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Andreas Maaninka. The Swedish talent shaping the visual worlds of Hollywood blockbusters

Updated: Aug 27, 2023

As we know, cinema is a synthetic art, combining the expressive possibilities of different types of art into a single artistic creation. It is worth noting that the aesthetic identity of modern cinema includes digital elements such as special effects and digital animation. However, the creators of these mesmerizing worlds that transport us to the Marvel and DC universes are often unknown to the general public, despite the fact that millions of people have viewed their artwork. These digital art heroes don't usually seek applause.

Recently, I had the opportunity to interview one such artist, Andreas Maaninka, who played a vital role in creating the captivating environments of movies like Star Trek 2, X-Men: Days of Future Past, Blade Runner 2049, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, and Avatar. Andreas Maaninka and his team are responsible for bringing to life the captivating fantasy world that we know and love.

Andreas was born in Sweden, and his artistic vision was inspired by famous anime films from an early age. He dreamt of exploring these mystical worlds, never imagining that he would one day create them himself. Andreas is a talented digital artist who specializes in creating immersive environments that transfer viewers to parallel worlds or into some kind of colorful dreams.

In addition to his exceptional artistic abilities, Andreas is also a great leader and renowned public speaker. He has been invited to various professional events and conferences in the gaming and animation industries, where he shares his expertise on the impact of AI tools on the digital art industry.

I encourage you to explore the captivating universe of Andreas Maaninka, where you can acquire a deeper understanding of the complexities involved in creating digital masterpieces. Additionally, Andreas offers invaluable insights into the future trajectory of the digital art industry and the impact of AI on this field.

Ana de Armas and Ryan Gosling in "Blade Runner 2049" SOURCE: WARNER BROS
Ana de Armas and Ryan Gosling in "Blade Runner 2049" SOURCE: WARNER BROS

Yuliana Arles: As a digital artist, your contributions to the entertainment industry have crafted a world of enchanting special effects. By adding your creative input to the fantasy world, the viewer experiences it in a more engaging and authentic way. Can you tell us about your journey as a digital artist and how you got started in this field? Why did you decide to pursue this career, and when did you realize you had a passion for it?

Andreas Maaninka: It all started back in Stockholm, Sweden around 1995-97 ish, around the same time as Event Horizon, Fifth Element, Starship Troopers and Princess Mononoke, Ghost in the shell came out. These films probably solidified what I truly loved about film, but also that they were a potential avenue of creative expression for me personally. Before that time, it all felt unobtainable, and I never even thought it would be something I could do.

Andreas Manninka
Andreas Manninka

I grew up watching “Super Dimension Fortress Macross”, Akira, Totoro, Appleseed, Megazon 23, Venus Wars among many other films and TV shows. It’s funny, it’s how I learned to write and speak English for the most part, watching subtitled and dubbed films in general. These projects were inspirational, and I still remember vividly dreaming of these worlds and what they would be like to live in. I was living at home in Sweden where I had been doing freelance work on very small projects.

I really was just trying to learn at the same time as working when I was connected with a gentleman named David Dozoretz, who had at the time recently left ILM to form his own company to focus on something new, previsualization. He was in need of some work done on a film, and I honestly can’t remember how I was introduced to him, but I got a chance to help out. This led to another gentleman named Ron Thornton calling me in Sweden asking for some work. This time I started my journey for real and moved to London. The job was located outside of London at Pinewood Studios and really blew me away, the rest is history.

Yuliana Arles: Yes, since that time you have managed to implement many significant projects. You've worked with major companies such as Marvel, DC, Warner Brothers, Paramount, Disney and Gearbox on various projects. Can you tell us about your experiences collaborating with these companies and what it's like to work on projects for such well-known brands?

Andreas Maaninka: We as vendors depending on the producers of a project and we always have varied interaction with the client. I’ve been fortunate enough to work on both film and cinematic projects with some of these clients, and I have only personally had great experiences with them.

