At a time when a pint of beer cost 73p, Apple released the first Macintosh computer and Ghostbusters hit our cinema screens; Michael was born. The year was 1984 and the era was one filled with neon shell suits and mullets. Raised in a pre-internet world with his ‘Generation Y’ schoolmates, the Yorkshire lad had the luxury of a ‘proper childhood’. “Building tree houses, riding my BMX until my fingers bled and poking nature in the face with a stick”, he reflects. The days were spent getting lost in his own thoughts, making his own adventures and dreaming of stranger things after reading George Orwell’s ‘1984’. Leaving a lasting impression on a young Michael, the dystopian novel ensured he grew up with “a fondness for science fiction, anti-heroes and big ideas.”
As he got older, a partiality for film and love of Kung-Fu movies prompted his dedication to the Martial Arts and with it, a new-found self-confidence. This, in turn, prompted his dedication to the Martial Arts and with it, a new-found self-confidence. “The Anime shelf in HMV was only 12 VHS tapes long, but it was enough to open my eyes to an artistic culture to the likes of which I’d never seen. I was an artistic Otaku making my way through the educational system, a journey which landed me in Liverpool where I earned my Black Belt Degree in the Graphic Arts”, he tells us.
I think being creative is as much a gift as it is a curse.”
Upon my question of ‘what do you do?’, there is no one word answer for the multi-skilled creative. As Michael so elegantly describes it, “ at my heart, I’m an illustrator although my education would make me a print based graphic designer, and in practice I’m whatever I need to be to get the job done. I can tell you that I’ve yet to make my fortune, but what I do have are a very varied set of skills.”
By day, Michael works full-time for Draw & Code, where he specialises in immersive technologies such as augmented and virtual reality. He is one of the brains behind artistic spectacles on the scale varying between large projection mapping events to intimate gallery experiences.
But as we know, there’s no rest for the wicked. And so, by night, Michael turns his hand to freelance work “under the pseudonym Microcosm for bars, beats and brands. I’ve been fortunate to work with some great local musicians, producing album art and music videos to branding some of Liverpool’s most iconic clubs.” These successes didn’t (and don’t ever!) happen overnight. “Being a freelancer, you not only have to do all the work but be your own marketing and financial department whilst trying to maintain client relationships and seek new opportunities. If someone asks can you do this, you either step up to the challenge or see the work go elsewhere.” Michael spent years building a client base and reputation as Microcosm and letting all this hard work fade away when being successful in securing his role at Draw&Code, simply wasn’t an option.
Having such compact days can come with its obstacles of where to draw the line. “It’s a difficult balance, but this line of work isn’t a 9-5, it’s a way of life. I think being creative is as much a gift as it is a curse. I want to do the best I can, for the client, the job they’re paying me to do and for myself. It’s my work which speaks for me when it’s out in the world so I regularly find myself going the extra mile; a constant struggle from a business perspective between where you draw the line on the value of your time”.
When all that’s done, a beer and movie is the perfect end to a hard day’s graft.”
“A friend described me as a one-man design studio, which I have to admit I was rather flattered by”, and undoubtedly his friend would be right. On a day-to-day basis, the Martial Arts enthusiast can be completing a combination of any of the following:
Illustrating / Graphic Designing / Art-working / Digital Designing / Web Designing / App Designing / UI/UX Designing / 2D Animating / Motion Graphics Designing / Product Designing / Photographing / Videoing / Copywriting / Print Making.
“When all that’s done, a beer and movie is the perfect end to a hard day’s graft” – and is absolutely well deserved. Over his 12 year-long, and continuing, career span, Michael has worked with some incredible clients and completed projects that many dream of. We needed to know – what have been the highlights within this impressive portfolio?
The first mentioned was Draw & Code’s immersive experience work with National Museums Liverpool and their newest and most exciting exhibition: China’s First Emperor and the Terracotta Warriors. “ We’ve had the pleasure of providing a wealth of engaging animations, which complement the stunning artefacts and the proud Warriors. From projection mapped rooms which tell the history of China and their turbulent warring states period, through the use of animation and film to the finale of the mausoleum, a beautiful representation of the Emperor’s final resting place, we’ve thrown our talent and passion into every aspect of the show and are extremely proud to be associated with such a landmark event in Liverpool and the UK.”
