos first, then got into features. Before that I went to the Arts Center in Pasadena and studied Industrial Design: designing cars, but that wasn’t going to be the thing I wanted to do for my career. I was always very interested in film and just kind of got into it from a cold start. It’s been great, I’ve really enjoyed all my projects and I’ve been lucky to work on some great shows with great directors.

MATRIX:  What are some of the films you’ve had a chance to work on?

PHILLIP: I’ve worked on Titanic, Deep Impact, and Mask of Zorro. Recently I did The Perfect Storm, and just before this I was working with Spielberg on AI, his sci-fi movie; so it’s been a pretty good last couple of years.

MATRIX: Just out of curiosity, when you mention working on AI, is your predilection sci-fi?

PHILLIP: No, it’s funny, I don’t think I’ve done many sci-fi movies, THE MATRIX is one of the few. Most of the films I’ve done would probably be more straight action or period features. I enjoy period work: big, epic story telling. What is great about this project is the brothers [Larry & Andy Wachowski], they’ve got such a keen sense on how they want to tell the story and such great ideas, it makes the project a lot of fun. I think the sequels are going to be spectacular when they come out, they’re going to be really great; I can tell from the sequences.

MATRIX: How long have you been on the production now?

PHILLIP: I’ve been on for, I think, about five months. Every six months you change project and scenery, and get a new location to work at which is nice, it makes things interesting, rather than being at the same job.

MATRIX: It’s interesting as far as project to project?

PHILLIP: Different project, different genre, different film, different group of people. The number of guys who work full time in feature film, either doing storyboards or concept illustration, is actually a very small group of people, probably only 4 or 5 dozen guys who get all the big jobs. So it is a tight community, everyone knows what everyone else is doing – it’s nice in that way too, because you always get information on what is going on and what is starting up. If you’re on a project and you’re finishing up you know what’s coming up, or if you’re in the middle of a project and you’re getting work, you can pass it on to your buddies who need work; it’s a nice group of people.

MATRIX: As a result of that, do you tend to run into people at other jobs unexpectedly?

PHILLIP: Yes, very much so. On this show there are Simon Murton and Darek Gogol and Jim Martin who I’ve worked with on other shows, most of the others guys I’d heard of, but hadn’t really worked with them. I was anxious to work with Owen Paterson, our Production Designer, seeing as I’d heard so many good things about him; the design work he did on THE MATRIX sort of speaks for itself. I think this is the show in town right now that everybody would love to be on, so we’re all pretty lucky to be here, it’s great.

MATRIX: Were you sought out, or did you seek out the production yourself?

PHILLIP: They called a group of people when they were crewing up to submit portfolios, and I was fortunate enough to be asked to submit mine, and I got the job, which was great. For a lot of shows you almost have to be connected with someone working on the show to get advance notice that something is happening, then you can make a phone call or put your book in before everyone else knows, and kind of get a jump start.

MATRIX: Did Larry and Andy meet with you personally before you began work?

PHILLIP: Yeah, I met with them on the Warner Bros. lot when I was finishing on The Perfect Storm. I met the brothers and Owen and they asked me a few questions: they asked me if it was my decision, or if someone wanted me to put arrows on my storyboards, which was very funny. They’re very particular about their artwork and line work and the format that it’s done in, they definitely didn’t want any arrows in their storyboards.

MATRIX: What was your answer to the arrow question?

PHILLIP: Arrows are standard practice in the film industry, they’re used to describe camera moves and shots. It is just the thing that everyone does and is used to reading and understanding, but it’s certainly nothing that can’t be done without; you can definitely draw boards without arrows and they can be understandable.

The storyboards we’re doing for the brothers on THE MATRIX 2 and 3 are very, very detailed with a lot of frames to be descriptive and show the action so it really tells the story. The brothers are kind of maniacs about wanting to see every little detail, every little piece of glass and nut and bolt from explosions and crashes, so you really understand. The effects people, the Stunt Coordinators, the Art Directors, and the Set Decorators can all see what the shots and the sequences are really going to be like; it really helps everyone having everything drawn in such detail. The brothers have thought all the shots through very clearly, they know what their coverage is, and that’s a sign of a good director too, that they can envision the whole thing in their heads, shot per shot.

In essence, these boards are the movie edited because the brothers have already figured out the shots, the coverage, and where everything goes, which is great, it’s brilliant. It certainly makes what we’re doing go a little faster too.

