We continue our artist highlight of Martin Millar with the interview I conducted with him via email. You can check out his graphic design work in part 1 of our feature, and you can see the continued interview where we discuss his work on indie game soundtracks in part 3.
- Part 1 - Martin Millar artist highlight
- Part 3 - Musician/Composer interview
- Part 4 - Indie Game Soundtracks
Unique Drops: How did you get your start in the arts?
Martin Millar: Art has always been in my life and at a very early age. My mum would have been a huge influence, as young as 7 or 8 I have fond memories of her drawing from the Beano and Dandy comics and then telling me “now you try!” I think this healthy competition that we had going on was defiantly the start plus it was my first introduction to the comic world, which later evolved into me reading 2000ad, Manga and various graphic novels from the time. Another big influence at the time would have been the superb game box artwork from Bob Wakelin all of the great cover artwork from Oli Frey.
UD: Did you attend school to pursue art, or are you self taught?
MM: I knew from an early age I wanted to mix my two loves (art and computers) so after a bit of research when I was a teenager I was delighted that Graphic Design was a proper career path that I could pursue. At the time when I was 16/17 I was hoping to “do graphics for games” though unfortunately in the mid to late 90s there wasn’t much on offer course or degree wise. I studied 4 years of Graphic Design in Ireland and done a degree in Interactive Multimedia in England. The graphic design course was great as I was taught the basics of design but as new packages such as Photoshop and Illustrator were just slowly coming in and technology was improving there was a punk like attitude among a few of us were the was a feeling that we were self-teaching and experimenting in a new abstract way with this new medium. The Interactive Multimedia course was so much fun as it was wetting my appetite into animation, music, design and games which I just lapped up.
UD: Share with us some of your artistic influences: Is there a particular artist, or a decade, or a aesthetic, etc. you gravitate towards?
MM: As mentioned above for my illustration work Wakelin and Frey were a huge influence married with a love of H.R. Giger, Syd Mead and more recently Kilian Eng. For my design work and Slippytee images a few influences come to mind. First up Japanese game artwork and packaging from any year on any system, they just (in my opinion) have always and still do get it right compared to the US and Europe releases. The bright bold colouring, thick black outline of beautifully simplified but yet striking artwork still amazes me (and I am a sucker for it when shopping on eBay haha) 80s VHS artwork would be another, just that retro futurism look that was going on back then plus if the cover was more destroyed and eroded it just added to the overall aesthetic for me. Finally The Designers Republic, the first time I seen their work with the first Wipeout game on the Playstation and all of the cover design work they were doing for the record label Warp I instantly fell in love. Again their simplistic yet stunning iconography and logos, mixed with fun and irony are all elements I try to have in my own designs.
UD: What is the genesis of Slippytee?
MM: Slippytee clothing basically started with me loving so many video games but yet I was frustrated that its audience was still being treated like children (when it came to the fashion / apparel world anyway) My generation has already been through the “oh you’re one of those gamer nerd type geeks” look of disgust, but I think people are slowing realising that the ‘nerds’ are ruling the world, the gaming industry is not going anywhere anytime soon (in fact its giving other forms of medium a run for their money) and those who got sneered at when younger are now in the 35 – 45 bracket and guess what? We still love our games. So in my head I was frustrated that there wasn’t any (at the time) T-shirts or clothing range that presented the games I loved in a respectful manner, if you were 10 years old and wanted a Sonic or Mario T-Shirt it was all good tho ha.
UD: Tell us about the connection between Slippytee, Mo Chroi, and the Irish Heart Foundation.
MM: Mo Chroi (your heart) started over a year ago and it was the main starting block came together as my way of raising some money for the Irish Heart as it’s a charity that both my wife and I are hugely supportive of (due to our own families history) Around a year ago my wife was running half marathons and organizing fun raising events to raise awareness and proceeds so my earnings from anything I produced was basically my lazy way out as I am no runner ha… well I can run but I have no stamina haha.
But the basic premise of Mo Chroi was me gathering over 100 musicians from a wide range of genres and put together a digital downloadable album on bandcamp and to coincide with the release I also released an art book where I got in touch with over 85 artists and they each kindly submitted a piece of work.
Looking back it’s something I am so proud to have done and setup and super grateful for everyone getting on board and I have made some great friends through it, I beat myself up sometimes though as I wish I could have raised more but I think that’s always the way with charities you feel you can just give that little bit extra. You can find more info on it here.
I guess that’s why I am continuing it with my music and design it’s something I just want to build up and continue. Thinking about it though regarding the Slippytee work a main reason all proceeds are going to the charity is that deep down the designs I produce I am aware that 80/90% of them are using old sprite sheets from original games, artwork from promotional material from inlay manuals to cover art, so I don’t know is it catholic guilt or just respect for other artists and designers but I don’t feel and never will feel comfortable taking credit for these designs. They feel almost like remixes to me, I am taking old samples and packaging it up in a contemporary way to hopefully show a new audience.
