And, long story short, that led to the next thing and then the next thing and then I was hired by a company called Illusion Arts. I met Syd Dutton and Bill Taylor and they were part of a group from Universal Studios run by Albert Whitlock who was probably the most famous matte painter of all time. He was, by the way, the reason I started matte painting -I saw an interview with him. Albert Whitlock and Syd took a liking to me and gave me advice so then again I thought I’d reached the top and it can’t get any better than this. You can see where this is going.
So I worked there for seven years and then had a rough patch for a couple of years where I got very sick. During that period of time where I was laying there sick I told myself, If I ever get out of this jam I’m going to do something really special with my time. I said I need to push harder. I got married that same year, had a kid a year after that, and career-wise I really pushed for the big time. I got some investors in and started a production company called Moving Target and I became a commercial director for a couple of years. I got in the DGA. And during that period of time I was really pursuing directing which is why I started to begin with. I wanted to be a director.
Moving Target went on for a while and then I decided to start another company parallel to that which was a visual effects company called Digital Backlot. Digital Backlot started to really sail and we were doing a lot of commercials. Things were looking pretty good but that company, as a lot of companies do, fell apart.
At that time I met Peter Weir and he asked if I could help him through the visual effects process. This was Master and Commander. I ended up spending a year with Peter, traveling with him. Being his voice for the film to ILM because he’s old school and didn’t really understand visual effects. What that gave me was a bigger handhold into design. After all the years of designing and doing matte painting, this was a slightly bigger scale design issue. It started to give me the experience which would eventually lead me to production design.
AS: How did your transition from traditional matte painting to computers come about?
RS: We all saw the computers coming and to us that was like the army of Satan coming. Because we all thought, Well, this is it, I don’t know computers and I’m going to be out of a job. Obviously this magic box is going to rule the universe.