MATRIX: Would you describe THE MATRIX 2 and 3 as being a tame or a small production?

PHILLIP: No, I think it’s definitely going to be a big production. Part of it will be hard to tell because it is going down to Australia, so it’s not like the whole crew is going to be here in the US shooting at Warner Bros., which is kind of how you can judge the show. Just the sheer scope on the level of visual effects and action is gigantic. I think they were saying 15 to 20 minutes of straight screen time for a car chase, which, when you’re sitting in a theatre and watching it, will seem like it is going on forever and ever, it is very exciting stuff. Definitely a big show, very ambitious.

PHILLIP: Everything they’re trying to do with this one is definitely towards a big film and there is so much hype. It has kind of got free PR because everyone has been so excited about the possibility of sequels for the last couple of years, that now that it’s actually happening there is so much stuff on the internet about it, and everyone in town in the film business is already talking about it. When you tell anyone that you’re working on THE MATRIX, their eyes bug out of their heads, they’re really excited about it and what it’s going to be, everyone is interested to know – you can’t talk about it though.

MATRIX: How badly do people try to pump you for information?

PHILLIP: I haven’t had too many bad experiences with people going on and on, egging me about the details. They more want to know about the movie in terms of: Is it going to be like the first one? Is there going to be a lot of action? Is there going to be more action? Is it going to go to a whole other level in visual effects and concepts than the first one? So people want to know more in broad terms like that, not so much in specific story details. I think the first film had such an image of being this big conceptual sci-fi thriller movie that everyone is interested if 2 and 3 are going to go to another level unto themselves.

MATRIX: How much longer do you expect to be on the production?

PHILLIP: I don’t know, probably sometime into the beginning of the year [2001], it’s not really been decided how long things are going to go. I think it’s going to depend on when we get the boards done and where it’s going to go from there.

I do have to say it’s been great on this show, that the brothers love an Art Department, and we’ve got a lot of great guys working here. The brothers appreciate artwork and they really understand how to utilize it: planning out a big movie through pre-production artwork and storyboards, which can save a lot of time and help them find exactly what they want to do. Owen Paterson, our Production Designer, is right up there with them. I think Owen would hire 50 more guys if the budget was there for him to have this huge, incredible stable of people working for him. There’s a really good attitude here in the Art Department, which is nice, not all shows are like that.

MATRIX: In your opinion, is there is more art being generated for this show than is typical?

PHILLIP: It’s probably on the high end of big shows, as far as artwork that’s generated. It’s definitely comparable to the big studio Art Department pictures like Batman movies, where they have gigantic, elaborate Art Departments. Everybody here is here because they are very good at what they do, and the brothers are very specific and picky about the artwork and the artists. It’s a nice thing to be here, it really is.

MATRIX: I know Steve Skroce is doing storyboards, and you as well, are there any other Storyboard Artists?

PHILLIP: I believe Ricardo Delgado is doing some boarding of key frame effects sequences. Other than him, there are a couple of other guys who have been doing some key frame moments of visual effects or action beats in color. For the most part, it has been Steve and myself doing the bulk of the action continuity, straight through boarding of any particular sequence. But there’s definitely a lot of work still to go on this show… basically still all of 3 has to be done.

MATRIX: Have you had the opportunity to see Steve’s work from the first film?

PHILLIP: I’ve seen bits of it from the first film in one of the storyboard books they had, it’s great stuff. Steve is a great artist, he gets so much dynamic action in his work, he’s really great with figures, a great drawing/inking style, and a lot of clarity. What’s good about Steve’s style is that it is very graphic and readable. With a movie like this we have clear-cut action and effects going on in any given sequence, so you need it to be understandable and readable and not too fussy or smudgy – his stuff reads very well. I think that is why the brothers have been specific about the artwork and the storyboards being a particular inked comic book kind of look. It has been fun; the brothers like detail, so this has been a nice opportunity for me to have a little bit more time than usual to finesse the storyboards and the details of the drawings to a slightly higher level than you do on a normal show, where you’re a lot more pressed to get sequences done in a shorter amount of time.

MATRIX: Do you have a sense of how much artwork that would be; a sense of how many pages are going to be created by the end of this?

PHILLIP: Thousands, I couldn’t even begin to guess. I’ll probably have done a thousand or two storyboards by the time I’m done on this thing, and it only goes from there.

MATRIX: Thanks Phillip.

Interview by REDPILL

November 2000

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