How did you get introduced into the digital world?
I had a strange way into the film industry... After my studies I worked
2 years in the advertising industry. The strongly concept-oriented work
is still a relic that I have kept from that time. After these 2 years
working on dairy products, I asked myself one evening: How have the
last two years been for you, Sven? Did you have fun?
From that moment on, everything happened very quickly. I got out of the
advertising industry and met Igor Posavec, who was developing the
computer game "Perry Rhodan" at that time. This was my first step into
the entertainment industry. At the beginning, the decision of
integrating matte paintings into this game had been just a stopgap to
save game-performance. Due to the large-scale paintings, there were not
many 3D-elements to be integrated into the scene, which strongly
influenced the loading time and the game-flow. After the initial tests,
it turned out how effective the integration of digital paintings
actually was. At this point we decided to mainly use this technique for
the implement of that game.
Today, digital paintings are a permanent
feature of the video game industry. But at that time, however, it was
quite unusual to see such a level of detail in a simple computer game.
Over 60 digital paintings came up in 7 months. The velocity in which
the paintings had to be prepared was good practice to me, for the later
What is the best part about your job?
I do this job because I have to do it. It’s an inner urge, which sends me constantly on the lookout for new designs and motifs. That is a blessing, of course, but just as often a torment. I am hardly able to switch off the pictures that fly through my head; even in the most inopportune moments. I'm my own merciless slave-driver. Again and again I discover a fascinating color mood, an exceptional design etc. Therefore I have got into the habit to bring new ideas as scribbles immediately on paper, so that they run no longer in my mind. Of course, this is a little sick - but I got used to it. I have higher feelings in my job when I’m able to solve a difficult visual problem or when I find an analogy, when I am able to fill a gap in a painting. This is like searching for a particular jigsaw - the last piece that is missing in the picture.
Suddenly, the puzzle piece is in front of me and I only think "wow". That's it.
Where do you gain ideas for your art pieces?
I have a very analytical way to approach to the development of a painting. This might seem strange but it has proved to be a constructive solution as yet... It seems not to have anything in common with creative freethinker, but it has a huge potential to develop coherent ideas. The first process of development consists of an intensive investigation. We try to find out which ideas are based on the script. In which time does the scenario take place? What feelings should be mediated when the viewer sees the finished scene? Here, many psychological factors play a role. What color is, for example, "fear"?
We dismantle the content of an image surgically and then we reassemble it piece by piece. These processes all run theoretically: At this point we still haven’t made a single stroke. Each single item is written separately. Something that I put in writing on paper, is something that I can paint later. I have a guiding principle therefore: I write to see what I think! This first point according to this principle is important to us to make sure that we not lose ourselves in the infinite possibilities of developing a painting. So we become even clear about what we really want to see...
Parallel to this process, we create a library of investigation materials. Only now we start with the first styleframe-charts and concept arts. We try variations to experiment with light; we question the content of the recognizable elements.
What makes a great piece of digital art?
I have noticed that today I focus more and more on guided view and readability of a painting and I put those things in the foreground of my work. How quickly it is comprehensible? Does it transport the emotions to support the shot? Does the painting manage our thinking? To achieve this, I now reduce the elements of the paintings increasingly. I am developing myself going backwards, so to say ;)
A few light and shadow accents often have a more powerful effect than complex accumulations of details... Fewer elements attract more attention. The paintings receive a similar selective perception, like how I move myself through my environment. It is often surprising how few elements are needed to tell a story... The targeted reduction is my personal contest, to which I submit every painting.
Who would you say influences your work? What era most fascinates you?
I am still an avid lover of romance. Casper David Friedrich. A lot of the art of that time would also be able to strike in today’s movies. James Turner masters it almost perfectly creating scenes that make the awesome forces of nature look tiny little. He is a master at playing with proportions. Curiously, I've never seen an original image of Turner. That’s one point that I absolutely have to catch up.
What is your favorite movie?
I have a favorite film in each genre. However, if we are talking about digital paintings, so I have to say that the last Star Trek film had a lasting influence on me. Many of the matte paintings you see there drive the degree of reduction almost to the extreme. Straight-line shadows in the background give the impression of a mighty city - although there is only a large, geometric shape to see... beautiful work - very effective.
Please describe one of your recent projects - the inspiration behind it, any discoveries, struggles along the way:
For “Passenger”, we had the task to develop the look-design of the film, to create a visual translation of the script. Visual development includes a number of things: The development of color-codes, however, was a decisive point. How do you represent "solitude"? Which light does transport this feeling?
This question becomes quickly very complex. Loneliness is not merely the "absence" of certain things... For example, we wanted to show an abandoned city, without using typical motifs that had already been seen in lots of movies before. The developers of the film "I am legend" have found a very clever solution to this problem: they did not destroy the high-rise buildings of Manhattan by weather and time, but wrapped them in oversized contamination tarps.
These packed houses impress with a frightening effect. And not without any reason: we all have followed this visual language a few weeks after 9/11 in the media. To protect the surrounding buildings of Ground Zero from dust, they have also been packed into huge tarpaulins. Subconsciously we may link the fictitious "Ground Zero" of the film “I am legend" with our feelings of the real past of 9/11.
Exactly this is the strategy behind visual development: the creation of specifically directed emotions using visual stimuli...
But back to the paintings of “Passenger”: We were looking for a similar analogy which would focus the point “solitude”. By definition, loneliness is the absence of certain things and its reaction to his surroundings. With this help, we came to "spider webs", which can only arise when a place was untouched for a long time... So we searched for items that could carry urban spider webs into the paintings. The cable-construct between the houses was the most succinct solution to this design problem. This example easily explains the strategy behind the painting: the cables are not simple elements of design; they rather pursue a specifically applied purpose with their effect: the reinforcement of the feeling "solitude".
The preparation, the phase of research, is as important as the actual work of the painting to me. Normally it takes a lot of time as well. A job which is not properly prepared will most probably go wrong. There's a quote that fits very well: "If you do not know where you are going to, every wind is the wrong one." Good preparation gives me the security not to restart from the halfway. Of course, this also has economic advantages: I like to go through the results of my research with the producers or directors. During these conversations I get a better picture of their vision of the film...
Where do you as an artist often draw inspiration from?
Once a week I take half a day to go into a bookstore or a bibliotheca. There I can usually spend hours. I avoid looking for something specific. That wouldn’t work anyway: it’s like the purchase of suitable footwear - when you absolutely need some, you won’t find any....
Mostly I drift disoriented through the aisles. Any binding will then catch my curiosity. It surprises me again and again how well this random principle works.
What are your favorite mediums to work with?
The basic paintings are created with Photoshop. Only in the phase when
a moving picture is formed from the motionless image, we use further
software. We create camera projections with 3D-max. For smaller
animations we use After Effects. We do the compositing of all elements
finally with Nuke. This list of programs and steps show well how
complex it can be to give rise to one final shot. The 2D matte painting
is only a very small part of the whole work process. Up to 20 people
have been working on productions like “Volcano” for one single image.
Can you share with us your personal vision about a project or art work that you are doing?
My goal is to load little stories into the shots. Small details that have a past, rather than being purely decorative elements. I think that exactly these elements do a good job. Peter Jackson devotes much attention to these details in his films: The decorations of the swords in "The Lord of the Rings", the shop signs of the New York streets in King Kong. All these elements make the scenery convince us - we take it as a substitute reality.
Most of the elements that appear in my paintings haven’t been created by coincidence. A conifer forest looks more like a dead landscape as the branches of deciduous trees do.