Character designInterview

mcbess

Charlotte Rivers steps inside the weird and wonderful world of illustrator and character creator Matthieu Bessudo, aka mcbess

A Year with Dead Pirates
A Year with Dead Pirates is a hand-drawn illustration created for a show at the Issue Gallery in Paris

Matthieu Bessudo, or mcbess as he is known creatively, is one of the most interesting illustrators and 3D animators working today. He produces intriguing surrealist illustrations with amazing detail and positively unique characters. This summer saw the release of his book, Big Mother, in collaboration with Nobrow Press, and earlier this year he appeared as a guest speaker at both the FITC Toronto and Amsterdam conferences. And as well as working as an illustrator, he also makes up one quarter of the band The Dead Pirates, for whom he sings and plays guitar, designs merchandise and makes music videos. On top of all this he works as a director at The Mill. So at just 27 years old, it would seem Bessudo is out to achieve a lot in life.

Originally from Cannes in the South of France, mcbess first rose to fame following his involvement in Sigg Jones, a short 3D animated film. He collaborated on the project with illustrators and friends Astrokid and Mostrabo while still at university, and it quickly spread around the internet. Following its success and his graduation from the prestigious SupInfoCom University he moved to London, where he now lives and works independently on his various projects. He explains: “What I like about all the different projects I work on is that they are all more or less self-produced. Our band isn’t signed to a label, so we can play and say whatever we want. The same goes for my illustration work,” he adds. “I guess the direction I’m taking with everything I do is one that lets me be in control of every single aspect of it – whether that be images, animation, or music.”

Edition Copains Collective
An illustration created by mcbess for Edition Copains Collective, as part of a 10m long mural project

Stylistically, Bessudo’s illustrations are characterised by humanesque creatures with elongated arms and legs, devoid of defined wrists or ankles. They also have somewhat distorted cartoon-like proportions within their faces and animalistic features. Together these elements make his work instantly recognisable, but this wasn’t necessarily something he intended. “I started drawing bendy arms and legs due to lack of talent. I was really bad at drawing things like knees, elbows and other funny body angles,” he laughs. “On top of this, I don’t generally like sharp angles and have a tendency to draw most things smoother than they really are. Then with the characters’ faces, I guess I’ve always liked open mouths with loads of teeth in them so that’s what I drew. After some time drawing characters with these features it eventually just became what I did. I really like the animalistic, empty eye look they have because it a gives them a sense of the unpredictable.”

Alter ego
“The main character in my work is roughly based on me – I inspire him and he inspires me. He has a beard and tattoos. Often I have a beard and I have quite a few tattoos. If I’m thinking about getting a new tattoo I will draw it on him first as a kind of experiment to see if it looks good or not.”

Bessudo’s illustration work is very much intertwined with his life. For instance, the main character within his work is based on Bessudo himself, and he was drawing his band, The Dead Pirates, in his illustrations for some years before they actually got together in real life and started to make music. “The main character within my illustrations is based on me – the real me, but also an imaginary me,” he explains. “For instance, when I cut my hair I draw my main character with short hair. But then if I want to grow my hair out I’ll actually draw the character with long hair as it’s a lot quicker than waiting for me to grow my hair longer. So you see, he is me in my imaginary world. You know how you imagine something and see yourself doing it? Well, I do that on paper,” he explains. “In short, the stories within my work are more or less what happens to me. I guess just in a very extrapolated way so there isn’t a story, per say, it’s more about living with those characters which are a representation of me, or of people that I know.”

In addition, there are other recurrent characters that feature throughout Bessudo’s work that are based on people he knows. “There’s a guy with a long beard and long hair who is based on my brother, and then there’s a girl character that is essentially a portrait of my girlfriend. The rest of the characters are all based on various friends or acquaintances from whom I take special traits of their personality and use them to make characters.”

Bessudo has always been interested in music, and it features heavily in his illustration work not only by way of musicians but also by way of an array of musical instruments and accessories such as guitars, keyboards, drum kits, records and amplifiers. “Before I went to SupInfoCom I was just really into music and wasn’t thinking about a career in illustration or animation,” he says. “My parents put me there because they thought it would give me a more certain future. Then, of course, being surrounded by people who were really into illustration and movies got me interested in those fields too. However, because I started playing music before drawing, my illustration mostly talks about music. Now I’m starting to link my music with my images by making music videos for the band. It’s really good to be able to go forward in this direction.”

Pen and ink
Bessudo prefers Photoshop, but does create some images in pen and ink

Bessudo creates his illustrations either by hand or by using a graphics tablet before working in Photoshop. “I always try to keep an analogue look to my drawings and I like using pencils and pens so that I can switch techniques and keep things fresh. But for the most part my illustrations are inked in Photoshop,” he explains. “I want to be as good with real ink as I am with a computer, but I’m not there yet. I think the computer is my favorite medium because I always fear the moment when you do something wrong with real ink and there’s no coming back. On the computer you have Control+Z!”

He also tends to eschew colour, creating the majority of his images in black and white. “I always wanted to work with black and white, and thought that once I was really comfortable with it I’d move on. But it’s so much work to add colour to illustrations, it’s crazy,” he explains. “I do work in coluor sometimes – it’s not that it doesn’t work, it’s more that I don’t like it. It loses its contrast and iconography. I like the old school look as the shading is always a lot more vibrant in black and white. When I first started my illustration I was only doing pencil drawing, so when I wanted to translate my pictures on to a computer to make them smoother, it was very natural to keep one colour instead of adding things that it didn’t need.”

As well as his illustrations Bessudo is currently working on a number of different commercial projects, and recently worked with the Dudes Factory in Berlin customising a bicycle and creating a range of T-shirts. His band’s first album is due out this Christmas, and he has another solo exhibition lined up in Paris next spring. On top of this he is also working on his first live action film. “My aim is to bring my imagination to life,” he tells me. “I’ve been drawing the same characters for seven or so years now. I don’t know how far I can push things but, because I’ve been drawing things that are close to me, it’s natural to want to bring some of them to life. In the end the goal is to give depth to everything that I do, so that it’s not just a book with drawing, or a CD with music on it. But will be linked to something way bigger.”

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