Mike Corriero shares his experience as a freelance concept artist


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Mike Corriero lives and works out of Colonia, NJ (USA)

With 14 years of experience as a freelance Concept artist and Illustrator for the Entertainment Industries, he has worked for companies such as FATface Production Limited HK, Liquid Development, Radical Entertainment, Applibot Inc., Paizo Publishing, Zynga Inc., The Topps Company and Hasbro Inc., among others. He excels in Creature Design, which he also taught as an online instructor for the Academy of Art University along with several workshops published in ImagineFX Magazine, 2DArtist, 3DTotal and Advanced Photoshop Magazine in addition to other Magazines around the world.

Mike went on to earn a BA in Illustration from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, NY in May of 2003 and has been freelancing in the game industry ever since. He paints characters, Illustrations, environments and pre-production content but his main love is and always has been rooted in Creature Design. He is considered by many of his peers to be among the top creature concept artist in his field with a great understanding of animal anatomy."
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Can you explain what you do professionally and how you got started?[/b]
Mike: The way I started out in this industry was a little bit of luck, the right timing and Art Forums being very popular at the time. I was always on Art Forums from around May of 2003 (when I graduated college) until Sept. 2008. What really helped was literally every day being on the forums, posting art, learning from other professionals, improving my work, constantly updating my portfolio and pushing myself to try and better my art in order to keep up with those also posting some amazing pieces. Competition is fierce but also a necessary motivator.
I first saw ImagineFX Magazine looking for submissions from artists for their spotlight feature and I was lucky enough to have a 4 page spread of my work in their 4th issue. I honestly believe that the “Rising Star” feature in the magazine helped promote my work immensely. I ended up in most of the other big magazines producing workshops and other spotlight features which as far as exposure goes, it helped keep me relevant in this industry when there’s so much talent out there.

I was first contacted by Fantasy Flight Games and then a few other RPG card game companies, outsourcing companies like Liquid Development and I started to just get one e-mail after the next for all sorts of game and illustration jobs. I hit a point where I wasn’t even looking for the work and it was finding me – so much so that I had to turn down a fair amount and try to figure out which were the better opportunities.

What I do now is almost strictly creature design (if I have it my way) but if a client contacts me for Characters or Environments I’m always available for additional subject matter.
I’ve been doing a lot of card art, creature design and I’ve also Art Directed for a few game and film companies in addition to hands on work. I can’t mention a lot of the most recent works since they’re still under NDA and unannounced titles but some of the bigger highlights have included work for Hasbro, Radical Entertainment, The Topps Company and FATface hk. I also have my little side project I’m constantly working on and putting a lot of effort into getting published as a book first with game and film possibilities.

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Did you have a traditional school education in art or are you self-taught?[/b]
Mike: This is one of those questions where I’d personally say “self-taught” although I do have a BA from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, NY. I just honestly don’t credit that college with what I know or what I’ve learned to date. I actually learned more before college and after, while on art forums day in and day out. College just didn’t provide the right educational experience for the type of work I do these days and it wasn’t until afterward that I saw more opportunities and outlets that strictly taught concept design, creature and character and world building curriculum. When I went to college, that stuff wasn’t around.

I feel like if I had the chance, I’d go back and save my money
invest it in smaller more personalized mentorships or workshops, books and other areas of expertise. My education is nothing more than a 4 year long experience of being surrounded by other artists all trying to find out what they wanted to do with their lives. While I already knew what I wanted to do since I was 10 years old and nothing had changed. In all the years I spent at Pratt I perhaps found 2 or 3 instructors that were actually helpful and went out of their way to further my interests and support the type of work I loved.

How important is it to you to give back to online communities?
Mike: I still provide a lot of support for my fellow artists and I love to teach, whether it’s simply answering questions and providing links and paint overs in private or actually producing workshops or teaching online. I had been so involved in art communities online after college that I found that helping others was actually a great way of helping my own growth in turn. It’s one of those things where in order to better education another individual, you first need to brush up and re-educate yourself.

I gave 5 years of my life after college to simply providing paint-overs, helpful information, running activities and supplying personal information to help educate those who shared a love for the same sort of content. So it’s safe to assume that giving back is
or was a huge part of my life and career.

