At the intersection of the physical and digital – interview with Michael Goldman

June 24th, 2014

Continuing the ongoing series of interviews with creative artists working on various aspects of movie and TV productions, today I’m honored to welcome Michael Goldman. After starting his career in the commercials department at Industrial Light & Magic, Michael’s work has spanned a variety of TV and feature productions which, in the recent years, included Iron Man, The Amazing Spider-Man and Star Trek: Into Darkness. In this interview he talks about the shifting balance between physical and digital aspects of movie-making, from balancing budgets to building sets to shooting and augmenting individual scenes, as well as his thoughts on how the craft of art direction and production design should evolve and adapt in the world that shifts increasingly more work into the post-production stage.

Michael Goldman.
Photography by Mark Redmond.

Kirill: Please tell us about yourself and your path so far.

Michael: My name is Michael Goldman, and I work as a production designer and art director. I came to the industry in a roundabout way. I completed my master’s degree in architecture, and started working in architecture firms in New York and then Seattle, but it wasn’t the best fit for me so I tried the art world next, working for artists that did large scale public art projects. That’s where I got my art director skills, working on drawings and making presentations and then helping to build the final pieces. I drafted plans, worked in metal, wood and concrete bringing artist’s ideas to life. After about 5 years of that, I found my way into the film industry.

I was working in Seattle for the artist Buster Simpson, and “Sleepless in Seattle” was being shot there at that time. They were building a huge set for the top of the Empire State Building scene, and the production was hiring every carpenter they could find in Seattle to build it’s huge raised deck in a short period of time. I was looking for work, because Buster didn’t have any projects at the time, so I jumped at the opportunity. At the time, it was just a way to pay my bills until the next art project came along.

While working on that show, I visited the art department and started looking at the drawings of the sets that we were going to build, and I thought to myself, I can do this and this is what I was did during my architectural work. So I started exploring the possibility of drawing for films and began talking to people in the industry and trying to make some contacts.

After I had 3 or 4 names and numbers, I went to LA, sent out a lot of resumes, made follow up calls phone calls and slowly made my way into it. In the film industry if you are reliable and work hard, like any job, you will get rehired and work continuously. You can work your way up pretty fast. I was lucky that I met some helpful people and had some good opportunities. Suddenly it’s almost twenty years later and I don’t know where the time has gone.

Final light set for First Union Bank commercial (done at Industrial Light & Magic). Courtesy of Michael Goldman.

Kirill: If there’s such a thing as a typical production, when does your involvement usually begin?

Michael: On a big feature production, on the scale of Iron Man or Star Trek, we start early. As an Art Director I will work on the project for between seven months to a year, and I usually start around five months before the principal photography begins. We set up the art department, start doing the illustrations and conceptual drawings and models, and all the while the script is changing. The first couple months of prep we deal with outlines and early scripts and towards the end we’re doing a lot of drafting up working drawings and set construction. Art directors mange all these steps.

Kirill: How much of this is overlapping with the main shooting phase?

Michael: We’re designing, building and striking sets throughout the whole production. A big production usually rents a bunch of stages at a studio, and we keep rotating through them, building on several stages weeks or months ahead of the shooting time and then we strike them after they finish shooting and build the next one. When possible, we bring the director and other key players in ahead of time to comment on the progress of the sets and make adjustments as we build. On the first day we shoot a new set we are always there to “open the set” and make sure the director, producers and have what they want. Then we head out and keep working on what’s coming up the following weeks. It’s kind of leap frogging between stages. Depending on the size of the movie we might end up filling every stage at a studio two or three times.

Star Wars 1 – video game commercial (done at Industrial Light & Magic). Courtesy of Michael Goldman.

Kirill: Does it also involve dealing with the financial side of things?

Michael: We get the shooting schedule, and we arrange our construction schedule to make sure that everything is done on time – a week or two before the shooting company need it. We are always master planning for how we can pull it off in time and mostly importantly on budget. There is always a tennis match of costs back and forth between the art directors and the producers. Each group has a different idea of what it will cost to make the sets happen and eventually you agree on a number. Of course, in film production things are constantly changing and the numbers bounce around. In architecture you come to a final design, you draw it all up, it gets a price attached and you build it. In film, the design and various other factors, like actor’s schedule or location availability, script changes effect our budget which effects our designs and plans. These things are constantly being reevaluated and reprioritized. It’s not very glamorous, but this is a big part of an art director’s job moving the pieces around until the puzzle comes together. We do spend a lot of time with budgets and schedules. Its not the stuff you see on the making of special features!

