Steven Cormann's journey from rocker to ILM matte painter deserves its own biopic (perhaps a musical?) He is a DMP artist, CG generalist and concept artist working in the entertainment industry at studios such as ILM and Axis Animation on AAA video games and films, but that's certainly not what he set out to do at first. 7 years ago he came to the end of a decade plus career as a hardcore drummer... so how did he end up here?
Steven, when did your journey of becoming a professional artist begin?
I’ve been focusing on being a professional artist for exactly 6 years. My journey started on January 1st, 2014 when I bought my Wacom tablet with the goal to become a matte painter and work on movies. I had been drawing since I was a very young kid and had always been passionate about art, VFX, and films, but for some reason, I never even tried doing something in that field, which is completely stupid now that I think of it, but times were different and it never seemed possible for me to achieve something in that field. It just wasn’t the norm at all and I could not think outside of the box back then. Instead, I went to university to try and study biology, and then still gave art a little try and switched to illustration for one year before completely giving up to embark on a musical career for more than a decade. In 2013 I felt like I was coming to a dead-end for multiple reasons, I just had no plans and was quite depressed at the time, so I felt like I was pursuing the wrong path. But I also realized times had changed and that people do this matte painting and concept art stuff from home. So I started to get excited and interested again in VFX, movies, and art.
While playing music I had started to learn Photoshop to create album covers or flyers and when I saw that matte painters weren’t doing something that much different, everything clicked perfectly and I knew exactly what I had to do. I saw an alley in which I could succeed, it was just a matter of putting in the hours. The first year I worked easily 16 hours a day, literally running from one place to another in order not to lose a minute of the day to educate myself to get to a pro-level as quickly as possible. I also was very active on Facebook and other social media, posting my work everywhere, and going to conferences to meet artists. Around 2015, the first jobs started to come to me and things really snowballed from 2017. I stayed freelance for a while before going to studios such as ILM and Axis, and since this January, I’m back in the freelance life and everything is great.
Great to hear that all your hours of hard work paid off! Please walk us through a day in the life of Steven Corman.
These days I don’t sketch much because when doing matte painting, I’m almost always given a sketch or a more refined piece of concept art, my goal is to take it to a photoreal level and animate it. So in those cases what I would do is often block out a rough scene in 3d, some basic shapes, lighting, and the camera move.
I always try to find a clear reference for lighting: that one piece of reference that has what I need when it comes a time of the day, the type of sky, shape of the clouds, textures, etc. I still do fully 2d mattes from time to time and in those cases, I would do a rough block out too but in 2D, just placing my different photo elements and roughly merging them together before moving to the next stage.
When I do concept work, my process is sort of the same except I spend a lot of time researching the design and shape language, history, etc etc. I try to spend as much time as possible doing that. A big part of the research is also observing and taking photos on a daily basis, e.g. wherever I go and whatever I find interesting. It’s all about filling that visual library.
Steven, you have built a great portfolio in a short 6 years, can you breakdown the piece you made called "The Way Home: The Lonely Astronaut"?
I don’t always have a precise story or something precise I want to evoke, it can just be a feeling but in this case, it’s sort of inspired by a longer story I have in mind, in which humanity has long left Earth and their human bodies to live in machines to the point they forgot who they even were. I don’t want to spoil too much obviously, but the general idea is that the last survivor of its kind embarks on a journey through space and time to come back where it all started and discover who he is. This image represents the hero arriving at his destination after thousands of years of traveling.
No spoilers please, can't wait to see the finished project, until then, would you be able to take us through a step by step process how you created this keyframe.
So as I said, I have a general story in mind and I just wanted to illustrate a small part of it. I wanted to convey a sense of beautiful desolation mixed with retro sci-fi stuff. Since I’m using KB3D assets, it felt very natural for me to start blocking my composition and lighting directly in 3D.
So I played for a while with the assets, trying different configurations and lighting. Once I had that decided, I moved on to do some basic shading using Megascans textures. The use of the Bridge with Maya and Redshift is very efficient.
Then I sculpted my main character in Zbrush, while the spaceship was done 100% in Maya, it’s a modified version of an old design I had done for the ILM challenge in 2016.
The next part of the process was to cover everything in plants. For that, I used mostly Ivygen along with some Speedtree assets that I scattered around.
And finally, I did my render and did a paint over in Photoshop. The paint over, in this case, is about simplifying some shapes and textures, isolating the subject from the background a bit more, accentuate some edges or lights, etc.
After learning about your intriguing path... I think a question that our readers might be thinking is WHY? Why did this form of art grab you?
Well, because I just love doing it, I think it’s as simple as that, I have the need to express myself through it and to immerse myself in those universes I try to create.
If you are interested in learning some of Steven's techniques, make sure to check out his course at Learnsquared
Steven is a digital matte painter with years of experience at studios such as ILM and Axis Animation on AAA video games and films.
Make sure to follow his work on his ArtStation, Instagram, and youtube channel: