The art director and matte painter on his biggest projects, and introducing 3D into the mix
The art director talks matte painting and his career
At age 18 and intent on working in the visual effects industry, Maxx Burman scoured the Los Angeles phone directory for relevant studios hoping one might offer him work in his area of interest; matte painting.
“I rang every studio in the phone book offering to work for free,” he recalls. “the very last one, Zoic studios, gave me an internship, so that’s how i got my first job.” It would turn out to be an enlightening choice for Burman, since master matte painter syd dutton was at the studio and passed on to the younger artist many of the finer points of this important visual effects technique.
Burman would go on to become a freelancer at numerous VFX studios such as digital domain, MPC, sony Pictures imageworks, Psyop, Blur, the Mill, stargate digital and elastic. He also started his own studio, skyward, moving into art direction and visual effects supervision.
Many of Burman’s projects over the years have involved 2d concepts and design, but more recently he has seen the need to adopt 3d for a hybrid approach. “i hit this point a couple of years ago where i realised that if you didn’t use 3d you were going to get left behind, and that matte painting was really going the way of being more of a 3d generalist than anything else. so i’ve had to adopt a lot of different 3d software in order to keep up with what’s being asked of matte painting these days.”
Burman’s go-to 3d tools are Maya and Keyshot. He says he also works in Cinema 4d, Zbrush, 3d-coat, Vue and speedtree in generating CG geometry that will become part of a concept or a final matte painting.
One stand-out project for Burman is the opening titles for netflix’s The Crown, for which he was the art director for elastic’s Patrick Clair (he worked in a similar role on HBO’S titles for Westworld). The Crown’s title design involved macro views of a crown being formed, complete with diamonds and gems. “For the design of it,” says Burman, “we had a 3d modeller go to town on trying to get as accurate as possible to the [real] crown. And then i started dropping in cameras and rendering these views out to see how we could take a real object and turn it into beautiful abstract designs by playing with the shape and colour.”
Although his role as a freelancer enables him to contribute to a broad range of projects, Burman believes it has been important to also pursue personal projects when possible. He has a videogame being released on nintendo switch next year, and he’s been developing an art show of personal projects called Disconnect.
“I’ve been using a lot of 3d for Disconnect,” says Burman. “it’s been a great project to play with new tools. i’ve taught myself Keyshot while working on this and been playing with 3d-coat a bunch, too, then completing the more complex builds in Maya.”
He adds; “doing these personal paintings has also helped me reconnect with what i enjoy doing and reminded me why i love painting. It’s a great way to help me start to find my own style and my own voice.”
I hit this point a couple of years ago where i realised that if you didn’t use 3d you were going to get left behind
Maxx Burman, Freelance art director and matte painter
01 This environment for Her was designed to be a near-future Los Angeles, just to hint at the technological themes in the film
04 Concept frame for the opening titles to Westworld, which explored the translucencies of skin and tissue
03 At Digital Domain, Burman was involved on the matte paintings for Iron Man 3’s ‘barrel of monkeys’ sequence
06 Disconnect is a project that Burman has used more and more 3D tools on in order to generate geometry
05 A painting taken from Burman’s personal series called Disconnect, which explores themes of a dead Earth
02 Burman worked with Elastic to help design the jewel-encrusted opening titles for The Crown