Back lot set for The Amazing Spider-man. Left – before construction, right – construction site + design within reach. Courtesy of Michael Goldman.

Kirill: Now that so much can be done with digital tools, from complete sets down to digital extensions of partially built physical sets, do you find yourself building fewer physical sets?

Michael: We still do build a lot but there is also a lot more digital elements that make up the final product. The current production I’m working on involves heavy collaboration with the visual effects department. They talk about manipulating almost every frame in the film, making adjustments to almost every thing we shoot – whereas ten years ago visual effects were these little snippets inserted into the practical film making. There were 60-100 VFX shots in a film and now is many hundreds. Today it seems to be more blended together. VFX has a part in every scene in big blockbuster.

I’m lucky to have started in the late 1990s in the commercials department at Industrial Light & Magic (ILM). I got a really early exposure to computerized visual effects, and how it integrates into the scenery. They were doing really high-end commercial work that featured visual effects, and we were building sets that had extensions and digital mattes but it was pretty cutting edge then and only for clients whole had the money to spend now the things we did are common practice or even outdated. It evolves so fast.

You do see a movie like Avatar where the environments are all digital, but I think it’s pretty much an exception. At least in the movies I’ve worked on so far it’s been about extending and enhancing with digital work.

Building on the back lot of The Amazing Spider-man – “Manolo Building”. Filling in between buildings to make the streets more grand. Courtesy of Michael Goldman.

Building on the back lot of The Amazing Spider-man – “Manolo Building” mid-construction. Courtesy of Michael Goldman.

Building on the back lot of The Amazing Spider-man – “Manolo Building” final. Courtesy of Michael Goldman.

Kirill: Avatar would be pretty much the only commercially successful production with fully digital sets so far.

Michael: It’s still held back by rendering and construction time in the computer and the amount of unique equipment they need to pull it off, and of course it’s cost, especially the labor costs. I don’t know the name of the company, but I have heard about a group that’s specialty is doing water based VFX shots and they are the industries best and go to guys. I suppose, someday that technology will be available and affordable to everyone. There still isn’t industry standards and affordable equipment that would make it like all the digital cameras and editing software you can buy now and use with your PC.

I’m biased towards building things because I’m a builder. I like working with technicians, carpenters, painters and welders, just seeing things come from a drawing or 3D model to life on a stage. I have a really strong attachment to that, which is one of the main reasons why I’m in this business. Built sets, built environments and construction is what I know best. Right now, I think there’s a pretty good ratio between the visual effects and built scenery. I suppose that ratio will change toward the digital realm in the future but I am hoping we still get to build real set and have real actors.

Kirill: Does that involve sharing your schematics and blueprints with the VFX department so they can build their extensions on top of the physical sets?

Michael: There is a lot more exchange between the art department and VFX Department. We give all our drawings, models and illustrations to them and they give all their tests, animations etc. to us. We now store our storyboards, set drawings, set illustrations and reference images on servers and swap back and forth as needed. The tracking and organizing of all that has become a whole new position in the art department called the “Digital Assets Manager”. All the departments can put their work in a central location and have access to all the artwork. It is a helpful new tool but still needs to evolve a little more. The concept is very democratic and helps make things go smoother so everyone on the movie is on the same page about the films story and design intentions.

Another fascinating thing is LIDAR scanning where the VFX crew will set up a laser scanner on every set and every location, giving them a 3D vector model that can be brought into the computer. It’s done on pretty much every film I work on in the last five or six years. Building a digital model of a set or location in the computer from scratch is so expensive and it often doesn’t match what is actually shot, but with LIDAR scanning you set up a scanner on a tripod, capture the points of all the buildings, scenery, trees and the whole environment. It’s a perfect copy for the VFX department to build on. It gets more sophisticated every year.

Dressed back lot shoot of The Amazing Spider-man. Courtesy of Michael Goldman.

Kirill: Does this introduce some uncertainty into your schedule, as decisions on what will be built physically and what will be done digitally in post-production are done at a much later stage?

Michael: The interesting thing here is the relationship between the art department (starting with the production designer) and the visual effects department (starting with the visual effects supervisor). This relationship has become connected, and the two inform each other. On the current production I’m working on, San Andreas, we have a lot of earthquake debris throughout the city. So everywhere where the actors are walking we’re going to have real bricks wood and concrete chunks within at least a 50-foot radius of the camera. When they pass through the scenery, it’s much easier for the actors to interact with the real debris and walk over the real chinks and much harder for the VFX to build digitally around the moving actors. Everything beyond that is going to be digitally enhanced, as the actors are not going to be directly interacting with that it is easier to do. That’s an example of a rule set up in our collaboration with VFX.

