• We interview digital matte painter Seung Ho Henrik Holmberg
    I recently had the opportunity to speak with Seung Ho Henrik Holmberg, an exceptionally talented digital matte painter who hails from Sweden but has been in London recently with various matte painting gigs for Framestore CFC and The Mill.

    About Seung Ho Henrik Holmberg
    I was born in Seoul, South Korea 1980. When I was 13 months, I was adopted to Sweden by my lovely parents. I owe them so much, and they raised me to be open, understanding and humble.

    Drawing has been something important to me through life for as long as I can remember. My grandma used to tell me how I forced her to draw cars and other technical stuff. Every time she tells my about it, she starts smiling and it makes me blush. The town I lived in is called "Mönsterås," a very small and quiet town in southern Sweden. Water and woods have always been a big part of my life as I grew up, and I think it'll always be my biggest source of inspiration.

    Tito A. Belgrave: What's your typical work day like?

    Henrik Holmberg: A typical work day would include a short brief on what's going to be done. First I'd check with my supervisor to get the latest information from clients, make sure the 3D people are providing me with the correct 3D geometry if it's needed, as well as a dialogue with the compositors to see that everything's done correct. Second, it's taking all this information, and making your own working schedule for the matte painting. Third, paint away.

    If I do my matte work properly without any major errors, hopefully they let me leave early. Still waiting for that day.

    It's really about teamwork, where you're doing your part of the production "machine". I don't mind this, don't feel limited in any way, even though you're being supervised and working with clients. I think it's because of the nature of our work. TV work can be very fast paced, and I enjoy it. You're not spending weeks and weeks on one shot. It's different from working on feature film where everything is much more controlled.

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  • Tito A. Belgrave: At what age did you find digital matte painting to be your calling? And what opportunities has it brought you?

    Henrik Holmberg: When I was younger,3D and animation was my call. Most of my time was spent on improving my skills; learning new tools and techniques with quite modest hardware and software. I was 18 when I seriously got into digital painting, and this was the turning point. What made me choose matte painting over animation, was the fact that I simply lost interest in it, due to a couple of things; When I attended to some 3D classes at school, the computers were very old, and especially the rendering process took ages. We were working on SGI Indy's at that time, (god bless them) so we were very limited. I think what ultimately chose to go for painting, was that most people I met during school were more into drawing than anything else. We shared ideas, pushing each other to get better and learn new things. I wanted to struggle with the artistic aspect of 3D, not the technical side of it. The years spent on slow machines made it difficult to keep up with the good artists in this field, so the choice on doing painting instead was an easy one.

    Working in this field can be very rewarding. Ever since I started doing this, what pushes you to put in the long hours is the same feeling one get like after a hard workout. There's nothing that beats seeing your work finished, and hopefully appreciated. During my time in this business, I've had the opportunity to meet a lot of good people. Everyone working in this industry has to be a bit eccentric, but that's what making it so fun.

    Tito A. Belgrave: Can you elaborate on what methods were used to paint the mountain base?

    Henrik Holmberg: My way of creating this image, is as simple as it gets. I didn't use any other methods other than the good old paintbrush.

    What I had in mind when painting this, was to create a full matte shot with the image projected onto geometry, snow, flashing lights on the landing platform, camera movement, music etc. I did create the shot and it looks pretty cool.

    The approach was very straight forward painting, no fancy tricks like filters, masks or layers. The process is; laying down big areas of masses, a play with light and shadow. This first step is important to keep loose and playful, as you're going into detail, you don't want to make major changes to the composition. If you nail the concept, values and composition of your layout, you're almost done, 15 minutes after you started. The rest of the time is just adding detail, making it look interesting and realistic. You're not improving your initial layout by adding detail, so that's why you should spend a few extra minutes on your rough until you're satisfied with it, this can save you hours and some negative energy. (Spend the saved "positive" energy on something more important than painting).

    Tito A. Belgrave: At an amazing age of only 22, how do you feel in regards to your accomplishments? Do you think you've reached your best?

    Henrik Holmberg: Yeah, it'd be difficult to improve from here. ...haha...nooo... When you start thinking thoughts like that, you're limiting yourself. Improving equals learning, and as long as you enjoy it, you'll learn.

    I learn from everyone and everything. Sometimes I see a lot of digital painters starting out, and they're struggling with composition, perspective, lines, masses, texture etc...and you realize you've gone through that process as well. Still am.

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  • Tito A. Belgrave: Please elaborate on some of the work you've done for "Pyramid"?

    Henrik Holmberg: Pyramid was a very interesting project. Not only did I learn more about the actual work, but also the pyramid building process.

