I first ran into Michael Kutsche's work when his designs for Odin and his horse Slepnir exploded onto the Internet from CG Portfolio.
A self-taught freelance German artist, he started out doing illustrations for video games before becoming one of the character designers for Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland (2010) before designing memorable characters like Frost Giant King Laufey for Thor.
(Image: Alice in Wonderland Caterpillar concept art)
I was recommended to the producers at Marvel Studios by a friend and colleague whom I've met when working on Alice in Wonderland. I was doing concepts for some of the costumes and I also did some key frame illustrations. My main role though, since I'm a character designer, was designing the look of the frost giants and the frost beast.
(Image: Thor concept art "Sleipnir Rising")
Thanks a lot! The idea of giving Sleipnir eight legs [are] rather true to the original character in Norse mythology as well as the comic version, than anything alien inspired.
Editor's note: Check out Wikipedia and Marvel's database for the inspiration for these designs.
Q: For those unfamiliar, how would you describe the job of a character designer?
I'm basically the guy that is brought onto the project to invent the look of the 3-D animated characters in either a life action or fully animated film.
The steps involved are reading the script, having a chat with the director to get his input, then doing a lot of research and sketches before finally creating the drawings that you can see in my portfolio. Pretty often I come up with something that is very close to being the final design, sometimes I nail it right away, but there's also situations where I have to do a couple of versions to get the final ok from the director.
Q: You're a self taught artist and have managed to work on major films. What would you say is the key to your success?
I'd say it takes more than one ingredient to get there, at least I couldn't single out one reason. It's something along the lines of passion, patience, perseverance, I would also say my interest in art from a very early age on plays a role in it.
Furthermore I'd say the primary drive is the pure interest in the process of painting, drawing and other techniques to express myself and the mastering of it; I believe one cannot become really good at something if he's only striving for financial or other success without truly loving what he does.
(Image: Sega game "Viking: Battle for Asgard" Skarin)
If you are aiming to start as a concept artist in this industry you have to be aware that it's not like everyone has been waiting for you to offer your services. The market is rather overcrowded with talented people already waiting in line, hoping to get discovered or introduced by someone who works in the biz.
And even when you break into the industry, you're not necessarily getting the most fun job on the project, simply because the more fun positions are occupied by artists with a higher reputation and/or skill set.
Again, you truly have to love what you do, otherwise, with the pressure of competition and delivering the best work every single day, you are most likely going to hate it in the end.
Though I love to paint in oil, it would be too time consuming to use it for these projects. My preferred digital tool is Corel Painter, I love the organic, natural feel of it's brushes.
Q: Your use of color is striking. How important is color in your work?
I use a great deal of time for picking the right colors when painting, sometimes the first thing I think about when approaching a new painting is a combination of colors.
I think the logic of color is hard to grasp, but when used right, the power is immense!
I'm not just talking about the challenge of mimicking the colors of realistic lighting, but how certain deviations from a realistic color scheme can send a message to the viewer's subconscious.
Q: Where should we look for you next?
I'm currently working on Oz the Great and Powerful, directed by Sam Raimi, which is right up my alley, I'm not only doing the complete character design, but a lot of costume design as well. The next release date of a film that I've worked on is in 2012, it's John Carter of Mars, directed by Andrew Stanton.
Thanks to the artist taking time from his newborn son to answer these questions!
You can read more about Michael Kutsche from his website and look for his work in the hardcover book Thor: The Art of Thor the Movie.