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Interview with Marco Menco

Interview with professional character cg artist – Marco Menco, the creator of “Smoking Creature” and “Dante’s” artworks!

A few words about Marco Menco – creature cg artist:

“I was born in 1982, 16th of August. I am the first of five children and the only male. I started to draw creatures and animals when I was a little child, I was always interested in the human being as a physical shape, particular signs of characterization and the feelings trasmitted to me from these elements. I had a hard time in high school, a “Scientific Liceum”. For most of this difficult period I tried to discover my inner self and overcome this hardship. This was also when I decided to pursue an artistic career. In fact after high school I registered at the Academy and thanks to the discovery of various techniques and subjects, I finally realized that I wanted to learn computer graphics and pursue this seriously as a career. Now that I have graduated I feel positive about the future and I will continue to work hard at what I love, in the hope of making my dreams come true!”

When did you start learning computer graphics? In the beginning was it just your hobby or immediately became your professional job? Did you study cg somewhere?

When I was studying at the Academy, I chose a course called “Theory and Technique of Visual Communication” where I learned a little bit of everything: Photoshop, Illustrator, Premiere, Movie directing and history of art. Unfortunately there aren’t any good 3D course here in Italy so I had to learn practically everything by myself. This was the 2004. So I am self taught! But I decided from the beginning to study 3D not as a hobby, but because I wanted and I want to work in the movie industry. Now I’m finishing my reel and in the mean time I’m having fun and making some money with freelance work.

How long have you been working in CGI? What do you do mostly in cg: modelling, texturing, rendering, etc.? Where are you currently working?

I started with the will to learn animation, but when I put my hand on modeling it’s the best sensation I have ever felt! I love to invent and create creatures. I also like to render and I still want to learn animating…but one step at a time. Recently, I’ve been busy with my final thesis for my Bachelor of Arts, and it was hard but really fun, especially because I was doing something that I’ve really liked. Now with my old work and the thesis done, I’m gathering all the stuff to prepare my reel and present it to the industries, and as I said before, I’m also doing some freelance.

What 3D/2D software do you use? Which render system do you prefer? Why did you choose this one?

I mostly use for 3D Softimage|XSI and Zbrush, but also Mudbox, Modo and just a bit of Maya. For 2D Photoshop, Illustrator, Premiere and After Effects. I use Mental Ray because it is the XSI render system. I would also like to learn Pixar Renderman. I chose this software because they are the ones with which I feel most comfortable.

What do you like most in cg: modelling, texturing, rendering or maybe post production?

I really like modeling, but I’m studying how to create realistic materials, especially skin, and lighting too. I’ve always wanted to learn to animate, as I said before. Post production is really interesting, and I’m trying that too. I’d like to learn a good integration between CG and real world (compositing), but it seems so difficult to have a realistic result.

In your opinion, is it really important to make a post production of the output render to achieve desirable result?

I always do some post production tricks, for example the color adjustment or adding more contrast, saturation… it is really important for a good result. But I think that the better you are in lighting a scene, the less post production work you have to do. But sometimes it is a stylistic choice to work more on the post production and maybe it is faster to achieve a nice result then spending a lot of time doing great shaders and amazing lighting… in this case you have less render time and more time to spend on the post producition. It was what I did for an illustration job, I did simple shaders, so the render time was less, I was in hurry…and I spent much more time in Photoshop where I create for example the sss effect or the hair, shadows and bumps.

One of your last artworks – “Dante’s: Awakening in Inferno” looks just awesome and very effectively! What was the inspiration for creating this? What did you begin to model first: character, train of environment? What is the polycount of the whole scene? What have you used for creating textures and particularly graffiti, blood spots and so on?

This work was created for my final thesis and it was inspired by the Dante’s “Divine Comedy”, in particular the firt chapter of the first of the three books, “Inferno”. Since I was a little child I was amazed by the illustrations by Gustave Dorè of that Italian literature masterpiece. I have an old copy of the book that I keep as a treasure. I started from the idea to create a new vision of that Inferno, to make it closer to our contemporaneity as Dante did in his time. So what makes you feel a sense of fear, frustration, estrangement? At the begin Dante awakes in a place that he doesn’t know, and he doesn’t know how he came there. Immediately he is projected in an unknown reality where he meets his deepest fears. That’s the reason of the choice to create a wasted city where damned souls are the citizens.

