An interview with Call of Duty Black Ops III concept artist Bastien Grivet

Matte painter Bastien Grivet talks about his work and the way he visualizes virtual worlds for games and films.

Bastien Grivet is a well-known matte artist with work experience most people can only dream of. This 25-year-old guy from Switzerland was lucky enough to work for Activision, Warner Bros, Treyarch, Ubisoft, not to mention Louis Vuitton and Hennessy. He was one of the artists that formed the style and look of the futuristic Call of Duty Black Ops III.

Bastien has a very distinct style and has created some absolutely amazing works which have inspired hundreds of young artists all over the world. However, up until this day, there was virtually no information about the artist and his approach to work. We’ve decided to talk with the man and ask him what it takes to create beautiful digital worlds.

Who is Bastien Grivet?

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Well, when I had my first experience watching The Empire Strike Back on an old VHS, I was 9 years old and it was like a nuclear blast in my head. From that moment on special effects became my passion. At the time, my father was a prop maker at the Grand Theater of Geneva. My brother and I were always building things with him like spaceships, cars, and monsters so we could blow them up in front of our dad’s camera… needless to say, we were big fan of the TV show Movie Magic.

Art by Bastien Grivet © Bastien Grivet,

These experiences created the base of my inner passion, which continued on for my entire life. I never thought that I would be able to work as a matte painter or concept artist because in Switzerland you have no school to teach you that, and there’s no job in the country to exercise your skills… so I thought it was more appropriate to walk in my father’s footsteps or perhaps find my way in music as my mother, grand mother, and grand father have done.

I was clearly not a good student. General education in Switzerland is not a good fit for art-minded people, but when I was 15-years-old a teacher proposed that I attempt to pass the entrance examination of the Decorative Art School of Geneva. I took it and passed the exam. Following this success, as a big fan of Jurassic Park I took the digital and multimedia section with the hope of discovering the magic of 3D models. Eventually, I moved onto drawing in Photoshop.

Art by Bastien Grivet © Bastien Grivet,

During my second year as student, with my wife’s father (co-founder of my studio), we visited the art exhibition of Christian Lorenz Scheurer at the Maison d’Ailleurs in Yverdon. It was the second time my mind was blown. I knew that I’d be a concept artist or matte painter. From that moment on, I spent hours of my time drawing and painting keeping in mind all the movies I loved including the works of Dylan Cole, Dusso, Deak Ferrand… subsequently I was fired from the art school… it turned out what I loved to do was not really in the school’s program.

Even with this I continued to draw, paint, and I learned to use 3D too. Six months later, Ubisoft Montpellier called me. I was only 18 and my first big job was put in my hands. Afterwards, Dontnod Entertainment, Ubisoft (again), Activision, Treyarch, Applibot, Any Arts Production, and few others hired me for work.

What Does a Matte Painter Actually Do?

It all depends on the production, size of the project, and many other things. In general, I receive a artwork from the creative director or from the art department and I start to construct the matte painting. I use tons of photography elements, which is really important because you must respect the ultra realistic aspect of the scene. What you create will be on the big screen and people must believe in your image!

Art by Bastien Grivet © Bastien Grivet,

On certain productions there are a few matte painters working on one image, but I mostly paint the concept of the scene with the director or the art director and finally create the matte painting. A very good matte painter is often a good concept artist.

Creating a New World

Art by Bastien Grivet © Bastien Grivet,

In order to invent a complete universe, a good way to think of it is as an inverted funnel. You start with a single factor: Hot, cold, tropical, or desert… and add few more factors: people, creatures, or civilizations. You then continue to detail each factor in order to bring more and more details to your universe. In a game or a film, it’s the job of the screen-writer or the director to think about it. My job is to create a visual reference of those universes and think about how to fill the gaps with other ideas. Always keep in mind that the more details you have, the higher the chance you have to make a work of credibility and to build a whole new world. Sometimes it can take a really long time.
I’m a curious person so I love to dive deeply into the universe of the production where I work. Independently, I love to read, watch movies, travel. Our world is full of amazing inspirations and it would be a shame not to use it. In a funny way, I have to admit it, I’m absolutely not a gamer. I know almost every aspect of the job, but I’m ashamed when I have a game pad in my hands.

