Behind the art: interview with Pedro Conti

Still from 'Tamo Junto', a short film by Pedro Conti
Still from 'Tamo Junto', a short film by Pedro Conti (Image credit: Pedro Conti)

Born and raised in São Paulo, Brazil, Pedro Conti has had a long career in the international animation industry. He has worked with many of the world’s biggest studios and names including Netflix, Walt Disney Animation and DreamWorks, and collaborated with artists such as Katy Perry, Gorillaz and OSGEMEOS.

Conti specialises in character development, lighting and rendering. The stories he tells through his directorial work are told with a big heart and often explore topics we all can relate to through the struggles of daily life. He works as a freelance visual development artist and runs the production company Flooul Animation.

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Left: One of Conti's first 3D renders of a house. Right: A gift Conti created for the rapper Emicida

Left: One of Conti’s first 3D renders, made back in 2007, titled The Wonder Years. Right: A gift Conti created for the rapper Emicida. His work had a huge impact on his life (Image credit: Pedro Conti)

How did 'The Wonder Years' project help you break into the 3D industry and were you expecting such a response?

It’s surprising to hear about this project even after so many years. The Wonder Years was created back in 2007 as a personal project. It was special since it was the first project where I could express myself in 3D. Sometimes 3D can be very technical and when you’re starting to learn, it can be very challenging. This project was based on my childhood. I used to have relatives that lived in rural Brazil, in a tiny city called Itobi, and I would travel there during the summer holidays.

This project had a surprising response. What I love about the 3D community is how forums can really impact your life, and after this project I had the opportunity to work at Seagulls Fly, an amazing studio that is one of the biggest in Brazil. I think that personal projects are really important and it’s something I still keep doing, even after almost 20 years in CG.

What has working at Seagulls Fly and Techno Image taught you about the benefits of a team environment?

I really loved the collaborations I had at these studios. I have no university degree so most of my learning was through work experience. The studios here in Brazil tend to have a friendly environment, which really helps the artists evolve fast. Both these experiences completely changed my life. I made friends for a lifetime in these companies and met artists that are impacting our industry, even after many years. I think the best way to evolve is to be surrounded by talented people, and this environment really helped me to evolve fast.

What is your favourite project of all time, and why?

My favourite project, so far, was a short film called Tamo Junto. I think this project was something I was trying to do since I started with art. I wanted to be able to share something personal that people can relate to. I had many different ideas for short films but, like a puzzle, I was always trying to balance the idea; how to produce, budget, and things like that. Producing personal projects in 3D is quite a challenging task, so this short film was done during the pandemic and was a way to express my fears and also have an excuse to talk and collaborate with many artists.

So, besides the filmmaking side of the project, to be able to connect with people through art was a big goal. I also had the chance to explore screenwriting, poetry and other forms of art that I’m not so used to expressing myself in. As 3D artists we used to be very confined but, at our core, we’re artists and to be able to not label ourselves to a specific role is such a good experience. If you want to express yourself in a different way, just go for it. This project was about that.

Still from Pedro Conti's animated short 'Tamo Junto'

 A still from Tamo Junto, Conti’s favourite project so far, inspired by the city he grew up in, São Paulo, and his experiences living there (Image credit: Pedro Conti)

What has been the highlight of your career so far?

The most special moments for me are when I can access places and people I never imagined I could and have one-on-one conversations. This is powerful for me. I love to learn from people and sometimes having conversations can really make me see things from different perspectives. I think digital art can access so many different layers of society that the variety of people you get to meet is super interesting. To be able to work with local artists in Brazil to big Hollywood productions really gives good life experience.

Give us an insight into what it was like to work at Walt Disney Animation Studios

Working at Disney was a fun experience. I always wanted to have access to a production of this scale. I was always trying to learn how to do animation and am still learning now. I had always questioned how to approach certain elements of animation, and to be able to see how things work on a big scale was such a great opportunity. I loved the experience and it gave me a lot of confidence to get back to my personal project and keep producing. I’m grateful for those days.

Can you tell us a bit more about the role you played on Moana?