Michael has spent a significant amount of time over the past few years looking after the rebrand of some of his favourite nightclubs in Liverpool; making this a huge freelancing and personal career highlight. Being sat in a ‘University days’ bar, now surrounded by his own work is not just nostalgic, but also a realisation he describes as “a very humbling yet vindicating experience which reminds me of how far I’ve come”. Not many of us can reminisce on our former student selves frequenting city centre joints, dancing until the early morn and be able to walk past the same places years later with the reward of seeing your “most accomplished design work to date”. Something that is an occurrence for Michael when in the presence of Liverpool’s Heebie Jeebies, The Jacaranda and EBGBS. He speaks fondly of the partnerships throughout these projects, “working with the team behind these venues is a blast; they have great ideas but also trust me to have free reign, a rare opportunity which really allows the creativity to flow.
I’ve gone from a pre-Internet existence, where Bamboozle on Teletext was as graphically interesting as a game got, to slipping on a VR headset slicing up photo-realistic digital fruit on my lunch break.”
Career highlights don’t stop at completed projects; Michael is also looking to the up and coming launch of SwapBots full of excitement. Draw & Code’s very own product “breaks the boundaries between physical and digital” and is set to be introduced to the world in due course. This technology is “cutting edge” and “is set to change the way you view and interact with the world”, he describes. As the Head of Creative, Michael has thrown his heart and soul into the designing of the brand, the characters and their world with the help of talented team members adding additional 3D, animation, particle and SFX bringing the whole product to life.
While on the subject of SwapBots and products of the future, the possibilities and speed in which the industry develops must, naturally, excite somebody with the love for Science Fiction running through their veins… so, what is the most exciting aspect of what the future could look like for Michael?
“What excites me most about the future of our industry is that I may get to actually live in some of those Science Fiction stories I grew up on. In my lifetime of just over 30 years I’ve gone from a pre-Internet existence, where Bamboozle on Teletext was as graphically interesting as a game got, to slipping on a VR headset slicing up photo-realistic digital fruit on my lunch break.”
Additionally, we spoke about the future of Draw & Code, and where they’re heading in the industry. “ We’ve pioneered into the digital frontier of fringe technology where we’re beating our own path through for others to follow. I have a lot of admiration working alongside that talented bunch of misfits”, he says. And for Michael to have “stood on the shoulders of giants” is a proud realisation and one where his input helps in breaking some of the most exciting ground.
I think I absorb a lot of my ideas or styles through osmosis, by just having my eyes open to the world around me.”
Constant changes and developments within the creative and digital industry inevitably provides a constant stream of new tools and news. Michael’s approach to keeping up is one that will never go out of style. “I’m not a trend follower. I don’t read design periodicals or pander to the latest design celebrities and their styles. I simply try to make intelligent, well-crafted design”. And in order to get his ideas, Pinterest is one of the apps at the top of his list. “I often get sucked into a Pinterest wormhole and end up breaking the internet with endless tabs I spend hours organising into inspiration boards”… admittedly I’m quite happy to know that’s not just me. And inspiration doesn’t stop there; “I think I absorb a lot of my ideas or styles through osmosis, by just having my eyes open to the world around me”.
However, no matter how many new pins are uploaded a day or how much you appreciate the world around you – there will be times when everybody falls victim to creative and professional blocks. It can feel as though your brain is continuously hitting a wall with absolutely no breakthrough; driving a person to procrastination and searching for instant gratification rather than working on long-term goals and projects. When it’s difficult to see the wood through the trees, the power of the subconscious can often be massively underestimated. For Michael, channelling this approach can provide that much needed clarity, “the way forward is rarely a straight line, so focusing your attention elsewhere can often allow those background processes to spit something out when you’re least expecting them, and then there’s the clearing in your mind.”
Additionally, when subject to this frustration, Michael is fortunate in having the wise words of his late tutor, John Young instilled in his mind. “He once told me that ‘if you can’t find an intelligent solution to a problem, make a beautiful one’. He was a straight-talking Scot who’d tell you plain that your work was shit but he’d also tell you why; giving you just enough of a nudge in the right direction and fire in your belly to prove him wrong, or ultimately right!”.
Success, for some, is a paparazzi following, millions in the bank and a yacht on the med. But for “a classic left-handed, right-brain guy” these things were never a priority. “I never thought growing up that by pursuing a career in the creative field it would lead to my fortune and fame”. Humbly accepting his part in Big Brother’s machine, Michael has simply focussed consistently on his enjoyment in the creative side of life, rather than any celeb lifestyle by “stubbornly working at my craft”.
Despite getting to a destination where he can now tell people he draws and colours robots for a living, the journey hasn’t been as easy as it sounds. On reflection, “I’ve had bad years, terrible years and then those where you look back and take stock of how far you’ve come”. By planting his feet firmly in the ground and persevering through the rain and the shine, it has eventually enabled Michael to wake up and do something he truly cares about every day. And that, ultimately, is the real vision of success for the big ideas dreamer.