    Ideas were floating around in the office during the project, so we felt like we're rebuilding the pyramid in modern day. The work I did for pyramid was matte painting, as well as prints for a book based on the TV film. Among some of our issues, keeping it realistic, yet interesting was a challenge. The pyramid shape is a difficult one to work with, especially since it's huge and contains very little texture. When the pyramids were finished, the workers would polish it, making all four sides perfectly flat. Imagine the pyramid in the desert, white and perfect in shape, it's tough. I think we managed to make it look ok. My favorite shots are the ones with seamless CGI and and live action footage all composited together nicely, especially some of the crowd shots. It's nearly impossible to tell who's real and who's CG.

    Tito A. Belgrave: Sometimes I have a difficult time differentiating between real world and CG in your artwork, when do you decide to use real world photos as opposed to digitally created ones?

    Henrik Holmberg: When I do my own personal artwork, it's all about myself and what I enjoy creating. Most of the time it's only digital paint and no photos.

    For production, things become a bit more complicated. If you can get nice clean plates, it's good to work with it. If the plates are blurry, grainy or washed out, it can be a nightmare. Over the time, I've developed an effective way of working. I'm sure this changes as technology changes, but it works for me today.

    The basic idea is to paint as little as possible, (for cost effectiveness), but still be able to achieve the matte you want. If you're not careful, cutting and pasting might end up randomly.

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  • Tito A. Belgrave: Where do you aspire to be in the future?

    Henrik Holmberg: Ever since I started, working at a big studio was a dream. But things change. The work you do is the same everywhere, so it's more about what kind of person you want to be, rather than where and what kind of work you want to do. Life's in constant change, so are your ideas. If I had the same thoughts in 20 years as I have today, I'd be in trouble. I like to be accessible, stay freelancing, traveling where the work is. I really have no idea where I'll end up. I think I'll enjoy life, take one day at a time, and see where it takes me. I don't have a plan...yet.

    Tito A. Belgrave: What software and hardware do you currently use?

    Henrik Holmberg: For the Pyramid project, I used Adobe Photoshop 7, Athlon 1700, 1GB RAM, 40 GB HDD, Wacom Intous 2 and a nice 21 inch monitor. The main concern is the 1 GB of RAM. While it's a fair amount, it can still be slow when working on big images with many layers. For personal work, I've been using a laptop lately. It's not ideal, but it's ok.

    Tito A. Belgrave: What do you find most challenging when you're creating a matte painting?

    Henrik Holmberg: It's definitely balancing accessibility (easy to use) and workflow (speed). It might sound weird, but it's simple. I get frustrated if the workflow isn't fast enough, and to make it fast, you have to cut down on a lot of things, i.e. limit the use of original plates, masks, adjustment layers, etc. If you want do major changes to a matte painting when you thought it was near completion, you have to rip your matte apart and start reorganizing your work flow. Not only is this time consuming, but it might affect the quality of the result. So in the end, you wish that you had kept the matte open and accessible over workflow.

    Tito A. Belgrave: Have you ever considered merging your artistic skills with 3D? Or have you found 2D art to be more fulfilling?

    Henrik Holmberg: When it comes to a person and he's got to make a decision of what's needed for a shot, he'd like to think of it as either 2D or 3D. So for production, I'd like to be narrow in my skill, however, I see a trend that most matte painters start to work in 3D as well, I've been thinking about doing this also, to be versatile and more available for work. Personally I do find 2D more fulfilling than full 3D.

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  • Tito A. Belgrave: Your art portrays that you have an incredible eye for detail in regards to photo-realism, where do you draw your references from?

    Henrik Holmberg: I am fascinated by nature and technology. Maybe this is visible in some of the paintings. What I try to portray is the integration of technology into nature as we know it. References come from all the places I've been to, the feelings that remind me of what I am. Most people rush through their lives without seeing. I'm trying to create my own worlds, recreating my own dreams, even my past. Perhaps a little philosophical, but there's a lot to the pictures and I hope it shows.

    Tito A. Belgrave: Thank you very much Seung Ho Henrik Holmberg for taking the time out to answer some of our questions, it was a pleasure.

    Henrik Holmberg: Thank you, and keep your eyes open for my work on the big screens!

    From the Director of Community Development, Tito "Lildragon" Belgrave
    I hope you enjoyed this feature interview with Henrik Holmberg. Do make sure to stop by his website for some truly inspirational CG artwork!
    - Lildragon -

    Discuss the art of Seung Ho Henrik Holmberg on CG Talk - Digital Effects Professionals >>

    Seung Ho Henrik Holmberg website

    Images :Seung Ho Henrik Holmberg
    Interview & Words: Tito A. Belgrave

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