If you were fascinated by the worlds they created for movies like the Lord of The Rings - Return of the King, Van Helsing, The Chronicles Riddick and Narnia, then you must love the works of Dylan Cole. He has contributed his outstanding digital art skills to many blockbuster movies over the last few years. Dylan Cole works as a matte painter. What is matte painting you ask? Matte painting is a mix of photo manipulation and digital paintings to create the vision of a place makes you believe it really exsists. When you watch "Making Of's" about Movies and you see that ominous green Screen in the background... Then it's Visual Artists job to fill that green space to replace it with an environment that enchants the very eye. Check out the demo reel on his website to get a bit more insight into how digital matte painting works.

Dylan graduated with a degree in Fine Art from UCLA. He started as a traditional painter and soon found out that modern matte painting gets done digitally in today's age, which didn't halt his strive for knowledge. He made himself familiar with modern image manipulation programs and learned how to use them efficiently, very quickly. His talent brought him work for the biggest special effects firms like WETA Digital, Rhythm & Hues and Illusion Arts, which offered him many chances to better his skills and learn from other artists, expanding his knowledge about composition and techniques. He is thankful for these chances, knowing that a good painter can't learn enough about the finer side of Digital Art. His latest contribution went into the upcoming Superman movie and I guess we all are excited and can't wait to see what they made of it.

