Tu­to­rial and in­ter­view from the dig­i­tal art in­no­va­tor

ImagineFX - - Front Page - Gar­rick Web­ster

I think Craig’s great­est strength is his hon­esty, his pur­suit of his own vi­sion, no mat­ter what the main­stream trend

Of­ten when we in­ter­view an artist, the first thing they tell us is that they were draw­ing at an early age. You al­ways imag­ine a tod­dler prodigy draw­ing The Last Sup­per in crayon, one foot off the ground in the liv­ing room cor­ner. Craig Mullins may well have been a tal­ented young­ster, but his sto­ries re­fresh­ingly dif­fer­ent.

For in­stance, it’ll give many strug­gling young artists out there a lit­tle more hope to learn that Craig Mullins – to­day one of the most lauded con­cept artists in film and video games – was nowhere near the top of his art class.

“I got a D in high school art – that’s pretty hard to do,” he ex­plains. “My dad was very up­set. He said, ‘ You can’t get good grades in maths or science, you can’t even get an A in art!’”

You’ll also be amazed that Craig’s young ca­reer wasn’t cut off in 1997 once you’ve heard his James Cameron anec­dote. Ti­tanic had just come out and Craig was wait­ing to meet with Rob Legato, who was an ef­fects su­per­vi­sor on the film. He sat read­ing a bru­tal re­view of Ti­tanic in Pre­miere.

“So I’m look­ing for­ward to see­ing Ti­tanic and I’m sit­ting there read­ing this and laugh­ing, ‘cos it’s so funny. Some­one comes into the of­fice be­hind me and asks what’s so funny and I’m like, ‘It’s so funny, this thing’s rip­ping Ti­tanic a new one.’ It was Cameron. I saw it was him and pre­tended I didn’t recog­nise him.”

We might not be talk­ing about him now if the Ti­tanic di­rec­tor had turned nasty, but Craig went on to do matte paint­ing and con­cept art for films such as The Ma­trix Rev­o­lu­tions and Fi­nal Fan­tasy: The Spir­its Within, as well as the BioShock, Halo and As­sas­sin’s Creed games.

Af­ter high school, Craig at­tended Pitzer Col­lege in Clare­mont, Cal­i­for­nia to take clas­si­cal art train­ing be­fore go­ing to the Art Cen­ter in Pasadena – one of Amer­ica’s most pres­ti­gious ap­plied art in­sti­tu­tions. There, he dis­cov­ered that re­duc­ing dis­trac­tions im­proved his art­work. Af­ter the first few semesters, his tu­tors were telling him he had no tal­ent and that he was wast­ing their time and his money. He needed to turn things around, so he shut him­self away and put in some long shifts of hard work all on his own.

“I di­gested ev­ery­thing I’d been taught to that point. There were very con­tra­dic­tory ways of draw­ing a fig­ure I couldn’t make sense of, but by work­ing on it alone with­out all the pres­sure of do­ing the class work meant I could digest those first three semesters, which are by far the most im­por­tant as they’re the ba­sis of ev­ery­thing. I came back af­ter 12 weeks and I was get­ting A-plusses in all th­ese dif­fer­ent classes I was fail­ing be­fore,” he says.

a tester for pho­tos hop

Af­ter grad­u­at­ing, he found work in Hol­ly­wood cre­at­ing con­cept art for movies in the mid-90s. He dis­cov­ered dig­i­tal tools and while work­ing with ILM be­came an early beta tester for Pho­to­shop. Orig­i­nally em­brac­ing it in or­der to work with colour bal­anc­ing, he prac­tised what he calls ‘photo bash­ing’. Us­ing pieces of pho­tos – fig­ures, back­grounds, what­ever – he’d comp to­gether con­cept pieces.

Oc­ca­sion­ally, he’d send feed­back on im­prov­ing Pho­to­shop with con­cept art in mind, but he feels the com­pany saw the area as rather low brow. Nev­er­the­less, the Scrubby Zoom func­tion in­tro­duced in CS5 was his sug­ges­tion. Hold your cur­sor over the point you want to zoom into, hold both mouse but­tons and move left to zoom in and right to zoom out. It’s dead quick if you’re us­ing a sty­lus in­stead of a mouse.

Work­ing dig­i­tally meant Craig could amend a piece faster than a painter, al­though there were plenty of lim­i­ta­tions and lots of crashes in the mid-90s. He re­alised that thanks to this new thing called the in­ter­net, he might not have to work on-site any­more. He started demon­strat­ing email to the peo­ple he worked for, but it took a while to con­vince them to get AOL ac­counts and look at his work when he sent it in. All the while, Craig grew frus­trated with driv­ing from Mal­ibu to Los An­ge­les to work with art teams.

