Mike Johnson looks back at 2020 with KitBash3D
For those unfamiliar with Mike Johnson, he’s been a Lead Scene Assembler and Matte Painter at the award-winning Blur Studio for 10 years and now holds a position as Senior 3D Artist at Nvidia. He’s also a blessing to the KitBash3D community and an inspiration to all creators of the digital frontier. Seeing as it’s been an eventful year since we last featured his work, we thought it's about time we caught up with him.
KitBash3D: Needless to say, a lot has happened since the last time we featured your work back in September 2019. Now that we have 2020 in our rearview mirror, and judging by your ArtStation and Instagram, it looks like we have a lot of catching up to do! Can you share a brief recap of what’s been happening with you and your work since we last spoke?
Mike: Since 2019 a lot has changed for me! I've left my job at Blur Studio, which I was at for 10 years. Now I am a Senior 3D Artist at Nvidia and loving it! And I’m very grateful to have new opportunities surface during this pandemic. I had the chance to collaborate with the directors for Gryffin & John Martin’s music video "Cry". It was a fun process – and the director specifically requested the Brutalist kit! This project was great to be a part of as I got to use a lot of skills involving tracking, modeling, texturing, grading and compositing.
Mike: My most recent work "GVC" was created for a friend's short film. He provided a rough sketch of what he wanted the frame to look like. With work and everything else going on, I knew I had to bang this one out really quickly, so to skip the whole modeling phase and hit the ground running, I used an array of 3D asset kits.
KitBash3D: And we appreciate your shoutout on ArtStation! How was your creative routine affected by all the changes last year? Was it easy to adapt to a ‘new normal’? Has that evolved for you?
Mike: I wouldn't say my creative routine was really affected at all by the changes. I'm usually working in a studio for 8-10 hours a day, so working from home is a bit relaxing for me. I don't have to commute to work and I can work in my pajamas. The one thing that makes it a bit difficult is managing my kids’ school meetings while my wife and I have meetings occurring at the same time!
KitBash3D: Haha, makes sense. Has that affected your work/life balance? Do you feel that you now have more time for personal projects or do you feel more burnt out with less time for other activities?
Mike: Honestly, in the beginning of switching to my new job, I felt I had to dedicate a lot of my time to learning how things worked at the new company. Learning new software to help me adapt my skills easier, etc. But after six months, I feel like I've adapted to the process. Now I just want to apply everything I've learned into my personal work! No matter how busy I get, I feel it's very important for me to get my own ideas out into the world and exercise my creative freedom. Sometimes, yes, you can get burnt out, but this is a passion of mine and I don't think I'll ever not find time for personal work.
KitBash3D: Speaking of passion, you had a pretty prestigious roller blading career before you started working in this industry full time, didn’t you? Was digital art something you always wanted to do when you were young? Where and when in your life did you decide to take that leap of faith?
Mike: Digital art wasn’t always something I wanted to do, nor did I even know about it! I used to do a lot of traditional art like portraits, still life, character concepting, you name it. It wasn’t until after I graduated high school that one of my friends told me I should think about transitioning my art from sketch books to the computer. After that I decided to dedicate any free time I had to learning digital art. I started with Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop and then I discovered 3D and fell in love! I bought a 3ds Max bible book and studied anything I could find on YouTube. After years of trial and error, I finally got somewhere. Tim Miller (Deadpool), owner of Blur Studio, actually reached out to me after finding some of my work on digital art sites. That’s when it clicked that I can do this for a living. Up until then I was just having fun with it really.
KitBash3D: Nice to see you're still having fun in 3D, and from the looks of it, collaborating with your son. How was that?
Mike: My son challenged me to bring one of his drawings to life in 3D. I was hesitant because modeling characters is not what I do, but I figured it could be something cool to learn from and went along with it. I took some liberties but his eyes lit up in the morning when I showed him! Glad to start the new year off with something different.
KitBash3D: What are you most looking forward to this year? Any super cool projects you want to plug?
Mike: This year I’m looking forward to creating more personal projects, displaying skills I haven’t tapped into for a bit (and some new ones). I wish I could tell you more about the projects I’m working on, but then I’d be fired and you won’t see anything from me, so that wouldn’t be cool! Also, I’m watching out for what everyone else is doing this year! Our art community is growing so fast and everyone is becoming so good, I can’t wait to see all the fantastic work everyone creates.
KitBash3D: Agreed. Thanks for taking the time to share your recent experience with us. We look forward to seeing what you create this year!
About Mike Johnson
Mike Johnson is a self-taught 3D Generalist living in Los Angeles who's passionate about Environment Modeling and Matte Painting. Michael previously worked at Blur Studio for ten years, and is currently a Senior 3D Artist at Nvidia. Make sure to check out his incredible work on his website and ArtStation, and follow him on Facebook and Instagram.