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Stephan Martiniere is an internationally renowned science fiction and fantasy artist. He is the recipient of numerous awards including a Silver and a Gold “Spectrum” Award, three Master awards and six Excellence “Expose” Award. As a director for the five animated specials “Madeline” Stephan received the Parent’s Choice Award, the Humanitas Award, the A.C.T Award and was nominated for an Emmy Award. In his varied career, Martiniere has worked in animation, video games, theme parks and book covers. An accomplished concept artist, Martiniere has worked on movies such as ‘I Robot', ‘Star Wars' (episodes Two & Three), ‘Virus', ‘Red Planet', ‘Sphere', and ‘The Time Machine'.

About 25 years ago, Stephan started his career as a very young man working with DIC, the French company that was making  the animated series Inspector Gadget. DIC was outsourcing animation to Japan and they hired Martiniere as a character and background designer with still a year to complete in animation school. “What started as a one month proposition turned out to be seven years!” exclaims Martiniere. “After ‘Inspector Gadget', I was traveling back and forth between Asia, America and Europe.”

As a young French man trying to finance his studies Stephan had no hesitation traveling for work. Stephan admits to being completely unprepared for the Asian culture. “I had never left France. My vision of Japan was of bamboo, samurais, geishas and the old-looking traditional Japanese look. “I was catapulted overnight into downtown Tokyo in the Blade Runner universe. I had no idea such an environment existed. My visual senses were overwhelmed but in a very exciting way”, admits Martiniere.


Stephan worked on “Gadget” for DIC for six months, and then was sent to the States to work on “Heathcliff” then back in Japan to work on “Jayce and The Wheel Warriors”.  For seven years he was sent by DIC to work between L.A, Tokyo and Paris. While growing up in France, Stephan was already very familiar with American comics and artists such as Jack Kirby, John buscema, Bernie Wrightson and Will Eisner. The American influence on his drawings was strong. Manga and Anime didn't exist in France and the US yet and he had never seen anything like it before going to Tokyo. At age 19, Stephan Martiniere was thrown right in. “Anime made an impact on my style but more so in the way I visualize and convey an emotion in a design or a story ” explains Martiniere, “ Anime’s technical simplification in particular has a way to quickly and effectively convey an emotion with minimal information. It’s like a stylistic Zen approach to design and story telling. I found it fascinating.


After spending eight years in animation and later moving to California, Martiniere found himself directing various animated TV shows for DIC. Most of the time these jobs were an exercise in problem solving. There was very little creative joy built-in at the end of every mission until one day he was handed a kid's show called “Madeline”. “It's funny,” Martiniere adds, “because the only reason this show ended up in my hands was because I'm French and the show is about a little French girl who lives in Paris. This turned out to be very lucky. Because of the small size of my team I ended up wearing the director and art director's hat as well as designing characters, background and props, doing storyboards and writing. It was extremely enjoyable. The show became a tremendous success and won numerous awards. After that I knew it would be very difficult to have a chance like that again. I decided that it was the right time to move on.”

Back to Learning

Martiniere had a strong urge to go back to design, and, right on cue, Landmark Entertainment hired him as a concept designer and illustrator to work on two theme parks in Japan. The job was demanding but Martiniere was able to refine his skills as a concept designer. After two enjoyable years Martiniere went back to animation for a little while and directed five more “Madeline” animated specials. During that period Stephan started to establish some contacts with the film industry. Then he was contacted to work on “Star Trek: The Experience”.


“Star Trek: The Experience” was a motion ride film in Las Vegas. Martiniere was doing story boards and concept drawings and Craig Mullins was doing the paintings on Martiniere's concept drawings. Craig was one of the first using Photoshop as a painting tool in the entertainment industry. “When I was shown Craig’s paintings my jaw was on the floor. The results were immediately impressive. I knew this was what I was looking for." Martiniere dived into digital painting with no hesitation. At the time, he didn't know anything about computers or Photoshop. “I had just spent close to $10,000 on computer equipment and I didn't know how to turn it on.” With Craig Mullins' help over several months he learned very quickly. “Photoshop created a major shift in my career,” says Stephan. He met more and more people in different creative fields, and now with Photoshop under his belt, a wider variety of freelance job offers came his way.


Luc Besson's “Fifth Element” was the first major film Martiniere worked on. Although his part in the project was minimal, it was the beginning of a very fruitful career in the film industry. As Martiniere continued to further his reputation in theme parks and animation he also established himself as an illustrator and concept designer in the film industry working on such movies as “Dragon Heart 2”, “Red Planet”, “Virus”, “The Astronaut’s Wife”, “The Time Machine”, “Star Wars” (Ep 2 and 3) and “I, Robot”.

