Why it’s Not Too Late to Get into the Craft: How ZBrush Motivated Mr. Pietro Berto to Become a 3D Artist

by Joshua Diokno   

Mr. Pietro Berto did not dream of becoming an artist early on. Fact of the matter is, it was ZBrush that had him motivated to become involved with the digital arts.

But who wouldn’t be motivated with what the software can produce? ArtStation is filled with countless 3D efforts that are more than awe-inspiring and worthy of our curiosity. It is in the contemplation of these works that Mr. Berto was had. And we couldn’t be more grateful that he had committed to the discipline.

Seeing his works online inspires us into thinking that maybe it isn’t too late to discover that we too have a potential in the arts—that maybe with mere visual experience, we can be pushed to become more than what we are today.

Suffice it to say, Mr. Berto is an inspiration. While it does take talent to produce what he had managed to create, self-motivation, determination, and intense desire are things that have to be factored in.

While ZBRush technology had indeed changed the 3D landscape, artists like Mr. Berto made the discipline even better.

Xeno Creatives (XC): ZBrush technology changed the industry. It widened the avenues of expression, technique, and style for 3D artists. What processes did you have to learn to be skilled in it?

Pietro Berto (PB): To learn the little that I know now, I had to spent countless hours on YouTube, artbooks, and a few online courses.

The amount of material you can find online is endless. ZBrush can be confusing at first, but when you unlock its logic it becomes really friendly. Even if I wasn’t a traditional artist before the digital era, I can understand how it pushed the industry. What really helped me was to go to conventions and events to see how popular digital artists work live. Watching and listening to them in the flesh made a difference in my learning experience.

XC: Being a dedicated artist as you are, how did ZBrush help you further your art?

PB: I must say it was ZBrush itself that gave me interest in art. Thanks to it, I was able to visit a lot of museums! I’m so lucky my hometown is Rome—coming back to it on holidays is even nicer now. Through my interest in art I became more aware of what surrounds me.

Seeing what ZBrush was capable of and the quality level its users were producing was mind blowing. 

ZBrush is where everything started for me. Almost everything I do starts there: an idea, a sketch, a design etc. The community is awesome and there are so many skilled artists who were inspirational to me; they really push the bar to help everyone improve. I’m proud to be a part of this community.

XC: What made you decide to focus on ZBrush as a creation medium? Are you still planning on venturing into other software?

PB: I originally started to learn 3D sculpting in Mudbox. It is recommendable to understand basic tools and behaviours of the job. But all information, speedsculpt, and tutorial I found out there are ZBrush-oriented. It was inevitable to develop interest.

I also wanted to focus on the industry standard that for what I do are Zbrush and Maya. I know I made a good decision back then.

Regarding other software, we always have to be up-to-date with new tech and tools, and it will be this way forever.

What catches my attention these days is Oculus. VR sculpting might be a big thing in the future; I definitely want to try it soon!

XC: Do you have to be good in human anatomy when working with ZBrush?

PB: I believe human anatomy is the key—especially for a character/creature artist. You not only learn to build a correct body, but you learn proportions, muscle interlocking, shapes, deformations, harmony, beauty of the forms, and much more.

Having an understanding of anatomy is essential for a believable figure. The more I study, the more I realize how little I know. This process will be never-ending and I definitely love it; I simply won’t tire from learning.

XC: Do you see yourself in the movie and television industry?

PB: I was lucky enough to start my professional career in the TV industry as a freelancer. I worked on TV shows such as “Sleepy Hollow”, “Outcast”, and more recently, “Star Trek Discovery”. I was responsible with building digital doubles of actors and creatures; they were fun and interesting projects.

I must admit I prefer to put more love and time into characters, usually, TV productions are really fast and demanding at the same time, which brings you to come to compromises to match deadlines.

I love working on every project, as long as it is interesting and challenging—no matter if it is in TV shows, game development, or the movie industry. The kind of projects I worked on made a huge impact on my decisions.

XC: Was your craft really a passion to begin with or just something that pays the bills?

PB: I’m not one of those guys who will say, “I’ve been drawing since I was 2 months old” or shit like that. I always say up front I don’t have any artistic background; I didn’t love art as much as I love it now. To become an artist wasn’t even a dream in my youth. I never knew this was a real job until a few years ago.

As a kid though I loved comic drawing; usual stuff for a boy you know? Marvel, DC and so on. I was a big gamer as well; I’m part of the first “Half-Life” generation, “Counter Strike”, “Team Fortress Classic”, and “DoD”. But as soon as I turned 15 or 16 I completely lost interest in PC. I only came back to it at the age of 28.  I figured out I wanted to do art when I am already grown up.

