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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

3dtotal: When we judge site gallery submissions, we are regularly faced by scenes which are poorly composited and look very inconsistent. Can you tell us a little about how you avoid this issue and how you create believable lighting etc?

Mike: When you're compositing it's very easy to get lost in colors. I try to make everything black and white when I'm adding all the elements into a shot. This way it's easier to check the values between your foreground and background elements. Typically, elements in the foreground will have higher contrast levels than elements in the background, which in return will bring correct depth levels to your image.

For lighting I try to stay as realistic and simple as possible. If it's an exterior shot in the day, sometimes a simple direct light for sun and HDRI will do. In some cases we get projects where we don't use GI, and you have to create the bounce light effect with several lights, but I think if you keep a practical light setup you'll achieve realistic results in most cases.

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Courtesy of Blur Studio |WB Games

I also think that most of the time you'd get much better results when you light an object from an angle rather than placing a light directly behind your camera view. It will give your object and/or image shape and depth. That's always better than a flat image. Also, always look up lots of reference images!

Composition plays a huge role in images as well. Without great composition the eye tends to get lost in the image and it's hard for the back-story to come across. There are many books on composition but one of my favorites is 3Framed Ink: Drawing and Composition For Visual Storytellers.

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Courtesy of Blur Studio | Isomniac Games|Electronic Arts

3dtotal: Working at a big studio must be very satisfying, but also time consuming. What do you like to do to let your hair down in your free time? Do you feel that your free time activities ever influence the way you approach lighting a scene or modeling an environment?

Mike: Yes, working at Blur is very time consuming, but also so much fun! It's awesome to see your images appear during a football game or around the town.

In my free time I like to watch a lot of movies, practice a bit on programs I want to use in the future, and take a trip or 2.

I think, in general, in being a CG artist everything has an influence on the way you approach every task. There's never a time where I'm not looking at the ground and thinking about the irregularities in the concrete, or at a building with ornate shapes, or at mountains that fade into the sky with greater distance.

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Courtesy of Blur Studio | Isomniac Games|Electronic Arts

3dtotal: How much freedom do you have when working on a still for a trailer? Can you make design decisions when working on the lighting, or do you have to closely stick to references and concepts?

Mike: Usually we have to follow what the concept art provides, as far as mood and color is concerned, though there are rare occasions when you can bend the rules just a bit. In the end, it's always up to the client.

3dtotal: Finally, if you could work on any kind of project, whether it be feature film, cinematic or game, what would you choose and why?

Mike: I want to do everything! As long as I'm growing as an artist I really wouldn't mind what I'm working on. Once I feel I'm not learning anymore, that's when I'll have to move on and try something new.

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Courtesy of Blur Studio | Isomniac Games|Electronic Arts

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Courtesy of Blur Studio | Isomniac Games|Electronic Arts

3dtotal: Thanks for your time Mike. We look forward to seeing the next epic cinematic!


Mike: Thank you guys! I appreciate the opportunity and you guys reaching out to me. Take care!

Related links

2 books that Mike recommends are the 3ds Max Bible and Framed Ink: Drawing and Composition For Visual Storytellers.
Check out Mike Johnson's website for his latest work, including cinematic work on Elder Scrolls!

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Readers Comments (Newest on Top)
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(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.
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(ID: 251860, pid: 0) MauricioPC on Thu, 13 February 2014 1:22pm
Wow ... great interview. Great work Mike.
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