Epic of the Etheriasti: Milivoj Ceran

In the hands of a great artist, tragedy can yield stunning beauty, and danger can beget bittersweet sanctuary. Such is the case with Death Welcomes You, a work of art painstakingly crafted by the brilliant painter Milivoj Ceran.

The Dirth Forge stands at the heart of the Underworld. Despite its allure, it is a constant reminder of the never-ending war between Heaven and Hell… and the Underworld’s complicit participation in perpetuating that atrocity. Death Welcomes You depicts the Alltaker quietly rescuing some fortunate soulborn from an excruciating fate at the hands of the Celestials, and ushering them into their new home – the Underworld.

Born in Croatia, Ceran has been working as a professional illustrator since 2002. His career began in the children’s book market, and soon transitioned into high fantasy. He has been working with Tom Gilliland and the Court of the Dead team since the summer of 2018, where their paths crossed at Gen Con in Indianapolis. Death Welcomes You is Ceran’s second conceptual piece for the Court of the Dead, a follow up to Demithyle and Mortighull Vs. Ork Raker, which was recently chosen to be featured in the ‘Infected by Art’ book — volume 7!

Read on for a behind-the-scenes interview with concept artist Milivoj Ceran.

How did you get involved with Tom and the Court of the Dead?

Last year, in the summer of 2018, I exhibited at the Art Show at Gen Con in Indianapolis. I displayed my Norse Mythology personal project – book, prints, and original illustrations. Tom Gilliland and Anna van Slee approached my table and showed interest in my work. Especially Tom – he was impressed with my “Vikings Lore” artwork and purchased the original painting. Both Anna and Tom gave me their contacts with plans for possible future cooperation. That was great because Sideshow Collectibles is a very respectable company, and I was very humbled. The best part was after I got back home – they actually, really contacted me. I’ve had some bad experiences in the past with some art directors who were amazed with my artwork and promising everything, and when I got back home, they didn’t reply to my e-mails. But here it was completely different situation – it was truly professional communication from the beginning.

What is your favorite style or genre to paint in?

I could say fantastic realism. I like everything with fantastic and unreal elements – like fantasy or mythology but painted in as much a realistic way as I can. I like the feeling of drawing viewers into the piece, so when somebody is looking at some of my pieces, it has some communication with the artwork, and also some feelings. When people see the drama, mood, light, colors and action, they forget that it’s only paper with some color on it (in a technical way). We are creating illusion of the worlds that exist only in our heads. If we don’t paint that, the world won’t see it.

Your first painting for the Court, Demithyle and Mortighull Vs. Ork Raker, is stunning! How did you decide on the concept for this piece? How long did it take you to finish it?

Thank you very much. For my first piece I got a terrific question/offer: “What characters would I like to paint from the CotD universe?”

It’s really great when there is such a high level of creative freedom for me, and at the same time, confidence from the Art Directors that I can do the best job I can if I pick up the characters or scenes I’d like to take. So, I remember I said I’d like to try an action/dynamic scene, and I like Demithyle and Mortighuul (who wouldn’t like the skeletons in armor?!?).

I can’t recall exactly how long it took me to make this commission, but I think around a month or so (with the roughs, sketches and finished artwork). It is also one of my bigger pieces, measuring – 85 x 65 cm (33.5 x 25.6 inches). What is also important, my Art Director (Ricky Lovas) and others from the team – Tom Gilliland and Anna van Slee –accepted all my input and ideas. I liked the idea of an ornate border, so I decided to offer the composition with the painted border made of bones, spines, rusted metal parts, and skulls. And it was accepted.

How about for your most recent painting, Death Welcomes You – how did you develop the concept and how much time did developing this piece take?

I worked a bit longer on this piece. But it had some new challenges that the first one didn’t have. It was more about mood, atmosphere, more symbolic painting, without the fight and dynamic that was in the first piece. The concept was [developed] by Tom Gilliland, and I made the visualization. As always, there was a lot of creative freedom in the art briefs.

Demithyle and Mortighull Vs. Ork Raker was chosen to be featured in the ‘Infected by Art’ book – volume 7! That’s awesome news, congratulations! How does it feel to have your work featured in this book? Will you continue to enter your COTD pieces into contests?

Thank you. Sure, the feeling is great. Especially cause it’s my debut piece in the [Court of the Dead] universe. I got a lot of very positive reactions on that painting when it was revealed. From the artists, but also from collectors and new fans. I always put my maximum creativity and energy into my paintings, so when I’m satisfied with the result, I feel confident to submit that work to annuals and contests. For next year, Death Welcomes You will definitely be one of my submitted artworks.

