College for Creative Studies: Illustration

'07

Michael Maher

Illustrator

Make it on hard work? Stranger things have happened. Concept Artist Michael Maher recently landed a dream gig working for his favorite TV show.

There’s no magic bullet. Most artists aren’t going to get plucked from obscurity or skyrocket to fame after a fateful meeting with a movie producer in a soda shop (long story). And talent is more common than we’d like to believe, so the competition in Hollywood can be fierce.

“My first job was loading set dressing in and out of locations where we would shoot. Gotta start somewhere, right?” said MICHAEL MAHER, JR. (’07, Illustration) from the Atlanta set of Stranger Things, Netflix’s popular sci-fi horror series.

After graduating from CCS, Maher wanted to get into storyboarding for film and television, and the lucrative tax incentives Michigan was offering at the time put the state on the radar for production companies. It wasn’t glamorous — and it wasn’t storyboarding — but he made it work. “When the production designer found out I could draw and design,” he said, “she helped me out and gave me a job as a graphic designer. After that, it took a lot of hard work and quite a few years to become a concept artist.”

Maher, now a seasoned professional living in Los Angeles, said the years of hard work wasn’t even the greatest challenge — that was finding his career path. “Having a good foundation at CCS really helped, but it’s very competitive out there,” he said, “and oftentimes difficult to know what to aim for. But I stayed focused and worked very hard and things tend to work out when you combine those two things over a long period of time.”

It’s worked out pretty well. After reading a script, Maher talks with a director before anything is shot and creates paintings that inform a production’s visuals. He’s worked on several movies and TV shows, including Argo, The Conjuring, Independence Day, Sons of Anarchy, Ray Donovan, Real Steel and the docuseries Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, for which he received an Emmy nomination.

But his favorite job so far is working for Stranger Things, now shooting its second season. “When I saw the first season,” he said, “I loved it so much I binged the whole thing in two days, ha! Now to be working on set here in Atlanta, I get to be around the kids in the show all the time. They’re so fun. “The really special thing about this show, is that I’ve pushed my skill sets continually for so many other shows previous to this. Working long hours to learn new programs and become better and better. Now that I have the opportunity to work on such a fun show, I feel like the preparation has paid off and I’m making the best of it.”

Maher credits the good time he’s having now with the hours he put in back in the day. The foundation he developed in illustration and art at

CCS, he said, has created a lifelong love for the hard work. “I had great, energetic instructors who loved their jobs. Oftentimes when I’m painting a concept, I still hear my instructors’ advice. That was 10 years ago!”