Meet MAT Winner Gabriel D’Orazio, Two Years On

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We were recently delighted to be able to welcome Meet MAT Pro winner Gabriel D’Orazio to our office, so that we could give him a first look at Meet MAT: The Art Book of the 3D Painting Contest. He was kind enough to talk about the impact of winning the contest, and about his projects and professional trajectory since then.

You won the ‘Pro’ category of the Meet MAT competition—your image is right there on the cover of the book. What have been the consequences of that?

Besides giving interviews? Haha. The consequences couldn’t be more positive. Since winning the Meet MAT contest, I’ve received great professional recognition from the community. Also, when it’s due to a personal project, this recognition becomes even more satisfying.

I received several invitations to give lectures, create workflow tutorials, give classes, and so on; that’s never happened before. All of this motivates me a lot to continue doing what I love. It’s great to have the opportunity to inspire other professionals.

Needless to say, having my work in a prominent position in the Meet MAT art book is still hard to believe. This is a huge personal achievement and a source of great pride for me.

When you entered Meet MAT, you didn’t have much experience with the Substance toolset. Is there anything you might have done differently, in retrospect?

At that time, I’d been working on and off with Substance Painter for about a year. I was learning as I went, trying to discover new features while working in productions, so I didn’t have enough time to delve into all of the possibilities of the tools. Looking back, I’d definitely do a lot of things differently. It’s natural to look at your old work and see how much your skills have changed and how you would have a slightly different approach now. Certainly, I’d rework much of the sculpture part, among other things.

What sort of projects have you been involved with since Meet MAT?

In the two years since the contest, I’ve participated in some great projects in Zombie Studio, the previous studio where I worked in Sao Paulo, Brazil. In particular, I’ll highlight:

The Fall—Love Never Let Us Down, a beautiful animation with a powerful message, made for Barretos Cancer Hospital. In this production, I was in charge of the surfacing of some characters, like the girl and the dog, some set and props surfacing, lighting, and composition of some scene sequences.

Gears was a short film for Ford Trucks, that has a lot of emotion in it. In this job, I was in charge of the surfacing of some characters, such as the bride, as well as set and props surfacing, lighting and composition of all her shots.

How do you feel that you’ve progressed as an artist over the last two years?

Over these last two years, my work process has evolved a lot. And I continue to use Substance in my day-to-day work. It’s a fantastic tool, and it’s incredible to be able to keep track of how it develops with each new release, and how it adapts and evolves according to the users’ needs. I’m very curious and excited to see what’s ahead.

These past two years have been critical in my professional development. It’s been a period where my transition from 3D artist for still images to 3D artist for animation films was pretty intense. From the beginning of my professional life, I’ve been inclined to develop images, working in fine detail, with everything meticulously positioned to work on a single camera. Now, the high resolutions and complex Photoshop post-production in static images permit a broader view of the scene and several other additional steps in the process.

This different approach has involved not only changing most of the software in my pipeline but has also demanded an enhanced look at the entire 3D scene. Over the last two years, I’ve participated in several animations that made up my latest demo reel in 2018, and all of this has been fundamental to start a new stage in my career. In November 2018, I had my first position in a feature film production as a character surfacing artist, for Illumination Mac Guff in Paris, and it’s been great.

Has your typical workflow changed, since you worked on Meet MAT?

Absolutely. The beauty of being in constant professional development is always to improve your skills and be open to new ways of doing things. Since the contest, I’ve been developing my workflow a lot, testing new ways of optimizing it, and progressing in professional quality.

I’ve been able to develop some great personal material in Substance Painter, including smart masks and smart materials specific to various situations that help me throughout my work routine. I believe that this is an excellent advantage of the Substance tools—being able to optimize some technical steps in order to spend more time on the artistic and creative parts.

What type of software do you typically use?

I think that as a 3D artist, we should always be open to new methods of working. My workflow has changed a lot according to the kind of project I’ve been focusing on. Currently, the software I use the most includes: Maya + Arnold, as base software that concentrates the steps of lighting shading and rendering. Also, UV Layout and Maya for UVs, ZBrush for sculpting volume details and some others maps, Substance Painter and Photoshop for most of my texture maps, Photoshop, After Effects and Nuke for composition.

Which pieces of work are you most proud of?

I’m quite proud of some jobs for what they’ve represented to me in some way. Among them, I can mention some that have marked me a lot. This certainly includes the short film I made in partnership with Mauricio Bartok, Finito, launched in 2016.

