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Interview with Blur Studio's Mike Johnson

By 3dtotal staff

Web: http://michaelljohnson.blogspot.co.uk/ (will open in new window)

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Date Added: 13th February 2014

In a Flash! we talk to Blur Studio's Mike Johnson about life as a scene assembler for big-name cinematics.


3dtotal: Hi Mike. Thanks for taking the time to chat to us. Can you tell us a little about yourself and how you found your way into the CG industry?

Mike: My name is Michael Johnson and I was born and raised in NYC. Since I was young, I've always drawn portraits, still life, cartoons, and comic-style art.

After graduating art and design high school in Manhattan, I moved to California and that's when a friend of mine introduced me to Illustrator and Photoshop. From there I taught myself those programs and started playing with vector art and After Effects for motion graphics.

It wasn't until I saw a video game cinematic that I began to think 'Now that's something I want to try!' From there, I looked into 3ds Max and started reading books and watching online tutorials. Instantly, I was hooked and began having fun making environments and products to trick my friends into thinking they really existed.

Courtesy of Blur Studio | WB Games

3dtotal: Wow, so you taught yourself the 3D side of things? That is really impressive. Where do you start when trying to learn 3ds Max and other 3D software by yourself?

Mike: I started teaching myself 3ds Max by purchasing the huge 3ds Max Bible book, and looking up tutorials for anything specific that I wanted to learn. If I wanted to learn how to animate something, model an object, particles, or destroy things into pieces, I'd just look it up in the book or on YouTube. I also used sites like 3dtotal; there are so many helpful tutorials on this site.

Courtesy of Blur Studio | WB Games

3dtotal: If I understand correctly you currently work for Blur, creating environments and working on lighting and compositing for scenes from their cinematic trailers. Can you tell us a little about how the trailers are made and what your involvement is in the process?

Mike: Initially there is a script that comes from one of the directors at Blur, and once that's approved it goes on to storyboards. From storyboards, we start to get concepts of the environments, characters, props and so on. Once we have all those elements we can start building layout environments so the animation department can get started.

When the layout is approved the environment modeler comes in and starts really filling out those layout environments with actual elements that will be in the final look and feel. At Blur, my job title is Scene Assembler, which consists of modeling and lighting the environments, bringing the characters into the scene and lighting them so they integrate well, and then finally compositing all of that with the FX department's work.

Courtesy of Blur Studio | Fox Sports

3dtotal: That sounds really interesting. It sounds like you are involved in most of the stages of the creation of the trailers. Do you ever find it restricting when there are different assets and characters coming from different people, or does the process tend to run smoothly?

Mike: Most scene assemblers are involved a lot – that's what makes our job so fun though! Rather than just being a lighting artist or a modeler, you get to switch it up for each project. The process usually runs smoothly. Sometimes there are technical issues but that goes for everything.

Courtesy of Blur Studio | Y&R | Pepperidge Farms

3dtotal: We regularly plug Blur's work on the front page of our site, and everyone is always blown away by the outstanding work you guys create. Can you tell us a little about how both yourself and Blur studio maintain such a high standard of work?

Mike: Thanks! Really I think the way we maintain the level of work we do is just by having fun with it and each other! At Blur it's all open to walk around and talk to your friends and ask questions if you don't know how to approach something and I think that plays a huge role in developing skills as an artist.

In my first year there, I learned more than probably 5 years of self-teaching. Also, everyone has no set hours so there's really no clamp on your creativity; you can come and leave as you please (but of course get your stuff done!)

Courtesy of Blur Studio | Y&R | Pepperidge Farms

3dtotal: How interesting. I would presume that you all worked set hours. Do you work on multiple projects or is the whole team working on the same project at the same time?

Mike: Don't get me wrong you have to at least put in 8 hours a day, but usually if you know what you have to do and you don't have meetings earlier in the day, you can come in at a decent hour without swollen eyes! And if you're the type that likes to work late with no one in the studio, you can do that as well. The studio is never closed to the artist.

There are always multiple projects going on at a time. If the majority of the team is on one project it's probably on a really large scale! That's also what I love about this job, because you never know what style of project you're going to be on. But I think it's great to get to work on diverse projects because you learn a lot.

Courtesy of Blur Studio | Y&R | Pepperidge Farms

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Readers Comments (Newest on Top)
(ID: 252414, pid: 0) Luis Espinal on Sat, 15 February 2014 4:45am
Very inspiring. Nice interview. All the answers were grounded and not wanting to sound like a hotshot. Shaping up to be a great role model for future artists. Keep it up.
(ID: 251860, pid: 0) MauricioPC on Thu, 13 February 2014 1:22pm
Wow ... great interview. Great work Mike.
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