I worked as a look development artist, which means I was responsible for working on textures, shaders, vegetation and hair grooming for both environment and characters. This was such a fun experience because it’s a really big, broad range of tasks. I worked on very different sequences and also worked on Te Kã, the villain of the film.

Still from the 'In my Heart' animation by Pedro Conti

The In My Heart music video, with music by Ron Artis (Image credit: Pedro Conti)

What was working on the animated short In My Heart like compared to working on big productions?

In My Heart is an independent production with Hawaiian musician Ron Artis II, directed by me and my good friend Fernando Peque and produced by us together with our talented friends and artists. The big difference between small productions and large productions is the freedom. I love this feeling of sitting with friends and just going wild exploring ideas and producing something for fun. I guess the coolest part is just to be able to do whatever you want. Ron gave us total freedom to explore.

A challenge in productions like this is always the budget and schedule, but sometimes this can lead to interesting results. For example, limiting the resources you have can give you room to come up with solutions that fit these aspects. So this film was about how to make a three-minute animation with a limited budget and schedule.

What led you to move in this direction of making a music video?

This project was such a fun coincidence because I had no connections at all with Ron Artis II. One day I got a call on my phone and it was him. He told me he wanted to do a music video and asked me if he could share some music tracks with me. I really love music and playing guitar is such a big part of my life, so when I listened to his music I was really in shock.

A couple of weeks before this call, I was telling my friend Fernando about how I wanted to do something with a flower blooming from the concrete. This image was in my mind for quite some time. So in this call with Ron, he told me he wanted a music video with that idea. So when I heard that, I knew I just had to do the music video.

What software do you use and have you added any new tools to your arsenal?

The tools that I use most are ZBrush, 3ds Max and Maya. In recent years I’ve started to use Substance Painter and Marvelous Designer. A couple of weeks ago I’ve also begun experimenting with tiny things in Blender which I’ve really loved.

Still from Tamo Junto

In Tamo Junto, the main character helps out his neighbour during the pandemic; the short film addresses the importance of coming together during difficult times (Image credit: Perdo Conti)

What advice would you give to aspiring character artists?

One thing I’ve been discussing with friends and people around me is not to be afraid of doing the things you really want to do. For me, to be able to produce my own projects is something I love, even if it’s an illustration or a tiny project. Don’t be afraid to dream big and go for it. Our industry can be a lot of fun if you know how to navigate it. It’s such a life-changing industry regardless of where you’re from. If you show your potential you may be given great opportunities. I think my best advice is to focus on your skills and share your passions with people.

Working in the CG and entertainment industry, we feel inspired to produce things we see in movies and games, but sometimes it has been hard for me to deeply relate and connect to certain topics. I’ve been trying to push myself to observe my own life and the things that I love about the world around me. It can be a moment you see walking down the street, fascinating people you meet, architecture, or a conversation you have with someone. 

“In my latest short films and projects I celebrate my surroundings through art”

Pedro Conti

These moments are golden and can often take your attention. Taking this as a source of inspiration is one of the best things I’ve experienced as an artist. We tend to look at and get inspiration from what’s already been done, but taking raw information from life and coming up with a piece of art is a truly rewarding experience. My latest short films and projects came from this exercise of looking at life around me and trying to be grateful for the architecture and the people, and in turn celebrating my surroundings through art.

What are you working on at the moment and do you see yourself continuing in the direction you’re going?

For now, I’ve been a bit more chill in terms of personal projects. I’ve been doing mostly commercial work and just experiencing life as it’s such a big part of my inspiration. I have a couple of short films that I wrote but I don’t know how to produce them since they’re quite big. I’m also collaborating with some artists I admire and just keeping things more chill.

Explore more of Pedro Conti's work on his website.

This article originally appeared in 3D World issue 304. Purchase the magazine through Magazines Direct.

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Paul Hatton

Paul Hatton has 13 years experience in the CGI industry, including five years leading a studio. Paul has been writing features and tutorials and more for international CG art magazines, including 3D World 3D Artist and 3D Total.  With a first class BSc Computer Science Degree and a passion for technology and computer graphics Paul is an expert in his field.