Towards the end of 2002, an unknown 3D artist from Brazil nervously uploaded a 3D image to CGTalk. The next day the image’s thread was full of admiring comments, and his email was flooded with job offers from all over the world.
That artist was Fausto De Martini, and the image was of a Light Infantry Marine inspired by StarCraft.
The image that started it all: Marine by Fausto De Martini
This superbly rendered image helped him get head-hunted by Blizzard’s Cinematics Department.
The Early Years
De Martini originally got into 3D while writing for a games magazine in Brazil. The publication had a CD-Rom attached, which contained demos, add-ons, etc.
In 1997, they hired an artist to do an animation of a car driving on a road. It was for the magazine’s CD-Rom intro and highlighted the company’s logo.
“I was amazed by it,” exclaimed De Martini, “and asked him how he did it? He introduced me to 3D Studio Max.”
It was this simple act that sparked a life-long passion in the young De Martini.
“He was also a programmer,” continued De Martini. “So I talked to him about an idea I had for a first person shooter game. I said that I have always liked to draw and create stories and I asked if we could do something together with his modelling and programming skills. He suggested that I learn 3D; that way I could design and model everything and he would program. The idea made sense, so I installed Max and it didn't take long for me to realise that it was going to be my passion. It gave me the freedom to do everything I have ever imagined.” Unfortunately, work commitments got in the way, so the project never moved forward.
Shortly after, De Martini got an internship with an events company in Sao Paulo, which specialised in screen projections.
“There were some cool guys working there, and one had been working in 3D for a long time, so I had a chance to learn from him.”
With his ever expanding skill-set and reputation he went on to some exciting freelance work with advertising firms.
“I got the opportunity to do some commercials which lead to more and more work. Advertising is the biggest market for computer graphics in South America. I worked with some of the biggest studios in Brazil such as Casablanca, which led to bigger commercials for bigger brands like Coke.”
However, he had his sights on something even bigger.
Cosmonaut by Fausto De Martini
The Road to Blizzard
“The one important thing I had in the back of my mind,” explained De Martini, “was that I wanted to work in entertainment; whether in Brazil or elsewhere. So, I was always working on personal projects, mainly characters and creatures – the things I loved to do.”
It was when De Martini was working at the game magazine that he first came across Blizzard’s StarCraft.
“I really loved that cinematic. It was just so much more mature compared to the others around that time. Then I watched the cinematics for Diablo and World of Warcraft. That was it! I was hooked and became a huge fan of not just the games but the cinematics too.”
Around the end of 2002, De Martini started building a Light Infantry Marine, which was influenced by the iconic characters in StarCraft.
He did this specifically to get the attention of Blizzard.
“I did it in my spare time, working till well past midnight every night. My plan was to do a whole character. Rig him, give him cloth simulation, all the bells and whistles, and then send him to Blizzard in a demo reel. But I was working such long hours with my job that I didn't have a chance to finish.”
This is when a pivotal moment in De Martini’s life occurred.
“A friend, who was really active in posting art on CGTalk, suggested I should do the same. But, I felt the character wasn't finished enough, it was a Work In Progress. Eventually I decided to do it, and posted the image on a Friday.”
Showing the world your art can be nerve-wracking, but it can open so many doors.
On the Saturday, a friend from Sao Paulo rang De Martini and told him to check the CGTalk forum post, because it had exploded over night with massive amounts of comments.
“It was an amazing response that I just couldn't quite believe. When I opened my emails I was getting all these job offers from different countries. I absolutely never expected anything like that to happen!”
Most importantly he got an interview at Blizzard.
“Posting my art on CGTalk helped me get that interview with Blizzard. Even after getting the job, I kept on looking through the forums and met lots of artists, many who ended up working at Blizzard, for instance Jonathan Berube, who is one of the Art Directors now. Those forums really helped to build a community for artists.”
The Blizzard Years
De Martini spent almost ten very happy years at the Blizzard Cinematics Department. He rose to become an Art Director and worked on major projects, such as World of Warcraft, Diablo III and StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty and Heart of the Swarm.
Starcraft II Cinematic - Better Marine
“One of my dream jobs was to work on the StarCraft II cinematic. After watching the first one I really wanted to work on the second one. I worked heavily on the Space Marine. I was really fortunate to work on that with the incredibly talented cinematics team at Blizzard.”
Life support Machine by Fausto De Martini
During this time De Martini honed his methods and exceptional 3DS Max and ZBrush skills.
De Martini creates his stunning designs by first sketching concepts on paper in order to develop ideas rapidly, then he moves to 3D to block out shapes.
“With 3ds Max I take advantage of the modifier stack. I build up from something simple with a shell modifier on top and apply Turbosmooth to it. Every time you return to the lowest level you can edit and when you go back to the top level it’s all there. However, there is a big difference between doing design in 3D and doing production models. For design you really have to abandon all those things like making sure they are all quads. There’s just no time for that.”