There’s another interesting aspect that hasn’t been figured out yet. How far does the production designer go into the post work? We’ll design the whole environment, even the parts that are digital – creating a look book of sorts to pass on to people in the visual effects department. Its filled with illustrations, real reference images for texture or design elements and all our design drawings, so that the VFX post people will know exactly how we designed the particular city, or the buildings, the backgrounds or whatever is going to be added digital into the film later. I find it exciting because it extends the span of the art department from just designing specific sets to designing entire environments. I thinking the future the production designer – perhaps with art directors and set designers – will stay on in the post and will have a much stronger hand in how the digitally created pieces of the scenery are produced during the post-production phase. It’s something that hasn’t been completely ironed out yet. I’ve been on productions where the art department packs up and leaves at the end of shooting, and some of the things we did are not used or is used differently then we intended. I’ve worked with production designers who are really frustrated that they’ve spent so much time designing cityscapes and backgrounds and they are changed or deleted because they were not there to supervise.

Universal back lot NY Street – ground plan for The Amazing Spider-man. Click to see full size image. Courtesy of Michael Goldman.

Kirill: And, at least at the present moment, visual effects supervisors are there during the post-production phase while most of the time production designers are not.

Michael: I think it’s changing now. Production designers are making sure that they stay on at least as consultants in the post-production process. If I ever work as a production designer on a project at that large scale, I will make sure that my contract would include that I have to be kept on until the end to supervise the post-production design work. Now, there is so much design and construction (digitally) that happens after the film has been shot, and it’s really important to maintain the same look and ideas you fought so hard for at the beginning of the production and during shooting.

Kirill: That would also depend on the director’s style, as some prefer to shoot as much as possible in-camera.

Michael: Exactly. It’s completely based on the director and the director of photography. Every film project that you work on is so different. You work with so many people, one director’s strong suite is working with actors and you get a cart blanche regarding the design, and others would have very strong ideas about how they want everything to look and you act more as an enhancer and detail person.

That is what’s great about the film industry. Every project is quite different. You might think working on…say a superhero movie might seem all the same, but the combination of director, director of photography and production designer is what gives the movie a different feel and they are always different even if the themes and stories are similar.

Iron Man 2 Monaco waterfront set – Downey Studios. Courtesy of Michael Goldman.

Kirill: Back when you were at ILM they were the biggest shop for special effects, including animatronics and miniature work. That’s all gone these days, right?

Michael: ILM is all digital now, but there’s a group of people who purchased the model shop from ILM and are doing miniatures work and practical special effects still. They are now called 32ten and are still hired by big movies to do that kind of work, but it’s not as common as it was. In some cases it’s cheaper and more efficient to use a miniature than to make a digital model. There are certain times when it’s quicker to build it in real life than on the computer and the outcome is still more realistic if you are working on the level that those crews do.

Kirill: Is there any effect that the advances in digital tools are having on how you approach your work? And while we’re there, what about stereoscopic (3D) productions?

Michael: Depending on the director and production designer, we build a lot more 3D computer models than cardboard or plastic ones of our sets, props and even vehicle designs. We also do a lot more pre-visualization and 3D animations of complex sets, sequences like stunts or environments. These tools often help us figure out what is built on stage or location or can to be done digitally much quicker and cheaper. I think both mediums have their uses and various people who prefer them, but building a simple 3D computer model to get the basic feel and proportion of a set or pasting a 3D model of a set into a location photo are wonderful new tools to have.

As for 3D movies go, I don’t think the technology has come far enough. There are certain issues about focusing, or guidelines that we need to maintain for the effect, but they don’t ask us to design it more 3D-centric. It’s designed and shot how the director and the production designers want it to look, and the 3D aspect just enhances the final product, rather than being something that is shot specifically to be 3D. I don’t know how 3D is going to continue in the industry. I’ve worked on the movies where we were halfway through preproduction, and they haven’t decided yet if they were going to shoot it with 3D cameras, or with regular ones with 3D post-conversion.

