David Pride, of D&S Design Pty Ltd, has an artistic flair for working with wood and metal. But, this talented local has also been described as a ‘problem solver and innovator’ – and when you read about his work in the film industry, you’ll see why …
What originally brought you to Port Macquarie?
My brother and I bought a property at Bellangry in 1991, to have a retreat from Sydney.
Where did your interest in art begin?
My dad was good at drawing, making gadgets and inventing things, so that was a big influence. The first ‘sculpture’ was probably a piece of driftwood that we found in the Ohio River when I was about 8 years old.
I scraped at that thing for weeks.
Then came the usual model cars and bicycles, of which all were heavily modified. We also had a fantastic junk pile at my grandfather’s farm in Kentucky (where I was born) that was a source of amusement. Thankfully, there were no video games then to distract me.
What art mediums do you mostly work with these days – and why these particular mediums?
I work mainly in wood, because it’s a very tactile medium. I did my time as a welder when I left school, so metal is also a favourite because of its strength and permanency. After welding and various factory jobs, I started in the film industry as a model maker, and this opened a whole new world of opportunities as far as materials and techniques. We have also used high explosives to ‘form’ stainless steel into sculptural shapes.
How did you make the transition to working with special effects in films?
I got into that industry purely by accident. I was asked by a friend who had a small animation company to assist with some mold making for one evening, and it was infinitely more interesting than working on a building site. I have worked in film ever since.
What is involved with working both as a design engineer or special effects on a film set?
It can be quite involved, but basically I would translate the art director’s ideas into tangible objects or rigs and devices to accomplish those visions. I should add that it is not always possible to bring all of the grandiose visions to fruition, because of sheer scale or cost restraints. That’s when compromise and common sense prevail.
You’ve worked on many films – including Superman Returns, The Matrix and Kangaroo Jack. What film job sticks in your memory most – and why?
The Matrix movies, because of the concept and the people who were involved it the project. These were projects where I couldn’t wait to get to work, because it was so interesting every day … the designs, the scale of events, and the crew and actors were great to work with. My wife said I was ‘designing rigs’ in my sleep during that job.
What’s the most recent film project you’ve been involved with …
Over the past year, I’ve designed parts of the stereo (3D) cameras that will be used to shoot the new Mad Max film. The cameras were assembled in my brother’s workshop in Botany in Sydney. I have also been involved in the design of training devices for the military and federal police. I can do most of this from home, as it is designed, virtually tested, and assembled on the computer.
Doing the work on computer allows me to live in Port Macquarie instead of Sydney. I only have to travel to check final assembly etc.
What are some of the major changes you’ve seen in the special effects industry over the years?
The major change, of course, is the computer. We had designed and built what was probably the 4th or 5th motion control camera in the world at that time (1979), and it has been a big part of my job since. Those pioneering times were the most interesting of my career, because everything was new and exciting. We quickly became known and respected as ‘problem solvers and innovators’. I am no longer a director, but my brother still runs that company in Sydney.
Among the other flow on changes that occurred are the demise of practical effects, such as some model builder’s jobs, special film techniques and mass crowd scenes – all of which are ‘generated’ by computer.
We couldn’t have done films like Lord of the Rings in 1980 or the Transformer films. You might have made an attempt, but it would have been futile to get the quality possible with today’s technology.
What gives you the most personal satisfaction – working away in your studio, painting and sculpting, or working with a team to help create a movie (or are they both processes you find equally enjoyable, but for different reasons?)
Both, and as you said, for different reasons. I haven’t worked on a film for a while, as there are very few being made. Films are adrenaline … wood sculpture is Zen.
What’s next in the pipeline for you professionally? Are there any artistic and/or film projects on the agenda for the next few months?
I have some camera parts to design and possible Navy helicopter-trainer. I have a series of wood sculptures I want to build using the large computer controlled cnc router I built last year. That will be exciting, as it involves compound shapes that link together at very close tolerances. It would be impossible to do this with traditional methods.
I might add that working with this loud, aggressive machine is not at all Zen-like!
Where can people view your artworks?
Anyone interested can email me at
Interview by Jo Atkins.