Matt Cotter is great at a lot of things. What he’s particularly great at is making intricately detailed sculptures, props and scenery out of all kinds of materials – he can render amazing textures onto surfaces to make them appear ancient or other-worldly, he can carve polystyrene into any shape imaginable and then coat it so it’s strong and smooth, he can sculpt in clay and build in timber and metal… He’s worked on films like Ghostrider, The Matrix and Star Wars, and on various other projects including the Sydney Olympics opening ceremony.
He also plays drums in well-known Melbourne band Even. Which means on top of being a talented artist and a great props/model maker, he is also partially famous.
He’s also an extremely modest, super-nice guy who smiles a lot and rides around town on a cool little cream-coloured Vespa. (Actually I think the Vespa belongs to his girlfriend).
Anyway, check out some of Matt’s amazing work below and read on for his interview! :
Canterbury Leagues Club dragon feature wall – carved urethane, sand coating.
Tell me a little about your background – what path led you to what you’re doing now?
In a nutshell: Bummed around in my early 20s, then completed a B.A. in Fine Arts (Painting) at RMIT. Worked for 5 years building, sculpting, and painting the Myer Christmas Windows, before a (non-career related) move to Sydney. Scored a job sculpting and constructing various pieces for the opening ceremony of the 2000 Sydney Olympics, then jumped ship to work as model-maker on Star Wars Episode II. Worked on films and various other projects in Sydney and Melbourne for the next 5 years: sculpting, painting, and model-making, before giving teaching a crack. Taught secondary Art and Materials Technology for 2 years, decided it wasn’t quite my cup of tea, and have recently returned to more creative pursuits.
Can you list some examples of projects you’ve worked on, and which companies/clients/productions you have created props or models for?
I’m currently building a 2 metre tall miniature model palace for a television series, The Elephant Princess, for Jonathon M Shiff Productions. Lots of nice little fiddly bits. At a company in Sydney, Di Emme, I worked as a sculptor on various projects, including an elephant sculpture for Taronga Zoo, and I’ve been employed as a sculptor, model-maker, prop-maker, and scenic painter on various films including Star Wars Episodes II and III, Matrix Reloaded and Revolutions, Stealth, Ned Kelly, and Ghostrider.
You’ve had a varied background – you’re a musician, you’ve been a high school teacher, as well as working on some very high profile feature films… how do you juggle these various creative roles and do they complement each other well?
Luck’s played a part, I reckon. Sometimes I think I was born with a horseshoe up my arse! There have been occasional clashes between work and music, but most of the time it seems a job finishes just as a tour, or recording or whatever is about to start. And fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on your perspective) my whole career has been casual employment, so I’m not really burning any bridges by saying ‘no’ to jobs if I’ve got something else on. Not sure how they complement each other: they’re both creative but very different. Though there is some obvious link between arty-types and muso-types, but buggered if I can tell you what it is.
How do people find you? Do you have an agent? Do you ‘market’ yourself? Do you worry about not having work?
Good question. The job I’ve got now: got NO idea how they found me. Probably should ask. Just got a phone call out of the blue last year. Most jobs I get either through having worked with the people involved on other projects, or through showing my folio. I check up on the Film Vic website occasionally, as well as Artshub and Screenhub. Don’t have an agent, though have been meaning to look into it. Don’t market myself as such: recently got a Flickr site, and listed myself on the Film Vic website. And, yes, I do sometimes worry about not having work: gotta pay the bills after all. That’s why I tried teaching, really.
Are there any particular designers, artists or creative people you look up to or are inspired by?
For sculpting the human form, Michelangelo’s still the duck’s guts. What that bloke could do with marble… At work I owe many people big-time for helping me learn the ropes: most of what I know I’ve learnt on the job. Also, love my painting: call me old fashioned but Van Gogh and Monet are the only two painters to have put a lump in my throat.
What does a typical day at work involve for you?
Generally start by planning. I’ve learnt over the years not to jump straight into a task. And deadlines are always a concern, so you want to be as time-wise and efficient as possible. If you have the luxury, you may be able to juggle boring tasks with fun ones, clean ones with dirty ones, that sort of thing, to keep it interesting. Some times it’s just ‘work’, though, and you’ve got to slog through it.
What are you most proud of professionally?
Probably a sculpture I did for an American telemovie When Good Ghouls Go Bad, of the actor Christopher Lloyd. The body’s a bit dodgy, but I think I nailed the head. Such a characteristic face, and I LOVE modelling in clay.
Where do you find inspiration?
Nature, mainly. Vast landscapes, tiny insects, love it all. I could show you the most tedious slide show of photos I’ve taken over the years, tree bark, rocks, stuff that’d bore you to tears, but I could stare at ‘em for hours.
What’s the best thing about your job?
The variety. Any given day I could be constructing in timber or metal, carving polystyrene or urethane, modelling clay or plasticine, mould-making and casting, or painting.
And the worst?
The toxins, both to myself and the planet. Just about every material I use is toxic. Hate to think what’s pumping through my system at the moment. As for all the stuff I’ve made that’s ended up as landfill, it’s quite shameful.
What would be your dream project?
A commission for an original artwork, I guess, painting or sculpture. With commercial work you’re trading some of your creative satisfaction for cash, so to be paid for doing exactly what you want would be tops.
What are you looking forward to – professionally or personally?
The band I play drums with, Even, are about to release their 5th album and commence tours of Australia and the UK. Love travelling, love playing.
Melbourne Questions –
What/where was the last great meal you ate in Melbourne?
Kake Di Hatti on Lygon St. Brunswick. Great Indian. Been my fave for over a decade.
Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?
On the front porch flicking through The Age and sippin’ coffee.
Melbourne’s best kept secret?
Hmm, don’t know many secrets. For inner-city types there’s a nice little park at the end of Flockhart St. Abbotsford, just down from the Terminus Hotel, on the Yarra. Feels a bit ‘country’.
ps) I also love Kake Di Hatti! I’m embarrassed to say I eat takeaway from there probably once a week. Highly recommended!