I have found that when I come into contact with the clients they have been a wealth of knowledge and our direction has been extremely collaborative in nature. They have loved hearing ideas on how to execute complex visions, and it’s always made the process so much more enjoyable when it’s not just a grind. There are of course certain subjects, such as signature, suit colours and moves, that characters have that get picked on in detail, but those are of the brand and as such, should be expected to be scrutinized.

Yuliana Arles: The knowledge of such clients is without a doubt invaluable, and your productive partnership has led to a brilliant result. As far as I know, you've also worked with various game development companies such as Microsoft, Krafton, and Nacon. Can you discuss your role in game development and how your art contributes to the overall gaming experience?

Andreas Maaninka: Most of the projects I have been involved with in game development have been on the promotional side when doing cinematics for launches. It’s usually been a relatively short timeline to achieve these trailers. I compare them to working in commercials, where the timelines are much shorter and corners need to be cut without sacrificing too much quality. I do wish I had a bit more time to execute the visual awesomeness that I see some big names in the cinematic business achieving.

We do what we can and as long as the crew is happy with the result and feel a sense of pride, then I'm on board. Many times the client will have an idea of what they’re after, but other times they’re coming to us with a blank slate, and we come up with everything from script and visual development all the way to overseeing final Sound and DI.

Yuliana Arles: Your artwork often incorporates detailed textures and lighting. Can you talk about your process for creating these elements and any techniques you use to achieve a realistic look?

Andreas Maaninka: I usually think of it from the standpoint of building out a shot for a project. Be it to shine light on a protagonist or simply establishing a shot of a vista. Thinking of the layout and composition of the shot, model/sculpt/texture/shader details, going into FX simulation, basically thinking through the whole process to establish what parameters I'm looking for. Now, it’s not always so in depth. And it could just be that I'm thinking of a short composition and that’s it. I guess it really comes down to my mood.

Yuliana Arles: Typically, your art incorporates narrative and storytelling elements. Can you share how you approach storytelling in your art and what elements you believe are important to convey a narrative?

Andreas Maaninka: Storytelling is an essential aspect of any of my creations, as it can greatly influence the design and development of environments, subjects and objects within a visual narrative. My intention is always to get the viewer immersed in the world created by following a narrative composition: A strong narrative can also help to shape the composition of a piece.

By understanding the story's themes and plot points in a script, for example, I can strategically place characters and objects within the frame to create a sense of tension, drama, or movement. For a vehicle for example, I try to make something that feels functional, like those extra panels that are meant for something and not just for decoration.

Yuliana Arles: In your career, you not only create masterpieces of digital art yourself, but also manage teams of digital artists. What aspect of the process do you find more enjoyable when working independently versus managing a team of artists? In your role as a team leader, what obstacles have you encountered, and how have you fostered a productive and cooperative work environment?

Andreas Maaninka: I very much enjoy the inception, that spark that births a universe, not only in my mind but in the teams. There are so many more amazing artists out there that I very much look up to, and I feel like once you have that sort of connection with a crew member, creating comes easy.

The hard part is making sure, or at least trying to ensure, that the team is happy. When you move up, there is never a shortage of incidents that could potentially demolish the morale of the crew. The entire crew is the heart of any project, and without them, we are nothing. I try to make it my number one priority to make sure the team knows they are appreciated. We all deserve some sense of thanks. It motivates us to want to continue, to push harder, and to make ever more amazing art.

Yuliana Arles: The manner in which you speak of your team indicates that you're not just a skilled artist, but also an exceptional leader who inspires their team by setting an example and recognizes their contributions towards the success. Going back to your artwork, it's noteworthy that your portfolio showcases a wide range of styles and subjects, from Sci-fi environment, realistic portraits to fantastical creatures. How do you approach each new project and determine the right style for it?

Andreas Maaninka: Regarding the majority of scenes and objects I’ve created in the past, I think the script and world-building dictate the direction that the style goes in. Think about what kind of world we’re building and what laws of nature are either needing to be followed or ready to be bent to fit the story.

