Treddi.com, intrigued from Fabio Santoro’s high level quality production, is pleased to introduce You, an italian artist who, after a training in Italian vfx Direct2Brain, decided to improve his career crossing the English Channel and start working at London Squint/Opera.
Years after Fabio enriched his technical background becoming a very popular Matte Painter and Concept Artist.
Treddi.com: Where does Fabio Santoro’s passion for graphic art come from? Which was your analog and digital path although You’ve been always sustaining You moved your first step with a pencil ?
Fabio Santoro: There is not, that I can recall, a particular moment when it all began. As a child I always liked to draw, I was always trying to put everything on paper. The world around me offered inspiration everyday.
For example, I remember that I had a great veneration for cartoons, firstly Holly and Benji , so much so that I was recording the episodes and I started to have dozens of vhs. I used to pause the video so that I could draw the characters or the main scenes of the episodes as if they were figurines. I used to take the drawings to school and would proudly show them to my friends, they would even commission me to draw for them!
I was always intrigued by the great geniuses of Art, I had a soft spot for Michelangelo whose film with the famous Charlton Heston had inspired me a lot. Whenever something attracted my attention, I went to search it in the encyclopedia at home. I flicked through books and comics of all kinds. I copied the old postcards of my city, drew over with ink and rubbed out the pencil below.
Why do I say “the pencil was born in my hand”? Because for me it has always been the quickest and most effective way to be able to express an idea.
I can say that my artistic career becomes a reality when at only 10 years old, my parents enrolled me in a drawing course in my small city. It was a simple school organised by a local graduate in fine arts. The classes were held in a small apartment and when the weather permitted we went through the streets of the city to draw live.
Today I recognise the value of that course which gave me the knowledge and the fundamentals that still support me. I learned the technique of light and shade, watercolor and gouache, the study of image and its proportions and the perspective
Sebastiano Chelo was my first true teacher. Sadly is no longer with us, but I will always be grateful to him for his contribution. He opened my 'eyes and showed me the true potential of art. This was the first chapter of my story, the one that I remember with more affection and nostalgia
When I was 12, with the purchase of my family’s first computer, my interest began to shift to digital and Photoshop (I remember it was the version 5.0) quickly became my favorite software. Slowly I began to discover the potential of it with the help of a good friend of my father, who had a small studio where he produced wedding videos photography and documentaries. He lent me trade magazines to take home and I had fun trying to repeat the mini tutorials in them. I would often use the scanner on the computer to transfer my drawings in pencil or ink and then colour these in Photoshop. The Wacom tablet was still very far away!
My adolescence was the period of the experiments, the years in which my passion grew more and more. I realized that my studies would need to continue after high school to pursue this passion. I found the course of Graphics and Multimedia Design at the Faculty of Architecture of Rome best suited to my needs.
The course, with all its strengths and weaknesses, gave me a general grounding of everything about my passions and it taught me the directions and possible specializations to be taken. The university experience is, without a doubt one that helped me grow culturally.
Knowing the history and the greats of the past, those from which everything is born, is an important requirement for working in the creative industry, a requirement that is very often sadly missing in the belief that only the technique is enough.
The last stage of my education was the Master's degree in Computer Graphics at the Big Rock School in Treviso. The six-month course was a full immersion in all the mechanisms, stages of the production pipeline and served to open my eyes to everything that the industry offered. After my graduation I began to realise that to be involved at the cutting edge of my profession I would need to leave Italy.
Treddi.com: How could You describe your job to an outsider? I mean, in which production phases does Your role take action and which is Your task during the pipeline ?
Fabio Santoro: A matte painter is essentially a landscape painter, a creator of backgrounds that have as their goal to complete a scene. However, going beyond this bland definition, I think that among the responsibilities of a matte painter factors more complex than the simple creation of an environment come into play.
The greatest burden is the ability to create a sensation; the landscape must not be purely functional, it must fascinate, transmit something to the spectator and look as real as possible at the same time.
The same environment can completely change its “dress” and take a different mood depending on the context.
A matte painter must always be ready and able to create any environment possible, existing or completely imaginary, photorealistic or stylized.
How does this happen? Working on the light, choosing previously the right color palette and blending in the best way all the singular pieces that will define the final composition. For this reason I think that matte painting requires at the base a strong sensibility.
My work takes place mostly in the architectural field for pre visualization. Generally when the processing of an image or a scene starts, I'm prompted to create a concept of the atmosphere on a generic 3d render, often you just have the simple volumes in gray. This is the pre-production step where the tests and the concepts are presented to the client. Once the look that the image should have is decided, the work continues through the 3d department which is responsable to define the geometries with their materials, set the lighting and finally render the scene.
The Image then comes backs to me for the final tuning and integration of the 3d render into the real context. Sometimes you have to work on one or more photos of the location provided by the client, other times you have to rebuild from scratch the project environment. This is the stage where the image comes to life and determines the feeling that it must transmit.