Then I became sick of my everyday standard job, I was looking for something inspiring, fresh—something that I could be passionate about. And here is when I found my path as a 3D artist. I can now render the characters I used to draw when I was a kid, and believe me, this is like seeing the light—a deep shift in your life. The best I could ever imagine.

For me, this is the job I chose, and I believe 99% of the artists here are driven by passion, like me!

XC: There is no other way of putting it, but your works online are AWESOME! Your concepts are just plain cool. While they’re all good, we gotta ask, do you have favorites? What are they and why?

PB: Wow, thank you! I don’t deserve such compliments!

I could easily escape this answer by saying my favourite one has yet to come! Hehehe. But there are a couple of pieces that have particular meaning to me. My “real-time Frank” might not be the coolest character, I know that, but it was the result of a long mentorship by my friend Frankie. The best I took from this experience wasn’t only the technical side of it, but more of how I approached them: what you focus on first and how you look at the whole picture. The experience was really an eye-opener for me.

Another fun one was that ugly Hippo-Creature Hahaha! At the time, I really wanted to join the “Gio Nakpil Workshop” but didn’t have the money. I was inspired by the works of all his students. They posted some friggin’ good creatures after the course ended and you can really see Gio’s teaching behind those. I just wanted to replicate that style, and actually learned a lot on my own. So thank you guys for producing really cool pieces along with Gio!

XC: Who do you consider your influences? What attracted you to them?

PB: If we talk about old masters, my champ is Bernini. Hands-down. Of course this does not need any explanation.

If we talk about contemporary artists I’m inspired by Gio Napkil and Steve Lord’s sculpting. I get a real “clay feeling” when I see them sculpting—I try to match as much as I can how they use the pen on the Cintiq. When it comes to anatomy, I rely on Scott Eaton and Dan Crossland; I learned a lot from both of them. They are really awesome guys!

But my main influences so far are Rafael Zabala and Frankie de Rosa. I had the pleasure to be close to Rafa for a short period of my life when I lived in Spain. He became my mentor, colleague, and brother. He is a proud Spanish guy who welcomed me into his family and we did a few projects together. I love what he does, and he also comes from traditional sculpting, as all of the other artists I love. Maybe that must be the magic behind them!

They seem to connect easily with their pen—they make every stroke count. Thanks to him, I have now an obsession with human likeness! To sculpt the human head is something therapeutic for me. I’m pretty sure our paths will cross again soon or later.

And Frankie, he is one of the best character artists I know. He is also well aware of how the industry is at present. He is my go-to friend when I need artistic advice. Thank you man!

XC: What other pieces do you still want to create?

PB: I initially wanted to be a creature artist. I decided to dive into Character Art as training grounds to reach my goal one day. It is still on my mind; maybe I will have a chance soon to prove myself.

But I love anatomy in general, both human and animal. But to blend them ultimately into weird creatures is the best! It requires a lot of study and understanding to do something believable and of worth, that’s why I’m trying to study and practice as much as I can.

I have a couple of personal projects I’m working on at the moment, but it is quite hard to find some free time. It will definitely take a while. Both of these are characters.

My future focus will be animals I guess, I want to discover how my knowledge of human anatomy applies to them.

Oh and I am obsessed with Sci-Fi! I want to do some of that.

XC: Do you also see yourself in Game Character Design?

PB: Funny you ask, I’m right now in the process of working on Character Designs here in UK. I find it really interesting and stimulating.

As every discipline, Game Character Design requires some study and knowledge as well. I wish it was as easy as, “It is good as long as it looks cool” but there is simply more to add, silhouettes, curves, rhythm, and much more. Plus if you are designing a whole population of characters, they also need to live with each other; they should have unique characteristics and differences. It is a process that I love, although longer and more energy-consuming than just working with references, as I was used to do.

XC: If you weren’t working as a 3D artist, what do you think you’d be specializing in instead?

PB: Cocktails on the beach haha! And I’m not kidding. I have been a bartender for a long time, and had my own business as well. Not a lifestyle you can keep forever, and I feel blessed I do this other job now.

XC: What advice can you give individuals wanting to enter the industry?

PB: A passionate person won’t need any advice I believe. You feel what you have to do.

But maybe for the younger generation, be up-to-date, join communities, talk to other artists, chat, go to live events; connect with others, join ArtStation and LinkedIn, and most important of all, don’t give a fuck. Just do it!

Mr. Berto, we cannot fully express how truly grateful Xeno Creatives is to have been given the chance of an interview with you. We wish all the success in your future endeavours!

Want to see more of Mr. Berto’s works? Click here!

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