MATRIX: What did you do before becoming involved in THE MATRIX?
GEORGE: Before this I spent about seven years at Industrial Light and Magic doing visual effects art direction, so that might have something to do with the fact that I’m working on a lot of the visual effects heavy shots for this film. What I’ll do is I’ll rough out a thumbnail or a conceptual drawing, have them [the Directors] look at it, and eventually do a painting of it.
MATRIX: Can you elaborate on your focus.
GEORGE: It seems like that the way it works is that the brothers [Larry & Andy Wachowski] will come to you with assignments, you don’t really get to pick. Although when I read the scripts I was certainly taking notes down, like ooh, I would love to do a painting of that. They choose what you’re going to do, and they’ll come and give you descriptions or thumbnails of a certain scene. A lot of them seem to be kind of the equivalent of the history shot in the first MATRIX where they show you the Fetus Fields and the big visual effects shots.
MATRIX: Your illustrations have a luminous quality to them, how have you achieved that; are they computer generated in any way?
GEORGE: Yes. Traditionally, I learned through Industrial Design School how to use markers, pastels, color pencil, and gouache, and I’ve developed through the years looking at my heroes. What really got me into this thing was, essentially, when my Mom took me to see Blade Runner back when I was a kid, and when I saw the conceptual paintings that were done for that film they just knocked my socks off. I thought, I’d love to that when I grow up. And they’re still, to this day, some of the most beautiful, spot on conceptual paintings. It would really make me happy if, one day, I could perform to that kind of level of artistry, and also, Ralph McQuarrie’s initial paintings for Star Wars. So I’m keeping a library of artistic challenges and stuff I’ve tried to work to. What we all use are markers and lots of materials, but just since January  I’ve started to paint into Photoshop to sort of enhance that photographic feel.
MATRIX: You haven’t used an airbrush at all in your work?
GEORGE: No, and what’s worked out well is that I’ve learned through traditional medium. I actually tried to pick up Photoshop to use because when you’re doing a piece of artwork you really don’t have much time in the film business, you can’t really labor a painting or a conceptual piece more than a couple of days. So it’s like you’ve got pastels all over hands and an airbrush can… crap everywhere, but on the computer you know what you want and how you want to make something look. Like airbrush or dry brush or anything, you can just boom… get in there and get out of there. It’s turned out to be very handy.
I try to scan as much stuff as I can basically. Right here you can see I’m working on a piece that, eventually, I’ll paint. The way it starts is the bros will come by and describe a scene, they actually do quite nice thumbnails with perspective, which kind of show you the composition. It’s like when you look at some of the Alfred Hitchcock thumbnails, or the Ridley Scott thumbnails, they’re never really elaborate, but the composition is there: circle, square, line, horizon. So I’ll do a pencil drawing and make sure that’s correct before inking it in, then scan the sucker in and slap some paint on it.
MATRIX: Your illustrations begin with marker and blue pencil?
GEORGE: The blue pencil is nice to work with because it’s nice and soft, and I’m pretty messy anyway. It stays clean and, if I want to, I can just turn the copier down and it becomes an ink drawing… or not.
MATRIX: As one of a number of artists on the project, do you feel your style has been, or will be influenced, by the different styles of artwork around you?
GEORGE: Yeah, I mean you learn something new out of every show you work on and all the people you work around. That’s the beautiful thing about working in an Art Department, I like to push myself to learn something new every time because you get stuck in certain ways of doing things. Just on this show, I think one way Geof Darrow has influenced me is that he and the brothers, more so than any other directors I’ve seen, really like lots of detail – not just muck, but things that make mechanical sense and really work. I started doing big drawings to put in all the detail, three foot drawings, which was a bit mind boggling at first. The first drawing I did on the show was with a point 3 mechanical pencil on an 11 by 17 piece of paper, and my hand was just killing me at the end of that… now I know why Geof works the way he does, it’s quite fun.
MATRIX: Do you feel liberated working at a much larger scale?
GEORGE: Much, that’s the perfect word, liberated. You can put the detail in where you want to and not have your damn hand cramp up, and just loose everything out where you don’t want to, it’s really fun, I’ve never done it before this show, or hardly ever.
MATRIX: Having worked on a number of different projects, what is unique about THE MATRIX art department?
GEORGE: It’s actually been quite different because I’ve spent the last two years doing visual development for Industrial Light and Magic, both the films I worked on went down, which was a shame after putting so much energy and time into them. Conceptually, this is very different because in the type of scenario at ILM, you rely on the Art Department for visual ideas as well as for script ideas – they’ll go over a scene in a script and you’ll do paintings and designs, but you’re also offering ideas for the story, scenarios and things like that. That was very, very challenging and fun. On this show however, the scripts are done, the ideas are solid, and the brothers are really looking for us to put in our sense of design, composition and lighting, it’s not as though they rely on us for ideas as much. At first that was kind of disappointing, but they go hand in hand because the stories are so good and solid. It’s comforting to know you’re working on a film that is going to be made, (a comforting feeling for those of us who have worked on films that you put your heart into and they never go anywhere), and you’re going to be proud of. Those are my main two main goals after working at this for a decade or so – I really want to work on something that gets made and I can be proud of, and hopefully this will be one.
MATRIX: What was your reaction when you first read THE MATRIX 2 script?
GEORGE: Larry and Andy came by the office and they were like, “What did you think of the script?” The first day my mind was so… all I could say was Holy ****! I couldn’t even make an opinion at that point, it took a day to let it sink in. That morning I woke up and was just so jazzed to come into work. It’s very dense, a lot of things are happening, you get to meet a lot of new characters and you get to get into the theology and the intelligence of the story line, which are my favorite bits of the film. Like when Morpheus is describing the rules of the world, you’re in the rules of the matrix universe: Who are these people? What laws govern them? What do their characters mean? There are a lot of juicy bits in the second script, which is very exciting.
MATRIX: Do you and other artists often sit down with the directors and discuss theological or philosophical aspects of THE MATRIX?
GEORGE: Well, one time after work another fellow, Rpin, and I had just read the scripts and our minds were bustling with questions: when you read something like that, like when you walk out of a movie theatre, you want to discuss and talk about how everything intertwines and find any holes. That’s the amazing thing when I saw the first film, it was like they really covered their asses. To do something so high concept like that you can find all sorts of holes in almost every movie you see, but there are very few holes in THE MATRIX. The brothers had just had a beer, so I thought it was a good time to start asking them some questions, and it was really funny, Larry really went and talked about western culture and how we all have our own ideas on how this thing is going to wind up. Everyone probably knows these sequels are being made and has some ideas on how this whole thing is going to end, and when it doesn’t end that way, it’s pretty wild.
MATRIX: So you feel that people will be satisfied with the ending and leave the theatre feeling fulfilled?
GEORGE: That’s the great thing. Hollywood endings are Hollywood endings because they market themselves to a certain type of movie goer, so I think it all depends. The greatest films you either like or you hate, I think, because they take risks, so it’ll be divided.
MATRIX: You feel that Larry and Andy are taking a risk in order to produce films like THE MATRIX?
GEORGE: They obviously do things that keep a lot of movie goers happy: kung fu is pretty cool and lots of action bits are pretty exciting. The audience who is looking for pushing the envelope of what’s been done in the history of science fiction and anime – I think those people will be pretty satisfied.
MATRIX: Thanks George.
Interview by REDPILL