The heart of an artist: Bursting through the concrete with Pedro Conti
Monday, October 28th 2019 by Julian Karsunky
Pedro Conti is an accomplished 3D artist in every sense of the word. Hailing from São Paulo, Brazil, he has worked with some of the biggest studios in the animation industry, including Walt Disney and DreamWorks. Yet, it is the recently released music video to Ron Artis II’s ‘In My Heart’, a seemingly inconspicuous passion project between friends, Pedro considers his most artistic and sincerest achievement.
Check out our interview to learn more about the serendipitous origins and heartfelt development of Pedro’s latest project.
Hi Pedro, we’re glad to have you back, it’s been a while! For those who missed our previous feature, please introduce yourself to our readers!
Hi and thank you so much for this opportunity to talk about our project! My name is Pedro Conti and I’m a CG director and 3D artist from Brazil. Since the start of my career back in 2005 I have worked with studios such as Walt Disney Animation, DreamWorks, Guerrilla Games, Marvel and more.
Just a few weeks ago, you unveiled Ron Artis II’s fully animated music video “In My Heart” at THU’s opening ceremony. How did the screening go? Tell us about the event!
It was very special! THU is an amazing event that brings together artists from all over the world for an intense five days. There’s no VIP, so you can talk to pretty much anyone you want and everybody’s open to have conversations and share experiences. I’ve gone to THU since its inception in 2013 and it has profoundly impacted my life year after year.
Therefore, showcasing our film in front of a live audience as part of the opening ceremony was especially meaningful to me! People didn’t expect it and the immediate response was great. Ron Artis II was there with us as well and did a few concerts over the days. So yeah, special is the word to describe our experience; I’m very grateful to THU and Andre Luis for the amazing opportunity.
How are you feeling now that the project is completed and released?
It's indeed a good feeling! I’m at a moment in my life where having a good time working and connecting with people I admire is equally important to getting things done. With ‘In My Heart’, I wanted to enjoy the process as much as possible. Completing it was a true milestone and makes me that much more excited to realize similar projects down the road.
Like a flower blooming in concrete, the boy’s house stands out in the grey cityscape.
Let’s take a step back and start at the beginning. When and how did the idea of making a music video first come up?
Music has been an important part of my life even longer than 3D, I myself used to play the trumpet, flute and guitar. 2018 was a very turbulent year for me, as my father passed away at the same time I myself became a father. It was hard to digest what was happening, and music helped me to understand and work through my feelings. I was listening to a lot of Brazilian rap, Emicida in particular. His music really helped me cope in these difficult times, so in return I gifted him a 3D print. From there, things seemed to just fall into place one by one. That’s usually how it works out for me once my mind latches onto something.
There is another famous rap group called Racionais, one of their songs says something like “no matter what you are going through, have faith, because there are flowers blooming even in the concrete”. This phrase stuck with me for quite a long time. A couple of months later, Ron Artis II saw my work and called me, asking if I would be interested in doing a music video about flowers in the concrete. What a crazy coincidence, right?! There was no way I could refuse. I talked about it with my friend Fernando Peque and he told me he wanted to be part of it as well, and that’s how we ended up directing ‘In My Heart’ together.
Can you tell us more about the different parties involved in the creation of ‘In My Heart?’
I have been closely working with Fernando Peque for the last five years, we frequently collaborate on both commercial and personal projects. We co-directed a few spots here and there and knew we wanted to do something bigger together. Animation supervisor Marcio Nicolosi is an old college friend of mine, I’ve known him since 2005. He used to supervise for a big studio here in Brazil, so he has an amazing team at hand. He suggested riggers, storyboarders and all the animators. I also had a few friends that I brought on board, such as Paulo Sampaio, talented 3D generalist and another friend from university. We have been trying to collaborate for quite some time and it finally happened with this project.
How would you classify the project and your involvement? Was it more of a personal/passion project or a “regular job”?
It was a mixed thing. Fernando Peque, Paulo Sampaio, Vitor Maccari and I decided to fund the project in part. We had a budget to pay riggers, storyboarders and animators. We also had the support from amazing companies like RebusFarm, who provided the render power and Chaosgroup, who provided free V-Ray licenses. This project wouldn’t have been possible without you guys.
