• ‘Hostile Takeover’

    CG Networks Artist Profile:: Stephan Martiniere
    Profile of Stephan Martiniere

    22nd February 2005, Paul Hellard

    Stephan Martiniere is an internationally renowned science fiction and fantasy artist. He is the recipient of numerous awards including silver and a gold “Spectrum” Award, two Master awards and an Excellence “Expose” Award. In his varied career, Martiniere has worked in animation, video games, theme parks and book covers. He is also an accomplished concept artist who has worked on movies such as ‘I Robot', ‘Star Wars' (episodes Two & Three), ‘Virus', ‘Red Planet', ‘Sphere', and ‘The Time Machine'.

    Stephan Martiniere is currently the visual design director for Midway games in Chicago. Midway is the company primarily responsible for games like Mortal Kombat. Stephan describes this as an unexpected situation that turned out to be the right one at the time. “I spoke with my wife about the possibility of working for another company', explains Stephan. “We made a decision that it had to be the right job in the right location. Midway came totally out of nowhere, I wasn't considering Chicago and it turns out to be a fabulous city."

    Above: 'O' Above: 'Blast off':
    Clockwise: 'Para 2', 'Building Arlequin',
    'Red Planet, Nematode 2: Face'
    “As the visual design director, I'm responsible for the artistic look and feel of Midway's upcoming games. It's very much like being a production designer in a movie and also being a director when dealing with the storyboards and cinematics”, says Stephan. “I also work very closely with a team of talented artists. In fact, having a visual design director at Midway was a new idea for the company. After producing ‘Psy-Ops', Midway was gearing up for the next generation platform, which consequently meant higher graphics and quality. Midway decided to follow suit on what some companies were already doing, hiring high-end people from the movie industry. Midway was determined to have a strong art team and somebody with a solid lead and artistic experience driving the visual. They decided, to Stephan's credit, that they needed to hire people with experience not just in games but other fields like movies and animation. “Midway was more interested in my background as a conceptual designer and a director in animation and the fact that I had experience and many different fields in the entertainment industry”, explains Stephan. “It was a very interesting proposition because I was looking for exactly that – a company that would be looking at something beyond the fact that you can hold a pencil. I was really pleased to hear Midway talking the same language.”

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    About 20 years earlier, Stephan started his career in Japan, working with DIC, the French company that was making ‘Inspector Gadget' at the time. They were outsourcing animation to Japan and they hired him very fresh, as a character and background designer, with still a year to complete in art school. “What started as a one month proposition turned out to be seven years!” exclaims Martiniere. “After ‘Inspector Gadget', I was travelling back and forth between Asia, America and Europe.”

    As a young French man, Stephan admits to being completely unprepared in the Asian culture. “I had never left France, and being sent right away to Japan, I really had a misconception about what this place was all about.” Trying to finance his studies, Martiniere had no hesitation in travelling for work. “The culture was a complete slap in the face, but in a good sense”, admits Martiniere. “My vision of Japan was of bamboos and geishas and the old-looking traditional Japanese look, but without a warning I was thrown into downtown Tokyo in the Blade Runner universe. I had no idea this existed.”


    Stephan worked on ‘Gadget' for DIC for six months, and then they sent him to the States to work on ‘Heathcliff'. In fact, for seven years, he was sent on DIC work, between LA, Tokyo and Paris. While growing up in France, Stephan was already very familiar with the superhero art and comic artists like Jack Kirby, Bernie Wrightson and Will Eisner. The American influence on his drawings was strong. But Manga didn't exist in France and the US yet, and he had never seen anything like it. At age 19, Stephan Martiniere was thrown right in. “[Manga] really had an impact on my style and the way I visualize things”, explains Martiniere, “especially the way mechanical things and robots were portrayed. I find the Japanese extremely technical but also very professional. It was very interesting to see the differences in the way people approach work.”

    Wham Wresters (left & right) | Zap (middle)
    Wham Wresters: Sally (left) | Wild Card (right)


    After spending eight years in animation and moving to California, Martiniere found himself directing various animated TV shows for DIC. Most of the time these jobs were an exercise in problem solving and communications, with very little creative joy built-in at the end of every mission. “One day I was handed a kid's show called ‘Madeline'”, Martiniere adds. “It's funny because the only reason this show ended up in my hands was because I'm French and the show is about a little French girl who lives in Paris. This turned out to be very lucky. Because of the small size of my team I ended up wearing the art director's hat as well as designing characters, background and props. It was extremely enjoyable. The show became a tremendous success and won numerous awards. After that, I knew that I would never have a chance like that again. I decided that it was the right time to move on.”

