Interview with Rick Connelly (Prosthetics) from The Matrix Reloaded (2003)

By Paul Martin April 20th, 2012, in Official Interviews, The Matrix Reloaded, The Matrix Revolutions

Archival interview with Rick Connelly from the official Matrix website.

BACKGROUND

MATRIX: What is your role on THE MATRIX sequels?

RICK: I’m one half of Connelly Makeup FX Team, along with Charmaine Connelly. We do special makeup effects and were asked by the Art Department on THE MATRIX sequels to help them make and paint one hundred Hugo Weaving heads. Our experience is prosthetic makeup so we deal a lot with putting what is not real on people and making it look real, so that’s why they asked us to do these heads. We’ve been working in this industry for over ten years; films that we’ve worked on have been the first MATRIX, Queen of the Damned, Vertical Limit, and Chopper, for which I got a industry award for helping with the makeup. I have also taught special makeup effects for nine years as well.

MATRIX: Were there any colleges in Australia to learn this skill over ten years ago?

RICK: There were two colleges in Sydney that had been around for fifteen years, but I was so young and naïve that when I read about makeup in horror magazines I thought I could be the only person in Australia doing that if I did it. After high school I searched around and found that there were makeup colleges, so I did a two year course in straight makeup and then prosthetic makeup the year after, which was 1989. And two years after doing the course I started teaching there.

MATRIX: What is one of the craziest things you’ve ever had to make a prosthetic for?

RICK: The funniest job I had to do was Yoda ears for the cover of Juice Magazine. I had to put them on Mikey Robins from Good News Week; he made a very funny Yoda. Some of the things on Chopper were weird, but in a sick sense, like making faces with holes in them and stomachs that had been stabbed that blood was going to run out of.

MATRIX: When you watch films other people have done the prosthetics for, how sharp is your eye?

RICK: Very, very sharp because I scrutinize my work the hardest and I have really high standards, which actually makes it hard for the people that work around me because I expect the same standards and not everyone has been doing what I have for ten years, which is unfair to them. I know you can’t have perfection all the time because that’s unrealistic, but I really like it when something looks fantastic. Even if I go back to when I was six years old and I used to go to movies with my eight year old brother: we’d sit in a cinema and watch a movie and he would always point out the effects, he could even pick out makeup mistakes. In a way it’s a bit sad because I’ve taken the mystery away from him and he knows that this thing is just glued on and that thing is only painted with that. Sometimes I try and switch off and just watch the movie, otherwise you can see every seam line that should have been covered.

THE ORIGINAL FILM

MATRIX: What were the prosthetics you did for the original film?

RICK: We counted that there were something like two thousand prosthetics in it. From the really small plugs that went onto everyone’s arms to the ones at the back of their head, then there were the silicon bodies we made to be in the pods, and for the acupuncture scene where Keanu [Reeves, Neo] had a couple of hundred pins in his body and each one of those pins were underneath a false skin that was glued over his body. Everyone thinks that they were just stuck onto his body, but they were underneath a skin, which took a while. We had a special bench made that he could step into backwards and then we would tilt it back and glue all the pieces on. He was in there for five and a half hours, which was a long makeup.

MATRIX: Why was it decided to do it that way?

RICK: Because of all the needles and plates underneath the skin; if he had have bent it all would have stuck into him, so he had to stay as straight as possible and that was the best way – to just get him to lean onto a board, tilt him backwards to get in, and then tilt him up and let him just walk out.

MATRIX: Was he in good humor about lying there for five hours?

RICK: He was great.

MATRIX: Were the plugs already designed when you were asked to make them?

RICK: The design was already in the storyboard with the sketches. We were given a little internal plastic dome and we had to sculpt over that dome so it looked like skin forming over the top of it. We made hundreds and hundreds of those prosthetic pieces. That was in 1997, so it was a while ago.

Another piece we did was for the close-up scene where a big metal spike was inside of Neo’s head and the machine that grabs him around the neck pulls that spike out, and then all the fluid pours out of his head. We made a head for that and painted it so it looked just like Keanu, although you never saw the front half you only saw the back half, but when we saw it on the film it looked just like his head with the spike coming out and everything spewing out the back of it. We were very happy with how good it looked.

MATRIX: Most people would probably not realize the extent of your work.

RICK: That’s the hard thing – a lot of the things that we do are so real, so a lot of it gets passed and you don’t really see it. When someone doesn’t notice anything that’s a compliment, because it looks so real.