A message from the heart of everybody involved, animating Ron Artis II’s music video was a passion project for Pedro and his friends.
What was the main motivation and goal for the video? Is it to promote the artist or a specific message?
The passing of my father really made me question what I was doing with this gift I have. Telling stories is such a powerful, life-changing thing. As I mentioned, music helped me to see a different perspective in times of need and I wanted to contribute in the same way. As an artist, Ron Artis II is very conscious of conveying a message, Fernando was also looking for the same thing. So, with everybody on the team in a similar mindset, we just clicked with each other. The spirit of the project thus was to focus on the message and the energy between us.
Clocking in at around three minutes and ten seconds of full animation, what can you tell us about the scale of the project?
Well, it definitely was a big challenge! I was involved in big projects such as feature films, series and commercials in the past, but for those projects I worked within a corporate structure and alongside a big team. ‘In My Heart’ was a small team in comparison, so we had to be economical in achieving the high-end quality we were aiming for. A lot of our work was to solve design and animation challenges. As I come from the render perspective, I knew we could make it if we had a really good render farm. But for the story, design, and animation, we tried to be as careful and deliberate as possible with our decisions.
How long did it take you to complete ‘In My Heart’?
The project took us around three and a half months, which I consider pretty fast. As we had no client in the conventional sense, we could call all the shots ourselves. The process went smooth overall, it was more like a conversation with the whole team. We were constantly making decisions and adjusting and changing things on the fly.
What software did you use for this project?
What challenges did you face during development and how did you overcome them?
From my perspective, the main challenge was the pipeline and the amount of shots to render. We had around 68 shots to produce and a very small team doing lookdev, lighting and rendering. Bringing the animation cache from Maya to 3ds Max, doing shot light, set dressing, rendering and comp was a lot of work. 3D animation is always hard work, so there are no easy workarounds. No matter the size of the project, there are always problems you have to brute force. I had Paulo Sampaio and Vitor Maccari support me with materials and prelighting. I was putting things together, polishing them and then sending them over to the farm. The repetition was the hardest part, I had to keep everyone motivated, including myself.
Between directing, editing, designing and rendering, you oversaw almost the entirety of the production. How do you successfully balance all these different aspects?
Every single person on the project had to multitask, there was no way to get things done otherwise. I simply contributed as much as I was able to, and since I consider myself a generalist, I can handle a lot of different aspects of the CG process. Over the years, I was lucky to work with a lot of amazing designers, which helped me to develop a sense of design myself. Of course, Fernando is a genius designer on his own, so I mostly supported him by providing efficient solutions for the actual production.
Visual development has been my bread and butter as a 3D artist for the past three years, so I’m very comfortable in that area. The most important thing is to not lose sight of the bigger picture and don’t spend too much time on a single stage. What matters is the final image, so I’m always looking to balance everything for the final shot.
Let’s talk about the actual video in more detail now! Starting with the visuals, you opted for a very distinct and charming style. What influenced this decision and how would you describe your visual approach?
Above all, our approach was pragmatical: balancing our ambitions with our possibilities meant simplifying as much as possible. So, most of our choices in regard to design, story and animation were all influenced by the realities of our framework. Funnily enough, there was no deliberate attempt to create a unique look, but we got this feedback from a lot of people!
The “wooly” textures for the character’s hair are an especially striking feature. What can you tell us about this design choice?
Again, it was all about simplification. We wanted to come up with something we could easily reuse, while still having a certain stylistic finesse. We tried a few different things for the characters, making them out of wood, rubber or clay, but somehow it all felt a little cheap. Fernando eventually suggested the wooly hairs and it ended up working quite well.
Tell us about the design of the main character, which I take is a child version of Ron Artis II himself?
The character is indeed based on Ron and was designed by Fernando Peque. I feel he really captured Ron’s essence in a very stylized and appealing way. We worked with simple shapes like cubes, spheres and cones, and build the character from that. These primitives are really easy to model and texture. We also used many plush toys as design reference.
The characters underwent several designs during development. On the left is Ron as a wooden figurine and in the final, wooly style on the right.