Tigaer-Design.com: How did you get your first job for a movie production? I haven't a clue how that works and I'm surely not the only one who would love to know how you made it.
Dylan: By being a persistent lunatic. When I was finishing up college at UCLA, I basically locked myself in my room and painted all day until my work looked somewhat professional.  I spent some time online and found all the VFX facilities that used digital matte painting and when in doubt I sent them my portfolio. I sent out dozens of portfolios, sometimes as many as 6 a week. Occasionally, I would hear a no, but usually it was no response at all.  Syd Dutton, from Illusion Arts was the first person to call me and give me a job, I will be eternally grateful for that.
Tigaer-Design.com: We know that you had several jobs for some really big movies. Which movie was the best experience for you? Which movie helped you to learn and expand your knowledge about design and painting techniques the most and how did it affect your own technique?
Dylan: I think Return of the King definitely had the most lasting effect on me.  I learned a lot on that film.  I had really only done matte painting for one feature film prior to that and that was Daredevil.  I worked on ROTK for almost a year and just by the sheer amount of work that I did, I learned a lot and evolved the way I work. It was also the first time I had worked in a real matte painting department with several other matte painters so it was fun to share techniques and knowledge.  I had the least experience by far of anyone in the department so I was ready to learn. Recently I have been influenced by anything that I do with Robert Stromberg, he has taught me a lot about composition and shot design.  I have a tendency to make things overly complex and detailed and he has helped me simplify my work so that it is easier to read.
Tigaer-Design.com: Bennybeee, from deviantArt asks, Dylan, you are one of the best visual artists of our time, a lot of people draw inspiration from you and your amazing works. Who inspires you and why?
Dylan: Wow, thank you.  I get inspired from a lot of different sources, usually a cool photograph with some amazing lighting. I also look at the Hudson River School artists for their composition and color sense. People like Bierstadt and Church give me a warm fuzzy feeling inside. As far as other digital matte painters I really enjoy Robert Stromberg, Deak Ferrand, and Mark Sullivan. I am also a huge traditional matte painting geek, so I love people like Albert Whitlock, Peter Ellenshaw, Michael Pangrazio and Syd Dutton.
Tigaer-Design.com: You started as a traditional painter in college and came to your digital painting skills with help of later colleagues at ILM and other big FX firms. Now with your experience, which, when starting from scratch is more difficult to learn, traditional painting or digital painting? What would you tell an art student to start with?
Dylan: I would always suggest learning traditional painting.  It is just such a powerful medium. There is a tactile sense that just isn't there with digital painting. It is also a great way to learn about color, nothing like a big messy palette to show you how colors relate to one another. All that being said, I do not think traditional painting is absolutely necessary, but I have to say all the best digital matte painters were at one point, traditional painters.  You can learn everything you need to by digitally painting, but there is something about doing it in the flesh that helps.
Tigaer-Design.com: Airage, from deviantArt asks, What do you think about self-education when you have no real background in fine arts ? Is it possible to become a professional by teaching yourself or would you recommend going to an art school or even taking online courses?
Dylan:I think it is depends on the person.  You can certainly teach yourself with Books, DVDS, etc. but it also depends on how disciplined you are. The intangible quality of going to school is that you get to meet with other artists, bounce ideas off one another and compete. This happens on the online forums, but not to the same degree.  Also when you have a set class, you force yourself to create work, whereas if you are teaching yourself you can always find an excuse not to do something.
Tigaer-Design.com: What do you think about online art communities like deviantart.com and cgtalk.com? Would you say that people from the industry check out these sites for new ideas? That such communities offer chances to people that would like to do a job like you?
Dylan: I think online forums are fantastic.  They are a great way for an artist in the middle of nowhere, with no resources to get feedback from working professionals.  It is a great way to network and get exposure. Artists can share stories about breaking into the industry and offer each other constructive criticism. I don't know about industry people checking out forums for new ideas, but they certainly go there to hire artists. I have gotten several jobs from people seeing my work on forums.
Tigaer-Design.com: When you work on a picture for yourself, like Saucer Hill or Lava City, among others, I can imagine that it's a long time project over a period of days or even weeks. What keeps you focused and motivated on such a project? I can imagine that you have hundreds of ideas you would like to try out and it's surely hard to set priorities.
Dylan: It is very hard, I haven't done one of those personal pieces in over a year, so prioritizing can be very difficult. There are a million things I want to do, but never enough time. That is why hopefully in the near future, I can take a few months off and work on some of my own stuff. As for what keeps me motivated, it is just that I can't wait to see that particular world realized. I like to create places that I wish existed for one reason or another. Sometimes I just want to paint with a certain palette and the subject matter doesn't matter as much.
Tigaer-Design.com: Now a few questions regarding your private work environment; I'm sure there are lots of people that would like to know on what computer you work out your private ideas. What kind of tablet are you using? Are you a Mac or a PC user and what do you think is more superior for image editing? Last but not least, what's the main software you're using to create your worlds?
Dylan: My current setup is a Dual 2 Ghz. Mac G5 and a 23" cinema display with a 17" palette monitor. I am currently using the new Wacom 6x11 tablet which I am enjoying. I use Photoshop CS2 for all of my 2D work, after effects for compositing and a tiny bit of 3D.  As for the whole PC Vs. Mac thing, I just prefer Macs. Especially for stuff as simple as Photoshop, it just doesn't seem to matter which platform you use, as long as it works for you.
Tigaer-Design.com: I know that, when I work on my images, it can be helpful to listen to some music. It can help you to slip into some kind of flow that makes the work easier. I also know that some people can't stand music while work so... What character are you? Do you listen to music when working on something and what kind of music helps you to be more productive?
Dylan: I am definitely a music guy. I can't stay focused and the time drags when I am not listening to music. I am a big metal fan.  I love bands like In Flames, Trivium, Killswitch Engage, as well as all the old school favorites. The speed probably helps me paint faster!
Tigaer-Design.com: When working on productions like The Aviator, Riddick or the Return of the King, do the directors sometimes come to you personally to ask you how the work is coming along or even to give advice and personal opinions?
Dylan: I rarely have any contact with the director on a project. I am usually several layers removed from him. The hierarchy usually goes something like this; ~ Director ~ Overall VFX Supervisor or ~ Facility VFX supervisor ~ Art Director and then ~Matte Painter.  I usually deal with the art director and facility VFX supervisor, I have only interacted with Directors a couple times for matte painting, once was in Dailies with Peter Jackson on Return of the King, but that was a very rare occurrence. Doing concept art is very different and usually involves a lot of interaction with a director. When I was in Prague doing concept work for a Sound of Thunder, I had a lot of time with director, Peter Hyams.
Tigaer-Design.com: BPauba from deviantArt asks, Have you ever been disappointed in how one of your matte paintings was used in a movie? Or disappointed by the results of your work when you have seen it on the big screen?
Dylan: All the time!  It is more of a rare event when I am happy with the way something looks. Usually I get disappointed about color grading, compositing, or the general direction I was asked to go in. And sometimes it is just that I could have done a better job. But I can't think like that because it is not my film and no one cares what I think about how the image looks. The main thing is that the director is happy and the shot fits in to his film.  Too often I get caught up in MY painting instead of realising it is just an element in one shot of the movie.
Tigaer-Design.com: From your website, we know that you are working with Cinema 4D to add the more detailed parts to your images. Is there any other 3D software you use for your artworks? Such as Terragen, to create a terrain base to paint on or 3DSMax to model more detailed spaceships/elements?
Dylan: Cinema 4d is pretty much it for me, I only do simple things in 3D and I don't need Maya to do crazy simulations or anything. I would like to play with software such as Vue Infinite to maybe make a base render or just to model terrain for me to project my paintings onto.
Tigaer-Design.com: To end our little interview here is a closing question. You have reached a lot in your artistic career so far. Are there any dreams or targets you're still aiming for and what are they?
Dylan: I just want to keep working on cool projects and have a nice variety in my work. It definitely helps keep me fresh. I would love to take off a big chunk of time and work on some of my own ideas and maybe do a book. I also think it would be a lot of fun to direct the artistic side of a cg feature.

We want to thank you Dylan for your time answering these Questions. We wish you best luck on all your upcoming endeavours and hope to see more of your fantastic worlds that inspire us or make us wish to be there.


dylan @ deviantart.com

interview for cgchannel.com (13mins / quicktime / 115mb)

images used within this interview presentation are copyrighted material. dylan cole, new line cinema and universal studios. all text resources are copyrighted by tigaer-design.com and may not be used elsewhere without permission.