It’s the studio’s decision on what they want to do. They sometimes fall back to shooting 2D, with the option to do the post-conversion if they want to. The 3D cameras that we were using on Spider-Man were quite cumbersome, and the cables that connected them to monitors had restricted length. We had to change the way we built the sets so that the camera could actually get through the doorway as it was moving on the dolly track. There was a lot of constraints for the 3D cameras in that film but the cameras actually evolved while we were shooting and got smaller, and I’m sure that over time they will change them even more. I am not sure if its something that is here to stay or just a fad like it was in the 50’s?

Iron Man 2 track start line – Downey Studios. Courtesy of Michael Goldman.

Kirill: You’ve worked on Iron Man, Spider-Man and Star Trek. Would you say that digital is at a point where they can do anything as long as you have enough money to throw at it?

Michael: Obviously, VFX is going to evolve more, get cheaper faster and more realistic, but I think they can do just about anything now or perhaps enough now. My big concern has always been with the story. The story is the most important thing, and anything that the art department can do through design to make it stronger is what is important. Visual effects are there to make the story better also, to bring it more realistically to fruition, to make the points clearer and more extreme. Unfortunately, a lot of the time you see some cool new technique because it’s a cool and new and never seen before. It becomes more of a VFX machoism rather than making the story better. A lot of the larger budget movies suffer from this, but it does sell tickets and DVD’s.

Building the sets and effects should all help to reinforce the story and make it better. You don’t blow up things to just blow up things and have a big plume of smoke and debris flying everywhere just because it looks cool. You have to do it for a reason. Digital technology has opened so many new possibilities and made the art departments job so much more extensive, but ultimately it’s the story that you’re trying to tell and characters you want to develop, and these things are just tools to do that. I think the good film makers are the ones who can step back and evaluate what the priorities are and carefully choose what they need to use to get the story told well.

Iron Man 2 SFX race cars. Courtesy of Michael Goldman.

Kirill: It would also appear that studios are leaning more and more on big tent pole sci-fi productions, leaving less room for mid-budget ones. And there’s a lot of interesting things happening in episodic TV productions in the last few years.

Michael: It’s really changing. You have Amazon and Netflix doing shows, releasing whole seasons in one day for the binge watchers. It’s all changing drastically. I wonder if the big networks will still be there in 10 years?

Film studios have to be pretty conservative because they are expensive to run. They want to do blockbusters and sequels because they know those make money. The smart studios do take chances and make something like, Iron Man 3 or something of that scale sequel that they know will cover their costs and make money so they can take a chance on something smaller and more edgy. It that may loose money on that small project but they can afford to take that chance covered by the bigger one. On the other hand, it may do really well and say something important that people want to hear. Sometimes the small films have a big pay off. It’s like a good stock portfolio to them, where some stocks are doing really well, and some are a gamble. The smart studios know its better to be diversified.

We’re seeing a lot of film productions in Louisiana, Atlanta and other states that offer incentives. California people don’t really see those, and there’s a lot of $20-30M films being done there. Los Angeles does mostly TV shows and really big movie productions currently. I think there were only three large films in 2012-13 shot in California.

Kirill: So you either stay in one place and you have a limited variety of productions you can work on, or you have to be on a constant move.

Michael: It’s become a very nomadic field. I have a lot of friends who live in LA who are out of town most of the year. I called one of them to see if I could get him to work in LA, and he’s been in Louisiana for several months already. The film industry is changing a lot. It’s changing from film to digital, it’s changing its production budgets and unfortunately it’s changing where it’s based.

Iron Man 2 track start line – Downey Studios. Courtesy of Michael Goldman.

Kirill: Going back to physical sets, how would you compare building on stage and building on location?

Michael: I enjoy building on location more. You’re out in the world, changing reality. I like the idea that you have constraints you have to deal with, existing buildings or terrain, neighbors or town restrictions etc. it often informs the design. That’s is also why you have directors like Hitchcock that wanted everything to be built on stage, as they want total control that the stage offers. It also applies to construction and design. You can set up a mill and build everything right there within your grasp and under your control.

I prefer the challenge a location builds offer. You have more creative problem solving on location. When I was working on The Amazing Spider-Man, I was in charge of the back-lot build at Universal Studios, doing the main New York City street over the period of around three months. It was basically like a combination of the two types. We were out in the fall weather, building large attachments to the existing universal sets which were often kind of quirky. I found that really exciting. You’re outside working with the existing sets, with the same constraints you have on outside locations but you are also at the studio where you can get everything you need right there.

