An interview with Digital Artist Mark Johnson - Writer, Animator, Musician

May 28, 2020 at 10:00 am by Warlord720

Digital Artist Mark Johnson - Writer, Animator, Musician

Mark Johnson is a man of many talents… animator, digital artist, director, storyteller, and musician to name a few. One talent that stands out to me is his ability to be the glue that holds part of the machinima community together. This man epitomizes the motto of never give up and never give in as he continually finds ways to unite a group of artists that aren’t that easily united.

Digital artists or not we all have lives that tend to be busy. Particularly if you work in the industry or spend most of your free time trying to get some animation in the can. We also have schedules, tasks, and people pulling us in all directions but somehow Mark can get some of them to come together and make some great music or help in his productions.

Mark is another creator that can focus on a project and get it done. Another filmmaker that does more than just talk about it. He doesn’t just throw anything out there either. His visuals (images and videos) are rich and dark invoking images bordering on Willi Geiger in terms of depth, foreboding and dread. Without a line of dialog, Mark can fill the air with tension or set the tone of a scene in a few seconds.

He also likes to “doodle” a bit too according to Facebook posts. His “doodling” would hold up to any still image critic and fit in with easily with the Renderosity crowd. His composition and layout seem to flow naturally while his atmospherics are superb. I’d love to complain about his lighting… but I can’t. In fact, I can’t find anything to complain about concerning his creative talents.

Mark is the type of artist that can produce eye-opening work with budget tools. One can only imagine what he could do with production tools like Houdini or Nuke. Throw in his musical background and one can see a trippy, Techni-colored guitarist playing beautiful rainbow songs… in a parallel dimension… because this guy is a hardcore, blackheart metal rocker that I suspect would literally distort a rainbow out of existence had he an amp powerful enough.

Mark Johnson is a great example of a creative that puts the community first while holding machinima to a high bar. His ability to write/script, animate, and produce music place him in a much smaller peer class than most of us.

Plus… he has a really sweet, white Les Paul guitar that I would sell my dear, sweet editor’s soul for. 


Renderosity - How did you get into digital art in general?

Mark Johnson - Throughout the 1990s, I was a rhythm guitarist in a couple of bands. We gigged quite a lot and were pretty popular locally and it was something that I loved doing. I wrote a lot of the lyrics and music for those bands and as time went on, that sparked a desire to write full stories, which I guess in turn, sparked a desire to make movies out of those stories. But I had no money, film school education, or equipment and lived in an industrial town in Northern England, so the outlook was pretty bleak on that front. Then, in 2005 I bought a PC game called ‘The Movies’ by Lionhead studios. It was a pretty standard Tycoon style game, but with a groundbreaking difference. It featured an incredible sandbox ‘director’ mode, in which you could manipulate props, sets, characters, and cameras, all within a virtual film studio environment in the game to create your own animated movies. It wasn’t particularly versatile and the animation came from a library of in-game presets, but it inspired a worldwide community of hugely talented filmmakers who learned how to mod and manipulate to their own tastes and styles and it was exactly the kind of introduction to digital art that I needed...simple, super creative and incredibly fun!

Renderosity - What drives you to create? Is it a release, hobby, desire to tell a story, or what?

Mark Johnson - I fell in love with cinema at an early age. I think I was about 7years old when I first saw the classic Universal horror movies like Frankenstein and The Wolfman, so, all my life, I’ve been inspired by film, but up until 2005, making a movie really was just a pipe dream for me. Nowadays, I can actually use great, affordable software and make the movies I always wanted to make, from the comfort of my own home...yeah, I think it’s all of those things that drive me. Yes, it’s a release, yes, it’s a hobby and yes, it’s definitely a desire to tell stories. But it’s also the fact that, now, I can try these things without pressure and without breaking the bank.

Renderosity - Can you remember if your first visual art was an image render or animation? If so, what tools (software) did you use?

Mark Johnson - Not sure if it can be classed as digital art, to be honest, but I first tested the animation waters in Lionhead’s ‘The Movies’ game with a 10-minute tribute to 1970s HK Martial Arts movies, which was called ‘Shaolin Aardvark Vs Iron Fist Camel’. It was very well received and that gave me the confidence boost I needed to make more movies. Fun times!

Mark Johnson - Dark Machine Pictures© Mark Johnson - Dark Machine Pictures

Renderosity - What are your main “go-to” digital tools?

