Robert Stromberg

AS: Some of the old school production designers might be thinking that now, seeing visual effects coming in…
RS: It’s the same situation. I finally bought a computer. It was 1994 so you can only imagine how slow it was. I bought it and it literally sat in the corner of my apartment and I didn’t turn it on. But I had one, you know? I would walk by and give it the stink eye every once in a while.

The reason I bought it in the first place was that I used to do what were called original negative matte paintings. Which is a matte painting but you’re sort of blending blindly. I did a matte painting of the Bonneville Salt Flats and I needed to blend through a white area which was nearly impossible. One day somebody said, You know they have this new machine, a digital visual effects toolbox. I had spent about three weeks trying to blend this thing together and then we went to this place and the guy said, What do you want to do?

I want to blend this so that you don’t see a line. And the guy says, Oh, like this? And he literally blended it in three seconds. I said, Okay I need to buy a computer.

Once I started to work on the computer I realized that there are some pretty cool things that you can do. And by the way, bringing all of the old school experience to the computer put me way ahead of a lot of people. Because what happened was, the people who created them were technicians and not really artists. The early examples of art on computers were not that great because you have technicians trying to be artists. It only started being something really valid when artists got into the mix.

It was a very small group of people back then and I very quickly became one of the main, top people that did digital matte painting. I can’t even remember what year the last physical matte painting I did was. Probably around 1996 or something.

Of course production designing these movies is a huge accolade, it’s really great, but you’re managing a huge group of people and there’s a lot of political entanglement and everything else that comes with something that big. That’s why I still love to go back to matte paintings because it’s just me and maybe one other guy. In a way it’s a very fast satisfaction, you know what I mean? A lot less stressful.


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