The Art of Mario Cortez: A Contemplation on Detail

by Joshua Diokno   

Educated in the trade at the Gnomon School of Visual Effects, Mr. Mario Cortez, 25 years young is one with obvious talent and skill.

His works online are indicative of rigorous discipline and attention to detail–and we simply cannot pry our eyes from them. So let’s get to know Mr. Mario Cortez through this feature and find out why he is one digital artist we should all watch out for.

Xeno Creative (XC): ZBrush technology brought a lot to the industry. What processes did you have to learn to be skilled in it?

Mario Cortez (MC): ZBrush has been instrumental in helping me build very precise sculpts. The subdivision and DynaMesh feature helps me with the process of slowly moving up in poly count. I do not move on until I have done everything I could with the resolution I have. It keeps your sculpt from appearing like a trash bag and keeps it more manageable.

Just like in clay sculpting, painting or any medium, it’s good to look at your piece from a distance. Now in ZBrush, I am able to  look at my low resolution sculpt from a distance and multiple angles and ask myself if there is any more refinement of the shape I can make before increasing resolution. Becoming  comfortable using polygroups and knowing how to use them efficiently in my workflow has been a huge help in also managing my sculpt.

XC: What are specific ZBrush features do you employ in the production of your art? Has it helped you in improving your art better?

MC: My favorite part about ZBrush is that I can quickly ZRemesh my sculpt, make some quick trash UVs so that I can quickly throw it into Substance Painter to see if I’m pushing the detail hard enough after baking the normal maps.

What this allows me to do is easily check if my secondary and tertiary forms are being pushed too hard or not enough. Looking at the forms in different lighting situations is a way of checking any work.

XC: How did you start being involved in the digital craft?

MC: I was working as a store manager when one day I came across an ad about schooling for the game industry. I then thought to myself, “There are people out there making this happen, why can’t I?”. The funny thing is, I have always enjoyed looking at digital art from an early age, but I never knew it was digital or questioned how it was created. When I found out about tablets and programs like ZBrush, Photoshop, and Substance existed, I was hooked and haven’t looked back.

XC: What do you think is your edge as a 3D artist? What do you think makes you stand out from the rest?

MC: Absolutely having strong foundations in art and design. The industry and its tools are always changing and improving. These advancements have made it easier for others to jump in to start making work that looks solid very quickly. Having an eye for self-critique in a constructive way and strong foundation in basic art principles gives me the confidence to jump into any program knowing that once I get used to the tools, I will start producing strong pieces that meet my standards.

XC: Whom do you do you consider your influence(s)?

MC: I’ve taken courses with Carlos Huante, Jerad Marantz, and JP Targete–man, those guys are definitely something else! When you see an appealing and accurate arm being painted with a few strokes in real-time, it convinces you to step up your game.

None of these instructors were pushovers; they were hard to impress. I remember wanting to tear my hair out trying to have something to show that was not cringe-worthy. Watching them do demos is incredibly valuable because it’s there! It’s real! There is no trick, no special tool, or brush. These guys are no nonsense. Just get it done and get it done without cutting corners. That’s what I appreciated the most from these guys.

XC: So far, what were the challenges that you had encountered working in the 3D industry?

MC: I do not currently work in the industry. At the moment I’m still studying and networking at Gnomon. The challenge I’ve had with 3D has been knowing which tools will allow me to translate the idea in my head into a final render. As an artist, you don’t immediately realize how valuable organization and optimization can be until the program decides to crash and die on you. The programs will start to fight back less the more familiar you get with them. Organization and saving often are your best friends.

XC: What is your most exciting project to date?

MC: I’d definitely would have to say my last piece was the Warlord by NI Yiping piece I did. The process frustrating. I had to push through a lot of challenges in having to go back and forth correcting prior mistakes. Putting in the extra time to make sure that each stage was solid really paid off and I’m so excited for my next piece. I’ve learned so much from it, and I plan to continue applying my organization and pacing from this project into my future ones.

XC: Do you have any advice to aspiring artists?

MC: Don’t look for the easiest path right away. I like to use the most basic tools to get a great piece. It’s similar to strapping leg weights when running so that when you remove them you feel weightless. Don’t look at new tools or features and think “Oh now I can be a good artist and make good art”. Instead study what the tool is trying to expedite so that when you get around to using the tool you have a more profound understanding on how to use that tool.  

Do not start a piece until you finish it in your head. What you can take away from this interview is that  finish a piece before starting it. Confusing right? But see the end result in your head so that all there is between you and that finished piece is the work you have to put in and a clear path of obstacles you must overcome versus fumbling around; second guessing each artistic decision along the way hoping that the end result will look good.

Want to see more of Mr. Mario Cortez’s work? Click here!

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