Nahezu jeder hat seine Bilder bereits gesehen. Wer kennt nicht die Szene des Hollywood Klassikers »Das Fünfte Element« in dem Milla Jovovich die Straßenschlucht hinabstürzt. Diese Szene und viele andere (z.B. aus »Der Herr der Ringe« und »Superman«, um einige zu nennen) stammen aus der Hand von Wayne Haag, der in einem Vorort von Sydney sein bescheidenes Atelier hat. Unter seinem Pseudonym »Ankaris« befinden sich Arbeiten zu Film- und TV-Produktionen, sowie für Regierungsprojekten. In einem dreistündigen Gespräch erklärt er ausführlich wie er arbeitet, woran er zur Zeit arbeitet und warum sein Beruf zum Aussterben verdammt ist.Millions of people all over the world have seen Wayne Haags artworks. He is the background painter of Hollywood blockbuster movies like »The 5th Element«, »Lord of the Rings« and »Superman«. On his website »Ankaris« you can find several artworks for the movie and tv industry as well as huge paintings for the museums. On this interview he talks about his current work and why his former profession is dying out.
In 1989 I traveled to Turkey for one of my first Photography courses. And we visited the capital of Turkey, Ankara. I used one of the shots for my final year portfolio in my degree several years later. I called it Ankaris and this stucked. So I used it. It's just a fictional name.
What does Ankaris mean?
What does Ankaris mean?
Where did you study and how did you get into painting?I graduated from Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology with distinction in 1994 with a BA in Illustrative Photography. I always loved drawing but I felt it hard. It was always a hard work for me. And then in High school there was this kid in my class. And let me say: he WAS the pencil. The connection from his brain to the pencil was direct. Whatever he thought came out. And I thought: "I can't compete. No way". I was intimidated, so I did photography which I regret now (laughs). It was the time when Star Wars has just coming out and I was working on photographic special effects for myself.
Although you regret your choice now, would you say that the study in Photography supported your development as a matte painter?
Absolutely yes. When I started working on the 5Th Element at Digital Domain there was an artist who worked as a matte painter for fifteen years. I was new but I knew photography and I was currently working on the scene where Milla Jovovic dives of the building. And there was a series of shots that all took place within the same environment: looking down at the streets of the city in the light afternoon and the sunlight is shining between the buildings. So you have bright sunlight and shadow. One of the matte paintings from that artist was very flat. There was no light coming through. It was the same everywhere. So at the meeting I said to the visual effects supervisor: "I hate to say it, but it's wrong. All the other shots around have a strong light, but he hasn't paint his correctly. But my shot comes very soon after, so the continuity would be out. You just approved my shot. It is finished. I can't change it". And the visual effects supervisor looked at it and said: "I think you are right. Anyway, by the time we get to your shot the people are looking at the girl with no clothes on, jumping of the building. So they shouldn't look at your painting anyway" (laughs). So even if they did not change it I think my photography background helped me a lot. For me light is everything.
What was your first job?My very first job in the film industry was the 5Th Element
How come your first job was so huge?At the end of my second year of photography I was doing typical advertising photography in a studio with parfume bottles, product photography, portraiture and a little bit of editorial type work. This is what the course was about: practical commercial photography. But I could see digital coming. I could see that we are going to use computers soon to start playing with the images. And we already had apple macintoshs inschool. In the end of my second year I broke my arm so I didn't finish my third year and took a year off. I thought: I can do standard photography and I can do a normal portfolio for my final year. But what I really want to do, is do a portfolio for science fiction images. That was my last chance to do something fun. I didn't care who likes it, if it's commercial or not. It's almost not photography but I'm using the photography skills to create these images. I used 3D software to build places and environments, photographed people in the studio and composed them together in Photoshop. So I finished the science fiction portfolio and went to Siggraph a computer graphics conference in 1995, because I realized that I want to get into visual effects in matte-pa nting. So I went there and I got a job with Digital Domain in the PC games department. I got there in Los Angeles ona Monday and I realized that there was no science fiction game. They just needed Photoshop guys, who do buttons and stuff like this. On Tuesday I was walking around and saw a guy who was reading Moebius better known as Jean Giraud and I said: "Hey I love that guys stuff" and we chatted a bit. He told me that he was an art director and said: "We are making a film based on this guys work. It's called the 5Th element." I said: "Oh man, I want to be a matte painter" and he said "OK" (laughs). So I showed him my work and on Friday I transferred from the games department into the film department and I was working as a matte painter. That was my very first job.
