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Artist Feature: Paulo Santana

Artist Feature

Artist Feature: Paulo Santana

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Paulo Santana is an artist undeniably passionate about unique characters and giant robots, who specializes in illustration and 2D character design.


Paulo’s work can be found in his online portfolio as well as his DeviantArt page. He also posts his sketches in a personal sketch blog, Racket Punch. For residents in the Los Angeles, California area, Paulo’s work can be seen in person at the Gnomon School of Visual Effects gallery where it’s occasionally featured among other works by Gnomon students.

As of this feature, he is currently on the last leg of a two year program for 3D Modelling and Texturing at Gnomon. Graduates from this school have gone on to work on films such as Pacific Rim as well as video games such as Diablo III.

When and how did you discover your passion for art?
I may have picked up drawing early on because I was surrounded by visual artists in my family. My grandpa was a comic book artist, my dad was an animator, and my mom was a painter/sculptor. I attended an arts high school in Los Angeles [and] I think that’s when I truly discovered my passion for art.

How did you come across tokusatsu? And what was it about the genre that made you a fan?
Growing up in the mid-1980’s Philippines, tokusatsu was a constant companion. The shows I watched growing up was Shaider, Bioman, Ultraman, and Kamen Rider Black. When we moved to the US, there wasn’t a whole lot of tokusatsu but there was Power Rangers which I also enjoyed since it was a familiar genre for me.

I became a fan early on because I really like giant robots. The tokusatsu shows I watched when I was a kid, the Super Sentai series in particular, had a giant robot fight scene 100% of the time so it just reeled me in. Kamen Rider Black didn’t have a giant robot, but that’s cause he didn’t need it–  he just looked really awesome.

As an adult fan, by default, I still like the giant robots found in Super Sentai, but now I find myself appreciating the visual design aspects of the tokusatsu shows. I try to digest what it was about the costume or creature design made it work for me. It’s just really fascinating, especially because the weekly bad guy monsters usually have a different theme. I say all that, but really it’s because of the explosions, posing, and the giant robots.

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Paulo’s take on Kamen Rider Black for his Intro to Zbrush class at Gnomon during his 3rd term.

I know you’re also super passionate about gaming. Where did that passion for gaming come from and how does it inspire your artistic endeavors?
Much like tokusatsu, I was exposed to video games early in my life. I had a Nintendo Family computer with games like Highway Star, Rock Man, and Castlevania. So, pretty much growing up I’ve enjoyed playing video games.

As I got older, I began gravitating more towards fighting games. It was around high school that I really began loving the fighting game genre. When Guilty Gear and Street Fighter III just came out and my mind was blown. I’ve always wanted to be a character designer, so I gravitated towards fighting games because the character designs are pretty iconic. I mean, each character needs to have it’s own unique design language to set it apart from the others. Even now, I still get a lot of inspiration from fighting game character designs because the character designers are able to push their designs way off the map!

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Hungry Hungry Hannya,” Paulo’s fan art of Bishamon from Capcom’s Darkstalkers series.

Can you walk us through the process when creating a piece?
I always start with a sketch on paper or in Photoshop (okay, usually in Photoshop). If it’s for an existing character for a fanart, I think about what new design elements I can introduce to it while still retaining the identity of the character. Once the sketch is done, I would do a refining pass on it to flesh out the details some more. Once the details are finalized, I would take the rough into Manga Studio to draw clean lines, then back again to Photoshop for coloring!

When I’m creating a 3D character piece, I would start with a sketch if it’s an original character or creature. I would then begin to look for photo references of accessories, textures, and inspirational images. Once all that is settled, I would fire up Zbrush for more organic modeling. I usually just use Maya for the hard surface stuff like accessories and armor.

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Paulo’s final model for Hard Surface Modeling II during his 3rd term at Gnomon. Original concept by: Emerson Tung

Do you prefer working with 2D or digital 3D work?
While 2D is a permanent part of my workflow, I’m really enjoying 3D a lot lately. Particularly sculpting in Zbrush, it’s almost like drawing but in 3D!

Do you have a favorite art medium or program you like working with?
I’m all about Zbrush right now! But definitely Photoshop for the 2D side of things.

Your original Kamen Rider Deimos design concept is a TokuNet staff favorite, are there more tokusatsu series concepts you’d like to see or create?
Thanks! I really want to do some more original Kamen Rider! On my free time, which is scarce nowadays since I’m in school full-time, I’ve been toying around with an idea for an all-female super Sentai. Think Sailor Moon combined with Bubblegum Crisis and 2NE1. I’ve also been meaning to create my own Makai Knight.

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Final design for Paulo’s orignal Kamen Rider concept in his “Chariot Form”

Do you have any projects you’re currently working on that you’d like to share?
Since school is going on right now, most of my personal projects are on hold. In particular I am going to make a 3D model of my interpretation on Kamen Rider Kabuto in mid-Cast-off state. I’ll also work hard to get some designs for my all-female super sentai out from my brain and onto paper.

Also, check out Exo Hero Exceed. It’s an indie Tokusatsu project by a cool guy I met named Chris Sloneker, he based the design on my Deimos concept and I think it’s pretty cool.

How did you get involved with Exceed?
I was approached by Chris Sloneker. Chris said he liked my design for my original Kamen Rider [Deimos] and asked me if he can use it as a base design for an independent toku he wanted to create. I try to not linger around on a particular design so I gave him a go ahead. Weeks later, he showed me pictures of the suit being created [and] it was really cool. That’s it as far as my involvement with the show.

Any favorite superheroes from the non-tokusatsu world?
Batman and Iron Man. They’re just rich, smart dudes; those are their true super powers. More preference towards Batman though. I like the brooding.

Lastly, if you could be part of a tokusatsu series, which would it be?
Definitely Kamen Rider. I would Rider-kick all day. I’ll probably have a motorcycle with a sidecar though cause I’m afraid of two wheels. Also, Kamen Rider characters are usually pretty well-dressed.

Founder of The Tokusatsu Network and Editor-in-Chief from 2014 to 2018. She resides in Los Angeles, CA pursuing her education in library science and technology.

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