Sometimes I draw from my childhood memories of just seeing masses of people – extreme poverty and wealth side by side, skyscrapers, slums, corruption, but also the vast majority of people just trying to live their normal lives in a very hectic
Cyberpunk Is yet to Reach Its Zenith
The recent influx of cyberpunk works has led a number of people to think that its static vision of hi-tech dystopias must evolve if it means to survive, but this reimagining doesn’t seem like a good idea to fans of the genre. After all, the cautionary tale it offers its audience is only just beginning to be relevant now that a Blade Runner-esque world has become one of mankind’s potential futures. As Eddie Mendoza says, “I think that we are already kind of living in that cyberpunk era.” With this in mind, it might be fair to say that cyberpunk’s unchanging message is yet to reach its zenith—something that’s bound to happen if we ever begin to see its many worlds morphing into ours.
Mendoza is a concept artist from Manila, currently working for Apple in Cupertino. Those of you who frequent ArtStation would have seen his key frames grace the front-page before, and as it turns out, that’s how Vox Groovy first found out about him and his incredible contributions to the cyberpunk genre. Of course, you’ll find that his portfolio has a little bit of everything, from neon-lit streets to opulent gardens, Mendoza has thought up a number of incredibly detailed digital paintings for admirers to enjoy. Of all the concept artists that the Internet has offered up, he quickly became a favourite of ours in this particular niche, and that’s part of the reason why we’re so excited about our exclusive interview with him.
Mendoza’s understanding of world-building is something every concept artist could learn from. His answers shed light on the thought processes behind the worlds he is constantly creating, highlighting things like: the Five Ws, imagining what it’s like to live in the place you are painting, reference photos, etc. And as you might expect, there’s lots to learn about his artistic past and his many inspirations (Akira and Ghost in the Shell, among others). Lastly, we’ll finally learn why this artist’s work boasts such an abundance of futuristic bikes! Here’s hoping that you all get something useful out of this one when you finish reading it!
What sparked your interest in digital art?
I have always drawn traditionally as a kid, whether it be maps, dinosaurs, or buildings. I used to draw and plan out my city layouts on paper before building them in SimCity, so I was doing some form of concept art without knowing it was called that. That’s kind of what concept art is anyway – a plan (drawing) for something to be executed or built in another medium or in real life, I always enjoyed the idea of applied art – automotive design, architecture, industrial design.
Then, in 2009, I finally got around to playing the first Bioshock and Fallout 3 and I was completely hooked on the game’s worlds. I found the concept art by Craig Mullins and Adam Adamowicz (RIP) and my mind was blown. Before that, I had wanted to do comics or animation, but after playing those games, I realized that I wanted to design worlds and that the concept art was painted digitally. My dad got me an Intuos 3 that year and I tried to teach myself everything I could, and I was self-taught for a long time.
Conceptart.org and YouTube were starting to become a thing around that time so I was lucky that information about art was starting to become readily available for free or cheap to the public.
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Tell us a little bit about the most exciting project you’ve had the opportunity to work on.
I’m lucky that a lot of the commercial projects I’ve worked on have been exciting, and I know it’s a cliche, but a lot of what makes a project memorable are the people and friends you work with and meet along the way. However, I really like working on my own personal projects and those are the ones that I feel most excited about. I find that going back to what made me interested and passionate about concept art in the first place is a good refresher if I’m feeling burnt out. I currently have a few personal projects in different genres (cyberpunk, post-apocalyptic, cultural fantasy) that I am working on. I like to imagine them as games where I am given an unlimited budget and full creative freedom. I like to think of gameplay elements, stories and world-building for them – which in turn informs the art and gives a purpose to designing even the tiniest nooks and crannies.
For example, in my piece Pit Stop – this is a market in a post-apocalyptic battle royale game where you have to buy your supplies (oil, fish, robot parts, gun parts) with money you scrounge around the world. But you have to buy and decide what you want quickly because other players are competing for resources whilst also trying to kill you. It’s like a Black Friday sale but everyone is a murderer. So an idea about how to make inventory management in a game even more stressful yielded this concept art – this is the kind of stuff that keeps me up at night!
Everyone has artists that they look up to, so please tell us about yours and how they influence the work that you currently do.
If it’s not obvious by now, I really love the works of Craig Mullins. I also really like Syd Mead, Katsuhiro Otomo… Old master painters like Sargent and Repin. A lot of socialist realism and Cold War era propaganda paintings also had amazing draftsmanship and brushwork.
Also, there are too many contemporaries to name but I really love the keyframes and environments of Maciej Kuciara, Huang Fan, Wangjie Lie, Finnian Macmanus, Nick Gindraux, Ruxing Gao, Stanton Feng and Bayard Wu. I try to have their art up while I’m working in the hope that maybe I could get some of their awesomeness through osmosis.
I love the recurring themes in your keyframes (cyberpunk cities, bikes, monks, etc.)! What made you choose them?
In my personal work, I just kind of choose the subject matter and themes that appeal to me. I personally gravitate towards cyberpunk because, from a visual standpoint, the subject matter is very striking – future cities, cool cars, motorcycles, guns, etc. I was born in Manila so the density and chaos of cities in Asia have always inspired and stuck with me. Sometimes I draw from my childhood memories of just seeing masses of people – extreme poverty and wealth side by side, skyscrapers, slums, corruption, but also the vast majority of people just trying to live their normal lives in a very hectic setting. I try to add some of that feeling into my work.
