This week at Open Worlds, we caught up with Ben Mauro up ahead of his EVOLUTION NFT drop on VIV3 marketplace. Ben is a senior concept designer and art director and has worked on some of the biggest AAA game and film franchises globally, from The Hobbit Trilogy to Call of Duty and Halo.
You can learn more about him as a person, his journey into crypto and peer inside the mind of a leading artist!
Tell us about your background?
I went to school at ArtCenter in California studying industrial design and entertainment design, during the summers I worked on books like ‘Alien Race’ published through DesignStudioPress. After school I started working in the entertainment industry on projects like Resistance 3, Ratchet and Clank at Insomniac Games and animated films at Sony Pictures Animation. After a lot of hard work and some luck, i got a job at Weta Workshop in New Zealand as a designer to work in the film industry on blockbuster films like The Hobbit Trilogy, Mortal Engines, Elysium, Chappie, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Man of Steel & many more!
After 4 years of living in New Zealand, I decided to be independent again and started freelancing while I worked as a concept designer on multiple projects like Call of Duty's Advanced Warfare, Black Ops 3 & 4 while I travelled the world for 3 years living out of a suitcase. Toward the end of that time I worked on a movie called Valerian as well having a lot of fun designing that universe. After so many years of life on the road as an artist, I decided to settle down in Seattle to work on Halo Infinite for the past few years while also finishing my first graphic novel HUXLEY™.
What was your role working in the gaming & film industry?
I was a senior concept designer and art director in most projects, which meant they would come to me to set the entire project's look and tone. Especially with Valerian, I was heavily involved in creating this giant universe from the ground up, designing the aliens on the planet, entire sequences of the movie and every character in many shots.
I'm proud of the role I've had to play in many movies and games, where they let me run wild and craft as much of the universe as possible.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
Depending on the project, some directors have a clear idea of what they want, and other times they don't really know. So often, you need to learn to be a good mind reader. A lot of my inspiration is from nature and animals. I like studying all the endless diversity in life on earth, all the different robotics and mechanical solutions and designs built by humans. Over the years you develop a particular aesthetic that you gravitate towards and use that as the basis of where you draw inspiration from.
How has travelling influenced your creative process?
When working in New Zealand, all I wanted to do was focus on my job 24/7 and get better at my craft. I would rarely find time for myself, which led to such an imbalance in my life. Even when I went home, I would always find myself working.
So I decided to become a freelancer and explore the world at the same time. Travelling has given me so many new life experiences that have filled my visual library with inspiration. For example, when I was in Australia, I would go to all these amazing zoos and study all the animals and do sketches during the day, or I would go diving in the Great Barrier Reef and look at fish. Then I could go home and draw these creatures for movies all night, inspired directly from the source. There's only so much you can get from Google, but going and seeing stuff firsthand was the next step to have a deeper understanding for me as an artist.
When did you first hear about NFTs?
It probably was towards the end of last year after Beeple did his first drop, I did more research and once I understood what all of this was I realized that this was the most revolutionary thing to happen for digital artists, ever. Up until now, there was never a way to value our digital art. It always amounted to proof of our skills to advertise and get hired by a company or a client, this is no longer the case.
NFTs allow us to value and sell a digital original of our artwork either as a 1/1 or in editions, which is what most of us have been waiting for our whole life. So now I can make cool art, and I don't have to worry about these 900 steps or people in the middle to make a living off my work. I can just make the art I love and then sell it to people who also love it. So for me, this is just an amazing moment for all digital artists.
Tell us about your upcoming NFT drop?
The project's called ‘Evolution’, it's a series of designs exploring this concept from early primates on earth to further in the future how life might evolve in our universe to fantastical aliens that have never been seen before. On another level it is also about my evolution as an artist over the past ten years.
I've been exploring this idea for most of my career, and now I finally have the chance to release it to the world because of NFTs and blockchain. It consists of 21 limited edition original cards spread across three different tiers, common, rare and legendary. My logic behind it was structured around where the creatures would be on the evolutionary scale. For example, the common cards would be more like primates and things on earth lower on the evolutionary scale. As you get more and more wild and crazy into these fantastical aliens, I felt like those would fall into more rare and legendary sections, as they are things that we have never seen before and don't exist on earth.
Where is this drop taking place & what attracted you to Flow Blockchain?
The VIV3 team got in touch with me when I was exploring NFTs and applying to different marketplaces. It was perfect timing.
I've been trading cryptocurrencies for many years, so I have an understanding of the landscape. After researching Flow and learned that the same team behind CrytoKitties who created it to handle high volume transactions and popular consumer apps. Once I saw how well NBA Top Shot was doing, I knew they made something extraordinary to be able to handle that incredibly high traffic and transactions. The Flow team has solved many issues, including high gas fees, making it a lot more efficient and user-friendly. Creating something that allows the average user to buy something the way they are used to but getting the benefits of NFT and blockchain technology is a very big deal.
Since my Evolution project is a lot bigger than just a 1/1 release of each image, I was looking for the best partner/network to create the smoothest experience (with no gas fees) for buyers at such a large scale. With this in mind, I felt there was an exciting fit to partner with Flow, they created something really special and I'm excited to get in as one of the first projects on the network.
What are your hopes for the future?
If my upcoming drop does well, I'm totally up to doing this full time. I've had to balance personal and professional work most of my career, but if I can get paid the same or more to do the things I want to work on, it's a no brainer for me.
Even when I worked on all those movies, I would always be making my own things and personal artwork in the background, which a lot of this stuff is born out of, but there was never an avenue to release or monetize it before, that was more than 10 years of my work that just never had a place to go. It feels like I was doing the right art but at the wrong time. Now with NFT’s, the art and the technology are there to empower digital artists to create/sell whatever they can dream without barriers for the first time. It's an amazing moment for artists and I feel like this is just the beginning.
The Evolution NFT collection launches on Wednesday 3rd March at 3pm GMT/UTC (7am PST). Remember to subscribe to VIV3 and stay updated.