It was an interesting experience with both but I think because I grew up drawing and doing matte paintings and being an artist myself, it was a unique experience to go through a process with an artist of the caliber of Tim.
AS: Did you go to art school?
RS: I had dreams of going to art school and I actually applied and was accepted to Art Center in Pasadena. I moved to Los Angeles from Carlsbad and was pretty much penniless and sleeping on a friend’s couch. Of course before I left Carlsbad I was doing tons of artwork. I was doing matte paintings down there.
So I spent a couple of years on loading docks, you know, loading boxes. I don’t think I’ve ever told anybody this but I can pin one point as my change in direction -it would be when I got fired from my job loading trucks. I got fired for drawing on the job.
AS: Really? So you were sitting there with a sketchbook—
RS: Yes, sketching, and someone fired me! There’s a great line in Avatar which related to that moment for me, When one life ends, another begins. Jake says it as he’s coming off the transport.
What that did was it opened up a window where I was able to meet somebody who knew somebody who knew a cousin of somebody else who worked on commercials. That opened up a production assistant job where I literally started at the very bottom. I swept floors. As a matter of fact, I remember literally sweeping out an entire auditorium for a commercial one time. Stayed up all night. Everyone had gone home, the lights were out.
And the next morning I was still there and the producer came back in and he saw me still sweeping and he said, Hey come here. He sat me down and said, I like you’re enthusiasm. What do you want to do in this town? I told him about visual effects and matte painting and so on and somehow that led to the next thing and all of a sudden I had an illustrating job. And then I had a job doing an actual matte painting for something. The first time someone paid me for a matte painting I thought I’d hit the jackpot. It was about $1200 or something. I thought there’s nothing higher than this.
AS: And this is the traditional matte painting on glass…
RS: Yeah, old school. As my former boss used to say, Animal hair and sticks. I was probably like 19 or 20 years old and I ended up in Canada, in Toronto, and I’d never been out of the country. I ended up doing glass shots right on the set which is even worse because you actually set up a piece of glass in front of the camera and there’s a partial set that you’re blending a painting into. So that was my first set experience. It was on a Saturday morning kid’s show called Captain Power. I was starry-eyed and again thought, It can’t get any better than this.