Michael James Winterbauer is a retired freelance designer and illustrator who enjoys working on his own projects which are pop culture themed drawings and paintings. He has received worldwide attention for his video game box art following his self-publication of a book documenting his experiences as an artist and the illustrations he did for the entertainment industry. Michael’s favorite game paintings are those he did for Might and Magic—both for box art and the game maps—but other notable titles with his art include Solstice (NES, 1990), Power Blade (NES, 1991), and Wing Commander (SNES, 1992). He is glad that his work has been collectible and that many of his images are still fondly remembered three decades after their creation.
Michael attended ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena, California and started his art business after graduating in 1985. He made an active decision to focus on commissions for works that might later become collectible. While War Eagles (1989) was Michael’s first published game illustration, his painting for Double Strike (1990) was actually done for an ArtCenter project in 1985. Michael included the image from the project in self-promotion a few years later where it caught the eye of American Video Entertainment; following the addition of the fighter jets and sunset reflection in the glasses, the updated painting gained second life as the game box art for Double Strike. Living in Pasadena, Michael discovered there were many computer game companies in the surrounding areas and went to great lengths to set up as many as three to four in-person portfolio showings a day all over Los Angeles to increase his chances of securing that work.
Power Blade has become well known to be a self-portrait of Michael, but Michael often took his own photos to work from and appears in many of his other paintings, even if not always with his direct likeness. In lieu of paid models, Michael frequently got friends to photograph him in the poses he wanted to draw, an exercise that led Michael to lots of heroic poses in his swimsuit. He lived and breathed his work and immersed himself into the characters he would paint. He often knew best the attitude and character he wanted to capture, and his approach kept costs down while ensuring his work was always original.
As a traditional painter, Michael enjoyed working in acrylics and oils. While he still embraces traditional inputs, much of his new work combines the traditional with the digital, such as by scanning traditional works to complete them on the computer. Michael began his shift to digital illustration in 1994 as the demand for traditional illustration waned and as design studios sought artists that could use computer software and transfer their artistic abilities into the digital world.
In 2014, Michael self-published a book documenting his many illustrations for the video game industry, Classic Game Covers: Confessions of an Art Junkie. OVGA pulled many of the details for this biography from Michael’s book, which is available for free on his website here.
Michael has been interviewed about his game art by a number of online outlets including Arcade Attack and Sega-16.
OVGA has included below Michael Winterbauer’s full known video game box art catalog:
- War Eagles (Cosmi Corp | MS-DOS | 1989)
- Solstice: The Quest for the Staff of Demnos (CSG Imagesoft | NES | 1990)
- The Keys to Maramon (Mindcraft Software | Amiga, Commodore 64, DOS | 1990)
- Double Strike (American Video Entertainment | NES | 1990)
- Trouble Shooter (Vic Tokai | Genesis | 1991)
- Power Blade (Taito | NES | 1991)
- Ninja Taro (American Sammy | Game Boy | 1992)
- Wing Commander (Mindscape | SNES | 1992)
- Spaceward Ho! (New World Computing | Amiga, DOS, Macintosh, Windows | 1992)
- Might and Magic: Clouds of Xeen (New World Computing | DOS | 1992)
- Wolfchild (JVC Musical Industries | Sega CD | 1993)
- Might and Magic: Darkside of Xeen (New World Computing | DOS | 1993)
- Origamo (QQP | DOS | 1994)
Michael's video game art oeuvre includes several works not published as box art, including large map paintings for each of the Might and Magic titles included above. Similarly, Michael illustrated the pack-in poster for Solstice as a compliment to his box art. A Michael Winterbauer illustration of a wizard appears on the back of the box for Electronic Arts' Rings of Power (1992); Michael additionally created box art for this game that was unused.
A surprising piece in his game art catalog is the CD art for the 1993 Working Designs game Vay for the Sega CD. The piece is rendered in an anime style new to Michael (at the request of the client), and while it may have originally been commissioned for the game's U.S. box art given the 30” x 40” size of the original painting, Working Designs had a reputation for taking novel approaches to their CD art. Famously, Working Designs' 1992 game Lunar: The Silver Star had seven CD art variants.
Michael also made his mark within the pages of Nintendo Power. In 1991, he painted an interior illustration for the game Smash TV, appearing on page 34 of Issue 28 (September 1991).
Beyond typical, full-scene paintings, Michael illustrated the title art for a number of games, including for games for which he also created the box art, such as Wing Commander, Wolfchild, and Origamo. Michael created the U.S. title art for the 1992 Atlus game Metal Jack for the Super Nintendo. The game was ultimately unreleased in the U.S. but Michael’s title art appears on box mock-ups and on a promotional flyer for the game given out at CES in 1992.