ZEO, CHARACTER DESIGNER: "MY STYLE IS MORE LIKE A SOUTHERN MUTANT"
Living in Venezuela, Zeo has forged a fabulous career that includes in his portfolio clients such as LucasArts, Atari, Marvel and Hasbro. He is currently working on his "great personal work", Zeoland, and announces for 2019 workshops for all young creative people interested in illustration and character design.
How did you start in the creative world?I'm not really sure, but it's probably due to the enormous influence of animated series in my childhood. I remember television full of anime and American series in the 90s. I saw Knights of the Zodiac, Dragonball, Samurai X. The anime was absorbing the planet and the video games too, so all that played its part, I remember spending hours playing Sonic in a Sega Genesis after school, also the famous Pokemon on the Gameboy... I remember that the first computer arrived at my home when I was 8 years old, and experimenting with the original Microsoft Paint, I started in digital art with Window 98, all that was an atomic bomb for my brain. Seeing that, I wanted to be linked with the creative world forever.
When did you realize that you were going to dedicate completely to character design?I worked in companies as an illustrator since I was 18 to 23 years old. I was a 2D artist, character designer, game creator and creative director. Being an employee I learned everything I could from my colleagues and bosses, but I had my own projects that I wanted to carry out and as an employee that wouldn't be possible, because by growing in a country without an industry like Manga or Comic, I had to make my own economic bases to achieve it. While working in companies, I created a platform of followers on Deviantart. Sharing my work I came to have about 6000 followers, and then my first formal clients appeared asking for characters. One day I earned a significant amount and understood that I should stop being an employee and could make a living by designing characters.
According to your experience, what is it to be a character designer?Character design is a specialty that can be seen in many creative fields such as graphic novels, animated series, movies, toys and video games. Usually, a character designer works for a creative studio to prepare the characters of a product beforehand, it will pretty much depend on whether the character is massively liked or not. Hence, character designers are the specialist in creating them, there are those who create characters for specific industries such as 3D animation, these are the most common. But in my case, I make characters for almost all the existing entertainment fields and that’s the core foundation of my company.
What do you consider to be the qualities that a character designer must have or fulfil?
Create a character is a meticulous work, of course, having drawing knowledge is elementary, knowing anatomy very well, have a great understanding of color and movement. But creating a character also requires to devise their nature, thinking, behavior and clothing, requires to have knowledge in other subjects, since somehow the position of a God is taken to create a being on a fictional universe, implying that we must have knowledge of biology, history, religion, folklore, anthropology, and psychology. Basically, you must have a lot of cultural backgrounds, this is crucial to be a good character designer; it’s not only to draw pretty as most people may think. It is also important to have clear tastes to transmit into your work. Much of my work reflects my tastes for music, skateboarding, shoes, sweaters, etc. Also being fond of reading, I saw in character design a way to be always learning something, because every project I do is a new challenge that allows me to learn about the world's history, insects, sports, religions. It’s really fun and I always try to do projects that touch on topics that I haven’t done before.
Until now, what has been your greatest creative challenge?So far my biggest challenge is to create my Magnum Opus: Zeoland, I have been doing it for more than 8 years, I am 28 years old right now. I made an artbook with a prelude to the story when I was 24. It came out at the same time that I founded Zeoarts.com and right now it is being sold on Amazon as an e-book. But that only represents 1% of what I really aspire to create. I've been working very hard on creating the pillars of my studio, working for important companies and pushing my career further, that’s been holding me a lot, but that way I’ve been able to have better stability. I think that in 3 years I should have it ready, Zeoland consists of a video game and a printed work, aiming to make a visual tribute to the entire graphic narrative of the planet, despite having a personal style in my work. The goal is to play with all the styles that I have developed and that requires a lot of time since every so often I acquire a new style. It really is my most ambitious personal work.