Treddi.com: From a professional point of view, Your moving to London gave You better opportunities. Before this shift You gained experience in Italy even if this country offers rare opportunities to those who want to start moving their first steps. Which are actually the main differences between Italy and UK concerning job opportunities ?
Fabio Santoro: In Italy the figure of the matte painter is fundamentally undervalued or maybe "not too necessary” and often this role is absorbed by more generalist figures. Conversely in UK there are companies of international fame who recognise the real value of it and, consequently, invest in this field human resources, professional and economic.
In Italy the studios are very small and basically they operate in a provincial area, including by this term the few national companies that operate in the film and advertising industry.
Basically, the existence of a system poor of investment is reflected dramatically in the industry and the Italian companies continue to exploit young people who are starting to work, paying very little and certainly not helping them to grow professionally. So they show an inability to valorize the talent and believe in the passions of the artists.
Certainly in UK I found people willing to give me a chance to grow on the basis of my artistic and professional skills and I am deeply grateful for it.
In conclusion, I think that here in London there is absolutely more professionalism and the technical aspect is predominant, while in Italy there is more artistic talent but a substantial inability to valorize it.
Treddi.com: Becoming a specialist represents an ace to play. As to You, when did You decide to become a Matte Painter ? Could You give some advice to a neophyte willing to embark a path as Yours ?
Fabio Santoro: I found out about Matte Painting during the course of Scenography at the second year of my Faculty.
In that moment I decided within myself what I really wanted to do in my life.
The story is funny and premonitory if I think that the teacher of that year chose to deal with the matter in a strictly modern way, distancing from the usual contents of the course based mainly on the traditional scenography of theater and television sets. So the course was oriented to the Digital Scenography and treated theoretically about all the techniques of the visual effects.
I saw for the first time what was behind the scenes of the greatest movie, both old and contemporary, and this fascinated me immediately.
I was impressed by the making of “Blade Runner” with all its spectacular scenery. It was the last film in the cinema history made analogically before the digital revolution. A masterpiece if we consider that only with the traditional brushes the artists were able to make the environments so photorealistic and rich of details.
From that moment I began to see the movie with different eyes. I analyzed the light, the colors, the painted effect that of the scene, all elements that combined each other, made them fascinating but at the same time infinitely real.
The tutorials of Gnomon were my first technical approach. Dylan Cole quickly became one of my favourite artist. I think he is still today the best one for his unique ability to make real any sensations.
My path through Matte Painting is mainly a self-taught path, made of tutorials, research and experiments, in which I combined the techniques learned from the dvd to my style always trying to achieve a compromise between technique and instinct.
I think there is still so much to learn and I hope that the professional opportunities will give me the way to do it.
Returning to the story I started to tell above, I didn’t take the exam that year. I left it for the next year with the purpose to dedicate more time and make it better. But the year later the teacher was not confirmed.
So the course returned to follow traditional route, taking up the themes of the past years.
The story seems quite banal and funny but it was important because it marked my artistic and professional journey.
I made my first matte painting work with my degree thesis in which I created a short movie that represented in a fantastic way my city many years after a hypothetical tsunami.
The short was entitled "Axis - Reality in fiction" and so far is the work to which I’m most fond.
If I have to give some advices to someone who wants to take this path, I think that the primary thing is to believe in your own passions, be curious and try to catch always everything that the world around offers you. Also is always important to improve and keeping up with the techniques and the necessary tools that are in continuous evolution but never debasing your artistic instinct for the only technique.
Treddi.com: Your artworks are characterized by a strong value painting. Which is Your main workflow ? Which are your preferred analog and digital tools ? Do You have a type pattern or do You tend to vary the tools ?
Fabio Santoro: Basically there is not a standard procedure. Working on an existing environmen with the elements already defined requires a different approach than creating a totally invented one.
I like to act instinctively even if any work always requires a preventive planning.
I always trust the first input that my imagination gives me and the whole process becomes a climax towards the achievement of that image.
The first step of the work is to delineate the idea, creating a concept in shades of gray to define the composition of the elements and the light that the scene should have. Often the first sketch takes place on paper with pencil (basically it is just the contours) and then continues in Photoshop.
Once defined the draft, it starts the research of the photos needed to create the composition.
I think the hardest work is to blend the elements together without revealing the trick. Each element that you add to the scene should be harmonized with the others and integrated with care and eye so that in the final image you can't see the work done and feel it real. A bit like an artisan who hides in every detail of his work the secrets of his technique.
For this reason I think that the best book about the matte painting "The invisible art", could not have a more appropriate and fitting title to describe the magic hiding behind Matte Painting.
This is in my opinion the most fascinating goal of this job, make your spectator an unconscious participant.
I usually like to give to my works a painted effect. Sometimes I used to exaggerate an effect to give to the image a touch of magic and emotional, something that the photograph can’t give.
I always like to find the connections with the past and take inspiration from the style of the best artist of the history.
I've always been fascinated by the painting techniques of the great artists and their different way to create a sensation simply using their own genius and the ancient tools available, tools that today we can find on the left panel in Photoshop in a modernised version.