When you are on the stage, you walk in on a painted flat floor, you bring everything in and you set it up exactly how you want it to be. When you are on a location – or when you are working on a back lot, you’re dealing with elements and pre-made things. You attach things to the buildings, or build a facade to block another one. It’s a bit like home renovation where you tear down a wall and you find weird things, requiring you to adapt and redesign. It’s more of a fluid design process, whereas on stage it’s more of A, B, C, D – you move ahead pretty easily.

Kirill: Would you say that you do more stage work on larger productions?

Michael: That really depends on the director and the movie itself. For example, on Star Trek into Darkness I was in charge of all the practical locations in and around Los Angeles. In fact, I was the only art director who didn’t build scenery on stage. I had around 26 locations to deal with. They wanted to have the actors running through the city, to have certain real backgrounds. J.J. Abrams and Scott Chambliss had ideas that had to be done on location and not on stage. That was an example of a huge movie that used both sets and locations.

Iron Man 2 Downey track debris. Courtesy of Michael Goldman.

Kirill: Is this where we as viewers see multiple art directors in the end credits?

Michael: On Star Trek we had Scott Chambliss as the production designer, Ramsey Avery as the supervising art director, James Clyne as the VFX art director, 5 regular art directors (including me) and 2 assistant art directors. We divided the sets between us, having one art director doing one giant set, and others doing two or three large ones. Harry Otto was solely in charge of rebuilding the Enterprise sets on stage and he dealt with rebuilding and refurbishing all the pieces that were used on the previous movie. Other art directors. like Lauren Polizzi, were doing specific sets, like the red planet. Jason Stewart was supervising on set the whole time. There were a lot of art Directors spread over a lot of places. Natasha Gerasimova was an assistant art director and she dealt with all the screens and ran a huge SFX shop that built all the screens and panels, like the ones on the bridge that had real time moving graphics.

Kirill: How does it feel moving to a smaller production as either an art director or as a production designer? Is it the same thing, but on a smaller scale with a smaller budget?

Michael: The problems you have to tackle are all the same, but you have less zeroes at the end of the numbers in the budget. The same money problems come up whether you are on a $100M or on a $500K film. There are always things that you want to design but cannot afford to do, there’s always not enough time and the budget is always changing. On smaller films there’s less people, and everyone does multiple tasks which I like them because of the variety of tasks and the hands on nature. Smaller shows are more of a family atmosphere. When you are on a big film, it’s such a big machine with so many components and crews of 150 or more. Sometimes it can be a little less personal, where the art department might not know the lighting team or grips as well, but on a small film even as the art director you may be helping the grips one day and a painter the next.

I like jumping back and forth between big films and small films. On small films you don’t get to build as much or fabricate as many things, which I love to do. You have to deal with what you have and improvise more because you can’t afford to spend money. That can be very exciting and give you results you never anticipated and you have to be a lot more creative to keep your designs in the film. On the big films, sometimes, you get to build amazing sets like the Monaco track set I art directed for Iron Man 2. That was a once in a life time experience, building a life size copy of the streets of Monaco and the race cars from scratch. On the other hand, the big films can go on for along time and it can be a real grind can that can wear you down. I like them both. They have their advantages and disadvantages. If I could plan my own schedule, a great way to do it would be: one big film and a small one every year or two.

HBO Looking – Most Dangerous Games Tech Office. Courtesy of Michael Goldman.

Kirill: You also worked on two TV shows in the last couple of years, Castle and Looking. How was that like?

Michael: Castle’s was great. The have been shooting for 5 seasons when I came in and the crew is really tight and efficient. They build a lot of scenery for each episode, which is rare for a TV series. I was on five episodes, and during those three months we built around a dozen sets. The crews are so sharp, they work so fast and still do beautiful work. We did some really amazing stuff in a short period of time while I was there. My friend, from ILM, Chris Farmer was production designing and on one episode we built some corridors of the Paris sewers system on stage. They were made with fake cardboard stone and were beautifully aged down with rust and dripping water by the scenic painters. It went up and down in 4-5 days. That’s really exciting work, where everybody knows what they are doing and the are are realistic expectations of what you can do in the given time frame. You have eight days for an episode, with maybe a couple more days added for a really big set build.

HBO’s Looking was all shot in San Francisco. They’ve just finished the first season and were picked up for another. It’s a lower budget production than Castle, and we were doing mostly dressed locations – finding furniture, art work and other things and adding them to places we scouted. It was also really fun but for different reasons. We built two permanent sets on stage, the main character’s beat up victorian apartment and a video game techie office. We shot those sets one or two days a week, and did the other 3-4 days shooting on the streets of San Francisco and in apartments and restaurants etc around town. It was exciting running around the city, sometimes at night, prepping lots of locations quickly. It was a really small crew with super people and we all did many tasks to help each other out. For me it was about being in my favorite city and doing good work with fun people and the small budget that we had. Castle was more about fast-paced construction and design.

