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Interview with CG artist Matthew Burke

By 3dtotal staff

Web: http://www.mburke.cghub.com/ (will open in new window)

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Date Added: 22nd January 2014

From factory work in Iowa to Terminator and Doom 4 in Texas, Matt takes us through some of the key moments of his life and career so far.

3dtotal: Can you tell us a little about your background and how you came to be where you are now?

Matthew: I was inspired to work in the computer games industry through a delicious combination of boredom and desperation.

I grew up in a small town in northern Iowa, in a time before video games became popular. We only had 2, sometimes 3, channels on our color television, and so I found myself desperate for entertainment. I found drawing and creating artwork to be an inexpensive way to avoid boredom, and once I grew old enough to leave Iowa, I saw it as a potential way to escape a professional career in either agriculture or factory work.

After a few years of alternately traveling and working menial jobs (ironically in factory work), I managed to find a little stability in Texas and enrolled in the Art Institute of Dallas. After graduation I luckily managed to get a job at a small, local game company. They took a chance on a skinny Iowan artist and the rest is history.


3dtotal: Did you go into the games industry because it was a local opportunity or was this something that specifically interested you at the time?

Matthew: The idea of working in the gaming industry had always been my long term goal. But as a poor graduate supporting himself through bar-tending and waiting tables, any career involving art would have been more than welcome.

3dtotal: You have worked on some prominent titles in the past but which ones proved to be the most challenging and why?

Regardless of studio or team, there are always many challenges faced when working on a game. For me, the first game title I ever worked on has been the most difficult to date.

"With each additional approved concept came more confidence, and with more confidence came a willingness to stretch myself artistically"

As the first and only concept artist on Terminator: the Dawn of Fate, I struggled to find a respective place in the studio. I wasn't a very versatile artist at the time and I worked slowly, using mostly pen and paper. I rarely used thumb-nailing and I struggled at mechanical design, which was in high demand with the Terminator license.

After several months of failed attempts, I finally managed to find some success and with that, started losing that shroud of insecurity. With each additional approved concept came more confidence, and with more confidence came a willingness to stretch myself artistically.

I think failure should be a pre-requisite for success.


3dtotal: Are you confident enough now to take on any challenge/subject or do you ever face projects that you feel place you outside your comfort zone?

Matthew: I wish I could honestly portray myself as someone who is capable of conquering any challenge, undaunted to the end, but I still suffer the perpetual doubt in almost every image I produce. To overcome this I rely on a small collection of friends who will give me honest feedback and critique before I turn in a completed piece. Once they have reassured me that it's good, I can breathe again and move on to the next task, then start the process all over again.

3dtotal: Can you see yourself ever applying your artistic skills within another industry or do you think that the games industry is your niche?

Matthew: Even after all this time working in the gaming industry, I am not oblivious to how lucky I am to get to do what I do. Driving to work in the morning I remind myself to look at the dread on the faces of people going to 'real jobs' and so never take what I have for granted.

"While being a concept artist is a fantastic job; it is still a job. Having personal projects and interests on the side is a great way to maintain my passion"

However, there are times that I imagine what it would be like to work in film. Who wouldn't want to see their vision come to life on a movie theater screen?!

3dtotal: With regards to your Roach and Pest Control vehicles, did you get free reign to both design and model them?

Matthew: Yes! Both of those are personal works that allowed me to explore outside of the usual constraints of studio production requirements. It's liberating to take a concept as far as you would like without worrying about deadlines or design requirements. Most importantly, it allows me to traverse worlds outside of the project I am currently working on.

The Roach design is the first part in a series of mechs I'm designing, and the Pest Control Vehicle was a re-imagining of an interplanetary pest control service idea that Allan Ditzig, a good friend of mine, had several years ago.

While being a concept artist is a fantastic job; it is still a job. Having personal projects and interests on the side is a great way to maintain my passion. It's a good reminder why I fell in love with art in the first place.



3dtotal: Do you favor a genre over any others and are there any areas you would like to explore more?

Matthew: Obviously, I love the tech; partly because it is such a delicate dance between reaching for the unimaginable and yet staying grounded and functional. I would happily spend the rest of my professional career working in this genre, but from time to time I get the itch to explore creature or character design, and maybe even try something whimsical and cartoony for a change of pace. Without a doubt though, I will always have a special place in my heart for sci-fi.

3dtotal: As someone who has been in the industry for twelve years, what would you say have been the most significant developments over the years with respect to the games industry?

Matthew: Personally, I think the single most important development is the recent popularity of Kickstarter crowd funding. With Kickstarter, small teams of truly inspired people can potentially bring some refreshing new ideas to light and make some incredible games that are outside of the mainstream.

"It is not uncommon for me to take dozens of screen grabs of a game while I'm playing for inspection at a later time"

3dtotal: Do you ever see yourself using Kickstarter to launch a personal project?

Matthew: Absolutely!

3dtotal: What types of game have impressed you the most over the years with respect to design?

Matthew: I think the best way to honestly answer this is to list the games that I have faked an illness to stay home and play. These include: Shadow of the Colossus, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Red Dead Redemption, Knights of the Old Republic, Unreal Tournament, Fallout 3, Quake lll: Arena, Batman: Arkham City and of course, World of Warcraft. At this point I would need to convince my boss I have contracted the Ebola virus!


3dtotal: As someone who obviously likes games, do you take inspiration from these with regard to your own work or are they simply a form of entertainment?

Matthew: Of course! It is not uncommon for me to take dozens of screen grabs of a game while I'm playing for inspection at a later time. Seeing another artist's world building or composition helps me approach a task from a different perspective or may inspire me to try something less conventional.

Related Links

Click here to visit Matthew's website
Find out more about Terminator: The Dawn of Fate here
Matthew also worked on Halo Wars, which you can find out about here
To see more by Matthew Burke, check out Digital Art Masters: Volume 8
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