We chatted with Marco Plouffe, the co-founder of Keos Mason, about his inspiration and work philosophy...
Marco Plouffe began character modeling around six years ago, and it's his been his job and passion ever since. He's worked as a character artist for THQ, BioWare and Eidos, with credits including Borderlands 2, Mass Effect 3, Wildstar and Deus Ex: Mankind Divided. He recently teamed up with Cédric Séaut to found their own business, Keos Masons, creating high-quality concepts and designs for games, films, and toys.
Crab People – This is an older sculpt, but Marco's always liked it because he didn't start out with any set ideas first
3dtotal: Hello, Marco! Please could you tell us a little about yourself: who you are, where you are, and what you do?
My real name's Marc-Olivier but people can't help calling me other names, so I just tell people I'm called Marco! I'm in my late twenties and I live in Montreal, but I come from a smaller town. I tried other careers in my life, like being a technician or a musician, but it never really felt like I was doing the right thing. I discovered 3D art later in my life and, after school, became a character artist mostly for the videogame industry, but also for films and toys. It was a rough ride but I've always worked hard because it felt like what I needed to do. Nowadays I keep working hard, trying to master my craft and achieve new goals.
A creepy creature design sculpted in ZBrush
3dt: How did you get into the world of 3D art?
I always loved drawing when I was a kid but I never brought it to an academic level. I went through the motions at school and became an IT technician for the Canadian government for a few years, until I realized I was not very happy with my job. I got the job because it was easy and secure, but I knew that to be happy I needed to have an artistic job in the entertainment industry; it's what I really wanted to do since I was a kid. I found a school in Montreal called Campus Ubisoft
and, after working on my portfolio night and day, I sent it and was accepted. I had to sell my house and move away from my hometown, but in retrospect I don't regret a thing.
Gluttony, from Marco's Sinners collection
3dt: Who or what are your biggest inspirations?
It's hard for me to say what my biggest inspirations are because I feel like they change every few years. When I was a kid, I was totally about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
, Mega Man
, Dragon Ball
, Neon Genesis Evangelion
. Later, I became really interested in artists like H.R. Giger, Guillermo del Toro and others. Lately, I've been inspired by a lot of other artists in my own industry, some that I also had the chance to meet or befriend. In general, I try to get ideas from random things outside my industry, so I don't recycle what's already out there.
Greed, from Marco's Sinners collection
3dt: What software and tools do you use for your artwork?
My favorite tool is by far ZBrush
, but in my career I've used many other tools: 3ds Max
, Quixel SUITE
(for projection texturing), V-Ray
(for rendering cinematic models), KeyShot
(for rendering concepts), Marmoset Toolbag 2
(for previewing in-game assets), Marvelous Designer
, and Unfold3D
. My philosophy is that there's a lot of good stuff in every software and they should at least be fairly tested.
Lust, from Marco's Sinners collection
3dt: Could you describe your general 3D workflow for us?
When I'm asked to model a character, whether there's a concept or not, I start by blocking the silhouette and shapes and roughly detailing a sculpt in ZBrush. If I'm concepting the character (not following a given concept), I give it an extra polish pass in ZBrush and sometimes bring the blocking into KeyShot to sell the concept. Once this is approved, I spend some time polishing in ZBrush until it reaches the quality and style needed for the art-direction. I color-code the different materials in PolyPaint. Next are retopology and UVs in 3ds Max, baking the normal map, AO, and vertex color (PolyPaint color-code, a.k.a. ID map) in xNormal/handplane. I texture in Quixel SUITE, and finally pre-visualize in Marmoset Toolbag 2 or render with V-Ray, depending on if it's for a video game or for cinematics.
Pride, from Marco's Sinners collection
3dt: Tell us more about your Sinners series and how those images came about.
I wanted to do a big project consisting of a line-up of characters that live in a same world. I like to start from themes when doing this kind of project, just to give me an abstract bracket to work in. I've always had a distant "curiosity” for perversion and grotesque, so the idea of representing the seven deadly sins was interesting for me. I'd also been doodling around to find a visual representation with a certain storytelling quality that I knew I'd like to model in 3D. I sketched until I was sufficiently inspired but, in the process of sculpting the characters, I clarified my ideas too. This is why I always keep an open mind in the later stages of my workflow. I find that inventing a character bio (even it's only in your head) helps with concepting a character and believing they could exist.
A creature sketch for relaxation
3dt: Do you have a philosophy or ethos that motivates you – a key piece of advice you'd pass on to other artists?
Personally, the best advice I can say is to stay true to yourself and not do something because you think you'll have public recognition. As human beings, we naturally look for other people's approval, but your art should go beyond that and really represent how you feel inside, what you really like, even if it won't connect with the masses.
Professionally, find the grey area between your artistic ambitions and your obligations to your employer/client. There are two important aspects of an artist in the industry: skill and personality. Clients hire you for your talent but keep you for your personality. You have to respect your client's deadlines and requests, and always try to give them what they hired you for. Once you've fulfilled your obligations, ask yourself where you want to be next. This is when you work on your portfolio to attract the right projects or clients and feed your ambitions. Don't stay somewhere because it's easy or else you might lose motivation, which is a bad thing for you and your client.
Wrath, from Marco's Sinners collection
3dt: Which project (personal or professional) are you the proudest to have worked on, and why?
My favorite project I've worked on is under a non-disclosure agreement, and probably will be forever! This is a sad phenomenon of the videogame industry when a project is cancelled, because it might never see the light of day. It's unfortunate because it was the most extravagant and original project I worked on in my career. That being said, it does not discredit Mass Effect 3
and Deus Ex: Mankind Divided
, which were greatly inspiring projects I worked on and the other artists were so insanely talented!
A splash screen for Marco's Sinners project – he had a lot of fun coming up with their names
3dt: Finally, and most importantly: what do you do with your spare time?
I'm kinda a workaholic and I also spend a lot of time on personal projects, but when I really relax, I spend my free time with my girlfriend or my friends, playing videogames, watching movies and documentaries, or going out for drinks. When I relax, I really try to not think about art and just let things sit in my head. I've been a musician in my past, so from time to time I like to plug in my guitar or practice on the banjo. Other than that, I go jogging and try to have a healthy diet and good hygiene!
Thank you very much for speaking to 3dtotal!
To see more of Marco's work check out his website
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