3DTotal: An Interview with Morgan Yon

(Morgan Yon is a Heavy Rain concept art's artist - UL)
3DTotal: Hello Morgan, thanks for taking time away from your canvas to chat with us. Can you briefly give us a little insight into your background as an artist, and how it all started for you?
Morgan: First of all, thank you for allowing me to share my experience as a concept artist, and furthermore for explaining the way I capture the environment in which I have been for almost two years. As far as I am concerned, my debut to the art world was similar to many of us, for I began drawing very early - I would say from the age of 3 - and have never stopped since. My grandfather was an oil painter and my mother an architect, and I believe I have inherited their artistic genes. I went into artistic studies from the end of secondary school, where I followed an illustration training course in an art school in the city of Lyon, in France. These four years of studies were, for me, the true beginning of my artistic learning, when I was able to practice subjects such as sculpture, anatomy, illustration, animation and traditional painting.
Every year reinforced in me the idea that I had really found my way.

Then, the young provincial that I was, I went to the capital and I made my first steps in February 2006 at Quantic Dream Studio as a character designer, where I was able to build on what I had learned at school and discover the world of digital illustration. By going through art books, websites and forums, I realised that the world into which I had just stepped was going to teach me a great deal of things, make me discover an incredible number of talents, and be an endless source of inspiration. Working every day, side by side, with talented artists, combined with the emulation that this team creates, generates a ceaseless motivation and a constant urge to progress.

After two and an half years in the video game industry, I joined the visual effects studio “The Moving Picture Company” in London. Currently im working as a concept artist at Darkworks Studios.

3DTotal: You said you explored sculpture, anatomy, illustration, and so on, at art school, so how applicable is this knowledge and these skills to your present day digital work?
Morgan: I believe the knowledge of perspective and anatomy has been the most important and the most constructive part in my learning process. Indeed, everything is useful and present in the illustrations I create today. Anatomy enables me to be as coherent as possible in the creation of characters, and thus it becomes a necessary basis in my cartoon style, for instance. Therefore, and thanks to perspective’s notions, I can stage these characters and create the images I have in mind. Sculpture was a good way to learn 3D and shapes in space. I believe there is no better way to understand anatomy than by doing sculpture.

During my first school years, we learned, over and over again, how to draw and erase the draftsman’s tricks, which we had through working the academic drawing. Afterwards, the programme approached problems of storytelling, framing, colour and so on. It is like a complete formatting of our past as a draftsman, and a new foundation.However, it becomes harder not to be seduced by the digital tools we have to avoid those constraints.3D modelling removes any problem of perspective, and digital painting allows us to begin over and over again at will, which is why I try from time to time to keep the drawing basis I have whilst sketching. My studies gave me a basic experience and my drawing abilities, which grow day after day through training by feeding off all the images which I see every day. That’s what I find so exciting in this profession: its constant and never-ending questioning.

3DTotal: Looking at your portfolio examples of your latest works, vast landscapes seem to be a recurring theme, within which we often find single characters swamped by their surroundings. I get feelings of loneliness and isolation from these images. Is this something that you wanted to convey, and if so what are your reasons for this type of imagery combining man and nature?
Morgan: I have always had huge difficulties in approaching sets, and this lack of experience quickly caught up on me. Then I began uncountable tests of forms, perspective and scale, quickly executed in Photoshop. Being more and more familiar with digital tools, I also discovered 3D where I was able to quickly set up perspectives and rid me from these constraints which somehow hampered me. My latest works result from these tests, in which I stage characters almost eaten by their environments. It is always, for me, a true challenge to imagine spaces where the viewer can feel the gigantic sizes, and be intrigued and unhinged by them. I also enjoy challenging my characters; confronting them with their environment and trying to let the viewer imagine his own story stemming from the place and characters I have designed.

I have also been very inspired by video games, in particular “Shadow of the Colossus”, which to me is a true artistic masterpiece where designers have been able to play with scale to create incredible scenes. Cinema is also a strong influence for my latest works; I find in epic scenes a poetic connotation which I like trying to transcribe in my illustrations.

3DTotal: What were the “difficulties” that you faced when first approaching landscapes?
Morgan: Sets are for me a true challenge. Bringing to light a scene in order to better convey the feelings that we want to, is a truly hard test for me. As I said before: perspective, and each problem which derives from it, puts me under pressure because the errors which we can commit are visible and it is a work which demands a lot of attention and time.