    Back to learning

    Martiniere had a strong urge to go back to design, and, right on cue, Landmark Entertainment hired him as a concept designer and illustrator to work on two theme parks in Japan. The job was demanding and Martiniere was able to refine his skills as a concept designer. After two enjoyable years Martiniere went back to animation for a little while and directed five more 'Madeline' animated specials. During that period Stephan started to establish some contacts with the film industry. Then ‘Star Trek: The Experience' happened.

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    ‘Star Trek: The Experience' was a motion ride film. Martiniere' was doing the concept sketches and Craig Mullins was doing the paintings on Martiniere's concept sketches. Craig must have been one of the first few using Photoshop as a painting tool in the entertainment industry. “When I was shown what Craig was painting from my concepts, my jaw was on the floor. The results were immediately impressive. I knew this was what I was looking for". Martiniere dived into digital painting with no hesitation. At the time, he didn't know anything about computers or Photoshop. “I had just spent $10,000 on computer equipment and I didn't know how to turn it on.” With Craig Mullins' help over several months he learned very quickly. “Photoshop created a major shift in my career,” says Stephan. He met more and more people in different creative fields, and now with Photoshop under his belt, a wider variety of freelance job offers came his way. Luc Besson's ‘Fifth Element' was the first major film Martiniere worked on. Although his part on the project was minimal, it was the beginning of a very fruitful career in the film industry. As Martiniere continued to consolidate his reputation in theme parks and animation he also established himself as an illustrator and concept designer in the film industry working on such movies as ‘Dragon Heart 2', ‘Red Planet', ‘Virus', ‘The Time Machine', ‘Star Wars' (Ep 2 and 3) and lastly ‘I, Robot'.

    Book covers

    Book covers were something that Stephan Martiniere wanted to do for many years, but never met the right contact to offer him the work. “Once it happens, you do one, two and before you know it, ten”, he says. Why does he enjoy it so much? “As an artist, book covers offer individual recognition. Coming from a background in movies and animation where everything is part of a huge machine, you have no idea where your work goes and how it's being used. It's rare when you can see it all on the screen. It's also important to be able to show people what you do. It validates your art and yourself as an artist. Book covers are exciting because what I do is what will be on the cover. People see it a few months after I've finishing it. There's a lot of satisfaction in that. In the process, there's an enormous amount of freedom and creativity. I love it! Out of everything I do these days, it is the one thing I love doing most. I know that whatever it is, I'm going to enjoy doing it. It's also an avenue that as an artist, I'm always exploring and learning new things.”

    Book Cover: 'Shadow' Book Cover: 'Polyhedron'
    Book Cover: 'Hostile Takeover' Book Cover: 'Angel City 2'


    Stephan Martiniere's style is eclectic. He is able to set his mind to do ‘cartoony' work, then science fiction and other styles fairly much on call. Martiniere feels this is due to his ability to wear different hats in projects. “I always like the creative aspect of things that have never been done before. It's what drives me. The idea of devising completely new worlds, and new ways to draw elements, is extremely rich and rewarding. Especially when it comes to sci-fi and fantasy; it's all about dreaming worlds. That is my background and it transfers into my art. It's definitely a mix of American, Japanese and European. They are all combined together in a melting pot.” The move to digital was completely intuitive for Martiniere. A lot of his industry friends were reluctant to move to digital because they have solid techniques as traditional painters. But for him, it was very easy because, as he says, he had nothing to lose. He had never developed a style as a traditional painter. By the simple nature of doing concept design all these years, Martiniere found himself using pens and markers and stopping there. He never moved into professional color work, so he never developed a personal style as a traditional painter.

    Photoshop techniques

    Over the last couple of years, Martiniere has started to explore different techniques in Photoshop. A process he calls a scratching technique is outlined in his latest book, Quantum Dreams. It is a technique based on erasing or subtracting, as opposed to adding paint. This technique of erasing reveals layers under as opposed to adding on top of it. “Erasing a piece of paint with an eraser in Photoshop creates a very aggressive line and precise shape” says Martiniere. “It's like cutting a piece of paper. It's very direct, graphic and spontaneous, almost impressionistic, reminiscent of John Berkey. That discovery took me full circle. My experiments with Photoshop have somehow taken me to a place where I found the satisfaction of a unique self-expression in digital painting.”

    Related links:
    Stephan Martiniere's web site

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