3DTotal:Do you play any computer games at all and, if so, which are the ones you like above all else? Mike: I don’t get a chance to play too many games but I try to find the time considering it’s kind of imperative to concept design. To know what modellers are capable of you need to play up-to-date games. Most recently I’ve been playing ‘The Battle for Middle Earth’ which I think has great environment and camp designs, and creature animations like the Oliphaunts, Trolls, Fell Beast and Balrog work is great. I still enjoy classics too, such as ‘Starcraft’, ‘Warcraft’ and ‘Diablo’. Strategy games involving fantasy themes appeal to me the most when it comes to PC gaming. I try not to get too caught up in that though because those sort of games can really eat away at your time and that’s not good for a freelance artist when time is money.
3DTotal:Do you usually start your digital works on paper and sketch out the designs first? Mike: I will almost always sketch my designs out in pencil first and scan that in before I begin painting digitally. I feel it’s nice to have a hard copy of the sketch and, even though I’m comfortable working digitally in the sketch phase, I just prefer using pencil. The only time I’ll work digitally 100% is when creating orthos or work where I know a lot of changes will need to be made to the initial concept.
3DTotal:What type of references and subjects, if any, help inform your work and inspire your creative process? Mike: As an artist, I just observe the world around me, wherever I go. I know that probably sounds cliché but it really is something I constantly do. I might just be sitting in a car, or walking, and I will observe how light is affecting structures, or how smoke is bellowing out of factory stacks and the way the sky’s colour changes throughout the day. I do keep on hand a book of animals because, being especially fond of creature design, I like to go with a more naturalistic approach with my concepts. Studying animal and human anatomy is a must for any artist. When I work in the initial sketch phase I do not use any references in order to try and maintain as much of my own style and design style as possible, before resorting to photo references. If I really feel like I lack the knowledge or information to understand a subject, such as industrial design, I will find a bunch of online photos or images in magazines to help, but I try not to let that take control of the concept nor make me a slave to the reference.
3DTotal:You mention the importance of studying human anatomy. Do you practice much life drawing at all, or do you rely mainly on your knowledge and references when you are drawing characters? Mike: I don’t have access to life drawing classes, which are very important, so I try to shoot as many reference photos of friends, family and myself when no one else is available. If that doesn’t work, I’ll find the best reference possible online and use a combination of custom photo reference and the online photos. Other than using reference for a particular design, I study anatomy with the use of books and online websites.
3DTotal:Which artists do you admire and why? Mike: I admire artists that are capable of change. When I say that, I mean an artist who can, at the flick of their wrist, change their style to meet the demands of any job or subject matter. There are a few artists out there who can imitate styles with ease, create creature and character designs, matte paintings, CG models, storyboards, cover illustrations, texture work, and fine art. Those are the kind of artists I admire. A couple of artists who really inspire me as far as style and career are concerned, are Ryan Church and Erik Tiemens, Jon Foster, Aleksi Briclot, Keith Parkinson, Michael Whelan, Tony Diterlizzi, Jeff Easley, Brom, and Craig Mullins. A lot of those traditional painters influenced my work as a kid, and some of them have influenced me more recently in my career concerning digital painting.
3DTotal:On the topic of traditional art, how did you find the switch from traditional painting/drawing techniques to working digitally, and what do you see as the main pitfalls of the digital medium by comparison? Mike: My first experiences with digital painting were back when I didn’t have a Wacom tablet, so it wasn’t quite as smooth as it is now, but I got by OK. Of course now, with the pressure sensitivity and brush control options that Photoshop CS offers, and Painter, it’s a whole new story. It’s much easier to control colours digitally, than it is using traditional mediums, because of the amount of freedom and multiple layer abilities. Some down-falls of the digital medium come into play when working at larger scales, since you can’t look at the entire image at its full scale without zooming out. It’s also not as easy to produce a natural paint effect using digital programs unless you put a lot of effort into using custom brushes, textures and/or space consuming programs, like Painter. Painter works great for producing a traditional effect, but it really eats away at my computer when working at the 300 resolution scale.
3DTotal:Are there any specific types of projects you would like to contribute towards in the future? Mike: My main goal when I was younger, which is still my main goal now, was to work for a major film studio. I want to work for companies that have a great interest in creating the unimaginable, the strange, the eerie, the adventurous and unique stories and worlds. I would love the opportunity to work closely on film projects designing creatures and environments and watching them come to life on the big screen. I enjoy game design but, ever since I was a kid, film design has been my main goal.