Episodic TV is tricky, and it’s not for everybody. You have five or eight day shooting schedule, and you’re constantly shooting, and at the same time prepping the next episode, and at the same time striking the previous sets. So it’s a bit schizophrenic. You’re usually doing different things on any given day for either the current episode, the one that’s coming up or perhaps even insert shots for the one they shot five weeks ago. The whole time having to keep track of which script/story is which.

HBO Looking. Left – Patrick’s apartment kitchen, right – Patrick’s apartment bedroom.

Kirill: How does it feel to see the sets that you’ve build being torn down?

Michael: When I was first starting out, I felt a lot more connected and protective of the work, but now that I’ve seen so much stuff built and torn down, it doesn’t effect me as much. I always try to take really good photos, or capture stills from the final DVDs so that I have a good archive of the work that I did. It doesn’t really bother me now. I understand the business that I’m in.

We get to make a lot of unique environments and objects, and they’re captured on film, and then they disappear. I always try to save a couple of little pieces if I can. I have a nose fin signed by the actors from one of the Tony Stark race cars from the wreckage on the Iron Man 2 Monaco track. I also have some other oblects like signs and pieces of hardware in boxes at my studio. They act as snapshots to remember the sets by. It’s the nature of the business, I guess I would’ve stayed an architect if I really felt that I needed to build permanent things.

Kirill: What stays with you after the production is done? If you look back five or ten years, does the grind go away and you’re only left with nice things to remember?

Michael: It’s a mix. For a long time it was the big sets that I got to help design and build but now as I get older its the lessons I learned that help me get better at my job and the relationships I made with the people I got to work with. You meet so many interesting people on productions besides just the directors or stars and many of them have taught me a lot about film making and life. I feel very lucky to be in this industry and to have made it this far. The hours are long and crazy, and you do remember and get gray hairs from them but what we get to do – and get paid to do – as artists is rare. I feel really lucky to have this career.

Iron Man 2 track layout drawing over Google Earth image. Click to see full size image. Courtesy of Michael Goldman.

Kirill: When do you get to see the blend of physical sets that you’ve built with all the digital extensions / sets on the bigger sci-fi productions?

Michael: It depends on the production. Sometimes it is the early screening in the movie theater with the crew and sometimes we go into the dailies and get to see footage after its shot. Depending on the movie and if you make a point to ask, you can see footage while you’re working. Much of the dallies are now accessed through a password protected web sites so more people on the crew can see them and preliminary shots are sometimes stored on the art department’s servers. It’s not just the directors and producers seeing them.

Kirill: And when you go to the movie theater, to watch one of your movies or others that you haven’t worked on, are you able to detach from analyzing the technical side of things and just enjoy the movie?

Michael: That’s a good question. My wife would say that I’ve ruined how she views movies, because I’m always pointing out something that looks fake like a badly painted wall or trying to figure out if it’s a real location or just a backing out a window. It’s hard to detach yourself when you know so much about the process. I often feel like they are home movies rather than real feature films because many times I was standing there watching as they were shooting the scene and it just detaches you. It is always refreshing to be able to see how far the film came from what you saw being shot.

I like to watch movies that I’ve worked on more than once so I can be engrossed in the story and imagery one viewing, and then spend another viewing learning from what I did and how I would do it differently next time. But it is sometimes hard for me to just enjoy the story [laughs], to just be detached from all the technical aspects and get sucked in and loose time.

Kirill: Do you go back and watch your older movies?

Michael: I wouldn’t say that I do that. I usually watch them in the movie theater, and then I buy a DVD, to capture stills from for my portfolio, and put it on the shelf. I like to learn from each project, learn from my mistakes and apply that lesson to the next project. There’s always some detail you can find that needed more refining or something you could have done differently to be more effective and I try to learn from that. Then I like to put them on the shelf and move on to the next project.

Iron Man 2 – reference photo Monaco track. Courtesy of Michael Goldman.

Iron Man 2 – Downey Studios set – same curve. Courtesy of Michael Goldman.

And here I’d like to thank Michael Goldman for graciously agreeing to this interview, for taking the time out of his busy schedule working on “San Andreas” to talk about his craft and for sharing some of his materials for the interview.