I started modelling the entire scene with cubes to have a clear idea of what I wanted to do. It was a sort of 3D sketch. Then environment was the first. Then came the train, and at last, the characters. The polycoint was not so high, the heaviest models were the architectures. The character was renderized a part in a wagon of the train and the composited with the environment. About textures I used the “Total Texture” collection, in particular the v2 “aged and Stressed” and v5 “Dirt and Graffiti”. It was really useful to have those DVDs!

What rules in your opinion it is necessary to adhere while creating such big artworks?

What makes things easier for me is having a clear idea of what I was doing. Also the will and the believing were important, and of course the fun too! This is a rule for everything… That was the first time in doing that kind of artwok, with environment and characters…I use to do characters. You can understand that I was doing that for my Bachelor, and it was important to make my will stronger, because the prospective that this work was closeing an era of my life and making space for a new one it was really motivating.

Could you give us some comments on one of your earlier artworks, called “Smoking Creature” – how long have you been searching for the suitable face expression and how long have you been modeling the character with the all small details like wrinkles, scars and so on?

I had not a precise idea of what I was going to do. I only kew that I was smoking a lot and I was really nervous for something that was happening in my life. I remember I was really angry for some reason I’m not going to go into. I was feeling myself entrapped.

So I took the last human head I had, and I started to try some design, but it was just to wreak my feeling. I was imagining a creature trapped by something that for me was a sensation, but for him was something physical such as a straitjacket and the captivity in a unknown place. The idea of doing an atmosphere soaked by the smoke and with an unbreathable air came out thanks to my mother’s girl. She came in my room and staterd to cough and complain about the fog I created smoking cigarettes (yes, I know I have to stop it). So she opened the window and the light cames into the room showing all the smoke there was. That was great! I decided to use the volumic with a spot that shot light from above.

The modeling was fast, around one or two hours in zbrush because I used an old human head I had, so I didn’t have to model that from the begin.

What is the current project you’re working on?

I’ve just finished the Wolf of the “Inferno” and now I have in mind to change a bit the main theme. I’m not sure of what I’m going to do, you’ll know soon :).

What are your plans for the future career in CGI? Have you got some ideas on new artworks?

I’m planning to go to Vancouver this summer, I want to start searching for a job and hopefully find my future career there or in the States. But I’ll start from Vancouver. I’d like to work for some special effect studios but the video games are always welcome.

Do you have some kind of hobby that isn’t connected with cg?

Mh… not really :). I did martial arts, Jujitsu, and I love it! But I stopped when I started the Academy…what a shame! I plan to go back sometime in the future . I also like the traditional sculpting, I do it sometimes when I have time. I’d like to spend more time on sculpting with clay, I hope it will be possible in the future.

What could you advice for those who just started getting into cg? What should they learn or read first? In your opinion, how far Gnomon Workshop video tutorials are effective for skilling up your level?

I think the most important thing is working hard because only with lots of hard work it is possible to make your dreams come true… I’m still working on it too :). About tutorials I think that if you want to learn something you have to study the most that you can. All the tutorials are welcome when you are at the begin. Of course the more you go ahead and the less tutorials you need to see to improvement, but you can learn even if you are watching something you know. You’ll know it better.

What is your point of view on traditional art like painting, sculpting, etc.? What do you think about abstract art?

Traditional art is always important especially figurative traditional art. I love sculpting as I said before. Figurative is especially important because of the masters of the hystory of art, and if you want to know the rules of the composition, proportions, that are used even now in the contemporary figurative art, movie industry, video games, you have to search in the traditional art.

About abstract art I have to say that art is always becoming other art, and abstract is other art. It is not an evolution, it is another point of view. I have to say that I prefer figurative, because I am a man attached to the flesh and the feeling of human beeing. I see and I feel the shapes, beautiful or deformed shapes. For example the pain, the pleasure, the stress, ect. It’s great when you can recognize the feeling from an expression! It is important for me that I can imagine or recognize what I’m feeling or what I’m seeing. Mine is just another point of view.
Art is important in every its points of view especially because there is no single definition clear of “art”.

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