AGENT SMITH HEADS

MATRIX: How did you feel when you were approached and asked to make one hundred Hugo Weaving heads?

RICK: At first we were asked to just paint the hundred heads. They hadn’t been made at that point, but I said we can paint a hundred heads because we’ve got two months production time. As they saw more and more of the quality of my work, they asked if we could help make the heads. So we got the plasticine heads from the casting and had to resculpt and then mold and do the silicon and then once we pulled the silicon heads out, we had to trim and prepare the heads for painting. We’ve just been painting ever since.

Originally, when we were asked to make the one hundreds heads, we thought they were just going to be static. We weren’t really prepared to have them move side to side and look up; we were concerned about all the rubbing and movement on the silicon.

MATRIX: Why did you choose silicon as the product to make the head out of?

RICK: The reason they wanted silicon heads is because it is the closest you can get to real skin. It has a soft translucency that other latex products don’t have. On film you can lose a bit of that translucency, although it looks great when you see it in real life. It’s also fairly quick to mass-produce.

MATRIX: Have you met Hugo Weaving since you’ve been creating his likeness?

RICK: Yes, and he loves the heads. When we do a lighting test and he comes in he stands side by side with them, he has a grin from ear to ear. He thinks they look wonderful when they’re all dressed and the hair is all combed back.

MATRIX: How did you make the skin exactly the same color tone?

RICK: We were given photos of Hugo from the beginning. Flesh colors, rosy colors in the skin get lost in film, so when we get a photo he looks one tone, when we paint a head it looks one tone, and then when we put the head onto the set for a lighting test it looked really bland, so we had to go back and put in more red, more colors, and more freckles to get it looking really good on film. To the eye it can look overpowering, it can look too strong, but on camera it will look probably more real than the real person.

MATRIX: Where does the process of making a Hugo Weaving / Agent Smith head begin?

RICK: I had a plasticine head of Hugo and the first step was to correct the plasticine head because the cast sags the face and changes the shape, so we have to re-sculpt the head so it looks like Hugo again. Then we make a fiberglass mold over that and mix up the silicon rubber that we paint into the mold and close it, which gives us our silicon head of Hugo in a base color. It comes out in something close to a pale skin tone, and on top of that we paint layers and layers of different colors to create the skin color. When they’re first painted they’re shiny, so we matte them down and then they’re ready to go onto the bodies.

MATRIX: How do you layer the colors onto the face with the airbrush?

RICK: I mix up five different colors: a brown, a yellow, a red, blue and maybe even a green as well, because there are so many colors in skin. Skin looks like it’s one color, but it’s actually a combination of all those colors together. I’ll start with maybe a yellow and then a brown, which gives it a bit of depth, and then I’ll start adding the red tones and I’ll finish off with blue beard stubble and some freckles as well, which is the brown. I splatter the freckles on with the airbrush and then sort of smear them so they go nice and soft-looking.

MATRIX: Why were the eyes painted on rather than being glass?

RICK: We didn’t have time to put glass eyes in. In the plasticine stage we could have carved open the eyes and put glass eyes in and molded them with glass eyes, but we didn’t have time for that so they have decided we should paint the eyes on. So if you get close enough you can just see the eye behind the glasses, and it just adds to the realism of the head. I don’t know how close the shot is going to go, so you may not see the eyes, but they’re good to have there.

MATRIX: In the scene these heads will be standing in the pouring rain; how is the silicon and face paint going to hold up?

RICK: We have used silicon paint so it bonds to the silicon head and it’s totally waterproof, one hundred percent. They were worried that the paint might come off, so they put one of the heads in a bucket of water for a week and when they lifted it out, it was fine.

MATRIX: These heads are going on bodies that will be operated as puppets; did you have to make any allowances for their movements?

RICK: These silicon heads are what we call fragile; the silicon paint is soft and it can wear and rub off. Just underneath the neck of the body there’s a plastic mechanism which rubs and that rubs the paint off, but because it’s just under the collar it might not be a problem. If they get bumped or knocked and a bit of paint rubs off, Charmaine and I will be there to repaint those areas in between takes.

MATRIX: There will be one hundred Hugo mannequins standing in two lines with a line of humans in Hugo masks behind them; will you look at the heads after each take?

