Tony Diterlizzi, Keith Parkinson, Ryan Church, Erik Tiemens, Doug ChiangWeb: www.mikecorriero.com
Mike Corriero has something to say about fantasy: “It doesn’t need to always be your generic castle with a dragon and knight fighting each other.” The thing about fantasy, he believes, is that you can go anywhere and do anything, so let your imagination run wild: “You could have a modern-day scene where a character possesses supernatural powers and wages war against an elite squad of alien guards,” proposes Mike.
Mike’s work is all about light and colour: “A wider colour range helps to make each picture more distinct,” he says. His imagination is kept fluid with a varied palette: “I just don’t want to get stuck in a pattern of colour schemes.” Or dragon and knight themes.
But colour is nothing without discipline, so: “I work at high resolution and pay close attention to detail.” When you get this right, the result is the most illusive of artistic qualities: realistic gravity. “That solidity, it comes from a strong depiction of lighting and volume,” says Mike, bringing us full circle.
Mike grew up on a diet of fantasy and SF movies, but unlike his contemporaries, he wasn’t holding on to a bag of crisps while he watched. “There was always a sketchbook and some pencils in front of me.” Mike was waiting for the spark of inspiration.
After watching a film classic such as Willow or Legend, there was no time to be wasted, “I started to think about interesting ideas and fantastic environments, creating my own stories and characters.” Those movies provided a creative catalyst: “They really caught my attention and got my imagination pumping.”
And while Bowie was getting busy in the Labyrinth, video games were starting to crest the creative horizon. Mike recalls finding the work of game artists incredibly inspiring, not least because, “these people had such awesome jobs, being able to draw creatures and characters for a living and having fun doing it.” An ambition was born.
Last minute conversion
Mike started out with traditional media and stuck with them till the very last: “Digital art wasn’t something that came to my attention until very late,” he admits. Though there had been the odd Photoshop class at college, “there was nothing that really touched upon the advanced technology I’m using today.”
Wacom tipped the scales: “Once I got a graphics tablet I started to realise what was possible.” It was a steep learning curve, but, “Now 90 per cent of my work is created with digital programs and tools.”
And having left the computer out of it until after he graduated, this side of Mike’s skill set is home-grown: “I sat at home most nights sketching and learning, improving and studying on my own.” But, he cautions young artists, don’t forget to live: “You need to learn and grow as an individual as well as an artist otherwise you’ll probably fall into the generic crowd of artists.”
While Mike continues to develop his own look, he keeps an eye on the competition: “I appreciate work that is sometimes smooth and loose,” he says. “But I prefer to work somewhere in-between, where elements of the image are rendered in high detail and other areas are left more rough.”
He’s thinking about the viewer: “It provides an easier image for the viewer to read, allowing their eyes to settle on the more important parts of the painting.” Not only is this effective scene management, it’s also a production-efficient approach, allowing Mike to focus his efforts on creatures, characters and concepts.
But what keeps Mike’s images so fresh is the diversity of his inspiration: “Animals provide a lot of inspiration when it comes to creatures,” he says, “but so does architecture.” He’s also willing to look beyond the horizon: “Some of my work is inspired by ethnic cultures and their architecture, clothing and lifestyles.”
Although Mike describes his basic technique as rather simple, it’s still pretty involved: “I usually start off with either a pencil or digital sketch, then lay down a flat base colour on a multiply layer.” This keeps the reference in view and also gets away from the dreaded blank page.
Next up, “I start to block in the colour scheme working underneath the sketch until I’m satisfied with how the lighting and colour are laid out.” Once the foundations are laid, “I lower the opacity and begin to work on top of the sketch and base colour, rendering details and brush strokes.”
So much for the theory – how’s it working out in practice? “At the moment I’m working on two video game titles,” Mike reveals. One’s a secret, “but the other one is a strategy RPG based in a strange fantasy setting complete with crazy creatures and loads of weapons.” Sounds interesting!
Mike worked on 13 original creature designs, “producing rough sketches during the design phase and then orthographic views for the CG modeller to use.” No rest for the wicked, though: “I also created all ten isometric environments and the four bosses.” That Wacom must be burning hot.
For the time being Mike is happy being a freelance artist, “I enjoy making connections with other artists and producing work for a number of clients.” However, he’s keeping one ear to the ground for something with a bit of meat on it: “I would definitely like to work for a major film studio some day.”