Tools of the Trade

The choice of tools depends on the time you have to create an image. I prefer to use 3D in order to have a really quick reference in terms of perspective, volumes, and lights. I’m still using Cinema 4D, which is a really great friendly tool! Of course I paint, start, and finish every work on Photoshop CC. In addition to that, on rare occasions I use E-one Vue 10 to generate large terrain and I’ll try to work with characters in my compositions with DAZ Studio. Besides all that, a good pencil, a Moleskine Sketchbook, a headphone with a Sibelius or Dvorak symphony, and a good cup of coffee help the creation process nicely.

Music and Images

I’m also composing music. For me, music and art are two of the best ways to express something, as well as cooking. I have been composing since I was 14 so music is also a huge part in my life. I love to paint or work with music in my ears, and I love to compose with a picture in mind (I have a postcard with an Alexandre Calame painting on my desk).

Art by Bastien Grivet © Bastien Grivet,

I have really different approaches to music and art. For music, my influences are deeply rooted to the composers from the Romantic and Modern era, like Beethoven, Sibelius, Dvorak, Rachmaninov, Stravinsky, Aaron Copland, John Adams, and also composers of the Hollywood 80-90’s era like John Williams, Danny Elfman, James Horner, and Jerry Goldsmith. That’s why I love a more positive vibe in music. It’s more nostalgic and powerful. In painting or any visual medium I prefer to keep the story to a battle of light against dark. I enjoy dark stories from the universes of Lovecraft, Stephen King, Poe, and Stocker.

These different approaches allow me to escape from one approach to another. When I’m tired or uninspired on a visual work, I compose music. When I don’t know how to complete or resolve a musical phrase, I draw. I’m really happy to have the chance to exercise both professionally.

Nîmes Open Game Art Event

It was a special event organized by the city of Nîmes and the school (Creajeux) to show the public all the aspects of the gaming industry through exhibitions of matte painting, students works of the video game school (where I was a teacher for 10 days), musical panels, and a lots of workshops around video games.

My role was to present the artistic aspect of the industry. I mostly talked about the role of concept art and matte painting and a few of my works were presented. I also talked about my job and about my role in this business. I believe we really need more of those kind of events!


Well, as a concept artist it’s also a part of your job to have a small or big amount of your job trashed… It’s hard, but it’s never a problem. There shouldn’t be any worry, because it’s also a part of the creative process. You are there to give life to ideas which are not yours and sometimes, well, it’s hard to do them right.

Art by Bastien Grivet © Bastien Grivet,

Everything depends on the clients and the project. One of the things to avoid is accepting a job that you know you will fail at. For example, if your style is built on photo-bashing illustrations and realism, don’t accept something cartoony. Just say no. You will save time and money.

Art by Bastien Grivet © Bastien Grivet,

Another thing is listen carefully to the client’s briefing, ask a lot of questions, ask for little sketches, colors references or anything else that could help you to be really efficient. Sometimes, sadly, the client can change his mind and you have to trash all your work but don’t panic, take a deep breath, walk a few minutes outside, and rethink your planning and schedule. If the situation needs more time to redo a new work, make a new invoice and ask for a budget extension regarding the situation. If the work does not come back from the trash, at least you get paid.

Working with Games

With games, the main difference is that you have to think another “level”. You have to think larger. It’s cool because you are free to imagine a lot of details, shapes, and situations. However, with movies or advertising you have to think of a sequence or a scene. It’s more restrictive but it still a good experience.

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The relationship with the directors in movies are often also different because you are closer to him on a movie production so you are one of the first guys who will bring life to his ideas.

Fortunately, the final result is often really close to my concept and I’m really looking forward to seeing the final look of Call of Duty Black Ops III after one year of work. A lot of things can change thought so we’ll see.

Bringing Life to Images

I love to think as a traveler. I’m on a spaceship and discover new worlds and I take pictures. I also prefer to let the universe speak by itself. I don’t like to add a lot of people in the picture, except maybe just a couple to give a sense of scale, or in order to show how tiny we are in front of older, bigger, and wilder things.

That’s why I also love mountains. It’s a part of my DNA as a Swiss guy I think, but I love to draw those incredible sleeping rock titans. It fascinates me, really. Mountains are places that you must respect. They are wild, dangerous, full of legends and mysteries.

Art by Bastien Grivet © Bastien Grivet,

If you want to bring life and credibility to your creations, go outside and see the world around you. Google is a good friend but you can’t feel the strength of an element if you can’t see it in its natural environment. I’m not talking about spending a ton of money to see the Pyramids but, if you can just go to the countryside around your city and see how things are. See the light and colors, the dark and the shadows, and imagine how you can make the elements fight, lose, or win.

Bastien Grivet

Bastien Grivet,

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