If you've been waiting patiently to meet a man who designs a variety of rocks for a living (and who hasn’t?), wait no more! Matt Bergasse is one of our talented artists at Mm - and besides carefully crafting rocks, works on a wide variety of other interesting art and design projects for us. Matt joined us direct from the Dreams coMmunity, where he showed off his art chops with a series of impressively dynamic designs. Here, we chat to Matt about moving from Toronto, becoming an Mm celebrity, and why you can't get a good slab of bacon in the UK.
Hi Matt! What do you do here at Media Molecule?
I'm an Mm artist! I mostly work on making environments and worlds and some storytelling stuff. But what I didn’t expect is that I spend a ridiculous amount of time sculpting a lot of rocks in Dreams. People should call me Rock Man. Yeah, that's me. Rock Man! It’s not the best superpower, but I’ll roll with it [ba dum tish! geddit? rock n' roll? we're here all week folks!].
There must be more to it than sculpting rocks, right? (No shade to rocks).
I've done quite a few collabs, working with the Dreams tools and other creators both in and outside of the game industry. The team worked on a range of projects with various companies, from Mercedes to collaborations with sports teams like the Toronto Maple Leafs and Toronto Raptors. And then I also worked alongside the live events team on DreamsCom and All Hallows' Dreams, as well as crafting a few kits here and there through the years. Honestly, working on Dreams has been a blast, as I just love putting out fun stuff for the amazing Dreams coMmunity to use.
What was it like coming from the Dreams coMmunity into an official Mm role?
A whirlwind of excitement, pressure and stress, but mostly fun. I definitely feel like I had major impostor syndrome early on. At first I kept asking myself am I actually a good enough artist/creator/person to be here working at Mm? Because I was just a random Dreams creator (mBergs) and everyone working at Mm is so talented and interesting that it could be a bit daunting at first. But honestly that feeling faded pretty quickly, because everyone here is so supportive and welcoming and inspiring that it's been very positive. It also helps that the things we’ve been doing have aligned very closely with my own passions and interests, which makes it a really cool place for me to be working.
Those collab projects sound like fun! What was it like working on them?
Yeah, they've definitely been one of the highlights of working at Mm so far. The MLSE (Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment) project was something super personal for me to work on, as I’m from Toronto and it was like the Venn diagram of all the things I loved merging together. The combination of my love of just making really weird stuff in Dreams, and then getting to show off and talk about my home city of Toronto was awesome. I can’t believe I got to do that as one of my first official Mm projects - I totally lucked out with that one. And it was such an incredibly fun, challenging and super rewarding project because it was a really collaborative experience between Mm and the third parties like Sony and MLSE. I was stoked when we got the brief that they wanted to have a little narrative video about the two athletes we worked with (Dalano Banton and Wayne Simmonds) and then having the freedom to make that within Dreams was really cool, but also really exciting and scary.
On top of making the videos for the two athletes, I also had the opportunity to star in one myself, which was pretty incredible. As cool as that was, though, I don't think there could have been anything that was done to make me have more impostor syndrome than getting hired and then having to immediately go to a film set at 5AM with 16 individuals filming you, and interviewing you about your career and artistic process at Mm and with Dreams, and being like, “I literally just started!”. Because it was on a film set, they made me bring a bunch of my personal art to decorate the set with, and then everyone I met at Mm after that recognised me from that video, which was very surreal. They all thought that it was filmed in my actual apartment in Toronto, like “Man, your place is so cool!”, but that definitely was not my place in Toronto. That was just a big set. In reality, my Toronto apartment was like a square foot. But at least the set made me look like I was some kind of rock star, which I’m absolutely not!
And you’ve actually moved to the UK now! So how was the transition from Canada to the UK for this role?
I love it, it's great. I came here because I wanted to work more closely with all the cool people at Mm, and doing it remotely isn’t quite the same. Moving from Canada to UK... I mean, the process was super stressful, but it's the minor details here that I wasn’t expecting. Like not being able to get bacon here, at least not like the real bacon you can get in Canada. That’s honestly really sad, but everything else about being here for the last few months has been awesome. But the bacon here is like super salted. It’s so unbelievably salty.
It’s not just the bacon, Matt.
Bacon is definitely not as salted back home, so that’s taken a bit of getting used to. It might seem like a tiny thing, but it's a taste of home I just can't get here.
Was art something you've always done as a hobby, and was it ever something you actually saw as possibly becoming your profession?
When I was younger, in school and high school, I would definitely stay up late drawing and painting instead of doing homework or sleeping. But it's never really something I considered to do as a career. Or maybe I was just too scared to at the time, I don't know. I had a career outside of both games and art for a long time, and then one day woke up and decided I actually want to do art for games, like it was my calling. So I was lucky enough to be able to quit my day job and go back to school. I did about two years of an art program for animation at Sheridan College in Toronto. And during that time, Dreams came out. I'd previously made a bunch of levels in LittleBigPlanet, so when Dreams released I was super excited to be able to do more stuff like that. And obviously I'd personally been familiar with Mm’s work for a long time, so I felt like I had a good understanding of the studio. Then I built a portfolio and tried to get myself hired, and luckily enough, the studio had an opening at the time, and they hired me.
So Mm was your first games industry role then?
Yeah, it's my first games industry role. When I decided to go into games I wanted to work at a studio like Mm or Double Fine. You know, an artsy studio with interesting aesthetics and styles and games. That’s actually why I decided to go and study a traditional animation program because I wanted to learn about narrative and world design and story, rather than just the technical stuff like how to do character modelling and the traditional game development stuff, so Mm was a great fit for me.
