They say a picture speaks a thousand words. That saying applies indescribably well to BattleTech. From the clean, sleek lines of scout ‘Mechs and vehicles to the thundering awesomeness of the largest assault machines, art brings the turmoil of the BattleTech universe to life. The images in our TRO’s and Source books lets us imagine these gargantuan machines storming across the battlefields of the Inner Sphere.
I was fortunate enough to catch up with one of this generation’s best BattleTech artists, Matthew Plog. Matthew was gracious enough to take some time out of his day to answer a few questions that gives us a glimpse into the mind of an artist and the workings of creating awesome BattleTech art.
Martin (Sarna): Let’s start from the very beginning, for all those budding artists out there who may read this. Where did you study art?
Matthew: First off I had a very creative mother and she was of course very encouraging to her young son. Now that that’s out of the way :), I received my more formal art education in New Jersey at the Joe Kubert School for cartoon and Graphic design. 95-98′.
Martin (Sarna): It’s great on many levels to have that family connection to your passion. What got you interested in designing BattleTech equipment?
Matthew: I’d always loved machines, robots, tanks and the like. Started with Saturday morning and weekday cartoons. Ranging from G.I. Joe and all their gear to Voltron, Tranzor Z, even Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors. Anything along those lines fed what I liked, and thus made me like that kind of thing even more.
Martin (Sarna): There are some great blasts from the past there and lots to draw from for inspiration. So what was your first experience with BattleTech work?
Matthew: Well, after time things get fuzzy. I know I started picking up work with FASA, who owned BattleTech at the time, directly from school. I believe it may have been work in one of the Battleforce boxed sets, BF2 if I recall correctly. That was mostly just introductory type work and shortly thereafter I got a big slice of the TRO3060 roster. As far as the experience goes, working with the BattleTech guys was always good. They knew what they were after, knew the right things to say to get it, and usually paid on time.;)
Martin (Sarna): As a writer I find it easy working with words. As an artist and with only words to work with, how do you go about transforming those words into drawings?
Matthew: Having everything I’m doing take place in a universe that has already been established helps. It gives you the framework. But the words do the same thing to non-artists that they do to artists, we hear something, we see it in our head. We just have the ability to get it back out. Plus almost nothing ever gets to its end state on the first go. There’s almost always something that gets missed or minimized when it should be far more evident. That’s why we have art editors.
Martin (Sarna): Can you describe your design creation process? Do you typically start from the ground up (literally) or work from the head down?
Matthew: Such things often end up being on a case by case. If there’s an important structure to whatever I’m drawing I’ll start there. But if we’re just talking general ‘Mechs then I start from the inside out. Since the universe has an established set of rules for its technology they tend to follow biological rules a bit. What with artificial muscle and man-mind controls. So typically an arm is an arm and a leg, other. Having fun with the sliders in the BT universe between straight machine look and more manlike is usually one of the fun parts of design. But usually the most important thing when designing is to remember what rules you’re supposed to be following. That tends to make the difference. Of course, also when to ignore them.
Martin (Sarna): You create a lot of excellent commissioned art, particularly via DeviantArt. What’s the thrill for you in doing this type of work as opposed to an entirely new creation?
Matthew: BattleTech fans have always been a fine bunch to do business with, so they make it fairly easy. Drawing something different every time has its appeal. I’m unlikely to be able to complain of stagnation, at least on a one to one basis.
Martin (Sarna): Between business and commissioned requests it sounds like you’re kept pretty busy. Do you have a lot of back-work waiting to see the light of day or do you create upon request?
Matthew: There are some personal projects still in sketchy stages, but generally I share everything that I’d consider “done”. Usually a good idea to show off the latest commissions and such. But when I’m not working on one of them, likely I’m doodling something else for sure.
Martin (Sarna): Do you play BattleTech? If so for how long and how often?
Matthew: I haven’t played the actual board game version in every part of 15 years but I still love the miniatures, buying and painting them. In keeping with the tone set by the first time I ever heard “BattleTech” I’ve played it most recently in the computerized form. I played MechWarrior Online for a bit and am looking forward to trying out the BattleTech turn based game as well.
Martin (Sarna): I can vouch that the latest BattleTech game by Harebrained Schemes is well worth the time and money. I hope you have a lot of fun playing it and we would love to hear about your experiences with it in the future.
Thanks very much for your time, Matt. It’s very interesting to get a little glimpse behind the curtain of a well-established BattleTech artist. We all look forward to seeing more of your work in the near future.
For those of you wanting to keep up to date with Matt’s work (and you absolutely should!) or contact him about commission work, you can follow his DeviantArt account here: MattPLOG on DeviantArt