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Chris: It’s a lot of money!
Robert: It’s still a lot of money.
Chris: And there’s so much waste you know? That’s the other thing is that, it’s something about being on big movies that I notice was just how wasteful spending is.
Robert: And I think that’s where indie films are very strong is because instead of fifty people trying to make their minds up over something, you maybe have two or three people trying to make their minds up over something.
Chris: Right, and when it’s less money and it’s your money or it’s money that you’re personally accountable for, all of a sudden those decisions get made a lot quicker and you’re a lot more confident about them.
Chris: It’s not just someone else’s kind of mystery cash that you’re just kind of like dilly dallying about. What specifically did you do on Ender’s Game and what was your day to day like on that project in a more general sense but then literally what did you design?
Robert: I designed a lot of stuff in Ender’s Game. A lot of it was through Ben though, like some of the stuff I worked on…like I worked on almost every part of the space station on Ender’s Game. But a lot of that stuff had been prior designed by Ben, so what I did was like his detailed monkey. Like he would have a 3D model of what the space looks like but like a really rough 3D model. It’s basically like the rough forms of the silhouette of the room and stuff like that and then what I would do is I would go in and then add like a computer console or go in and I would paint in all the textures. I would paint in all the people and stuff like that, like I would do the overall illustration on top of his rough 3D model, but then I would also go in and add piping work and detail work and stuff like that throughout the station. Because that station was his baby so he pretty much did that entire thing and then I also worked on the IF carriers which were the ships, the gigantic ships you see that launch out all the little mini drone fighters that go out and fight. Ben was the original one that did the sketch of sort of like the rough idea of it and then that sketch was given over to Paul Osimo who is a good friend of mine that’s an illustrator in the industry. And he did a rough 3D model of the ship and he sort of designed it out a bit more and then that ship was given over to me and then I did some more 3D work to it, like resizing some stuff, readjusting some things and then I did the whole paint over work on the entire thing. So like I sort of designed out what the paneling was going to look like on the ship and then I designed…if you go to my website you’ll see if you click on it, I have a shot where it shows the entire illustration of the ship. But there’s another shot where it’s zoomed in just to show how detailed I got with the thing because Ben kept telling me, he’d come over and he’s like, “No, no man. We need more detail on this thing because it’s supposed to be the size of an oil rig platform or bigger.” I was like, “Uh, alright.” So I literally was taking photos of oil rig platforms plus 3D modeling some of my own stuff plus also painting in like pipes and little lights and things like that just so that it gave this thing the massive scale of how big it was supposed to be. So I worked on that, I also worked on the shuttles, the shuttles you see that take off from earth and also come out of the IF fighters when they’re landing on the Eros and all that stuff. I helped design the helmets that all the kids wore. Ryan Meinerding who works over at Marvel Studios on all the Marvel films, he’s like their main character designer, he does beautiful work, and he designed some of the early versions of what the helmet looked like for Ender’s Game and that was given over to me and I did tons of ideations on top of it until we finally got to the one they liked. I also designed the Formic home world, I designed Eros – not the surface of the planet, that was designed by David Levy, but I designed the exterior of what the planet looks like as a whole. And then…what else is there? I designed what Earth looks like too but I did that along with David Levy, he did some early concepts and those were given over to me. There’s just a ton of stuff, if you go to my website you can see all of it.
Chris: Oh, it’s so fun! That’s the good part. That’s the good part of working on the movies! Can you connect the dots there between Ender’s Game and whatever else came next and lead us up to Spidey.
Robert: Well things after Ender’s Game became kind of big because I then met a lot of people at Ender’s Game that I may not have really got to know that well but they helped spread my name to get other work. So my first gig out of Ender’s Game, and mind you I didn’t have anything for a while after Ender’s Game too because I wasn’t known by anybody. I kept contacting people but it was in the summer time, when I came out of Ender’s Game and there just wasn’t a lot of work going around.
Chris: It’s the whole breaking in and staying in conundrum.
Robert: Exactly, and Ben went out of his way again, I owe that guy so much. He went out his way again and got me an opportunity to work on Transformers, the new one that’s coming out. And I did some concepts and stuff on that for about three weeks, but there was a lot of illustrators that came out to that right at the beginning and really all they wanted to do was shotgun ideas around because they wanted to get some stuff flowing. And after that, they started letting people go so after about three or four weeks, I got let go…
Chris: But we were having so much fun!
Robert: Yeah, exactly! But then I was lucky though and I got a random contact from one of the producers over on Spiderman 2. And I was trying to figure out for the longest time, how did I get this connection? Well someone that I met that was working on Django when I was out in New Orleans, she was a really nice person and I got to know her really well out there and she just helped spread my name a bit to Marc Webb and to the producer on Spiderman. And they happened to contact me and I just got a call from Marc Webb and he was like, “Yeah man, I want to work with you,” or “I want you to work for me,” I guess is what he probably meant and then I found out that I can say it now because it’s in the trailers but he wanted me to work on the rhino suit.
Chris: Oh cool.
