Meet Mike Campau, Hollywood’s CGI Go-to Guy*
By John D. Adams
Are you looking closely? You don’t want to miss anything. And with any Mike Campau image, you’ll want to look for hours. Campau’s works are truly visionary, exceptionally unique, and dance between the lines of fantasy and reality. Through his amalgam of traditional photography and computer-generated imagery (CGI), Campau compels us to rethink the boundaries of the real and the unexpected.
Master of Illusion
It takes an illusionist years and thousands of hours of trial and error to make the impossible seem effortlessly possible. It was no different for artist Mike Campau. You don’t become a digital wizard overnight. He always played around with art in one form or another but couldn’t reconcile a paying career with it. Working as a digital photo retoucher, Campau immersed himself in the fledgling world of computer aided visuals. “I developed a good understanding of how to work with the first versions of Photoshop,” remembered Campau. “I began to come across very rudimentary 3-D rendering programs comprised of just very basic shapes and simple shading tools… At that time it was just a hobby and I
really enjoyed it. But I recognized the advantages of using that kind of package once the technology developed and improved.”
Zen and the art of CGI
Fast-forward 15+ years. CGI capabilities make those original programs look like cave drawings. Under Campau’s mastership, he corrals, sculpts, and lights multitudes of computer pixels, breathing life into virtually anything that can be imagined. Campau stresses the importance of balance between traditional photography and computer generated imagery. “Sometimes I use it to be over the top surreal and it becomes a matter of the viewer wondering ‘How did he do that?’ or ‘What is real and what is not?’ And then some of my work is overtly, obviously completely CGI.”
Whether it is a personal project or collaboration with clients and other artists, Campau begins each project by visualizing the end result first. “Sometimes I use CGI because it is just quicker and more budget conscious than a physical photo shoot. For instance, if we wanted an image of a car sliced in half, to try to do that in studio would be a massive, expensive undertaking. But I can go in and create a computer generated image of it and it saves all of that labor, time and money.
“Other times, I want to achieve something that just wouldn’t be possible through traditional photography. You have no
limitations when working with CGI. There are no physics or logistics involved. With my Motion in Air pieces, I could have had those sculptures built and brought into the studio. Instead, I created those forms digitally, maintaining a freedom to change or adapt them any way I saw fit…”
For his Living Sculptures series, Campau created varied CGI shapes and then introduced a human element — clothing — to them. “All of the sudden these undefined, formless objects become characters, each now imbued with movement, life and personality… And that’s the important yin and yang of using CGI and photography… Knowing when to use it and when not to.”
Whether behind a camera or in front of a computer screen, Campau is always enthusiastic about the next project, the next digital challenge. We can be assured that he will offer us an impossible dream, an orchestrated magic between light and shadow somewhere between the physical and the ephemeral.
See more of Mike Campau’s work at www.mikecampau.com
* Mike Campau is the artist who created the 3D CGI paint art on the cover of this issue of Opulence (Fall 2016).