Can you tell us something about matte painting in movies during your time there?That time was the first stage of digital matte painting. It was pretty simple. Most of the matte paintings in the 5Th Element are all flat, all 2 dimensional but you don't notice. The job of a matte painting is to sit in the background and that's it. But now matte painting is finished. Think of Peter Jackson's movies. His cameras are flying so fast through leafs and trees and stuff. It's all 3D. Or look at Avatar. There is just a handful of matte paintings in the background. You just see a little bit of them. So I'm out of the job. I put the older guys out of the job. Because I was young and cheap and knew digital drawing. Thinking of Syd Dutton. His career started to decline. I met Syd Dutton. He offered me a job but I already had the job at Digital Domain. I regret that I didn't take it.
So are you going to change your work and methods?Yes I'm forced to. Every kid can use Photoshop and become a matte painter. In my main career the longest time I have been out of work was five weeks. That was OK. But during the financial crisis there was no work. At the very beginning of the crises probably no one noticed it. But advertising and the film industry did notice. People stopped spending there money in this areas. So there was absolutely no work. And what I thought would be maximum two month became 8 month. It has being tough.
What was your last job?My last job was a mural project. The Historic Houses Trust of New South Wales commissioned me to create a mural depicting the journey of convicts from England to Australia.
The first large tableau illustrates a scene at the Tyburn Tree gallows just out of London circa 1760's and the crowds that would attend such executions all the way through to prisoners fare-welling loved ones, 1800's, to eventual arrival in Sydney Cove, 1830's.
The second mural depicts a typical convict work gang at morning muster within the grounds of the actual Barracks building. The Barracks building was designed by Francis Greenway, himself a convict transported to Australia. In total they are four murals. I had one week per day only.
How do you start such a project?At the beginning is always the clients brief. It is like: "we want this", "we want that". They always have there own idea and I come in after the idea. That is just commercial art. You apply to do a job. So the client says: "Here is the concept: It's England, they start hanging people off this thing. And that happens in the 1760". So the client tells me what they want and I start thinking of the composition: How does it look like, what is the time of the day, how does it feel like. The brief doesn't tell you what it feels like. Here comes the artist. I laid the hole landscape out in 3D just to get the right position of the different elements. I also use some free download pics from google. Than I just trace them in Photoshop. So I had a full digital drawing in very high resolution, brought that file to a company that has a huge scanner and they printed the canvas with the drawing on it. So in some parts of the final paint you can see the lines of the digital part.
So the digital tools are important for you to work fast?Oh yes. I am a photographer. I'm not a painter, not an illustrator. I want to be, but I'm not trained that way.Drawing and painting I've had to learn. So without the digital techniques I wouldn't do that in two month deadline. No way!
What inspires you?It depends what I'm doing. Yesterday, I was driving to the mountains. The lights and the landscape looked beautiful and I thought "I have to come back here again". But what inspires me the most is science fiction. You know the child inside wants to create. It is hard to explain. For me it is a feeling. There is something about science fiction and I don't know what it is in words, but I try to express it in the paintings. I can almost feel it in my body. There are certain images from books, paintings and novels I read as a kid and so maybe it's an emotional thing, because I'm remembering. And that is part of a creative push which gets me out of the bed in the night.
And traveling around is so important. You need to see real people, different places and see what the real world is like. If you go to some places in the third world you have a new definition of real poverty. Some matte paintings I had to do for TV commercial jobs included mountains. And I just couldn't paint mountains properly. When I came back from the Himalayas I suddenly understood where details work. I didn't studied them when I was there. It is all about the understanding you get of the place you where in. Your soul has to touch it to get it. By traveling you realize that the world is so huge and everyone is the same. We are all different but we are all the same.
Which artists do you like the most?Sebastiao Salgado inspires me. Henri Cartier-Bresson. I love documentary photography.
Which project would you love to realize?The ultimate job would be doing a fully illustrated science fiction novel. People usually thing science fiction is Star Wars, Star Trek and Blade Runner. They thing it is TV, film or comics perhaps. Unless you are not into science fiction you don't think of the novels with written concepts and ideas which are just way beyond the movies we see on TV. Matrix was close with a great concept and interesting story. I want the real humanity and real stories in science fiction. Something that doesn't exist. I'm asking myself: What would a photo journalist shot if he were on another planet. I want to see science fiction beyond the spaceship.
Does Sydney inspires you?Not really. Maybe because I was always interested in science fiction and in other places. And because I was born here. I see the city every day. But when I paint landscapes I am deeply inspired by Australia. The lightnings here and conditions. It is unique and different.
What does creativity mean to you?This might sound very experimental, but I think: Open yourself to your intuition and creative ideas can come out, you couldn't believe you will ever have. If you start to overthink things to much it won't work. Sometimes you have a drift. Real creativity comes from listening to the inside. And that applies to a lot of things throughout your life. It's the little voice that says "don't do that" or "do that". Just listen and this is where real creativity comes from. That can be a scientist who is trying to solve a problem. Creativity is not bound for artists. We don't have the license to use creativity. It's for everyone, everyday in all sorts of things. And I thing it is somehow connected to our intuition.