RICK: No, not every take. We like to spend as much time as we can behind the monitor so we can actually see the shot and see any issues; we’ll mainly concentrate on the heads that are close-up. For the ones that are furthest away you won’t be able to really see any details, so we’ll probably look at those every five takes and maybe every second take we’ll look at the front ones. We’ll also keep an eye on other people who may bump the heads – if no one is near the heads they’ll stay fine.

MATRIX: On every film you work on do you watch the monitors?

RICK: Yes, on every film. We always have a look at the person close-up to see if everything is one hundred percent, and then they go onto set and we go behind the camera or where the monitor is, and we have a look at the shot and if we see anything we can always ask to go in and touch them up.

MATRIX: How long has it taken from re-sculpting to molding to the painting and finishing of 100 heads?

RICK: It’s probably close to six weeks to now and we’ve still got another week just doing final touches and the test before we shoot next week.

MATRIX: Did the testing on set go well?

RICK: Yes, although on one of the first tests one of the heads accidentally fell off and it bounced across the set. It was fine… so they can take a knock but not a really hard rub. For the last lighting test we had with Hugo, he came into the studio in full makeup, with glasses and in the suit. We had two of our Hugo dummies there and he stepped in right beside them, and if he stood still you couldn’t tell which was the real Hugo. He loved it; they looked really good and they’re going to look even better on set with the shadows and the different lights.

MATRIX: Do you have any in backup if something does happen?

RICK: Yes, we have ten backup bodies and heads, so if something is not working we don’t try and fix it, it just comes off set and another one takes its place. It’s going to be a hundred miles an hour, I can imagine, in the pouring rain.

MATRIX: Have you been outfitted with a wetsuit to wear under your clothes?

RICK: Not yet, but I’m going to be.

MATRIX: Did you have anything to do with the hands?

RICK: No, the hands were cast up in polyester resin.

MATRIX: Will you be doing any plugs on the sequels?

RICK: No, there’s already another prosthetic person making bits and pieces. Also some pieces were already made, I think, by Kevin Yagher in the United States, he’s a Special Effects Makeup Artist. Between those two they’ve already got some pieces that are going to be used.

TECHNOLOGY

MATRIX: How quickly is technology advancing in the prosthetics field?

RICK: In the prosthetics field technology had a huge jump forward maybe ten years ago. The most common material was foam latex and that had been around for thirty or forty years and people could do a makeup that looked only so realistic with that, and then silicon started being used. Then people started going into silicon prosthesis, silicon heads and body parts, and then for The Nutty Professor films they couldn’t have so much silicon on a person because of its weight and likewise for How the Grinch Stole Christmas, so they had to go back to foam latex again because it’s light and it’s very flexible. Now it has gone back a bit so it’s still high quality but, without going into more digital imaging, I think makeup has leveled out a bit. It’s very hard to do an original makeup because something looks like a monster, something looks like an alien, or something looks like a horror film, and it has been done so much now it’s very hard to come up with original looks.

MATRIX: Why are the one hundred Hugo heads being created physically rather than digitally?

RICK: I’m not totally sure how long it would take to do one hundred and sixty Hugos all up digitally, and I don’t know what the cost is. I heard that the cost could be into the millions of dollars and this is going to be much less, so the cost might have been a big factor. Also we did these in a few months and I don’t know how long the CG work takes to put together.

MATRIX: Have you found that the advances made in CG technology have affected your work at all?

RICK: Yes and no. It’s always good to have something solid for the camera and for the Director of Photography. If he can light something and bounce light off it, you know it’s there and you can film it. This job has definitely employed more people than it would take to do the CG: a huge team making all the bodies, the hands, the shoes, the suits, and the hair. But CG has come so far and so quickly that even I have done a Photoshop course so I can do designs on the computer, where I used to have to pull out a palette and a paintbrush and sketch a design and color it in. When I sketch and paint I can do it softly and you can go anywhere you want whenever you want, but with a computer you’re trying to get the mouse to do what you need it to. It probably takes longer on the computer – unless you’re an absolute computer whiz, which most of us are not – we are artistic, but not computer whizzes.

I could probably paint one of these heads in four hours in the 3D world, but if I had tried to scan a picture and color it and everything in Photoshop, because I’m not a computer whiz I could spend days trying to get the color to look realistic on that. I think if it came down to it I’d rather sit in front of a computer where it’s not smelly, than have paint and fumes around me. But it’s fun, otherwise I wouldn’t be doing it.

MATRIX: Thanks Rick.

Interview by REDPILL

November 2001

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