Even­tu­ally, he took the bold steps of go­ing free­lance, and mov­ing to Hawaii. Sim­i­lar to how he elim­i­nated dis­trac­tions when he was at the Art Cen­ter, mov­ing away from the stu­dios en­abled him to get away from cre­ative group-think and de­velop more as an artist.

“Do­ing it in iso­la­tion has been use­ful be­cause I got to a place that I wouldn’t

Work­ing alone meant I could digest those first three semesters…

have had I con­tin­ued to work at ILM,” he says. “I went off and de­vel­oped on my own and the in­flu­ences on my work are es­o­teric and a lit­tle bit geeky. If I was work­ing in a place the force of the per­son­al­i­ties I was work­ing with may have im­printed them­selves too much, whereas the in­flu­ences that I ended up be­ing in­fected by were more my choice. I had the whole world to choose from – great artists and mu­si­cians from the past – as op­posed to peo­ple I’m work­ing with.”

Be­ing far away in Hawaii didn’t put pro­duc­tion de­sign­ers off work­ing with him. In fact, it added to the ku­dos. “I think that be­cause I moved to Hawaii, more em­ploy­ers were like, ‘ Wow that guy’s so good he can move to Hawaii, let’s get our­selves some of that.’”


Af­ter 15 years in Hawaii, Craig and his fam­ily went to Philadel­phia for a year be­fore mov­ing to Den­ver in July. He’s about 8,000 feet above sea level, which is a good metaphor for his ca­reer, see­ing as so many of to­day’s con­cept artists look up to him

One of his favourite projects to work on was Dar­ren Aronof­sky’s 2014 film Noah. The con­cept work he did for it is fan­tas­tic in both scale and de­tail, and he basked in the level of trust he re­ceived from the

Through his brush­strokes, Craig leaves a lot up to the viewer to imag­ine and start cre­at­ing their own story

pro­duc­tion de­signer. Craig would draw it, and the crew would build it. Be­ing an athe­ist, though, he had reser­va­tions about the film’s mes­sage. Other favourite projects, he says, were the game Age of Em­pires and the all-CGI fea­ture Fi­nal Fan­tasy.

How­ever, it’s the per­sonal work he did be­tween 2000 and 2005 that he be­lieves catches the eye of other artists. It changed his style, he says, and it un­der­lines his be­lief in cut­ting out dis­trac­tions and fo­cus­ing on be­ing bet­ter at what you do. “I was stay­ing up all night do­ing this stuff and I just had to do it. It was a com­pul­sion, even though I should’ve been work­ing on real work. I just had to go paint a pi­rate at night and it was gonna be so cool,” he says.

To­day, Craig is do­ing some­thing sim­i­lar again. The com­puter’s been put to one side and he’s draw­ing like a de­mon, fill­ing up sketch­books and think­ing about how he’ll tackle paint­ing some of them. Print­outs of dig­i­tal work just don’t have the same en­ergy as paint­ings when hung in a gallery. Teach­ing is also a new av­enue he’s ex­plor­ing, and he’s been on the cir­cuit giv­ing talks through­out 2015. Watch for an up­com­ing tu­to­rial on

What’s his next goal as an artist? “Re­lax,” says Craig. “I’ve been beat­ing my­self into dust for a long time. I don’t have many more moun­tains to climb, I hope. To a cer­tain ex­tent, would you ask the same ques­tion of a plumber? You’ve reached the vista of fix­ing pipes. I sort of look at my­self as a worker in that way. I don’t think there’s any­thing in­her­ently spe­cial about be­ing an artist. Artists who wait for in­spi­ra­tion need to just get at it.”

TOUGH IN THE COLONIE S Con­cept art by Craig for Aliens: Colo­nial Marines by Gear­box Soft­ware. BOSS DE­MON An­other promo paint­ing for the 2012 Cap­com game,

Dragon’s Dogma.

Galleon Dis­as­ter Sailors end up in the soup, as Craig paints a progress im­age for Age of Em­pires 3. A time to kill Craig has helped give the As­sas­sins Creed fran­chise its unique look and feel.

Iro­quo is party Some­thing’s about to hap­pen in this tension-filled art­work from Craig. Ca­daver Here’s an ex­am­ple of Craig’s per­sonal work. ou t shop­ping Con­cept art Craig did for In­cin­er­a­tor Stu­dios, on an un­pub­lished game.

Fine bal­ance Art­work for a lim­ited edi­tion print for As­sas­sin’s Creed 2. into the grid Back­ground art­work for the Dis­ney TV version of TRON.

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