You remember that distant period of the video game, where our imagination played a vital role to vibrate before the screen where mere mortals saw only a pixel boils? Sometimes the magic was operating well before pressing Start: a sumptuous illustration on the box could even convince us to buy a game that we had not seen or read Winterbauer ... Michael is one of those sellers of dreams. Might & Magic to Wing Commander through Wolfchild or Solstice, he created a large number of artworks cults in the early 90s and recently brought together his work in a book. Today, the "Art Junkie" confides in Retro-Playing ...
RP: First things first. In the 80s, you have first completed several film posters and VHS covers. Why did you go from film to the video game?
After graduating from my art school in 1985, I asked: "how to live as an illustrator?". I spent hours studying the printed material, thinking about how to use my style. At this time in Los Angeles and around the illustration was used mainly for film posters big budget, the Mexican film and series B movies. As a young graduate, I was so excited that my work was published internationally, because many of these films were exported abroad. The Brain, Lone Runner, Fatal Sky ... It was unbelievable at the time to go into a video store and see my illustrations in stores or on posters. Then I saw the emergence of a different kind with the covers of new video games. I immediately knew that it was the logical step to gain credibility and visibility because they were intended for a wide audience worldwide. These covers had no limit on the creative level and thus the work was very rewarding. At that time, there was not a design team behind us to do the job, I was the only one hired to bring to life the creative vision to produce the artwork.
Picture desciption of Wing Commander below:
Design the cover of Wind Commander Super Nintendo (1992), from A to Z. Logo included!
RP: The heroic fantasy and science fiction seems to be your favorite genres. Where do these inspirations come from?
The fantasy and science fiction genre naturally pioneered a path in my work. This was before video games on the PC became popular. Growing up, I became an avid reader of science fiction works like 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne, Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton and Eon by Great Bear. I also loved the film classics of the genre at the time as The Thing, Alien, Conan the Barbarian, Star Wars, Star Trek, Raiders of the Lost Ark and many other equally inspiring for my work. I was always very impatient to see the poster that would accompany each of these films ... I was often going to the bookshop to buy - as much as my arms could carry - books by artists like Frank Frazetta Boris Vallejo, Jim Burns, Sanjulian and Burne Hogarth. They too have influenced my art. I lived and breathed science fiction and I loved it. I cared less to eat than what would be my next painting! Even when I woke up, I was already imagining how I could transcribe my dreams on a canvas ...
RP: You gave meaning to the phrase "do it yourself" by using yourself as the model for most of your characters; can you tell us a bit about this approach?
Through my artistic side, I became in fact my own model for my characters in video games. I often would call my best friend so he could take my picture in return for a beer and a pizza. I quickly realized that the views and the poses were very important to the basis of the paintings so I started to swim and lift weights. Going to the gym and being fit was essential for realistic posing.
RP: To deliver an order, what information was preparing you for the game in question? What looked like a briefing?
With the first computer and the first pocket games, it was like discovering the new world. There were very few rules and plenty of room for the imagination so I could exercise my artistic talents and hope it may please my customers and they agree to publish me. These were the days when I had carte blanche to produce my covers and posters. Most of the time, they showed me a little the game in question. I had to go draw deep in my imagination to design artwork that would urge consumers to buy the game. It all depended on me and my success to create a cover that is attractive while correctly reflecting the spirit of the game. After debriefing and after seeing some screenshots I made drawings of drafts to present to my clients. At that time, they chose a direction to follow and I was doing everything to stay in line with their decision.
RP: Technically, what part of artwork do you love the most work? Conversely, what is your "pet peeve"?
I like the beginning of the process. It's very exciting to have all the materials ready to start this drawing and see it come to life under your brush strokes. Each working session, there are more and more details, finishing until it is finished for good. That's what I like, I always say that I try to breathe life into my paintings. With luck, when the design was ready, I was hired to then work on artworks. I have always found the character design was a big challenge. One can have a beautiful background, if they are not well designed, all does not follow. I always tried to draw strong and convincing characters for my illustrations; if I have a solid drawing, I can paint without problems. In my work, I use a lot of pictures or drawings as a reference to create my characters. I always liked photoshoots because some were rather comical situations. For example, I created costumes or scenes with clothes and toys I bought for the occasion; I sometimes wear a blanket that served as a cloak armed with a water pistol! The possibilities were endless in terms of what I could dig up for the best paint for the game.
Picture description of posing below:
Yes, you can wield a sword in boots and bathing suit in his backyard with the conviction of a knight fighting to the death in a torrent of flames!
RP: In the mid-90s, you had to adapt your skills in the digital age. How did you experience the transition from the traditional to the digital with the arrival of software like Photoshop?