On a few occasions, I did not take the time to think about which way the scene should be lit. I thus focused on details and told myself that the light would come afterwards. When I was almost finished with my picture, I tried to catch up with the light as best I could by tinkering with things from right to left. Huge mistake! Since then, I have tried to make this work at first-hand. I define my light source in the first step and try to keep that constantly in mind. Details are also things which seem important to me in order to create images as well as possible. To keep a global coherence in a picture is very difficult, and to captivate the reader on the foreseen elements is another one.

In my case, interior sets are delicate to do because light is very important; the way it is put in, the way objects interact with it, what it connotes, etc... For all of these questions I have to find answers in the starting process. On the other hand, exterior sets have other difficulties. Light is very important too, but so is the colour scheme and the way these colours match. Even there, the pictorial food of images and references is, in my opinion, truly necessary to approach this kind of decoration and challenge. But there is no secret: the more we practice, the more the automatisms build themselves up, and questions find their answers.

3DTotal: I’m quite taken with your interesting use of composition and the framing of your artworks. We can often find images which have been tilted slightly, making the work slightly unnerving/disorientating. Do you like to test your audiences? What sorts of influences from the past have found their way into the challenging imagery that you create today?
Morgan: You are right with the unnerving sensation I wanted to convey. I am also very interested in comic strips - the poor man’s cinema, as the saying goes - where the framing should emphasise the subjects. In my latest works, the slightly tilted framings strengthen my intentions to unhinge the viewer. I try to put these ideas into the image using what I learned about framing when I was at school. I also try to stimulate the viewers’ reactions towards the subject and their feelings by looking at my image. I use a straight framing to connote quietness, and create unease by tilting the frame. Everything depends on the subject and the message I want to convey.

When I was 14, I went on a school trip to 1944’s landing beaches in Normandy. This experience was one of the most striking of my life. I still have a vivid memory of it and I try today, with the tools which are handy, to make the viewer feel what I saw and felt. I remember in particular the Arromanches’s sea-cliffs. I found myself at the bottom of these sea-cliffs, overwhelmed by their greatness; a place that carries so much suffering and sacrifice, and I will always remember these strange and intense sensations of isolation, weakness and intoxication, all of which held in a freaky, cold silence. This period of history became a recurring subject in my paintings, for it interests me a lot and it therefore took a natural place in my work.

3DTotal: Wow, that sounds like such a unique experience! I am so pleased that, as an artist, you are trying to convey those feelings to the rest of the world through your work, long after the time. Would you say that your strongest inspiration comes from personal experience? Or can you find equally as much inspiration looking through books, websites and so on?
Morgan: It is true that I am more satisfied by the pictures which were inspired by what I lived or by what I felt. I try to put a little piece of me into those works and finally I think that it shows. Also I am not that fond of reading, but I try now to plunge myself into books to imagine other universes and to build my own stories. Forums and websites are also a big source of inspiration, but it’s more difficult to imagine other universes than those we have seen. Indeed, images shown on the Internet have already been thought and imagined by the author. If I come across a picture which I like very much, my first feeling is, “wow, I want to do this too”, but I have the sensation of something that does not belong to me.

When I look at the images of other artists, I generally keep in mind a piece of information concerning an interesting framing for example, or a link between shape and colour scheme. I thus try to store up information and use it in my personal images. I think it is necessary to make the difference between taking ideas which belong to the artist and use what they offer to us to create a personal, new one. I definitely try to have the latter approach. I would thus say that the experiences which I have lived are indeed the basis of a more accomplished work, where I give more energy and passion. Nevertheless, ideas and feelings that other artists share with us through their illustrations are also an evident source of inspiration in my work. What I have learned by looking at the work of others is that the technique matters less than messages and ideas which they want to convey. Now if, on top of that, one has faultless technique, it cannot but command my admiration.

3DTotal: Your mark making is truly beautiful, Morgan. A fine example of your painting skills I believe can be found in the piece titled, ‘Devil’s Beauty’ (above) – a monochrome image which displays wonderful brush work that brings the image to life. Can you share with us any secrets about how you go about your paintings and the kinds of brushes you employ?
Morgan: This illustration is a part of a couple of images created for a future comic strip’s project based
on real facts from WW2. My main direction was above all the atmosphere. I wanted it to be awfully cold and hostile. How would you feel if you were left deep inside a Byelorussian forest with the sound of a whole bunch of tanks and infantry hot on your heels? The monochrome range was unavoidable, and I wanted the picture being read step by step. We discover the place, characters, and finally the tank. I also helped the viewer to go through the image thanks to the silhouette of the forest, which is a complete part
in this dynamic. The closer we get to the right-hand side of the image, the darker and more impressive the masses get – the effect being similar to a wave which breaks out. “The Devil comes down.”

