Mike Campau is a University of Michigan graduate who began as a scientific illustrator, graphic designer, and photographer, before electing to follow his dreams of digital art.

It was a good choice. Since then Mike has worked for major brands such as Budweiser, Ford, Pepsi, and Sony, and also with celebrities like Roger Daltrey, Dave Grohl, Kid Rock, Zac Brown, Mike Tyson, Tim Allen, and Tracy Morgan!

Fotolia was a little star-struck to be talking to him, but we managed to remain professional.

Mike Campau

Fotolia: Hi, Mike. Can you introduce yourself and tell us a little about your background?

Mike Campau: I have been in the business of making images for high profile clients, ad agencies, and celebrities for over 15 years.

After graduating from the University of Michigan, I cut my teeth in a small retouching studio and worked my way up through studio/agency life until venturing out on my own. I consider myself a digital artist, whose specialty is creating hybrid images. This is achieved by combining all of my skill sets into one image: CGI, illustration and photography.

I currently reside in southeast Michigan, where I live with my very understanding wife and 5 kids… Yes, 5 kids. Needless to say, I have plenty to do in my spare time. When I’m not working or spending time with my family, I like to play soccer and go for long runs to clear my creative mind.

Fo: What are your influences?

MC: As part of my daily routine, I look through other artist’s artwork, CGI, and photography to find trends, styles, and techniques that catch my eye. I keep a mental and physical library of these images and try to input some of those visual cues into my work.

I am also influenced and inspired by everyday life: sometimes it’s the simple things that can spark large ideas and I always keep an open mind to notice when they happen.

Fo: Have your origin and the culture of your country influenced you? How?

MC: I think this is true for anyone, artist or not. Our surroundings shape who we are and as an artist, your images are a window to your mind’s eye. I am surrounded by images, music, sports, people, and places where I where live… these things shape my visual understanding and what I tend to gravitate to aesthetically. I am sure if I lived in another part of the world, my visual interests would be different and more reflective of that culture.

Fo: In your opinion, what are the qualities required for a photographer / designer?

MC: It’s pretty simple, have a great work ethic and don’t let fear hold you back. Of course, you have to have some visual talent… but talent will only get you so far. You need to be constantly working on your craft and getting it in front of as many people as possible. Great work will usually come from years of practice and many failures, so mental toughness is also a great trait for any successful artist.

By far the biggest quality you need, is passion. If you aren’t doing what you love to do, it will become more like work and less like play.

Fo: Why did you join the TEN Campaign?

MC: It seemed like a great opportunity to meet other artists and photographers who share the same passion as I do.

I also knew and respected some of the artists who were part of Season 2, and figured it could be a fun project to help inspire and educate other fellow artists. So, I guess the questions would be, “why wouldn’t I join the TEN project?”

M&JFo: Do you usually work in pairs, as in this project?

MC: For me it’s about 50/50 solo work and collaborations. I do quite a bit of work with photographers and love the collaborative process. It feels like it brings out the best work in both artists and can be a driving force to improving your work.

The collaboration process is a little different from flying solo, but getting out of your comfort zone can push you into areas you wouldn’t have gone otherwise.

Fo: What messages, emotions or ideas did you intend to convey through your creation? And what was the motivation behind this choice?

MC: The theme of “future” is pretty interpretive and we definitely did that on this image. The future can be looked at in so many variations, whether it’s on a personal level or on a larger macro social level… what does the future hold for us?

I was inspired more on the process of creating your future and less at the end result of what the future holds. Starting with what is possible in the present and using that to build your own future. When you think of it this way, there is no limit to what your future self can accomplish, only the limits you put on yourself.

Fo: What are your preferred or required tools or equipment?

MC: My go to list of software and equipment: Photoshop, MODO, Lightroom, Nikon D800. I can do anything with this combination.

Fo: Can you describe your usual work methods in a few lines?

MC: I tend to go through the same process every time.

First, I study the creative brief or supplied image, and surf the web for reference and inspiration. I will typically go to stock photo sites to explore imagery and inspirational elements that matches the theme, then I begin to combine elements quickly in Photoshop to get a rough concept. At this point, I will take a break and move onto another project, giving the creative process a break.

I will return to the image and repeat the same steps again, just to confirm my direction or find a different twist or idea that can make it better.

Once I am happy with the final compositional concept I will get into the finishing details and final color grading. If there is time, I will let the project set for a couple days and come back to it with fresh eyes to make sure I don’t have any final tweaks or changes before wrapping it up.

Fo: Can you tell us a few ” tricks ” on your work and the techniques you used for this creation?

MC: Here are a few tips to keep in mind:

When isolating objects – find the best selection tool possible for the objects. For hard rigid objects with clean lines, using the pen tool will get you a perfect isolation right out the door. For hair or transparent objects, use alphas, color selections, and calculations to isolate your objects… it’s a little more work, but you will get a much cleaner alpha this way.

When compositing multiple images – always keep in mind the use of light. Make sure all your elements have the same directional light source, i.e. upper right, backlit, underneath.

But just as important as the light are the shadows. Make sure your images have the same shadow quality created by the light modifiers. This means don’t mix hard edge shadows with soft diffused shadows, or heavy filled light with single dramatic lights… this is a dead giveaway that your image is composited.

Keep your PSD organized – This just doesn’t mean label and color code your layers, but think of your composition in terms of “objects” and stack them in an order that makes sense, from front to back or top to bottom in the composition. This will help you with making changes and edits much quicker and keep the creative process moving.

Fo: Thank you for that great advice, Mike, and for your valuable time!