I have to say, I'm definitely not a character/creature artist. My passion has always been within the mechanical and environmental subjects. It’s been an interesting year with the birth of “Narrow AI” in art that for sure has made me more aware of visual development ideas for more of an organic field, and it’s definitely made me appreciate true creature and character masters out there. Some, for sure, that I count myself lucky to call friends and I can see the struggle they have with the birth of these new tools. Honestly, everyone, especially with the ethics surrounding the inception of diffusion models that made all of this possible.

Yuliana Arles: You have touched on a very important and widely discussed topic. I'm highly intrigued to hear your viewpoint. How do you think the digital art industry will evolve in the next decade? What role do you think artificial intelligence will play in the future of digital art, and how do you see it impacting the industry? In your opinion, is AI a threat to human creativity, or can it be used as a practical tool to improve and accelerate the creative process?

Andreas Maaninka: This is an incredibly broad question. Art isn’t a single thing and neither is the use of Ai. We use Ai in our daily life and most people pay little attention to it as it suits their needs, speeds up processes and makes things easier and more convenient for us.

Let’s specifically break it down here a little bit. The Elephant here is Generative Ai Art and Diffusion models and what they were trained on. I wholeheartedly agree with the artist community that the models were trained on works that did not consent to being trained. It all started on the wrong foot in my opinion, it should have been trained ethically on libraries that were specifically meant for that purpose. The scraping of the internet, I feel, was not the right method of acquiring this knowledge. I think we could have gotten to the same point we are today with a bit more effort, but this is not human nature, in the same way as Ai art is being used today. It’s a way to speed up the process.

Does this disturb Artists? Yes, And so did Google when it came to mapmakers. The cat is indeed out of the bag, and the fact that the methods are open-source means they’re not going away. I do wish we could roll back time on this, but here we are. How do we move forward? I think the majority of people will again not care how the tools curated the models used, but simply use it. Emotions and hard work are not and will not be taken into account in the mainstream usage of these tools, and that is a bitter pill to swallow. I am very curious to see how the next few months pan out with the lawsuits happening currently in the UK and the US against the tools' usage of curating these

Yuliana Arles: Let's see where this story goes. We know one thing for sure, the genie is out of the bottle. As a renowned speaker on the influence of artificial intelligence on the digital art industry, you frequently attend international gaming and animation conferences. Which specific events and conferences do you aspire to take part in, and what subjects do you intend to discuss and why?

Andreas Maaninka: I really love all of these conferences really, to me, it’s been about connecting with people who are interested in these subjects and others as well as catching up with friends and colleagues you don’t often get to see. There’s no real specific event that I am longing for. I'm very appreciative of being invited to the ones I have been to. It's been an honor and I hope to continue.

Yuliana Arles: I will be more than happy to recommend you as an expert in digital art and AI for professional events. Can you tell us about any current or upcoming projects you're working on and what we can expect from your art in the future?

Andreas Maaninka: I wish I could talk specifically about what’s coming up next, but such is the industry sometimes. I’m for sure looking forward to a few more conferences this year. It’ll be a busy one preparing for them and also to continue to grow myself on other aspects not related to art but more the studio side. I’m looking forward to these new challenges that will hopefully again take me out of that comfort zone. There are a few projects that have been in the works over the past couple of years that are due to come out this year barring any delays, and I hope they’ll be a pleasant surprise when they drop.

Yuliana Arles: Lastly, what advice would you give to aspiring digital artists who are just starting out in the industry? To make the least mistakes possible, what should they pay particular attention to when embarking on this career path?

Andreas Maaninka: In all honesty, mistakes are how we learn, taking a shortcut diminishes your chance of standing out on your own, and you’ll most likely be denying yourself a life that you may not have had if it was all perfect. Travel, live in other cultures, absorb your surroundings, people, experiences, and never get complacent. Art transcends borders, so why not take advantage of living elsewhere. By the end of it all, hopefully you’ll look back and be satisfied.


If you're a fan of Andreas Maaninka's artwork, don't hesitate to get in touch with him! Whether you're interested in supporting his work or collaborating on a project as a conference speaker or digital artist, you can reach him through the links provided below.

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