Mike Johnson talks about his career, inspiration and time at Blur Studios.

Mike Johnson

Mike is Lead matte painter at Blur Studios. His recent works include: Love, Death and Robots, Star Wars Cinematics, Elderscrolls Trailer.

What is the story being told in your cover art?

Well, the base image I used really caught my eye, it's a great landscape. The lighting is a little overcast with sunlight peeking out so I wanted to really bring out the beauty in the landscape so someone would see it and think "wow, I really want to go there".

I wanted to avoid the super cliche "looking out at the landscape" image, so I tried to bring a little interest to the foreground character by adding some additional elements to his clothing. I wanted people to question where he's from, is he human or Alien, how far in the future is this?... I think that's what makes artwork really interesting in what we do. I don't think I'm the greatest story teller in my work but I'm always focusing on improving that.

"...can you still make futuristic skyscrapers and still maintain a nice world without destroying things?"
All the images included in the Rio Aerials pack!

How did you come up with it? What inspired you?

I think what inspires me, and a lot of others is, what's going to happen next and what's going to be the future, how will things evolve? So while working on it I was looking at these small towers in the image and thinking, what happens when big business and future tech comes in and these massive skyscrapers are built, can they still make futuristic skyscrapers and still maintain a nice world without destroying things... can you do that?

I love the ideas that come to mind when I think of the future, like Tomorrowland where everything is huge but still efficient and nothing is destroying anything.

What was your approach to creating this image?

I wanted to expand on the natural spectacle of the landscape. Because it was overcast I was thinking about converting this to a night scene so people could see how to convert a day to night. But when I explored that it really didn't pop out like I wanted. So I ended up just expanding on the natural elements and look of the image instead.

What Software did you use?

Photoshop and 3ds Max, Forest pack for scattering and Redshift to render.

"...I'm always fighting with ideas."

What did you think about working with this pack?

Yeah... dude, there was a bunch of images I loved! I think I had like 5 different concepts I painted out. That's the problem with art though, when I do my own personal work I have so many options so I'm always fighting with the ideas. Especially with this cause, man, these are some beautiful images man, you guys are crazy... what were you in a helicopter?!

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"Being born in the Bronx... it's not the best place to be born into."

Why do you make art and how did you get into the industry?

Why I got into Art was for escapism. Being born in the bronx, it's not the best place to be born into. I'd watch movies and you see these different places you can go. After awhile I got into computers I was like "oh, i can make any place I want to!", so any world I created felt like I had visited.... like, if I built it, it was mine you know?

That transformed into making beautiful worlds and places that don't exist. Although sometimes it is about training and diversifying your skills but mostly I just do it because I love this shit! haha, I didn't know you could make money doing this until I went to Blur!

Where do i see myself going... I don't mind where I'm at now really so as long as I'm doing what I'm doing now I'll be happy, I've got my family, got my friends, I don't need any more money so I'm good!

Mike is a Lead matte painter at Blur Studios, LA.
You can follow him here:

Artstation | Facebook | LinkedIn

This interview is part of our Rio Aerials reference pack. Mike created the amazing cover art for the pack. There is a guide on how to recreate his work coming soon!

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