Interview with id Software’s Stephan Martiniere

Recently I had a chance to catch up with RAGE’s art director, Stephan Martiniere, who created this cover for the first Dark Horse comic. The comic is the latest accomplishment in an impressive career that has spanned cartoons, amusement park rides, video games, and even Star Wars.

You created this cover (above) for issue #1 of the RAGE comic series. How was creating a cover for a comic book different from your work on the game?

When you design for a videogame you have to be aware of different visual, narrative and technical aspects. You have to know the context in which your concepts are being used and the importance your design will have in the story and gameplay. It is also important to know what visual impact your design will have and what that design will communicate to the player in terms of emotion. You have also to take into account the game technology and the limitation it might impose on your design. All these different aspects will dictate how you approach a concept or painting and how you execute it.

Doing a painting for a book or comic book cover has obviously less limitation. Its more about self expression, I can explore style and technique without limitation. There is a lot of freedom in it. I can let the process dictate the outcome. You are still communicating with the viewer and are conveying excitement or a sense of wonder but ultimately it’s a personal as well as a stylistic approach, it’s about who you are and how you express yourself as an artist.

Can you talk about how you got started as artist?

I started at a very early age, most likely the moment I could hold a pencil. As far as I can remember, I was always drawing; doodles on napkins and on the corners of my school notebooks. Eventually it became more serious. At the age of fifteen I attended an art school for four years in Paris. I graduated and then went to an animation school for a two year program.

At the end of the first year I landed my first job which took me to Japan to work as an animator and concept artist on the animated series Inspector Gadget. I never came back to finish the school program. For the next eight years I found myself traveling between Asia and the States, working on animated series such as Heathcliff, Jayce and the Wheel Warriors, Ghostbusters and others series.  I became a director and continued my career directing TV shows such as Dinosaucers, Dennis the Menace and lastlyMadeline, a musical adaptation of the Madeline books from Ludwick Bemelman.

My career took a drastic turn after that. I left the director’s chair and came back to the drawing world. I started exploring new avenues in the theme park industry where I found great artistic excitement in creating whimsical and fantastic environments for several parks in Japan. Theme parks led me to 3D motion rides where I had another rewarding experience in designing for Star Trek: The Experience and The Race for Atlantis in Las Vegas. Star Trek introduced me to Photoshop, which created a major shift in my career and opened the gates of Hollywood and the game industry.

During the following years I established myself as a concept artist working for such films as The Fifth ElementVirus, Red Planet, The Time Machine, I RobotStar Wars Episodes II and III, Knowing, the last Star Trek and the upcoming Akira and Total Recall.

I got into the game industry about ten years ago. Starting as a visual design director at Cyan World for the game URUAges Beyond Myst and Myst 5 then as a visual design director and creative visual director at Midway for Stranglehold, Area 51, Mortal Kombat Vs. DC, and several other projects. Over the last ten years I also established myself as a book cover illustrator working for major publishers in the US and Europe. Finally, about three years ago I started work as the art director for RAGE.

You worked with another renowned artist, Glenn Fabry,  for on this alternate cover. What was that experience like?

It is always interesting to me to see how another artist would approach RAGE. Being the art director for the game and also an illustrator in the same field I had to look at it from different angles at the same time. On one hand making sure it fits the established look of the game and on the other hand to appreciate the sensibility that Glenn brought to it as an artist. Glenn was working from his home and I didn’t have a direct communication with him, I would have loved to have him at our studio.

What are some of the highlights of your career (across movies, games, books, etc)?

Madeline, a half hour animated musical adaptation of the books from Ludwick Bemelman was the first highlight of my career. Madeline was a small project and had a very small team. I had the pleasure to wear many hats on that project. I created the look, designed the characters and environments, participated in the writing, art directed as well as directed and even lent my voice to some of the characters. The show ended up a success and received numerous awards including the ACT award, the Parent’s Choice award, and the Humanitas award and got nominated for an academy award.

Working on the motion ride, The Race for Atlantis was another highlight. It is one thing to design a world but to see it fully realized in 3D and see it with 3D glasses was an incredible moment. Working for Cyan on the game URU and Myst5 was another great moment. The visual scope of the project and how in sink I was with Rand Miller’s vision made the experience unforgettable. That project also opened my eyes to the visual potential in games and convinced me to stay involved in this industry.  Receiving recognition is always a highlight in anyone’s career, as an illustrator I have been fortunate to receive numerous prestigious awards but winning the “Expose” Grand Master Award was particularly exciting.

I sat next to two great artists and friends who received that award before me: Craig Mullins, who has been influential in my career, and Ryan Church, with whom I had the great pleasure to work with on the last two Star Wars films. Star Wars was major highlight of my career. Working on the films felt almost unreal in some ways.  I grew up a fan and Star Wars was certainly instrumental in shaping my artistic path. I became a professional artist with the desire to work on science fiction movies so I feel really fortunate to be one of the artists on the project many years later.

Thanks for your time, Stephan!

Reader Comments

  1. I am glad that rage has a good artistic director, with reason all mutants and clans look so good and their costumes are spectacular! And needless to say the cover art of this amazing rage!

    And is a man well known and has worked in many movies!

  2. I enjoy this cover very much more than the other (can’t wait till my copy arrives). I felt this one really portrayed a sense of emotion in it. This picture just feels a lot deeper than the other, where as the other image just seems like someone was told that there are three different forces at war, go…

    Which is really probably what happened, because even in this picture, you have a mutant looking thing, the human female, and what id expect to be an authority emblem in the top right corner.

    I really hope he was able to bring this kind of master piece into the game. If he can express emotion through the game, with each new environment you enter, this game will be flawless.

    Well done Stephan Martiniere! With John Carmacks programming genius, and Stephan Martiniere artistic expression. Along with Tim Willits of course. This may be the best game in my oppinion to come out… ever.

  3. wow, that is quite a spectacular amount of experience! you’ve been involved with so many things i’ve enjoyed, from afternoon cartoons as a child, movies in to adulthood, and now video games. the breadth of media you’ve worked with speaks very well of your skill and imagination. no wonder RAGE looks so amazing!

    the only really sad part about this is it made me aware of the “Total Recall” re-make/re-adaptation. ugh. i don’t think any amount of top-notch art direction will save Wiseman from turning a gritty, desperate story in to some slick, overdone mess with lots of screen time for his wife.