Mark Johnson - These days, it would be Reallusion IClone 7, CC3, 3DXchange, and Daz Studio 4.12...I’ve got a pretty good workflow going on with all of those now. Then, Hitfilm pro for visual effects. Adobe Premiere for editing. Adobe Audition for sound editing and FL Studio for music production.

Renderosity - If you had to pick one tool/application for your art what would it be?

Mark Johnson - Probably iClone. It’s just a great all-rounder. Even just using the core content, you can make a great movie or wonderful artistic images. It has just improved so much over the years and has become more and more feature-filled with each new version.

Renderosity - As a filmmaker/animator is your art-driven more by visual, narrative, or both?

Mark Johnson - I generally try to find a good balance with each video/movie I make. I know a lot of animators whose prime focus is absolute attention to the tiniest detail in the animation process itself...and that’s absolutely fine if that’s the path/area of expertise that they’ve chosen. I’m personally far more storytelling focused and the stories I tell/movies I make are usually pretty lengthy by solo home animator standards, so time is a huge factor for me. I still want my movies to look as good as they possibly can though, so it’s very much a case of finding a balance that I feel works for whatever movie project I’m working on and hoping that the more casual viewers will overlook any shortcomings it may have.

Mark Johnson - Dark Machine Pictures© Mark Johnson - Dark Machine Pictures

Renderosity - Is digital art comparable to fine art?

Mark Johnson - It absolutely can be in my opinion, but as is the case with any/every creative medium, not everybody is a master. I’ve seen some truly beautiful work done in Daz Studio and Photoshop that is most definitely up there with any piece of fine art though.

Renderosity - Any type of digital artwork you enjoy doing the most?

Mark Johnson - My movies and images generally (though not always) have some pretty dark and twisted themes going on. They inspired my studio name, so I definitely have the most fun with those. I also like to challenge myself with ideas that I haven’t often seen other digital artists take on, especially with movies. I love taking a theme like film noir and making an animated movie out of that. I eventually want to make a spaghetti western, a ‘1970s’ cop movie, a ‘1950s’ Sci-fi, an Italian style Giallo movie, an old school kung fu movie...so many incredible styles and genres that haven’t really been touched on in digital art yet.

Renderosity - Are there any influences that shape your work?

Mark Johnson - Way too many! I have a huge list of influences in film, music, and indeed, from our field of digital art/animation. As I’ve mentioned, my movies and images cover some pretty dark themes (horror, film noir, grindhouse, b-movies) and some of my biggest influences come from those kinds of backgrounds too.

Mark Johnson - Dark Machine Pictures© Mark Johnson - Dark Machine Pictures

Renderosity - What would be your dream project or industry job?

Mark Johnson - Tough one. As a young guy, I would have loved to have had more success with my old band and our music and I’m currently really enjoying a second wave of writing, playing, and producing music after a long break away from it all. As regards a digital art/animation industry job, I honestly couldn’t tell you, but I’m definitely having fun trying my hand at ‘Jack of all trades’ from the comfort of my own home.

Renderosity - What is your goal with your digital art?

Mark Johnson - I think that as long as there are folk out there who take even a mild interest in what I do, then I’m more than happy with that. I’ve done book cover art for a friend and have recently been asked to do an album cover for another friend. I’ve also had requests to make music videos for bands and musicians and have even collaborated on songs and music videos with fellow digital artists/musicians from across the pond. My movies are IMDb listed and have been very well received on Facebook and Vimeo...all of this is a happy and comfortable level for where I want to be with digital art/animation in general, to be honest. I would call myself 98% hobbyist, but if occasional opportunities present themselves…

Mark Johnson - Dark Machine Pictures © Mark Johnson - Dark Machine Pictures

 

DARK MACHINE PICTURES on YouTube https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC44DeUQ5L1SQ2f_7QdW3aIg

DARK MACHINE PICTURES on Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/darkmachinepictures/

DARK MACHINE AUDIO on Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/darkmachineaudio/

DARK MACHINE AUDIO on Soundcloud - https://soundcloud.com/mark-johnson-318752400

DARK MACHINE PICTURES on IMDb - https://www.imdb.com/name/nm8581421/?ref_=fn_al_nm_1


M.D. McCallum, aka WarLord, is an international award-winning commercial graphics artist, 3D animator, published author, project director, and webmaster with a freelance career that spans over 20 years.  Now retired, M.D. is currently working part-time on writing and select character development projects. You can learn more about MD on his website






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