Around 1993, I was recognized as a good illustrator. My work was seen around the world in magazines, games covers, film posters and VHS covers. At that time, Photoshop and Power Animator was being and used to create 3D digital artwork. It was very disturbing to tell me that my drawings which were handmade were to be replaced by such software! Everything has taken on another dimension as it was much easier to handle these software rather than being gifted in the art of painting! In 95, it was clear that these software were here to stay and it became increasingly hard to be properly paid for a traditional illustration work. So I joined the "Digital Revolution", bought my first desktop computer and I started learn to use Photoshop, Illustrator, and Power Animator. I literally had to start my career as an illustrator over and completely transformed my traditional skills with new tools in the digital age. It was laborious at first but as with everything else, I got into it thoroughly. It was so exciting and addictive to create virtual 3D worlds and characters with my own hands and make creatures living on my computer! I was motivated by the desire to be part of this new guard. Studios grew like a weeds in LA and they were desperate for talented young artists with a past traditional illustraton skills but could create their work on the computer with the new software. And I confess that it was a real personal achievement to have this versatility. It was such an opportunity from creator of the cover illustraton to the making of the game itself! So I accommodated very well to this new situation: it was necessary to continue to be an illustrator with these tools of the future!
Picture description of Power Blade below:
1. Nova, armed with supersonic boomerang able to destroy the toughest armored robots. 2.Michael Winterbauer, armed with a metal T rule.
FOCUS ON ... POWER BLADE (NES) The resemblance to Arnold Sdhwarzenegger yet seemed obvious (including his lawyers), but no, once again, Michael was his own model, evidence supporting! Hats off to the artist, who also remains a huge fan of the American star.
RP: It took several decades for players and collectors put a name on your work. Have you felt the frustration of being left an "artist of the shadows" during all these years?
For years, it was frustrating to my see my work become well known and highly visible without anyone knowing who is behind all this work. I was the unknown artist lost in the digital age. Years later, the idea came to me to write a book and put it my portfolio with all my works retro and gather all my work, a compilation of the work of a lifetime in the heart of this new age multimedia and gaming. With the popularity of retro-gaming in 2014, I have published my first eBook: Classic Game Covers: Confessions of an Art Junkie using the new self-production means on the Internet; I was then able to share my story and distribute the book free. The publication then allowed me to really measure the extent of my work as an illustrator. I was fortunate to have retained most of my original artworks and I started to sell them to collectors worldwide. I was "Art Junkie" delighted to have retained my work for future collectors. My book was very popular in many countries and this helped bring to light my story and that of many artists remained unknown during this time.
Picture description of Might and Magic map below.
FOCUS ON ... MIGHT & MAGIC The Land of Xeen card remains one of the favorite projects - and one of the most ambitious - Michael. In 1992, he spent hundreds of hours to design every character, every detail and carefully embed the various zones together in the idea to leave a lasting impression to the fans for years to come! Version 2014 offered a new challenge to its creator: maximum respect for the original work and that, in the same proportions!
RP: Your latest and most personal works represent beautiful natural scenery, people you love ... Is it a form of appeasement, after all these years of illustrating dragons, skeletons, warriors and raging elements?
In fact, I also made a lot of very different painting genres during my career: VHS covers for romantic movies, educational illustrations for textbooks, still lifes and portraits of Hollywood stars to my portfolio ... As an illustrator, I had to be competent in all these areas to survive. So of course, I am best known for my games sleeves for since, they are still relevant and have become cult icons. What is less known however, these are my illustrations in the above-mentioned areas. Many artists lock themselves in the style that made them famous but for me, being a good artist is to always challenge myself and try new techniques, be multidisciplinary. Moreover, I love to use my skills to create digital art and use it to create beautiful landscapes, digital photography and portraits of people I love. For me, it is not to be famous or make money but just do it for the love of art; as well as having new fans is always very satisfying.
RP: Are there current games and franchises that inspire you, for which you would have liked to do an illustration or cover?
I really enjoyed painting the covers of The Cloud of Xeen and The Darkside of Xeen and games worlds maps that I painted. More recently, Halo is a great Sci-fi franchise that I appreciate and that I would have liked to work with. This very clever universe always intrigued me as an artist. Myst has also played a major role in the direction that has taken my work. When I saw Myst for the first time, I remember feeling how the game was so beautiful and impressive. I feel that the traditional illustration has lost its magic with the arrival of the latest games and it should be reused again for game covers, maps of the world ... I like to combine traditional painting and integrate it into the basics of the computer design to make the game a more human touch as a whole. But nowadays, the use of the computer design is 100% and makes the world of games very repetitive sorely lacking drawings that are handmade. There is no comparison.
RP: Your works are now immortalized in a book and most of your originals have been acquired by collectors. Is the "video games chapter" over?
I admit that I would consider doing covers and posters if a good opportunity arose. There were a lot of artists and companies who have contributed to the advancement of the art of retro games, and to be among those is an incredible thing. I am a single artist who has struggled a lot in this industry, which has been expressed and I am grateful to be remembered and appreciated by the game community and peers. I hope that other artists tell their history, past and unveil their art in their turn.
RP: Thank you for giving us this interview!
Thank you for letting me share my story with your readers, it really means a lot to me.
Find the illustrations of Mike and the pdf version of the book "Classic Game Covers" on www.winterbauerarts.com