Through the course of the song, the grey and unfriendly cityscape gradually turns more and more bright and sunny. How did you plan and achieve this effect of changing the mood so dramatically?
The basic idea for the script was to make the boy live in a city he doesn’t belong to, full of red signs, traffic, smoke and grumpy people. Ron is a happy and kind soul who wants to get along with everybody, but his attempts at connecting with people are met with rejection and hostility. However, once he gets a hold of his guitar, he is able to turn things around and forget the bad day he was having.
We wanted to show that even if your surroundings aren’t exactly accommodating, beauty is inside ourselves and we should show it for the world to see! Fernando came up with the idea of doing an abstract place that represents the boy’s heart, a stark contrast to the grey city and essential for the following mood change. We wanted people to feel like the boy and, like him, reconnect with ourselves through art and nature.
The music video is a unique and multisensory medium for storytelling. With ‘In My Heart’, the lyrics and visuals tell two separate, yet intertwined stories. How much did the lyrics influence the animation and vice versa?
When Ron reached out to me, the song was already completed. So the script is firmly rooted in the lyrics, for the most part. For the first act, however, we wanted to contrast the lyrics with our imagery of this cold and unfriendly city. Ron is singing about his heart, so the world around him doesn’t matter: “In my heart, the is sun always shining. Worries are distant, worlds away”. That is how he sees life and I thought it would be fun showing the often unpleasant reality of big city life while he sings of the opposite. Sometimes the connection between music and film is more literal but we tried to find this balance.
Ron told me he wrote the song as a distraction during a recording session. To take his mind off things for a moment, he had to go someplace else, that’s how ‘In My heart’ came to be. Apparently, he wrote the song in just 15 minutes, and it ended up replacing a track for the album that took him nine years to write. How crazy is that!?
Do you consider the animation as just an accompanying video to the song or is ‘In My Heart’ a “Gesamtkunstwerk”?
I think ‘In My Heart’ is a music video, but due to our background in film making, it has its merits as an animated short. Everyone wanted to do something that could inspire people, Ron with his music and us on the visual side. I consider ‘In My heart’ the most artistic and sincere piece I’ve worked on – not only because of the final result, but because we were really living the story we were telling.
The image of the flower bursting through the concrete holds a very special meaning to Pedro.
The final shot before the credits shows a blooming flower and the words “a seed has been planted”. Is there more you guys have planned further down the road? What’s next for Pedro Conti and friends?
To realize ‘In My Heart’, Fernando and I decided to join forces by founding Flooul Animation, our very own studio/collective. After completing the project, we were presented with further opportunities, and we are carefully considering our next moves. Our main goal is to keep telling stories that matter. Share Brazilian culture and, at the same time, show that it’s possible to produce high-quality animation in a country that doesn’t have a particular history for it. This project taught us that it’s possible to take a more artistic and meaningful approach to our work, with everyone enjoying the process and contributing to people’s life. Remember, we have only a short stay in this world, so we have to make the best of our time!
In closing, is there anything else you’d like to say?
Absolutely! First, I’d like to thank Ron Artis II and Fernando Peque for having trust in my work and giving me this amazing opportunity. Also, this project would never have been possible without the support from RebusFarm, Chaosgroup and all of our sponsors as well as every single artist that contributed to this piece. I feel very grateful to have such talented and kind people around me. I also want to thank my wife Karina for always supporting me.
We all have our ups and downs in life and mainly, it’s the downs that we learn the most from. Having just gone through such a lesson, the message I would love to leave for fellow artists reading this is:
We don’t have to wait for those heavy turbulences to hit our lives to realize what’s most important to us! Artistic talent is a gift that we can and should use to contribute to other people’s lives. We can use our talent to work for big studios, make money and buy fancy cars – that’s all fine and well. But let us not forget why we are doing this in the first place! From my experience, family, friendship and art as a sincere expression of our hearts is what makes me truly happy. No matter where you’re from and what you’re going through, always know that it’s possible to make things happen. It might seem impossible, but with proper organization and hard work we can overcome every burden. ‘In my heart’ is proof that sometimes, the impossible can be possible.
Nothing further needs to be said! Pedro, thank you very much for taking the time and all the best in the future!
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