Artist highlight

Michael Maher

Michael Maher

Michael Maher Jr. is a senior illustrator living in Los Angeles. His work has been featured in Oscar winning movies and Emmy award winning TV shows. Working as a freelance artist gives him the opportunity to create matte paintings, concept art, story boards and everything in between for his clients.

CGMA Classes

What is your background as an artist? What educational experience/background did you have coming into CGMA? Do you have professional experience?

My parents told me that when I was young, I never needed a baby sitter because I would entertain myself by drawing all day long.  It was that or watch the movie Top Gun over and over.  When I was 6, my choices were fighter pilot or artist.  I had diverse interests and apparently, great eye sight. 
In High School I was encouraged to pursue art as a career by a very good teacher named Michael Foye. Goodbye F-16s hello mineral spirits. I graduated with a BFA from College for Creative Studies in Detroit in 2007, but at the time there was very little work for a commercial illustrator in Detroit. 
I caught the luckiest break of my life when the State of Michigan participated in a tax incentive bringing film and tv production to my home state. It couldn’t have been better timing and I am thankful for that. I started working on movies as a graphic designer to get my foot in the door. I designed set dressing and props mostly. It was a fun, fast paced gig. I learned a lot and used every excuse I could to draw. 
At first, I worked on a string of smaller ‘made for TV’ movies (yes, including Lifetime). From those, I was able to get on a few studio features like Real Steel and Ides of March. These were eye openers for me. Suddenly, I was working with George Clooney, but better than that:  I was allowed to see concept art and storyboards in a production environment. It was like heaven. I was so excited.
Not long after, I caught another break and was offered a job on a movie that was filming in Los Angeles, named Argo. Thankfully, I took the chance and came out west. Since then I’ve worked in TV and film for about 5 years as a concept artist. In 2014, I worked on a TV show named Cosmos which earned me an Emmy nomination. 
I must say, recounting my story has made me feel so fortunate. I’ve received so much help along the way from others. It’s a humbling experience to have people believe in you.
Why did you decide to take CGMA classes?
To be honest, I was surfing around on the internet (probably when I should have been drawing) and I found the CGMA contest to redesign the Ghostbusters. When I saw that the first prize was a free class, it was great motivation.  I was working on a feature film at the time, so I doubled my efforts and worked really hard on my piece.  There were so many great entries and I’m fortunate to have been picked.
What classes did you take and why did you choose them?
I chose Tyler Carter’s class: The Art of Color and Light. Mostly because Tyler Carter may be the closest thing to a perfect human that exists and I was worried he might be a robot. Turns out no. He’s not. He’s actually just an extremely talented, kind person.      
Jokes aside, I would recommend his class to artists of all different skill levels. He references great painters from the past and tailors his class not only to developing the skills necessary to determine value, composition and color, but to also develop important elements in a portfolio simultaneously. You can’t beat the individual feedback he gives to each of this students. It’s been a great opportunity to say the least.    
How did taking classes help you refine your craft and help you along your artistic journey?
In my short artistic career, I’ve tried to maintain a “beginner’s mentality”. That is, I make an attempt to open my mind to learning regardless of the situation. It’s easy to become stagnant and get caught thinking “I know enough about a particular subject to get by”. The truth is, there is always something to learn out there. I’ve taken Color and Light classes before and I hope to take another one down the line. I believe that reviewing the foundation of our craft is essential, but learning more each time you review is critical. So I say to myself: “Don’t just pass the class, when it’s all done you should be able to teach it”.  
What was your first big gig and how did you get it?
I covered a few of my film credits earlier, but my very first job came on a movie, named… “The Job”. I kid you not. It was listed as an ‘extremely low budget film’. Talk about “beginners mentality” I started on the film as a swing (a position which helps construct and deconstruct sets on location - or, basically... a furniture mover). I figured, by any means necessary, right? One day, I was sitting around waiting for a shoot to finish and I started drawing caricatures of the extras sitting around in costume. The production designer walked by and offered me a job as a graphic designer. A position I didn't know existed in films. This may be due to the fact that I’m a horrible furniture mover. For once, my lanky arms were of great benefit to me. I took the job and worked as a graphic designer on 10 or 11 films in Michigan before moving out West.      
Why would you recommend CGMA to another artist?
Here’s the deal: you get to go to class in your pajamas. Boom. That should be enough for anyone on the fence. Kidding of course, I attend class naked.  No, but seriously, CGMA’s class structure is highly personalized. You get individual feedback on your assignments with paint overs and instruction that is invaluable. I’ve attended other schools in person and you just don’t receive the same kind of attention.  
Why is having professional feedback important to you?
I’ve worked in live action for a little while, but thanks to ADD, I’m very interested in working in animation. Knowing that Tyler Carter is a working professional for a major studio, I sought out his class. Pretty simple. Seek out the best and take their advice.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Thanks CGMA for considering me with this interview. I have so much fun talking about art and illustration, it’s rare to have an outlet to do so.
We would like to thank Michael Maher for sitting down with us and sharing his CGMA experience. To see more of Michael“s artwork you can visit his website at​