Can you tell me a little bit about your experience working remotely rather than in person?
Mike: That’s one of the downsides to working alone at home without being involved in person with hands on creative teams. The closest I got to that sort of experience was when working for Liquid Development because their private forums were set up in a way where you got feedback from 2 or 3 AD’s from Liquid as well as 2 AD’s from the company that was hiring them. Then you’d get to see the work taken to the modeling stage and if anything needed to be adjusted, you would simply provide them with the extra content and changes and after that it was animated and eventually you saw the finished product.

This isn’t the normal work process when you freelance since usually you produce the 2D concepts and once that’s done, that’s it and you’re off to the next job. So working for LD was very educational and fun and I loved how enthusiastic their team was. Their forum design also allowed you to check out what all the other artists were producing from 2D concepts to the animated cycles, so it felt like you were part of a larger design group.

Do you have trouble staying relevant when you work solely online and far away from major studios?
Mike:
The difficulty comes from not truly being kept in the loop with the latest technology or the ways companies are going about a production line or design phase. I know the basics and I’ve had enough experience to understand how such things work, though it’s changing much quicker on a daily basis with all of the new programs and tech coming out these days. So staying relevant means constantly evolving and learning new ways of working
which is honestly the biggest struggle when you work from home.

Do you spend a lot of time researching your creatures inside and out from paleontology to anatomy or do you create from images?

Mike: I do a bit of both and I do use form follows function but I also work backward in regard to focusing on function and then allowing form and aesthetics to further explore and produce an interesting design. I find it helpful to research photos, watch documentaries, visit museums, zoos and buy anatomy books. This is probably one of the more difficult jobs since you’re creating things that have never and will never exist but they still need to feel real and have some form of history or backstory to ground them in whatever reality they exist within. When working as an instructor at AAU online it helped me get back to my roots and really focus on the skeletal and musculature anatomy and how important that aspect of design is when working on creature concepts.

When designing creatures how important is anatomy?

Mike: If you want to be a creature designer but you don’t like drawing or learning about skeletons and musculature, you might as well pick another job. That pretty much says it all. Anatomy is the foundation to a believable, functional and interesting creature. There’s a lot to say about aesthetics but the functional end of these things really needs to hit home with the viewers in order for them to buy into and believe what you’re visually trying to sell them. It doesn’t matter if it’s a mammal based design or something so abstract that it’s hard to categorize – it still needs to relate to or resonate with the viewer on a personal level.

What does the timeline for one of your pieces look like?
Mike: I generally sketch very small and almost always start out with a page or two of about 20-30 thumbnails. Most of the time I take one or two of these thumbnails and blow it up and then adjust the details and some basic anatomy while trying to retain the proportions and silhouette of the original thumbnail. I’ve found this to be a very time efficient method and once it has been cleaned up a bit I’ll fill in the silhouette and begin to finish things off with color, lighting and details. So depending on the detail and whether it’s a concept or an illustration, my designs can take between 3 hours to 8 hours. I don’t usually go through a lot of iterations if it’s a personal piece and if it’s just for my portfolio, the process is generally very quick
a day or two at most.

Do you have any rituals that you perform before you start working on a project? During a project to keep the motivation, inspiration alive? At the end of a project?
Mike: I’ll read research and grab a ton of reference images. I may play some games, have a drink or watch a movie before starting work lol but it’s all about relaxing and allowing my brain to be in a creative and energetic mode. Once I finish a project, before submitting something I like to sometimes give myself a few hours or a day to revisit it and take some time to see if anything needs to be changed. Other than that – I’ll just relax for a day or two to celebrate finishing a 2 week or a month or two month long project.

Can you tell us what you are working on now?
Mike: I’m currently producing work for a sequel to a YA Novel called “Freaks of Nature: The Psion Chronicles” by author Wendy Brotherlin which was published in May 2015. I’ve produced a variety of concept work as pitch art for that series in addition to header chapter illustrations. So a lot of my time has been devoted to new work for the sequel she’s currently working on. I’m also looking to get a sequel “sketchbook” out to my first art book “Planet to Planet: Creatures and Strange Worlds” which was a self-published compilation of sketches. The first book is still available at: http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/creatureplanets and the second book will also be published at the same location before it makes its way to Amazon and Barnes & Noble.