Obviously, I’m a fan of the visuals in Blade Runner, Akira, GitS, etc. But I also love the political commentary of cyberpunk – overpopulation, pollution, the ethics of technology, abuse of corporate power. I think these are themes that are relevant to our society. Right now is an interesting era of great technological and social change. I think we are already kind of living in that cyberpunk era.
As for monks – monks are just cool!
Aside from the amazing attention to detail, your keyframes are filled to the brim with interesting world-building elements. Can you give us some advice on creating believable places for the aspiring environment artists who are reading this?
My advice for creating believable places is to imagine that people actually live in the world you are creating. The best way to do that is to observe the details in the actual world and see the modifications that people do to their environment. For example, let’s take a city street. A quick google search for Hong Kong yields something like this. In just that one image, there’s signage, traffic cones so people don’t park there, clutter, drainage in the streets, lanterns and obviously a bunch of stuff for sale.
In a city like that, the humidity and pollution of the of the environment plus the leakage from the AC units causes the concrete to stain. Such as in this example here.
Without these elements the street would feel pristine and sterile. So, when creating a cyberpunk street scene, I try to keep all of these elements in mind. Having a believable base and knowledge to start from before adding sci-fi elements, such as cool futuristic vehicles, will create a blend of familiarity and novelty that will hopefully be entertaining to look at.
As for building worlds from scratch, I highly recommend this holistic
process – The 5 W’s:
Who: Who lives here? Who are the people and what culture do they come from?
What: What is the architecture made of – wood, stone, steel?
When: When does your world take place? Modern times, feudal Japan, future Japan? Ancient Fantasy – 5000 BC? The apocalypse?
Where: Where is it? Is it on the moon, Mars, South America, an alien planet?
Why: Why is your world the way it is? Why did they build on the slopes of a volcano?
I am trying to make a more detailed Gumroad tutorial on using this process but I find that thinking along these lines helps ground and create reasoning for your world.
Could you walk us through your creative process for your favorite personal piece?
Sure! One of my favorite personal pieces is the Meditation Garden. I was inspired by Mughal architecture and wanted to create a fantasy scene combining different elements of Mughal forts and buildings. I spent a lot of time researching, reading about the history of Indian architecture, and just looking at pictures for inspiration. I also just stared at J.L. Gerome’s painting of the western wall to see how he approached painting warm light hitting stone. In my own piece, I tried to imagine that it was part of a bigger network of buildings so I added walkways and balconies plus an aqueduct-like structure leading out of the frame to imply a bigger world. I wanted the piece to feel very lush so I added waterfalls which would make the environment very humid and ripe for plant growth, so I painted in vines and bushes growing out of the stonework.
Finally, I added some monks for scale, and painted in atmospheric effects, foreground plants, and some subtle dust being kicked up from the ground. A lot of time was then just spent painting over the scene, softening edges, and refining the focal point so the viewers eyes are drawn into the image. Overall, this was a very fun and relaxing piece to do. It feels very meditative (ha-ha) to do pieces like this.
what language you speak. The team at Vox Groovy will make it so that everyone can hear your interview on the radio.
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What are your thoughts on the current state of art in the entertainment industry? Are you happy with where it seems to be heading?
I think people are making amazing art everyday – a quick look through ArtStation is enough to confirm that. There are tons of people around the world making incredible things – combining traditional and digital, 2D and 3D, Octane Render, 3D-Coat, Substance Painter, Redshift, etc – it’s crazy! There is a lot to keep up with and a lot of reasons to be constantly learning. I find it very similar to the revolutions that happen in music – such as with electronic production, remixing, emergence of new genres, etc. It’s really an exciting time, and as long as people keep experimenting, the industry will be in a good state.
A concept artist is expected to work quickly—bringing multitudes of ideas to life in a matter of days, or, in some cases, even hours. Do you have any tips for those who are wanting to speed up their workflow?
I think quality is more important speed, I would actually recommend people to slow down… The best pieces of art took a long time, there’s just no way around it. For example, a lot of old master paintings took a year or more to paint. I am not saying to spend a year on a single piece, but that it’s okay if it takes weeks or a month to work on a painting. A lot of the demand for speed is brought on by companies wanting more and more in less time. It puts a lot of unnecessary pressure on artists and I personally am not a fan of it. There’s even been a backlash on rushed products and games that have been released lately so the proof is in the pudding.
Art isn’t a race and there’s no timestamp on a painting that says how long it took: The Mona Lisa – 30 min speedpaint! That simply doesn’t happen. No one cares how long a piece took as long as it looks good. This is just my opinion, I think art is a sacred process that shouldn’t be rushed. Obviously for commercial work there are deadlines, but I’ve found that people are understanding if you want to spend more time making something better. As for personal work, take as much time as you need. I personally like to see work that shows a lot of thought and care put into it.
What’s next for Eddie Mendoza?
I would love to keep doing more personal art, world building, and just explore work that interests me. I am trying to learn more programs – currently I’m exploring 3D-Coat and Octane, but I definitely want to branch out to other software and even game engines as well. I think it would be fun to turn some of my concepts into playable levels. Definitely more travelling for inspiration, and it would be awesome to meet other artists around the world, like at festivals and workshops. I’ve been stuck in my cave for too long! Also, I would love to make a book someday!
Thank you for the interview, I hope it’s been informative and if anyone has additional questions please feel free to email me at eightballconcepts (at) yahoo.com
By Vox Groovy staff writer;
All images used with permission by the artist
© Eddie Mendoza or respective copyright holders
Reading by Josh Portillo
Article in Slovak language;