Science Fiction Filme.) First of all, I would like to thank you for your time doing this Interview. Could you please tell us what you did before you come into film business? Why have you chosen the way of being into matte painting? Do you have any personal idols or role models in your business? Is there a movie or an event which make you think: “I want to do the same thing.”?
Michael Pangrazio) I worked in an Art store -I did not choose Matte Painting. I was shown a Albert Whitlock painting by a person who owned it and was asked if I thought I could paint like that.
SFF.) If I´m right informed you were starting your professional career with your work in STAR WARS – THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK. How did you get to this project and what did you learn from your first engagement the most?
M.P.) I was working for a small effects studio in Hollywood, I meet Joe Johnston and Ralph McQuarrie at a meeting for Battlestar Galactica the TV show and at the end of the meeting I spoke with Joe and Ralph showed them some artwork that I did and Joe said they were looking for an apprentice to work under Alan Mayley an old retired Matte Painter. After several months waiting Joe called me and I flew to Marion County and had an interview and was told later I had the job——I learned that -it was fun and creative to work on films although there is a lot of pressure and not much of a life other than your work.
SFF.) You have artistically created some of the most memorable scenes in film history. I will mention the end of RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK as an example. Many of your works do exactly what you need for a good film: they are ingenious because they are so inconspicuous. Where do you get your inspiration from and how long does it take you to create a painting like the one in RAIDERS?
M.P.) That one took me 2-3 months with testing.
SFF.) What is your opinion about education to become an expert in matte painting? Is there any requirement or talent you need to have next to enthusiasm?
M.P.) Talent is always important -but determination and hard work can -I think overcome anything.
SFF.) Your paintings are so beautiful and fantastic. Which kind of surface treatment is your favorite one and why? Oil or acryl or something else?
M.P.) I used cartoon color an cel final paint used in cel animation-usually I painted on glass.
SFF.) What did you paint especially for POLTERGEIST and can you tell us, now 38 years after its appearance, who directed it, because there have always been wild rumors who was responsible.
M.P.) Steven Spielberg directed it. I did the grave yard scene and some exteriors retentions of sets and night scenes
SFF.) Do you have a certain style of painting that you admire the most?
M.P.) I suppose I like impressionism -it is so free and I like a bit of the abstract.
SFF.) Nowadays you are working in the field of visual effects for films like MAN OF STEEL or KING KONG, which are mainly digitally processed. Can you tell us how the field of matte painting has changed compared to the 80s and 90s?
M.P.) Well that is a long story but it has completely changed from the physical world everything now is of course done digitally and I think some people thought that Matte Painting would disappear but it seems to still be needed even just to create deep backgrounds—-the camera moves have certainly become improved and you can do just about anything.
SFF.) Emilio Ruiz del Rio was are great matte and foreground painter for European movies. Just as an example. Do you see differences by paintings for movies from Europe and north America-cinema?
M.P.) No I have not studied much in that area mostly preoccupied with the films that I was tasked with working on -but I will look him up.
SFF.) If you have to choose three tools which you need for your work; which would it be and why?
M.P.) Great reference -lots of time to fuss over the artwork and the old Photoshop 6 it was so stable
SFF.) One of the most beautiful and best scenes, in my eyes, is the short sequence in ROBIN HOOD, in which you painted Jerusalem and we could see yourself. A breathtaking sequence, which is unfortunately much too short to be seen. How did you paint the glow of the windows and the fires in this painting and how long did it take you to paint this picture?
M.P.) Thanks, we'll those fires where probably rear projected and the tiny fires could be a gag of just scratching the glass and putting a flickering light behind, it took me a couple of weeks to do the painting.
SFF.) What do you think of your kind of work in film? Is it just a technical one or is it art? Do Matte Painting get enough recognition?
M.P.) It is an art form -it is art I think-if it is good now one knows it’s there I think that is kind of cool, and I am alright with that.
SFF.) Do you have a project you always wanted to do or are there something in progress we can enjoy in the future?
M.P.) I did a children’s book a few years ago and some people have been interested in making it into a film —-that would be a dream come true for me.
SFF.) I held up with the most important question to the end: What was the most difficult painting you were working on and why?
M.P.) Probably the warehouse painting in Raiders it was detailed and almost 95% painting it is hard to pull that off when so much of the frame is painted!
SFF.) Dear Mr. Pangrazio. I thank you immensely for taking time doing this interview and wish you all the best for your future movie making.
M.P.) You Too! Best to you as well!