You have worked for clients from different parts of the world. Who do you consider was the most complicated customer to attend to and the simplest one?I have had many clients and the vast majority trusts me, so that makes the job more bearable, although I remember someone that was quite explicit with what he wanted: he was an entrepreneur who specified his characters’ features very accurately. I don’t like this kind of clients so much because it kills my creative capacity, that isn’t enjoyable for me anymore since I did plenty of that when I was an employee; I only accept this type of clients when it represents an economic benefit, not otherwise.
My simplest customers to attend are those of major brands such as LucasArts (STARWARS), Marvel and Hasbro because they give me that freedom, they rely a lot on my criteria and style. They have allowed me to use their iconic characters like Spiderman, Venom, Green Goblin, Ironman, Captain Marvel, Frozen Olaf, Optimus Prime, Pinkie Pie, Mr. Potato Head, Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader, King, KyloRen, Darth Maul, Yoda and so on, to quote many more. I feel very fortunate that they let me use these characters to design toys, figures, plushies, etc. Their demands are always: “Do it as you think that people would like, we love your style” my style adapts to the times so I guess that gives them confidence.
Do you think you have a style? If so, how do you define it?All artists have their own style that comes in our genes, no matter how hard we try to emulate others, we'll always have particularities. I take this opportunity to say to those who start, I know they are very concerned, don’t think so much about the style and focus on the anatomy fundamentals, color and movement, the style will come naturally. I was born in Venezuela, a country without an industry like Manga, Comic or Bande Dessinée. This led me to absorb all types of visual narrative that existed, my style is more like "A southern mutant ", I've never had to define it, but taking advantage of your question I'll try, this is usually difficult because people notices and ask me every day about it, but as an artist I only draw what I like. I think the sun in South America plays an important role, my style is defined by having strong saturated colors and my characters have a lot of influence from Latin music, video games and a street component due to the raw experiences I have gone through living in a dangerous country. Although it may seem like a short time, it has cost me a lot to achieve each goal and live off this, so my style is due to the experience itself.
How's the Zeoland project going?I have 50% of the video game and 50% of the printed work, I think that in less than 3 years should be ready for publication, the video game depends on more factors, I hope it doesn’t take long. Both things complement each other but they are different stories. "Zeoland, the Book" is a Tribute to Art and "Zeoland, the Game" is a tribute to video games.
How far do you want to go? What are your current professional goals?I've already met some of my goals. My main goal was to live off drawing, the second, being a full-time Character Designer, the third, to have my studio, the fourth one, to work for big brands and "Triple A" games. All have been fulfilled so far, and I hope to finish the fifth: Zeoland, I think that when it's finished I will feel like I've fulfilled my purpose on this planet, everything that comes after will be a bonus, I know I am still young and people may think that Zeoland represents the beginning of many things, but it's a self-contained story, not a work of several volumes, it will be a thick hardcover book of few printings. For me, the evolutionary journey has been very long, I have piles drawings from the development because it has grown with me and represent a lot of my love for art, and so after finishing it, I want to do small and short works. It also has a message for all those who read and play it, they may not understand it at the beginning and take time to be assimilated, but whatever the result is, I will be satisfied because Zeoland is made to be a unique experience, I’ve always had it very clear.
Recommendations for students who wish to dedicate themselves to character design in Latin AmericaFirst: draw 2 hours daily, make a drawing habit, only the time they invest drawing will allow them to stand out, even if they copy drawings. If they dedicate at least two hours a day they will improve to a greater extent.
Second: sort your objectives, try to do small projects even if they are not for some formal work. This allows having things to show. I recommend not to do only random drawings or sketches but mini projects with characters lineups and some sheets with synopses. I, since I was 14, started creating small projects and that opened several doors for me. You can miss job opportunities if you don’t have material to show.
Third: to persist in the face of adversity, this sounds very classic, but only being optimistic can get you far, there is no other way, no matter where you are, I know we have politicians who stink, but the problems will always be present, so you have to keep your spirits up and not lose focus.
Finally: I hope next year to give several workshops in Venezuela, I want to teach many young people solid tools for their growth, I know they need it. That is why I invite you to keep an eye on my Instagram @zeoarts and website www.zeoarts.com. I’ll be making the call over there.