Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Thumbnails: Stephan Martiniere

Thumbnails: 30 Second Interviews

With the release of Stephan Martiniere's second art book, QuantumScapes, I've decided to bug him with a bunch of questions. As you can see, he kinda ignored the "30 second" concept -- all the more fun for us!
I am constantly amazed at how expansive his worlds are, they never seem confined to the 5x8 book cover -- truly, windows into another world. Readers here might only know Stephan for his covers but you'll do yourself a favor if you spend some time looking at his character studies, background environments, and other concept art.

Favorite painting you did in the past year?

I would say Betrayal in Winter [seen on top left] and Variable Star. I wanted to explore something more painterly for
Betrayl in Winter and explore more of the impressionistic/suggestive touches for Variable Star. There is actually a break down process in my new art book , Quantumscapes, that shows how I was playing with the suggestive ad graphic approach.

Dream assignment?

I am a jack of all trades. I like illustration as much as concept. I also like cartoon as much as realistic and I enjoy being a director or production designer as well as I enjoy being an illustrator. A dream assignment in animation would be to direct a 3D feature or short. I love the story aspect and storyboarding of a project. As a production designer or concept illustrator I would love to be involved in a kick ass sci-fi or fantasy feature film. Not just creating a few pieces but dreaming up an entire world and look. It's what I am currently doing at Midway Games for "Stranglehold". It's very creative visually but it's a game, although the graphics are getting better with the new console it still has visual limitations. It's also not a sci-fi or a fantasy project where I can be the most creative. As an illustrator I still think regularly about comic book. But the kind I'd love to do might take me a long long time...

Do you remember the first time you knew you wanted to be an artist?

Very young, that's for sure. I can't remember exactly when but I grew up in France where comic books are everywhere. I was constantly bombarded with every style imaginable, from France but also from many other countries. I knew early on that I wanted to be a comic book artist but I never thought this could lead me to film, animation or book cover.

Do you have to like the book to be excited about the project?

Not really. I always like a great story but a great story doesn't necessarily mean it has great visual ideas and vice versa.

What painting do you wish you painted?

It's a long list. Everything from Leyendecker, Cornwell, Mucha, Ferris, Bouguereau, Latour, Manet, the list goes on. This is when I get really humbled. There are so many great painters and illustrators that have inspired me and still do on a daily bases. One day I am in awe, the next day I am pumped, eventually I break all my pencils in frustration and think about trashing my computer. I am joking of course, a little. All this great art from so many masters certainly keeps me on my toes.

First break in the business?

Funny you ask. In book covers, you my dear. [Aw, shucks.]
In animation which eventually launched my career, "Inspector Gadget"

Most embarrassing illustration related moment?

I was about 20 years old, still a rookie in the business, naive and full of confidence. I was working on the development for an animated project called "Captain Crunch" from the cereal. I had designed a very whimsical dirigible for the character and I was very proud of the result. I was asked to bring that drawing to a presentation the president of our company was going to make to our producers, directors and marketing staff. As we all sat around the conference table, the president went into a very animated and passionate sales pitch, he then grabbed the drawing of the dirigible, looked at it and says "This is very cool, Stephan, why don't you explain the idea to the team" he then held it in front of the team to see. He had been looking at the drawing upside down and didn't seem to realize it. I felt embarrassed and somehow I didn't feel that embarrassing the president as well would get me points. I thought my best option would be to go along and convinced the audience that an upside down dirigible was a very cool idea indeed. I am forever grateful that nobody pointed out the obvious.

A career highlight?

Several highlights actually. One of them was directing the five animated specials "Madeline" The first show specially. Until that show I had been directing cartoons for a few years. Most of the time the series I worked on had very limited budget and where exercises in compromises and politics. It was always difficult to achieve quality. "Madeline" was a small project. It had a very small team and the budget was decent. I had the pleasure to wear many hats on that project. I created the look, designed the characters and environments, participated in the story, art directed as well as directed and even lent my voice to some of the characters. It was really the first time I was able to realize a vision and direct without all the battles and the politics associated with bigger project. The show ended up a success and received numerous awards. Directing "Madeline" was also decisive in my career. It forced me to reevaluate myself as an artist. In this business it is seldom that one is given this kind of opportunity to work on something really meaningful and rewarding. It was likely that my next animated project would end up being another political battle with mediocre results. I decided to shift gears and go back to design. I went to work for a theme park company as a concept artist. It's always amazing to realize how small things sometimes can have a huge impact in your life.

Another highlight was working with Bernie Wrightson. I am a huge fan. Bernie was one of my first influences. We worked together on the 3D animated feature "Gulliver's Travels" in Canada. Although we didn't work very long together I kept some fond memories of that time. The project was eventually cancelled.

A more recent highlight was receiving the Exposé
Grand Master Award. What is particularly rewarding is to sit next to two great artists and friends who received the Grand Master Award before me. Craig Mullins who has been very influential in my digital career and with whom I worked with on the 3D motion ride "Star Trek, the Experience" in Las Vegas and Ryan Church with whom I had the great pleasure to work with on the last two "Star Wars".

What are you working on now?
I am currently the Creative Visual Director at Midway Games in Chicago working primarily on the company's fist Next-Gen game "Stranglehold" the project is the game sequel to "Hard-Boiled" the cult movie directed by John Woo. My role is very comprehensive. I was hired to create a look for the game and shepherd that vision through the production pipeline. It's a little bit like being a director and production designer at the same time. Aside from doing concepts I also supervise a team of artists and work very closely with various leads. I also do storyboards and work closely with the cinematic team. This game is being made using a new technology. Its frustrating at times but also very challenging.

Your biggest influences?
Bernie Wrightson, John Buscema, Chris Foss, Moebius, Otto Wagner.


Unknown said...

that guy is outstanding!

elmlish said...

Very nice work!

By the way, I'd like to thank you for running this blog. I find your posts informative for the mind as well as the eyes.

I'd love to hear more about the actual job of being an art director from your perspective. What's your day like? How do you handle developing concepts and guiding artists to the best solutions? What sorts of process do you utilize? Tell us all about the awesomeness that is you. :)

Again, thanks for a great blog.

Irene Gallo said...


Funny you should say -- I had meant to do that this past season but the time just ran away from me. We just started our next Sales cycle so I am hoping to be better about that in the upcoming months.

Thanks for the kudos!


Anonymous said...

I second elmlish - I'd love to hear about "a day in the life" :)

How do you get a job like yours? It just sounds like the best job, seriously...