Robert: So I had spent about three months doing just a ton of ideations on basically sketches of what the suit looks like and then after about three months of doing all these ideations showing how to transform, I never once did an illustration on that show, it was really just drawing the whole time like I did with technical drawings to really show off the detail on how it works. Like it was going back to when I was a kid basically and like how does this backhoe work and stuff like that; I was doing that same thing to the suit because the suit was so mechanical. It was trying to make it, trying to not make it as you see in the trailer, it was trying not to make it a…it was trying to make it really realistic, like a real vehicle. So it was just a ton of ideations on that thing and then after about three months, they let me go because they were giving all the stuff over to 3D and to other departments and I was pretty much done at that time. And so when I moved away from that film, and then what else can I talk about that has been announced? And after that I worked on Heat, which if you go to IMDB you can see it’s up there now and that’s a remake of the 1990 Heat.
Chris: One of my favorite movies.
Robert: Oh really? Okay! So I worked on that for a bit, I can’t say what I did but I worked on it. And then what else have I worked on? Oh, I worked on Jurassic World which is coming out in 2015 now. I can’t say what I did for that either, but…
Chris: Big surprise there.
Robert: They haven’t really said too much but outside of that I have worked on…there’s not much else I can say that I worked on now. Like I’ve worked on another two or three other films and I’m working on one currently, but they haven’t really announced what they are yet. And the one I’m on now, they have announced but I don’t know if I can say stuff about it because I’m currently working on it.
Chris: Right, just another excuse for a follow up podcast.
Chris: Next year sometime. Um, have you had any interaction with Steven Spielberg at all?
Robert: No, but the director on Jurassic was Colin, he’s such an awesome guy. So cool, and he really liked my stuff and I got along really well with him and he would like every week go and basically pitch the film to Spielberg to make sure it was on the same track. And this one day I did this one illustration that he just flipped out and loved, this is not Spielberg I’m talking about, this is the director and he’s just like, “Yeah, I really want to put this up in my house, I love this.” I thought oh wow that’s awesome, and then he goes and shows it all to Spielberg and then he comes back and I see he’s talking to all the producers and he walks away and then he comes back into my room real quick and just like leans into me real quick and he’s like, “Just want you to know, Spielberg really liked that one image you did and he took it home with him.” I was like, “What?! Okay, cool! Awesome!”
Chris: Oh my god, that’s great! So good, a total geek out. Yeah, I was at the Cowboys and Aliens premiere with him and that was just so crazy to be in the room with him and I don’t really get star struck anymore but I was definitely star struck with…
Robert: With Spielberg walking around?
Chris: Yeah, it was pretty cool.
Robert: I have yet to see him in person.
Chris: Yeah, I think if I had really pressed in I probably could have met him, but everybody was wanting to talk to him and everything. I would have had to be a bit obnoxious to kind of get through and I would not have been obnoxious, I might have been nervous but I would not have been deliberately obnoxious just in a conversation with him but I would have had to kind of you know, elbow my way in and…and then it’s all awkward like why is this worth your time? But John Vadrow introduced himself to me and my wife. Super, just super cool guy, like super cool.
Robert: He is awesome, I’ve only ever met him once and he has no idea who I am but I was working on a job and I happened to walk past him one time or we were both getting into the elevator together. But he was just so cool, he got into the elevator, most people like in film, if they get into an elevator by themselves, they try to close it as fast as they can because they don’t want you to get in there with them. But he actually held the door open for me and he’s like, “Oh hey man, go ahead and come in here.” I was like whoa, what, where is this coming from? He’s an awesome guy.
Chris: Yeah, really warm and that seems consistent. I was telling a friend that story one time and he was like well you know, he just wants you to…John just wants you to tell other people that he’s like this warm cool guy, it was his party, his premiere, he’s in a good mood. I mean the guy hadn’t met him, the guy has no idea but he’s just like basically being cynical and I know I tend to have a very optimistic view of everything but he really seemed genuine and it’s been consistent across the board. My wife’s met him again at a different thing, we have a mutual friend, and it’s just consistent. He’s just a cool dude. That’s the thing, a lot of folks in the industry are…it’s, well you know…anyway.
Robert: Yeah, there are. There are actually…it surprises me sometimes because I’ve heard the horror stories and I’ve dealt with a few horror stories myself. It scared me actually for a little while in the industry after I heard some of those horror stories, but there’s a lot more nicer people than I thought there were in the industry. They’re willing to talk to you and get to know you and they’re not there to crush you.
Chris: Well and then you have these guardian angel people you know reaching out, you were talking about Ben you were saying was the one you owe so much to and all that. I have a few people like that, Fred Warder and Ryan Carlson and I have so many people that have helped me out but then I have a few of these art directors specifically who have cleared the way, like Legalis and Gimley, like slicing through the army of orks to try and create a path for me. And I mean that not that there are any evil people trying to resist that but in the sense that it takes a tremendous amount of exhausting effort and so for them to go ahead of me like that and kind of cut through the crowd and kind of cheer me on and clear a path for me. I just don’t even know…it’s like it just breaks my brain to even think about.
Robert: Yeah, the fact that they’re willing to…to me I feel like when they pitch me, they’re risking their own reputation and that terrifies me because that means I have to do the best job I can possibly can do in order to keep their reputation good and keep my reputation good.
Chris: Yeah, exactly and that’s why it’s so important. I’ve recommended people for stuff before and then wished I hadn’t because I had the opposite of that happen and I’m like you’ve got be kidding me! I stuck my neck out for you! Like do you know how many people…anyway…
Robert: It’s made me so careful now about who I put out there.