UD: Give us some insight into your creative process. How do you choose what game and what aesthetic? Once you've decided on one, what does that process look like with the tools and techniques you use?
MM: Deciding on a game can be random, it could be just a case of me playing for example Dragon Spirit on the PC-Engine, enjoying a few hrs blasting away then thinking to myself “what would I wear to represent this game” It’s as simple as that and you could say it’s quite selfish and self-indulgent but I have always been that way with the project, every now and then I will ask people for requests but the designs they get back could be completely of the wall and not what they had in mind. At the end of the day I am designing for myself, if other people purchase that is obviously such a great bonus, but I do find it funny when people email me frustrated that they don’t know what a certain game was, or why did I lay it out this way, or use a certain colour. I’m always to tempted to email them back and apologise for not checking with them first… ha I’m not that nasty tho ;)
Process wise depending on the design if it is based on old promotional work of the game I will always start in Adobe Illustrator, trace the artwork (and in turn usually simplifying it) any typography or icon elements again will be mixed in at this stage then once happy with the composition and overall layout I export into Photoshop and apply dirt, scratches and just generally mess the design up a little to give that machine washed look.
UD: What do you think an average time investment is with one of your designs?
MM: Umm it depends really, sometimes if the image is strong in my head and I have sketched it out I could get it done in under an hr. On average though taking in the initial sketching on a notepad, scanning, tracing and the tweaking in Photoshop I would say between 2 to 3 hrs.
UD: What does your gaming history look like?
MM: Ha how long have you got? ;) Earliest memories and my first console was the Atari 2600, playing a dodgy conversion of Pacman, having family fun with Combat and me and my dad battling it out for the highest score on Frostbite (which I’m sure this was when I gained some twitch gaming skills which helped on shmups later years)
Next up was a Spectrum 128k, too many games to mention but stand out titles for me was Robocop (damn that music) the R-Type conversion was great, loads of multiplayer fun with Chaos, Rebelstar, Batty, Bruce Lee – yeah I had loads of great times with the aul Speccy.
I kind of by passed the console years not so much ignoring them but all of my friends at the time had a NES, Master System, Megadrive and SNES so I was pretty much covered when I caught up with them and seen what new titles they had got. For me though it was the Amiga that caught my eye, the idea of being able to produce artwork on Deluxe Paint, music on Octa Med and play sweet 16bit titles sold it for me.
UD: What kind of games do you play now?
MM: As a family man, working full time as a designer and having various other projects on the go I would love to have the time to dedicate to the latest triple AAA titles but obviously your priorities in life come first! Thankfully though I still get a chance to load up the old classic every now and then either on the original hardware or through emulation, that’s why I love shmups so much you can just pick up and play and complete the game in half an hr on the latest titles you could still be in the tutorial section in that length of time.
UD: What are some of your all time shmups?
MM: Again how long have you got? No I’ll keep it short and sweet and give you a top 5 (in no particular order)
The first time I seen this in the arcade as a kid I just fell in love. The graphics, level design, the power ups and the Giger like influences all just blew my mind.
So much fun and so addictive, I love Gradius but Konami’s unhinged pisstake on their own franchise will always win me over.
Damn the music in this game, the graphics and power ups etc are brilliant (tho some of the levels feel like they are just going on a little too long) but the music in this game was so good. It was like having Iron Maiden trying to scream its way out of the Mega Drive.
Zanac X Zanac (Zanac Neo)
To me I caught this really late and missed it first time round and I consider it a bit of a hidden gem when it comes to shmups on the first Playstation. Again the music is great, mixing the old school Zanac soundtrack with contemporary breaks and breats. Highly recommended if you enjoyed the original NES title.
As soon as you start this you know you are in for a treat. The atmosphere, level design and soundtrack are all awesome. Not just your normal shooter keeping you on your toes and making you think, a classic for the Dreamcast.
UD: Any other genres that you gravitate towards?
MM: I also have a huge interest in the indie scene as I believe this is where the real talent and hidden gems of games can be found. It’s just more interesting seeing what a small group of developer can come up with, as there is less involved you will see a more artistic stamp and style shine through compared to a larger studio. Not taking anything from the larger studios as obviously there is a wealth of talent working those huge machines but they are afraid to take risks as it could be a costly gamble with the overheads they have compared to two kids developing from their bedroom.
Plus if I am being honest I am just biased when it comes to the Indie dev scene as I have just finished off soundtracks for the games Twisted Gravity and Story of a Cube, about to wrap up the soundtrack for the up n coming shooter Void Raiders and will be starting the score to DropCore.
........And that's where we will leave off for today. Check in again tomorrow as we continue the conversation around his involvement with the indie game scene.