If Maxx Burman does his job right, you won’t even notice his work because it not only blends into the background – it is the background. The Los Angeles-based matte painter and VFX supervisor has digitally painted frozen tundras, alien environments, and other wild virtual landscapes for some of the world’s most prominent films. His matte paintings have served as the backdrops for Hollywood blockbusters (Godzillaand Iron Man 3), popular shows (Game Of Thrones and The Walking Dead), and video games (Call of Duty and League of Legends).
However, two years ago Burman realized he was consciously disowning the directorial changes made to his work. While working on blockbusters, he had to let his work go and allow someone else to tinker, shape, or even overhaul what he designed. So for the time being, he has made the choice to step away from focusing on the big titles and to find projects with clients who let him inject his personal style into the work.
After leaving his art director role at Elastic Pictures in June, Burman is committing more hours to personal projects, including his game One More Night and his first solo art show, Disconnect.
We talked with Burman about how he established himself as a go-to matte painter for Hollywood, why he has shelved those gigs at the moment, and how that led him to appreciate his art in a whole new way.
How did your background, both your skills and education, lead you to matte painting?
I fell in love with Photoshop and painting at a young age, so I put a lot of hours into trying new things and teaching myself new tools. I didn’t even realize that there was a career around this at first. When I was 18, after high school, I cold-called every visual effects studio I could find online and just said, “I need to be in the studio, on that side of things. I don’t care if I have to make the coffee!” That’s how I got my first job as an intern at Zoic.
At Zoic, you worked for renowned matte painter Syd Dutton. What did you learn from him?
There is so much that I still use today. He would give me art history classes, and taught me how artists like French painter Jean-Léon Gérôme would use composition to tell a story in a painting, or how the Hudson River School painters used color and light to move your eye around a canvas. One of the big non-art lessons he taught me was about taking pride in my craft and how to present myself. A lot of people in Vfx studios wear shorts and sandals, but when I started working with Syd, that ended. With him, I had to wear a dress shirt, dress shoes, and nice jeans or slacks. He would tell me, “It doesn’t matter what everyone else is doing, it’s your responsibility to maintain the respect of matte painting, and that means presenting yourself in a professional way.” That never left me....more