Michael Kutsche
Berlin’s reputation as a centre for creativity continues to grow. Studio space is cheap, galleries and exhibitions are showing new work all the time, the music scene is thriving, and some districts boast incredible street art. Micheal Kutsche is one of the residents who’s not only finding constant inspiration in the city, but is also gaining a reputation as one of the best digital painters in Europe.

Going through Michael’s portfolio, one of the most striking things is the variety of work he creates. From robots and toys to caricatures and highly detailed character work, he never conforms to one style or subject matter. Yet he always creates images of stunning quality.

“Maybe if I had a certain comic style I would just search my mind and say, ‘You put this form and this form and this form together,’” Michael says. “But my approach is to take an hour and get inspired by some pictures on the internet, and from my books, or maybe go to a museum or an exhibition. When I feel inspired, I just go. Every task, no matter if it’s a task from a client or from myself, is a problem and each problem has a solution. It’s not approaching it from the same direction stylistically; it’s more like evolution.”

Race for the prize

One of Michael’s latest personal pieces is The Boxer, a skilfully rendered image of 
a man with a human face and body, but the ears of a pig. The surreal idea of combining something human with something animal was a concept Michael wanted to explore, while at the same time the attention to detail and realism in the image gives the character a great deal of believability. He imagined the pigman as a character in an animation, interacting with real humans.

“Most of the time I use a pencil and a brush pen,” Michael says. “It’s like working with ink and Japanese calligraphy. It has a cool flow with it and it’s good for sketching. You can make big black areas quickly. That was the first step, then I took it over to Corel Painter for 95 per cent of the job, and the last five per cent in Photoshop.”

Michael can’t always let his creativity 
run wild. He does a lot of illustration work with big clients in the advertising and computer games industries. Lately, he’s been doing some promotional artwork for The Creative Assembly, a British games developer for Sega.

It all started when the company needed imagery for the game Medieval II. They’d intended to use a 3D artist, but the three-week turnaround would have meant missing their print deadline.

Michael stepped in with his far faster digital painting skills and has since done artwork for Empire: Total War and Viking: Battle for Asgard.
The games industry gigs with Creative Assembly have led to work in another area in which Michael excels – concept art. “After posting this stuff on CGTalk, a company from Seoul, South Korea, contacted me,” he explains. “They were doing a first-person shooter with the 
Unreal engine. It was pretty cool because they saw this cover artwork stuff and they said, ‘Hey, we need some concept art.’ I’m doing some stuff for them but I’m not able to post it right now. Production will take another year or so.”

Michael’s approach when it comes to character design is firstly to find inspiration. He likes to get a feeling for 
the world he’s creating the characters for, often looking at movies and comics. He finds the work of video director Chris Cunningham particularly inspiring. Michael’s aim is not necessarily to make good-looking images, but to define and describe the character. The concept art needs to be the basis of the connection between the character and the audience.

High concept

At the moment, Michael’s working on concepts for a movie. Details are under wraps, but he’s been able to share his approach with us. “The movie project I’m working on right now is pretty cool because it’s a very surreal world,” he says. “You could go and make anything you want, but you have to do something that the audience connects to. If everything is fantasy and it’s not believable then I think it’s not going to connect with the emotions of the audience. You have to think about the world the characters live in and the story of their lives. What do they do all day, how do they feel?”

Computer game box art and concept art are both areas where Michael has to work from a brief. All his skills are called on, 
but not always all his creativity. Yet occasionally a job comes along where he has the chance to work almost as if he were doing a personal project. One fascinating example is a cover he did for the French art magazine, La Mer Gelée (see page 55). A friend asked him to create an image based on the theme of loss.

“The first thing that came to mind was long arms that wanted to grab something and not lose it,” he says. “It wasn’t like a job. There are some approaches that I would call more artistic.

“The professional way of working is 
more of a logical kind of thing. The artistic is more like you close your eyes and you have this connection to the subconscious. That’s where the best artwork comes from because you don’t have to restrict yourself, you just have a word, one theme in your mind or a feeling, or you listen to a song that you like.”