Distant Worlds Contest – Interviews with the Winners

Syn Studio is proud to present an exclusive interview with the winners of the CGMA Distant Worlds Contest: Marina Ortega (1st place), Ashok Kumar Dass (2nd place) and Sergio Suarez (3rd place). You can see their entries and the other contestants’ artwork here.


Tell us about yourself. Where do you come from?

Marina: About my origins, I’m from Spain and I’ve always wanted to be a concept artist. So for me, finding this industry wasn’t a coincidence. In fact, the most difficult part wasn’t finding what I wanted to do but finding how and what to learn and how to achieve it. I ended up studying a 5-year degree in Fine Arts in Madrid, and completed some online courses in CGMA CG Master Academy and Learn Squared.

For the past 2 years, I’ve been actively working as a concept artist and illustrator in UK, in-house and as a freelance.


Ashok: I am a freelance and full time environment concept artist and a painting artist working in the entertainment industry. I was born and raised 1985 in Fakirpur, Keonjhar in Odisha, India. Since my childhood I was fond of drawing and painting. When I was 18 years old I became a student of S.V. Government school of Art and Craft, in Jaipur and I completed a degree in fine arts (painting) from the government college of Art and Craft, Khallikot, Odisha, India. I love to do painting (watercolours, oil), drawing, sketching, sculpture. Simultaneously I taught fine art. After graduating from the university I worked in the sphere of freelance work in film and animation companies in Hyderabad, India.

I always was interested in creating new worlds. Since back then, I’ve been working on my techniques. I always was a fan of huge impressive matte painting, environment art, concept art and creature art. I learned everything by myself and I’m pretty proud of that fact. It tells me that this kind of art stuff seems to be the right thing for me.



Sergio: I come from a city in Cuba called Remedios (very small). I have always enjoyed art, although I didn’t always enjoy making it, it was something I decided to do after high school. I was presented with a couple of options and decided, why not get into game art? It never crossed my mind before.



What is the story behind your submission pieces? How did you go about creating your illustration?

Marina (Arrival to the Lost Fissure): This is happening after the arrival of two astronauts to an alien, frozen world with a lava heart, accessible by fissures. They were investigating some recently discovered ruins in this planet when they were found by a big alien race, which displays clear Norse and Viking influences. In the image our astronauts are being brought to one of the leaders. I wanted to play with the possibility that the Norse mythology could have not been just exactly a tale, but based on another reality, and introduce a world that combines doses of sci-fi and fantasy.

Ashok (Far From Earth): Far From Earth is based on the Distant World contest theme. When I read the contest theme my ideas created an environment and creatures. Our astronaut goes far from earth and explores a new world where there is a place where it is possible for an animal world.

Sergio (The Northern Tree Hollows): Well, the story behind this piece isn’t really much. When I began, I had absolutely no idea of what I was doing to do. But I was able to figure something out along the way. The idea was to make these enormous hollow tree roots, or trunks, which are some kind of dungeon. Besides that, and what I wrote for the contest (which I forgot), nothing more. As you can see in the first example, which is already a bit rendered, I almost always start out with a very basic, dark shape, and a light background, then I just add more.


What inspired you and why did you end up choosing this particular idea for the contest? Were there other ideas that didn’t make the cut?

Marina: I was trying some other alien landscapes at the beginning, honestly without thinking too much about them before. Probably because I was expecting that if the contest was asking for a distant world, they would choose a clearly sci-fi landscape as a winner.

But I wasn’t happy with them, so I just thought on something I really liked and wanted to try, instead of thinking about the contest itself. I thought on story. I like to try weird mixtures sometimes, and I wanted to create something that wasn’t fantasy or sci-fi, just maybe both. And I also love Norse inspirations, so I began to think on how all that is together on my mind, how could this be a world, and show hints of it in my illustration, including a bit of storytelling instead of just an aesthetic description.

Ashok: I was inspired by some artwork by the artist Moebius. Then finally I decided to create a fantasy creature environment that uses my technique and art style.

Sergio: I chose this idea completely at random. There are times where I am not inspired and end up making 10 sketches before settling with one. I can honestly say that I was very inspired for this contest, so it only took me one try. Besides, nature scenes are always my favorite and easiest to do.


As the winner of the Distant Worlds Contest, Marina was invited to the Syn Studio Gathering of Masters 2016 event in July. Can you tell us about your experience there?

Marina: It was a fantastic opportunity. I’ve met awesome people. Everybody, absolutely everybody was nice with each other, and the masters were totally involved with us.

We shared a lot of experiences and inspiring ideas. I’ve felt greatly surprised to see how well the whole event was organized, we had a clear schedule from the beginning and we even had pre-workshop homework if you wanted to participate more actively.