Once this composition was found, I began working on details, relying on picture references. For the forest, I did not want to use photographs over which I should have to paint, and so I used some parts of photos to turn them into tree brushes, allowing me a total control in their rhythm. To create the moody and snow-covered ground, I used a large number of dirt brushes by trying to obtain something coherent in their forms and spaces. The characters were handled with basic Photoshop brushes, and the snow is a succession of white point motion blurred. To bring the stage to life, I tried to have a painterly approach by suggesting things rather than highly detailing them, even though it is sometimes difficult to restrain myself. Through the design of this picture, I have been more focused on the creation of custom brushes, which saves me extra time and enables me to reach unexpected, yet interesting, results.

3DTotal: It sounds like you actually put yourself right in the centre of your paintings. Do you think this is your ‘key’ to achieving such potent imagery? Does painting in such a way ever make you quite emotional; for example, do you feel the pain or the isolation that your paintings are emulating whilst you are working on them?
Morgan: Maybe so! As I said before, staging myself often gives birth to new feelings which I try to write down. It reminds me of the moments when I play video games; for example, I sometimes literally bend to avoid bullets when I play first person shooter games! I think that I sometimes have the same reactions when I work on a picture. I do not say that I lie on the ground to avoid the tank in Devil’s Beauty (because I think people would take me for a madman), but I have at least tried to place myself inside the skin of a man who would be there and to try to feel his fear and his emotions. In a slightly less serious way, I also take the expressions of the characters I work on, make a face, and subconsciously I also put myself in the skin of the characters that I design.

When I think again about it, it must be downright hilarious to see me that way, but this is maybe the key to achieving the pictures that I have in mind. Everything is based on the relationship that I want to establish with the viewer, and to achieve it, it’s perhaps necessary to live as the subject.

3DTotal: I’ve noticed that your images often involve subjects towards the edges of your canvases finding themselves in darkness, whilst the light focuses in on the important elements and the action of the pieces. This, to me, is reminiscent of classical paintings. Where do you source your inspiration from, and which artists - past or present - are your greatest influences?
Morgan: The scenes which I represent usually consist of a set with a main light source. I like working with dark atmospheres; I indeed try to focus on the light so that I leave the rest in darkness. I spent a lot of time working on thriller comic strips where the blacks best serve the subject, and since then I have kept these automatisms in some of my paintings. I am also inspired by many things which I have seen everywhere, but some paintings speak more to me than others. Among them, Masters like Diego Velasquez, Rembrandt, Gustave Courbet, and also artists less known such as Leon Augustin Lhermitte, are part of the visual references which I often use.

However, having known the digital world of illustration for only two years, I have mostly found my visual inspiration from the incredible number of recent artists which I have encountered here and there during my long visits online. I remember the day I saw for the first time a digital concept art, “The Beach”, by Thierry Doizon. Downright nailed on my seat, I realised the possibilities which were offered to us by manipulating digital painting software. Nicolas Bouvier’s artworks leave me literally speechless, for he has an awesome sense of scale and shapes, without speaking about the poetry of his images.

So, artists like Craig Mullins of course, Daniel Dociu, Mathias Verhasselt, The Black Frog, Feerik, Marko Djurdjevic, and countless others, are names which I often double-click on and I learn a lot by looking at their art. Recently, I fell on the incredible work of Thomas Pringle, who single-handedly matches everything I like in illustration. Thanks to the Internet for that!

Finally, in the comic strip world, which I like as much as concept art, the books which we owe to Bernie Wrightson, Alberto Breccia, Guarnido, Claire Wendling, Virginie Augustin and Thomas Von Kummant are part of those which seldom remain on the shelves of my library.

3DTotal: You’ve mentioned comic strips a fair few times throughout this interview, so what is it about comics that inspire you so greatly, and how does this inspiration transfer to your more painterly digital artworks?
Morgan: A comic strip is the media which I knew first of all at school, and for which I had at once a huge interest. It was the first time I met professionals because we had professors already known in the comic strip industry. It was, for me, one of the most interesting classes because I really understood that a comic strip is a true relationship between the artist and the reader. You have a story to tell and there are codes
to follow, as in the movies, in order to make the reader feel what you have in mind. A comic strip is, according to me, a true science of storytelling. Line art and colour are also stages of storytelling. The result is more than clear to the reader, and you learn your errors very quickly.

