Mychael Hennig creates eye-catching fictional characters by exploring a surreal forest

Please introduce yourself

Hello everyone! My name is Mychael Hennig, I am a 30 year old 3D artist based out of Toledo, Ohio in the United States. I’ve been working primarily in 3D for six years now, and the programs I are Houdini, Blender, Marvelous Designer, and Zbrush.

How did you get into art, and what motivates you to create?

I got into art heavily in my late teens. At the time, my friends and I were into the skateboard scene. We were always surrounded by tattoo artists, people tagging trains and bridges, and of course, the art on the skateboards themselves.

Being in that sort of environment naturally made me want to join these artists that I looked up to. My original goal was to get my artwork on a board for Creature skateboards, my favorite brand at the time. So I talked to art friends, and they got me started with sketching. Looking back, I was awful at drawing, but I remember that point in my life being the catalyst for the art obsession I have cultivated over the years.

What originally motivated me to create is a lot different back then from what it is now. Now, my motivation is more a rampant obsession with learning anything new in 3D. I try to soak up as much knowledge as I can. The challenge of solving difficult problems in my medium is something I live for.

I would be extremely bored if I wasn’t able to continually push myself into harder 3D challenges. To me, 3D is one massive Sudoku puzzle, it never ends, and I never get bored.

What memory do you recall most vividly from childhood about your creative talent?

Before I had video games, I had Legos. Crates and crates full of Legos.

My siblings and I would spend days building up massive cities, and acting out scenarios with the Lego characters. It was fun, innocent little kid stuff.

I wasn’t all that artistic throughout my early childhood, had no interest in drawing or painting. Looking back, I can see that playing with blocks was artistic too, just in a different form than what a kid would consider “artistic”. 3D art is a lot like playing with Legos, you’re building up scenes with elements in the same way a kid would with blocks.

How would you best describe your style, and who/what are some of your major influences?

The main influence with my work will always be the forests surrounding my hometown.

I feel extremely lucky to have grown up in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by beautiful central American forest. Out where I live, you could get lost for days in the woods, and not come across a soul.

Some of my fondest memories were tripping on psychedelics for days with my best friends out in the middle of nowhere.

I love the idea of a surreal forest I can explore, and experience all the weirdness that goes on inside it. I try to reflect that in my artwork. I feel a synergy with the grounded, down-to-earth style that I’m working on these days. I think the grittiness and rawness of a society with no future-tech is so cool to represent in 3D work, and such a nice contrast from what people will usually think of when they think 3D art. In my work, you’ll never see a car, a machine, a building, or even metal. Everything is wood, bone, fur, hair, or feathers.

As far as influence goes, I’d say my work is heavily influenced by psychedelia, music, and my general temperament. In real life I am a quiet, reflective, and private person. I keep to myself and spend any free time I have walking in the woods, and reading books. Some of my favorite musical influences are Swans, Author & Punisher, Tool, Opeth, HU-MID, Lustmord, and Massive Attack.

What part of the creative process would you rather avoid and the part you can’t get enough of?

The absolute best part of 3D art is the look development aspect.

After you have everything simulated and animated the way you want, the movement is locked in, and the hard parts are done, then you get to shape the scene the way you envisioned it by adding the lighting, the colors, the fog, the rain. So much fun, it’s like putting the icing on your cake! I think the lookdev is probably every 3D artists favorite part of the process.

The worst part of the process is waiting for rendering to finish, and waiting for a simulation cache to bake to disk.

Depending on the complexity of a simulation, it can take your computer anywhere from a few minutes to a few days to bake a cache. And if there’s some sort of problem with it, then you have to start all over. Baking and rendering are easily the most tedious parts of the process, and you definitely have to know what you’re doing, otherwise you could waste days of a project just rebaking the same cache to get it right.

When it comes to rendering, my goal is to keep each frame of the animation under 1 minute of render time.

I render all my personal work in 60fps, so one second of an animation usually takes about an hour to render. And all of my animations are 12-15 seconds long, so you can imagine the amount of time wasted if you have to go back and fix a mistake.

How do commercial pressure and the business of art affect, shape, or guide your creative decisions?

I believe in artistic integrity.

I try my best to ignore trends and only create what feels right to me. People enjoy the style I’ve developed, I have no desire to switch it up to make a client happy. I’m also very choosy with the people I’ll work with, and the projects I’ll work on.

Usually I will say no to about 90% of the offers I get for commissions or collabs, if they don’t suit the vision I have for my creative work. It’s nothing personal against a client, I just refuse to sell myself short for a paycheck.

Your favorite book, song, or film.

My favorite book of all time is Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy. It’s quite the journey, and a crawl at times, but the payoff is such vivid imagery interlaced with beautiful wording.

Another is House Of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski. Such a mind-bogglingly deep book.

My favorite songs lately are both Coil by Opeth or I Bet On Losing Dogs by Mitski. I enjoy sad, somber music.

I don’t have a favorite movie, but one that sticks out to me is Inception. The scene with the buildings flipping overhead is what inspired me to give up my photography career and start exploring 3D and VFX art.

Send a message to your future self.

Myke, I hope you’re staying true to your principles, valuing friendships over money, and keeping your center. Appreciate the little things, and don’t get lost in internet madness. Look at more sunsets. Bring friends up with you who have stayed loyal, and focus on your small tribe. Find a cabin so deep in the woods, that nobody could ever find you. Remember that no matter what, all is well.

Thanks everyone!

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