It was successfully oriented towards the experience sharing and participation of everybody, instead of just having the masters talking and the attendees… well, just attending, but at Syn Studio all of us had something to do, and something to create every day. Definitely, these were intense days, but I’d have happily stayed for more!



What video games/movies/artists inspired you, during your artistic journey?

Marina: Tons of them, always focused on story more than on gameplay for me. I remember I decided to work designing for video games when I was 9 and played Final Fantasy VIII (yes, not VII, I couldn’t play it until later!). I always enjoyed the creativity of point and click old adventures too like DIG or Discworld, but nowadays I could say that I’ve been pushed by different kind of games, all with great stories behind them or immense worlds like The Witcher III, Mass Effect, Uncharted, Skyrim, Fallout, The Last of Us, Dragon Age, Silent Hill, Life is Strange…


Ashok: I’m inspired by video games such as Last of us, Uncharted, Dead island and movies like Avatar (James Cameron), John Carter etc. There have been a few artists who encouraged and inspired me such as Dylan Cole, Ryan Church, James Paick and more. Their art has lit a fire under me, and spurred my desire to create my art.

Sergio: I drew Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck when I was a kid, as far as I can remember, I also did a lot of abstract art, but quickly grew bored of it. I was very inspired when I started out by Feng Zhu, and learned a lot from him. Jaime Jones, Luke Mancini, and Craig Mullins are some of my absolute favorites. Of course, today the list of artists I am inspired by goes on and on.



What is the hardest challenge you’ve ever had to overcome, regarding your art?

Marina: Basically, to believe in it, and in myself. And I think artists have ourselves as main enemies, when we don’t think we can do it, and when we use excuses for not doing it, not improving, not trying, or just giving up, or sometimes even overconfidence instead. Fear and comfort is our most common pitfall, and usually this is a lifelong battle.


Ashok: I have faced so many hardest challenges in my artist career but the toughest one is not getting a job but still smiling and doing more hard work to improve day by day.

Sergio: Since I started to learn, I have always been studying color, that’s why I started by landscapes. I think at least for me, it’s one of the hardest things I’ve learned.



What is it about working in the video game industry that you like more than other illustrative jobs?

Marina: The opportunity to create bigger worlds where the player can be immersed and be able to explore and discover, in a more first person way and for a longer time than just with visual art done to be consumed passively, reading a book or watching a film. For me video games are like all of that together.


Ashok: I am not working in the game industry yet but I’d love to work in the game industry

Sergio: I enjoy the interactive aspect of it. If you draw a room for a video game, for instance, you would have to show all sides of the room, props, interactive objects etc–because the player is able to move and explore. It’s not the same case for animation or other media. Of course there are exceptions and a great deal of variety.



When you create an environment piece, how in depth do you plan the story behind it?

Marina: I always like to have some story. Sometimes it’s the story which inspires the piece, sometimes is the first crazy idea generation which inspires the story that will help me to create the piece. I try to show hints of the kind of world where my environment is located, think about what happened there, which kind of creatures or people have been there…that’s why I liked abandoned objects for example. They have a story behind that brought them there to that state of decay.

Lately, I’m especially trying to suggest that background story in each new piece (at least the personal ones), because I think sharing what is on our minds, or at least suggesting what is going on there while we paint is what makes us different from each other in a sea of new artists, and what really can inspire others. Technique is a difficult thing to master, but we are unique artists thanks to what is inside ourselves. (I’m glad to have seen this has been discussed and especially pushed during the Gathering of Masters.)


Sergio: I actually do close to zero planning when it comes to environments at least. The most I will ever do is a couple of sketches, or warm up color comps, and I love coming up with the story as I go.



What resources do you use, when creating art?

Ashok: Basically I used Photoshop, painter in creating my artwork but some time I like to mix with 3D (ZBrush, Maya, 3DCoat and Vue) for a better render quality.

Sergio: Besides a bit of inspiration from different artists, or a story I read or something, I have tried to use other resources in my artwork before, such as photo textures, and I think a lot of people have this problem–I feel like I am not making legitimate artwork when I use textures. And I completely realize the ignorance of this, as it’s a very useful tool (I’ve had to do this for several projects). Personally, by trying to stay away from anything to aid me in doing my work, I find that I can become faster, and capture my ideas with more accuracy.



What is the best piece of advice you were ever given in your career?

Ashok: When you’re figuring out what to do with your life, I think it’s a mistake to first decide what you want to do and then move to the best location to do that thing. Instead, pick the place where you really want to live and go there. Your career will work itself out wherever you go.

Sergio: Best piece of advice? “Just keep trying”.


We would like to thank Marina, Ashok and Sergio for taking the time to answer all these questions and congratulate them on their win.


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