3DTotal:Could you describe your path into the realm of the freelance artist and tell us a little about what really established your position in this field? Mike: Well, after college my first instinct was to look for a full-time job with a major entertainment studio, whether it was in the film industry or video game industry. I was finishing my senior year and wasn’t quite sure where to start. So after college I figured I would have to either get a part-time job working at some local food store, or try to freelance with my own art. I’m not one to work a 9 till 5 job, or work for minimum wage, so I pushed as hard as I could to get some kind of freelance gig and to continue improving my personal work on the side. It was hard not having a website at the time, spending a lot of time on forums trying to get the word out there, promoting my work, getting my name known and meeting other artists. I think what helped get me known mostly was finding a couple of outsourcing companies that took me on as an artist that they regularly sent work to. This helped keep a steady work flow coming in and the opportunity to work on some larger projects. I
was already getting a good handle on dealing
with contracts, negotiations and establishing relationships with clients. A freelance artist really needs to spend just as much time promoting their work as they do actually working on art. You need to continue to post on forums, update your website, continue to learn and improve, spend time on personal art and paid work, contact open freelance positions and get to know other artists who work for companies that outsource work. The promotion end of a freelance artist and dealing with contracts and negotiations is a job unto itself.
3DTotal:What do you feel are the advantages and disadvantages of being freelance? Mike: Freelancing definitely has its advantages. On the plus side, you are your own boss so you set your own rates, you agree to the type of contract terms you want to agree to, you set your own schedule and don’t need to ask for time off. You can accept or decline whatever kind of work interests you and you get to work with a large range of clients. On the negative side, you have to pay more in taxes and do your own tax and paper work contracts, and negotiations. You need to spend a lot of time promoting your work, making sure you keep a steady work flow and managing a fruitful schedule so that you don’t kill yourself trying to meet 5 jobs with the same deadline. The other down side is that there are times when work is scarce and your constantly competing with hundreds of other artists who are all interested in the same job and want to offer lower rates than you. So I would say that it’s an equal balance between advantages and disadvantages. I personally like the freedom that a freelance position allows, which is why it appeals to me for the mean time.
3DTotal: You appear to have a large number of creatures in your portfolio. Are they a particular
favourite among the subject matter you choose to illustrate? Mike: Creatures are definitely a favourite subject matter of mine. As a kid, my first love of art was always about the concept of creature design, with the main attraction coming from movies such as
‘Labyrinth’, ‘Jurassic Park’, ‘Legend’, ‘Willow’ and ‘Star Wars’, plus a handful of other sci-fi
and fantasy films. I felt like, if I could grow-up and get paid to create creatures for a living,
then that was what I would do.
3DTotal:What are some of your favourite creature designs that you have come across, whether in film or book form? Mike: I have a large list but I’ll try and keep it to the top few designs which really spark my interest. Some of the creature designs date back to my childhood, as well as the new cutting-edge digital effects being done today. I would have to say ‘Predator’ is one, especially the scene where you first get a chance to see his face, when all the weapons are dropped and it’s a one-on-one battle in the jungle. ‘Star Wars’ definitely has a few of my favourites, like the ‘Rancor’ which was an awesome sight as a child. The ‘Tauntaun’ was also a childhood favourite, which is the two-legged mountable snow beast used by the rebel force on the planet Hoth. I’m just going to list a bunch of others, starting with the creature from the movie ‘The Relic’, the Balrog from ‘Lord in the Rings’, the little creature called “Fuzzball” in
‘Captain Eo’, ‘Aliens’ face huggers and the adult ‘Alien’ designs, the Fell Beast in
‘Lord of the Rings’, the Scorpio-Pede in Peter Jackson’s ‘King Kong’, and the
Gryphons from ‘The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe’.
3DTotal: Your resume details a variety of different jobs, from games companies to CD cover art. Which have been your favourite commissions and why? Mike: Some of my favourite types of jobs I’ve worked on recently are those that involve environment and creature design for isometric style strategy games for the computer. The reason is that, because strategy games are much more involved and probably sell more than most other types of games, I was able to watch the designs go from concept to model to animation, and provide a little advice on the CG designs and animated movements. I have been getting more interested in illustration work as well, trying to push towards some magazine and book covers because it pays better, and getting work printed that will be seen on shelves is always very rewarding.