And out of all the projects you’ve worked on at Mm, what’s been your favourite or most interesting thing that you've worked on?
I mean, I definitely enjoyed the MLSE videos that we worked on, I think. They were for sure the most exciting. Probably because of how it was kind of an unexpected use for Dreams. Obviously people think of Dreams as a game engine or music tool, but making short narrative videos with PlayStation and the MLSE team was so much fun.
And then second to that, I think that working with the events team on DreamsCom and All Hallows' Dreams was super fun. It was really interesting going from being a coMmunity member who has never done anything for those events before and then becoming a part of Mm and working on the other side and seeing just how it worked, how much work the team puts in on this side to make sure those events come together and are fun for the coMmunity. It’s probably not a surprise, but it turns out there's a lot more that happens than you’d expect for events like that to get out the door.
You’ve come into the games industry through the Dreams route, but do you have any tips or advice for anyone that would be looking to get into video game art roles?
Obviously I can only talk about my experience of getting hired at Mm. But I did two main things when I actively set out to get hired. One of them is the obvious one, I think, but one that sometimes people forget or don’t prioritise: I made a portfolio, but instead of just making a generic portfolio with all my art, I made it specifically for Mm. So on top of the stuff I was doing for school and for other work, I built a portfolio of my Dreams artwork, I also made a couple of kits in-game and I presented them in a portfolio in the way that I thought Mm would want a kit to be presented. And then I made a couple of levels in the game and just interacted with the coMmunity and other people. But I think the important thing there for me was that I just did the thing I wanted to do firmly in my own style, so that the portfolio expressed my voice. I just presented it in a way that I thought Mm would appreciate and understand.
Which I guess is a really roundabout way of saying that you should build your portfolio to express you, but just make sure that it’s a targeted portfolio for the role you want to get. And I wanted to work in a role that worked on environments and kits and coMmunity activities. So I pulled it all together around that as a specific type of artist. And then the other part - which can be hard sometimes, but is vital - is just being nice to people. Along the way when applying for jobs, you'll meet a lot of people. And you never really know when down the line, you'll run into them again. I think that making friends and being kind is a really underrated skill. It’s not a way to get a job on its own, but to just be a good human, it can make all the difference. If it comes down to you and someone else with the same skill set in an interview, it wouldn’t hurt if you’ve been a bit nicer or friendlier during the interview process. I think that matters.
Mm staff seem to have a lot of interesting items on their desks. What's on your desk at the moment?
In contrast to my desk at home, my current work desk is a mess. My desk at home has like nothing on it, because I’m that person that will immediately procrastinate if there’s an opportunity to do so. So I do everything I can to keep my desk perfectly minimal, and have nothing there to distract me, otherwise I will get distracted. I have my monitor and my drawing tablet, and that's it. But honestly the amount of stuff on my desk here is a disaster. When I'm working from home, I have bookshelves with my huge collection of art books. There’s a whole range of books, from character design books, a collection of life drawing books by this Korean artist that I collected, some old Disney concept art, and a few other movie concept art books. I also have a selection of prints from artists I like and those are things I keep around for when I need to be inspired. So if I'm working on something, and I need to remember what the anatomy of this particular animal is, I can grab my animal book and look up the anatomy or drawing of a character.
Another book that’s super handy for artists is the Fashion Encyclopaedia, which has the names of every piece of clothing and what the specific button or zip is called. So if you wanna draw a cowboy, you can go to the page about jackets and find the specific button and know the name of the stitching and then you can go on Google and research it more in depth. It’s so much better than just Googling cowboy jacket, as you're Googling the specific name of that type of jacket and the stitching, so you get the most accurate results. And really importantly, I have a little book called Draw Stronger, which is about self-care for visual artists. It's a book of stretches and exercises and wellbeing tips to remind you to not destroy your body while drawing, which I often forget to do.
To wrap up, what are your favourite Dreams, and are there any that you'd like to recommend?
I'm a big fan of just DreamSurfing around and going wherever the wonderful curation playlists take me, but I think some specific shoutouts that I have are related to the absolutely stunning art that can be created in Dreams. And I really like artists like SootyPinions who just makes really nice little environmental scenes with beautiful sculpting and beautiful furniture. I think the thing I like so much about SootyPinions is the lighting in their creations is so meticulous. I just love it. They're so good. I’m also a huge fan of everything that byvsen does. Anything with Bo and Green Guy in it is regularly on my Dreamiverse rotation. And of course, I’m super into the random weird stuff that you come across in the Dreamiverse.
There’s one creation that I really like which is a great example of this, called Spider in my bathtub by BonfireKnight69. It’s super simple, but it’s just a short animation of a man who goes into the bathroom and then a spider crawls out of the tap. And they have, like, a dance off, which is incredibly unexpected. And you should go watch it. It's so good. It's exactly the right level of chaotic that I love in my life. Which could actually be a pretty good box quote for Dreams.
Another standout for me actually is Project Pigeon. I don’t know how you’d describe it really, but Project Pigeon is a minigame compilation, a bit like WarioWare, but themed around pigeons. So the games are punctuated by random, weird, and not entirely true, pigeon facts. But it’s hilarious, and another example of the wonderful things the coMmunity make in Dreams.
The Dreams User Guide is a work-in-progress. Keep an eye out for updates as we add more learning resources and articles over time.