Bust by Fausto De Martini
When designing creatures he uses DynaMesh in ZBrush to sculpt the character. Then he uses V-Ray to render the hi-res mesh. Finally, into Photoshop, to paint more surface details.
“ZBrush is amazing, because now you can create not only organic but mechanical characters. I'm using it more and more to create quick designs. DynaMesh is great for setting up basic silhouettes and finding really quick shapes in the design phase.”
De Martini is renowned for his mastery of 3DS Max and ZBrush, but is agnostic when it comes to the tools available.
“People often ask me what the best software to use is. There is a big difference between choosing software that you are going to use in a pipeline of a company and what you choose to build your portfolio with. Use what you are comfortable with; even Blender, which is free, does some pretty impressive work. Find what you love and be as good as you can. Work on your design; software is not going to make you better. “
When De Martini left Blizzard three years ago he was highly sought after by the film industry. He quickly became a Concept Artist/Illustrator working alongside many amazing artists on movies like Robocop, Transformers 4, Terminator: Genisys, Star Wars VII and he is currently on the Avatar sequels.
“I was at Blizzard when I watched the first Avatar, and I was completely floored by everything that was done by Jim Cameron, Weta and all the other artists that were involved. Great quality in everything! Ever since then, I had it in the back of my mind that if there was one project I really wanted to be involved in it was Avatar.”
Was it such a great leap from working on mind-blowing games to mind-blowing films? After all, I often see cinematics and wish they were made into movies.
“Yeah,” agreed De Martini, “like Blizzard and Blur cinematics, you think wow, I could watch 90 minutes of this on the big screen. The quality of the work has improved so much and the line is starting to blur. Especially for the younger generation with much more immersive gaming experiences, which are becoming cinematic in themselves.”
“I’m just so fortunate that the Universe has given me the opportunity to work on projects that have really touched me, like StarCraft and Star Wars!”
Deployment Unit by Fausto De Martini
But despite a workload that would exhaust most workaholics, De Martini has found time to pour energy into his own labor of love: Project EDGE.
EDGE is an open universe, where De Martini tells, in an e-book format, the grim story of the world which has fallen into war and conflict.
“To me it’s a blank canvas,” explained De Martini. “I wanted to create a Universe and fill it with things I'm passionate about. It is an open world experience in which I will explore designs and stories in the context of astronomy, robotics, military expansion and space exploration.”
Project EDGE by Fausto De Martini
The first issue released by De Martini is the Prologue, which sets the tone for the whole expansive universe. It’s Earth in the not too distant future, and many of the world’s economies and political structures are crumbling. The US has established military superiority by developing Hyperion cannons, which are capable of pinpointing targets from orbit.
“No other country has developed anything similar,” explained De Martini. “This is the setting for developing further stories and I'm going to introduce a character with a unique point of view. At the moment I want to release four to five issues. I'm working on the second one now. If people are excited to see more, I’ll be happy to continue.”
You can purchase the whole package and get behind the scenes, turntables and tutorials here. There’s also a free version to give you a taste here. I really urge you to look the second you finish this article!
De Martini has been an inspiration to so many artists. So who inspired this inspirational artist?
He counts Bladerunner and Alien among his favorite movies, so it’s no surprise that his heroes include Syd Mead, Geiger and Ron Cobb. De Martini is also inspired by Craig Mullins (“I was floored by his work on Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within”), Ben Procter (“huge influence on me, such a fantastic designer, and I’m really lucky that he’s my Production Designer on Avatar”), Vitaly Bulgarov (“an amazing artist that I worked with at Blizzard. Not only an amazing artist, but an amazing person too”).
“There are just so many amazing artists,” continued De Martini, “like all the guys I’m working with now on Avatar, like Dylan Cole, and John Park. Every day I go to work I’m just so inspired by them.”
Among the many artists around the world that have been inspired by De Martini, there is one who is particularly special to the great artist, and that is his son Joe. He displays a natural flair for character and creature design; making it likely that the De Martini name will continue to flourish in the art world for decades to come. Having a mentor like his father, he is sure to succeed.
Speaking of mentoring and inspiration, before De Martini went back to work on designs for Avatar, I asked him for his top 3 tips for junior artists who are trying to make it in the industry today. He replied:
1 Be humble. Erase your ego. Be someone that everybody wants to work with. Don’t forget that you are part of a team.
2 Be hungry. Always want to improve, and learn more.
3 If you know what you want to do and who you want to work with, base your portfolio on their style.
The last tip is particularly sage, because by doing exactly that, he has become the master of his creative journey.
De Martini is a humble and generous artist of extraordinary ability, and I personally cannot wait to see his work on not only Star Wars VII and the Avatar sequels, but also his very own Project EDGE.
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