Book covers

Book covers were something that Stephan Martiniere wanted to do for many years. “As a kid I was buying sci-fi books mainly because of the cover art. I was a huge fan of Chris Foss.” His first cover was for a story from Jack Williamson Terraforming the Earth. “Doing book covers is one of the most enjoyable and rewarding thing for me.” says Stephan, “As an artist, book covers offer individual recognition. Coming from a background in movies and animation where everything is part of a huge machine, you have no idea where your work goes and how it's being used. It's rare when you can see it all on the screen. As an artist it’s important to be able to show people what you do and receive feedback. It validates your art and yourself as an artist. Book covers are exciting because they are ‘undiluted’. What I do is what will be on the cover and people see it a few months after it’s done. There's a lot of satisfaction in that. In the process, there's also an enormous amount of freedom and creativity. As an artist I am constantly learning new things and exploring new graphic possibilities.”


Stephan Martiniere's style is eclectic. He is very comfortable switching from  ‘cartoony' style to realistic, from whimsical to science fiction. Martiniere feels this is due to his ability to wear different “hats” in projects. “I always like the creative aspect of things that have never been done before. It's what drives me. The idea of devising completely new worlds and new ways to draw elements is extremely rich and rewarding. Especially when it comes to sci-fi and fantasy; it's all about dreaming worlds. That is my background and it transfers into my art. It's a bit of American, Japanese and European styles combined together in a melting pot.” The move to digital painting was completely intuitive for Martiniere. A lot of his industry friends were reluctant to move to digital because they had solid techniques as traditional painters. But for him, it was very easy because, as he says, “I had nothing to lose.” By the simple nature of doing concept design all these years, Martiniere found himself using pencils, pens and markers, then handing these concepts to other departments for coloring. He never moved into professional color work nor did he develop a personal style as a traditional painter.

Photoshop Techniques

Over the last several years, Martiniere has started to explore different techniques in Photoshop. A process he calls a “scratching technique” is outlined in his first book, Quantum Dreams. It is a technique based on erasing or subtracting paint, as opposed to adding it. This technique of erasing reveals layers built under. “Erasing a piece of paint with an eraser in Photoshop creates a very aggressive line and precise shape” says Martiniere. “It's like cutting a piece of paper. It's very direct, graphic and spontaneous, almost impressionistic, reminiscent of John Berkey. My experiments with Photoshop have somehow taken me to a place where I found the satisfaction of a unique self-expression in digital painting.”


In 2001, having established himself as an accomplished professional in the entertainment industry Stephan was approached by Cyan, the company behind Myst. “I had always admired what Rand Miller had created with the Myst universe especially with Riven and Exile.  At the time Cyan was working on expanding the Myst universe. Rand Miller was looking for somebody that could bring a cinematic feel to the new game.”  Stephan was hired as the Visual Design Director. “My role was to create a cinematic vision and shepherd that vision through the production pipeline.”  For three years, Stephan found himself involved in every visual aspect of the project: designing environments, characters and props as well as participating in the story.  He also found himself collaborating with a team of very talented people.  “The experience was an extremely rewarding.” After Cyan, Stephan worked for several other companies, including 3-DO, Pandemic, Disney Interactive, Ion Storm and Naughty Dog.

Midway games

After producing “Psi-Ops”, Midway Games, the company primarily responsible for games like “Mortal Kombat” was gearing up for its first Next Generation game: “Stranglehold”,  the sequel to John Woo's movie “Hardboiled”. The compelling goal in the game industry has been “convergence between film and game” and Midway was determined to have a strong art team and somebody with a solid cinematic and artistic experience to create and drive a vision. Once more, Martiniere was hired as the Visual Design Director. “My role is much more comprehensive at Midway than it was at Cyan.  I'm also working with a much bigger team.  As the Visual Design Director I'm responsible for creating the artistic and cinematic vision for the game and carry that vision through the production pipeline. I am also responsible to bring a cinematic and narrative feel to the project by doing storyboards and collaborating with the cinematic team. “It's like having the role of both a production designer and a director.  “Says Stephan. “ “It’s a very exciting and challenging role”.  Looking back on his career, he says “It's like going full circle.  I started 25 years ago at a turning point in the TV animation industry with new markets, exciting possibilities and with aspiration to grow as an artist.  I now find myself again, at a turning point in a new industry with even more exciting possibilities.  And still with aspiration to grow.”

Related links: Stephan Martiniere's web site

Article used with permission by Martiniere Inc. ©2006

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