This was a pretty bold project for the small number of people who participated. It took a few years to finish, on account of its complexity and because it was a personal project, carried out with our own resources, but with perseverance, we managed to achieve our goals in this project. I don’t consider it to be one of my works of better technical quality, but it was a great challenge, and it got a lot of positive feedback after it was released.

Definitely, MAT by Vincent was one of those outstanding works for me too. It was a simple one, but the whole story involved in it absolutely made it worthwhile. I was able to use a lot of creativity and compete with so many great entries from incredible artists. It still brings me a lot of pride.

Amongst my professional projects, the animated short film Dream is one of my favorites. This was also one of the first times I used Substance Painter in a real production project.

Which 3D artists, or artists in general, do you really love?

There are definitely a lot of artists that inspire me and motivate me to continue growing as an artist. I really love the work by the Chinese artist Zhelong Xu. He’s skilled in all artistic stages, and has a strong personal style. The book Yechawood: The Art of Zhelong Xu, published by the Substance team, is terrific.

Among many other artists who are a great inspiration to me, I find Daniel Clarke is a great illustrator and concept artist; Maria Panfilova does excellent work as a digital sculptor; and, representing Brazil, I have to mention Pedro Conti, Victor Hugo Queiroz, and Tiago Hoisel. They are really exceptional artists.

How do you feel that 3D art fits in alongside more conventional art forms?

In my opinion, digital art goes hand in hand with conventional art. There is no separation when the subject is art. Both are the expression of their creator. Neither develop themselves; they need the active agent to bring them to life. For that purpose, the artist chooses the most appropriate tool, whether that’s a brush or 3D software. As long as there are creative tools, there will be someone behind them as the soul of the creation.

Who knows, in the near future, and with the advancement of 3D printers, we’ll probably be able to see 3D art in the physical realm in a more widespread way, so that it might be shown in museums or bought by art lovers. In fact, I can’t wait to see this happen.

What are your ambitions for your career?

I believe I’m already living a career that I craved a few years ago. Looking back, I realize that all the steps I’ve taken were for one purpose and that, in a way, I’ve managed to achieve that. Being able to participate in important projects was always my goal from the beginning, and being in a production of a feature film was yet another of my recently achieved goals. I’m not saying that I have no ambitions anymore. To have the possibility to participate in other feature film productions and to have more and more essential roles in them is something that motivates me a lot. I know that in this field, we have to be continually growing, and I genuinely hope to be able to continue developing as an artist and getting closer to those I admire, and maybe one day being a reference for other artists.

What advice would you like to share with digital art students, or aspiring 3D artists?

To answer this question, I made some topics with points I find relevant for those who are in the first steps of their careers. I hope they find it useful.

1. Study and practice

It can’t be emphasized enough that you are the reflection of your commitment. Practice will bring perfection. The artwork you create is the proportional amplification of the effort you invest in developing your skills. So if your dream is to be a renowned 3D professional artist, this is the only correct path to follow. Cultivate healthy habits for this. Try to make it a pleasurable practice. When we are motivated toward a goal, we enjoy each moment, and that is the key to success.

2. Develop your visual library

Every source of inspiration that we absorb is significant. When you develop a trained eye to see the world you want to represent, you can precisely analyze the process needed to perform a particular job. You can look at your first version of an image and know what it takes to improve it, rather than stopping when you reach your first result. It’s vital to be aware that our first version of a work is unlikely to be the best possible version.

3. Build and enhance your portfolio

The portfolio is the most important thing to be evaluated by companies. It is the visual identity of an artist, and the synthesis of any technical skill acquired via his or her studies and professional experiences. A portfolio is of top importance for those seeking their dream job. It should be treated with full attention. It should include only an artist’s best work, and should be tailored towards the type of professional position you desire. Ask for feedback, and be open to making replacements and improvements from time to time.

4. Be a specialist

While there is a small controversy over this issue, and a significant amount of good positions for 3D generalists in the industry, a specialist, broadly speaking, will find more significant opportunities within big studios. I don’t necessarily advise artists to develop a specialization from the very beginning. On the contrary, be a good generalist first, especially in your personal projects; this will give you a good basis to choose which area best represents you. It is highly recommended to have a solid general basis of the whole process before becoming a specialist.

5. Apply for desired positions as many times as necessary

Often our applications get lost in the middle of a multitude of other applications, and if we don’t obtain a position the first time we try, that doesn’t necessarily mean that we’ve been turned down. An artist who presents himself for job vacancies, and for recruiters, is viewed as professional by studios. To keep this healthy way of applying for the same job again, we can create some standards, such as re-applying every time we have a new quality job to showcase.

Remember to keep a focus on the position where you ultimately want to be, build a portfolio consistent with the job position, and try as many times as necessary.

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