Which COTD character would you love to paint next?

Well, there are a lot of characters I like in this universe, but the first new and exciting characters that pop up in my mind are Oglavaeil, Xiall, and also those few striking characters from the beginning – Eddath, Priam and Abraxial.

How do you prepare to begin a new painting job?

I first read the art brief carefully and translate the words or phrases I’m not familiar with. I’ m not a native English speaker, and I’m self-taught – all of my English is from movies, songs, computer games etc. So, I must be sure that I understand all. That way I can make the first vision in my head – mood, storytelling, composition, lightning, colors etc. I make few rough sketches (“thumbnails”) with basic composition. In communication with the Art Director, [after] he chooses one rough, I move to the detailed sketch. After reworks or approval, I enlarge the sketch in the print studio, and transfer it to the large stretched paper. I take tons of references, and shoot reference photos by myself (mostly hands, drapery/clothes and face expression), and start to paint.

Do you watch or listen to anything while you’re painting for the CoTD?

The music is big part of creation process. However, sometimes, if I need to concentrate on sketching and visualizing the first ideas, I need full concentration so the music needs to be off.

Most of the music depends on my mood. I can listen to Finntroll, Grave Diggers, AC/DC or Joe Satriani, but also something completely different like Enya, Loreena McKennitt, Wardruna, or even Abba if I feel so. I also listen to a lot of ambient music and soundtracks from the movies or the games, medieval music or dark ambient and ethno (Conan soundtrack is one of the best!). I also listen to some podcasts while I work (i.e. One Fantastic Week channel).

I think I was listening mostly to some metal and ambient [music] while I was working on [Death Welcomes You] (Dargaard, Vangelis, Loreena McKennitt, Enigma, Hammerfall, Accept, etc.).

What tools do you use for your paintings?

I’m still stubborn and refuse to paint digitally! My tools are real paints, brushes, rulers and pencils.

What has been the most rewarding to you, in creating these paintings?

The most rewarding thing is, whenever I come out of a comfort zone, to conquer the challenge. Sometimes it happens that I want to work so badly on something. Then I get a chance. I accept the art brief. And then I think, “How the hell will I paint that?” But years of experience teaches me everything I need. So, if I don’t know how to draw or paint something I haven’t paint before, I know how to research it, study, take references, and finish it to look at the top professional level. So, if I set high goal, I’m very satisfied with the result at the end. The best thing is when the artwork turns out better than I thought in my initial idea.

If you were a character in the COTD, what would be your most defining features?

Huh, maybe I’d be a character – ultimate painter who can paint anything and whatever I paint it becomes alive :-).

(I remember when I was a kid, there was one cartoon, popular in Croatia and ex-Yugoslavia, in the 80’s, about a kid who whatever he drew, it became alive).

Did you use any references when painting for the Court? If so, what did you use?

Of course. I use tons of references. I use all materials provided by Sideshow (photos of statues/characters from different angles, concepts, drawings and sketches by other artists), my own collection of books (anatomy, skeletons, skulls, gothic architecture, ornaments, decorative paintings, castles, artbooks of my favourite artists for inspiration). I take shoots in my studio for hands, clothes etc. I have a few skeleton replicas, animal skulls, medieval full plate armor (I [spent] 10 years in medieval reenactment, so armors, axes, swords, or chainmail are always a huge help for making the painting as realistic as it can be).

Note – A great part [about] working directly with the Art Director from Sideshow – I can get photos that I couldn’t find on the net. I.e. – when I painted Demithyle. His left leg is in [a position of stepping forward]. And his knee and the upper part of the leg armor should be visible. In the photo of the figure, that part was covered with the clothes. So, Ricky took the figure, removed the clothes, and sent me the photo of Demithyle’s leg armor from the angle I needed for the painting.

Aside from the Court of the Dead, what are some of your other favorite fantasy/adventure series?

Generally, I can talk about a mixture of all from pop-culture – books, movies, games, comics, etc. Lord of the Rings, Magic the Gathering, Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, Diablo, Heroes of Might and Magic, Dungeons and Dragons, Prince Valiant, Tad Williams books, World of Warcraft, Conan and so on… All things that are inspiration for the artworks and mind setting.

Who better to join the Court of the Dead team and bring the Underworld to visual fruition than a life-long lover of fables and fantasy? Death Welcomes You  will soon be available as an exclusive fine art print. Stay tuned to Court of the Dead on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter for updates on this upcoming release.

Rise, Conquer, Art!