The link between text and images is essential; the way your eyes go through the pictures has to be as clear as possible, which represents a whole lot of work beforehand. I consider comic strips as real, personal commitment in the duration: a true adventure. I find in every frame of comic strips an illustration; the framing is meant to say something to the reader and the drawing also serves the subject. It is maybe the reason why I try to involve it in the illustrations I create today. I am also much more attracted to the boards coming from either graphic novels or authors’ books. Perfect inkings/unblemished outlines speak less to me than one simple line art or a direct colour work. I feel the intentions of the author in this kind of work much more. I thus take these things which are appropriate for the comic strip and try to use them in my illustrations. Having no personal graphic style in comic strips (although it is something on which I’m working) I use the knowledge I have as a basic starting point in illustration.

3DTotal: Your character work is quite interesting in contrast to your landscape paintings; they can be either highly stylised, or highly detailed and realistic looking. Which method do you prefer, given the choice, and why?
Morgan: I would say that I have no preference. It’s just that realistic drawing represents for me a technical challenge, whereas cartoon is a real relaxation. For instance, I like working with attention on the modelling of the faces: it is a thing in which an artist can easily be restricted to his own tricks, and thus it requires a constant return on foundations, anatomy and analysis of bodies and movements. To succeed in making characters understandable, as precisely as possible, the expressions, anatomical specificity, clothing details and body language is a really interesting challenge. Instead, cartoon style allows us to have complete freedom. Stylising a character, finding other forms, being more nervous in the line art and letting your pen go on the sheet, is something incredibly fun… I particularly like working on general forms, being mostly more satisfied with my preparatory sketches, rather than the finalised one.

3DTotal:I find you choice of canvas sizes very interesting: some of your works are panoramic; others find themselves as tall, thin canvases. What decides on the size of your canvas when you start a painting?
Or do you find that your canvas size is constantly changing whilst you work on a piece? What decisions do you make when framing your paintings to keep the viewer excited by your subject matter?

Morgan: I generally have no precise idea of the format I will work on when I decide to make an illustration. My personal works are often born after I have seen an interesting photo or movie. So, I have a very first idea which comes to me, and I put it very quickly on the sheet. Then, although it may not be the best way to go, I often re-size my images to keep focus on what I want to convey. I often start on a vertical format which will be finally a wide panoramic. However, if the subject strongly fits itself (in particular when characters are high-angle framed, allowing me to express the idea of a person swamped by his/her environment), my format remains constant throughout the process of creation. But generally, and my pictures don’t contradict me, I work set designs in horizontal format, and for more intimate subjects I try
to work them in a less conventional format.

However, there is a media in which I force myself to define beforehand my frames: comic strips. To keep the viewer excited by the subject I’m working on, I try to create the path that the eye will follow during the first visualisation of the image. I think it is a truly important part in the preliminary study, and one which I always keep in mind throughout my process of creation. Indeed, I often ask people who surround me to peek at my image and try to tell me which path their eye followed, and thus what they deducted from it. This test is very important and helps me to quickly realise if the visual is meaningful or not. I usually make this test when I begin to get swallowed too much by details which could possibly turn out obsolete.

Finally, I draw this framing ‘science’ from the pictures of other artists that I have looked at every day. For me, if my glance circulates in a natural way across a picture, then goes into the details, I feel that the artist has already made fifty percent of the work and this is what I try to reproduce in my own works. I always keep in mind that the viewers’ eyes never make mistakes.

3DTotal: It’s interesting that you mentioned ‘science’ in your last answer, as I was thinking the process in which you approach your comic strips sounds quite like a scientific formula. Do you get more overall satisfaction from your comic strips or from your digital paintings, or are they equally satisfying?
Morgan: I would not say that it is similar to a scientific formula, but rather to codes. In my opinion, even if we have the most accurate drawing, if the framing or the composition does not serve the drawing, the image will not be interpreted as wanted. This “science” in comic strips is something very apprehendable, but also very rigorous. Paradoxically, some artists do everything to break these rules and manage very well, but it is a risk to take with regards to the reader. The only boards of comics which I have made at the moment were for school, and a few years later I feel more satisfied with my current illustrations. However, I try to use the daily learning in the field of concept art to approach the creation of an album of comic strips.

People say that, for a young author, a first album is never anticipated, but a first draft can very quickly create a good or bad reputation. It is thus a question of taking time and being sure to have in hand the elements which allow approaching a project in a serene way. Making an album - just one - has been a true dream since I was a young boy, so you can imagine what satisfaction I shall have when it happens, or when I put the last brush stroke to the last frame.

3DTotal: It has been a pleasure speaking to you, and I wish you all the very best of luck for the future.
Keep in touch!

Morgan: Thank you for the interest you have put into my work and me. Of course, we will keep in touch!

Autor: 3D Total Artists staff
Source: 3D Total Artists
Language: English

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3DTotal: An Interview with Morgan Yon Friday, January 09, 2009

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