Treddi.com: We know that benefits coming from digital technology are huge. As today do You think that there is still a perspective for a matte painter who bases its workflow on analogue instruments or those who love brush and canvas will be forced to contemporary art and art galleries ?
Fabio Santoro: I think that there is not a net head between analogic and digital.
Traditionally the matte paintings were done by great artists using paints or pastels on large sheets of glass to be integrated into the live action shot.
The digital age has undoubtedly revolutionized the work and the whole production pipeline.
It helped the artist to make his work more flexible and faster allowing him to manage easily every aspect of the image and make changes even during the processing. It was nearly impossible in the workflow of traditional Matte Painting.
It doesn’t mean that digital techniques have replaced permanently the traditional ones. Many artists are used to work on paper in the phase of concept; the pencil and the pen are still the most effective tools for the first step.
Analogic tools undoubtedly conserve a charm that the computer can't return, but it is only thanks to the digital if today we can achieve more and more complex scenes with a substantial level of photorealism that almost reach the perfection.
In conclusion I think that now it's impossible to work only with the traditional techniques which are limited and difficult to integrate into the complexity of modern pipeline.
Beyond what has just been said, I don’t think that we can speak just about the technique; at the basis of everything the abilities and the creativity make the difference while the technique is just a medium that enables to put them in motion.
Treddi.com: Among artworks You realized or You are working on, with which is Your best feeling ?
Fabio Santoro: At the moment, one of my favourite works and which I feel more mine, both for the style and the message that wants to transmit is certainly "The lost future".
The matte painting, recently completed, represents Rome, the eternal city, in an apocalyptic vision.
"The lost future" is my disappointment for the crisis that is currently investing Italy.
I didn't leave anything to chance, focusing all on a metaphorical message.
Also, fascinated and inspired by the artists of the past, which I have always been devoted to, I created this work
influenced by the paintings of the Risorgimento where the nationalist sentiment was the real message to be transmitted, with the intention to let impressed the most important moments of the history of Italy.
A choice of content and style at the same time, mainly dictated by the great affinity which, in my opinion, links the digital art and the various artistic currents that have marked the history of art.
Treddi.com: Looking forward…. What is Fabio Santoro doing at the present and what is going to do? Which are Your goals and dreams ?
Fabio Santoro: I've never been a big planner of the future. My experience has always taught that everything can change in a few seconds and you always have to be ready to make a choice about what the moment offers you.
Rarely I look over the horizon and I always try to avoid long-term plans even if your passions often bring you to dream in big; everybody has a secret dream!
Currently I'm working as Matte Painter at Squint/Opera, a studio about Architectural Visualization based in London. Right now I am very pleased of all that I have achieved so far.
I'm happy about the present and honored to work every day with professional people who believe in my capacities and give me the opportunity to learn and grow up. I try to return their trust with the passion and dedication that I put into my work.
Which is my dream of tomorrow? Having the opportunity to apply what I have learned so far into the cinema, working for major feature films and look my work on the big screen.
I always try to add something more then the strictly necessary to the images which I work in. In architecture, where everything is rigorous and must appear more clean and functional as possible, it is not easy to apply a more pictorial and sensational style.
Sometimes I spend more time in the machining of a sky than in the whole composition of the elements that come from the 3d department. Often just the sky that you put in the scene can change completely the sensation of it.
This my " be anti conformist " has been appreciated and has given me great satisfaction.
Regarding my closer objective, I would like to achieve a personal project that I recently started to work on.
It consists of the creation of a serie of matte paintings that represent the most memorable scenes of the art work of italian literature that I consider the greatest masterpiece of everytime.
This masterpiece, with a strongly allegorical nature, represents a journey, the greatest and most adventurous journey that every man could make and that I will try to reinterpretate with my eyes and my imagination.
Although some films have already been made about it, I think has still an immense imaginary to offer, above all considering the powerful media that movie industry has today.
So I'll try to recreate some sceneries of this fantastic story mixing reality and immagination and catching in the best way every aspect of it.
This is going to be a challenge for me but at the same time a great experience not just techical but sensational as well.
It will be my journey too.
To create a suspence I prefer to not reveal the title of the book! But I hope you can see them soon!
Treddi.com: Do You think Your coming back to Italy is possible ? Or rather do You think that the future of the people who want to build a profession from this passion is considered to be everywhere else ?
Fabio Santoro: Italy is and will always remain my country with all its traditions and culture, but especially with my affections that any distance will never break.
When you live outside of your country you have to develop a strong ability to adapt and also an inner strength that brings you to resist any difficulty
I think you can succeed in these intentions when you really feel the desire to realize your own aspirations, or at least, that's what it was for me.
Unfortunately, considering the current situation of my country and referring to what I said before, I think that my future will remain elsewhere even if always there will be a hope that one day the things might change.
For now I look at the present, to what London has to offer me.
London is an open city, full of opportunities and inspiration at the same time and if you really believe in your passions it gives you the opportunity to make you appreciate.