Welcome to this, the latest ZBrushCentral artist interview! Everyone knows that ZBrush is widely used in the motion picture industry to produce and detail models for use in blockbuster films. However, many people don’t realize how often ZBrush comes into play even before the first model is ever created. Its speed and freeform toolset make it the ideal software for iterating on ideas as the concept artist works to realize the director’s ideas.
Today we’re speaking with one such artist: Ben Mauro, who’s work has included such high profile projects as “The Hobbit,” “Childhood’s End” and “Lucy.” (His ZBC user name is ben_mauro.) Ben has been kind enough to share a terrific amount of information regarding his process as a concept artist, along with some great tips for how you can build your own career in the industry.
Read on, and enjoy!
What is your background? How did you get into film work and what are some of your favorite projects to have worked on?
My background is in illustration and industrial design. I think getting that industrial design foundation is pretty critical to being a concept designer and doing this job every day. Getting into film work was a pretty easy transition, I guess. I studied at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena and all the instructors there are working professionals in games and films. It was easy to network and get the jobs and creative experiences I was after during internships over the summers. Which then helped me transition into working professionally full-time.
A big part of my early film experience was four years spent down in New Zealand at Weta Workshop. There I worked on the “Hobbit” trilogy, “Elysium” and many other projects. I feel that this time was sort of like completing my education after college. It all came about after some friends and instructors encouraged me show Richard Taylor my portfolio at Comicon one summer. He really liked what I was doing at the time and told me to keep in touch and that they “Might need some help on The Hobbit down the line.” It took about a year after that meeting before there was enough work to bring me on. Over that time I made sure to keep in touch and send monthly updates with my work to show my progress. My persistence eventually paid off and I was off to New Zealand!
As far as favorite projects, I think the years spent on Elysium were some of the best from a learning standpoint. I grew a lot working with much more experienced designers who had just finished working on projects like “District 9” and “Avatar” which I really looked up to. Every day was really long and I put in a lot of extra hours to get better and keep up with everyone as much as I could, growing as much as possible in the shortest amount of time. It was also the first project I really got to work on from start to finish and help create a new world from the ground up, which is probably one of the best learning experiences I could recommend to any designer. The director came to us while he was still writing the script and had us create a lot of really fun blue sky ideas for quite some time. We then later illustrated the script as it got locked down to help him get funding for the film. After that, when things went into production we went in and had to really figure out and design every little thing, followed by getting to work with the manufacturing crew as everything got built. Finally, three to four years later we got to see it all come together in a finished movie! Its quite a long process to be involved with but it was really educational being there every step of the way.
Outside of that my most recent experience working on “Valerian” would have to be my favorite to date. Working at a studio was fun, but after a few years the learning curve tapers off and it got to a point where the things I wanted to learn and experience were outside of that environment. So after about four years I made the decision to leave and become an independent freelancer. Valerian was the first big film project after that career shift where I was building another new world from the ground up. For me, that was the exact experience I was looking for. Getting to work directly with the client/director to help him realize his vision with no producers, managers or assistants in between was really fantastic. Much like working in a studio after college had felt like completing my design education, this felt like the next version of that. It’s definitely more work and stress than when I was in a studio but I guess I always like to be in that situation where I am in a constant state of discomfort and learning new things. If I get too comfortable and complacent, or if I don’t see any progress in my work I feel like I’m not on the right path or project. Then something needs to change.