One day, deep into month 2 of quarantine I sat down in front of my MacBook to have a Skype call with Leomar Esteves. An art director, artist, designer, from Venezuela who’s working and living in Munich. Leo is a great guy, who was so open to chatting with me about cars, art, and design. Leo’s work is loud and imaginative. He’s able to use a high level of detail and refinement, without making things unapproachable or basic. His work reimagines cars in hyperbolic forms. In our interview, he told me how he achieves this, and about he learns design and CGI step by step.
Leo grew up in Venezuela. Where he lived, people were used to hearing gunshots all the time, it became a norm. When we talked about his story he contrasted how incredibly different where he grew was from where he lives now in Munich which is incredibly safe. Such a stark contrast to Venezuela. He was enthusiastic about cars from a young age and was behind the wheel of one from when he was 12. His family all worked on cars, his first car was an old Camaro.
Leo has worked for tv/film as an art director for most of his career. He got his start in Central America, eventually, his work took him to Miami. He moved from there to Portland where he’d commute back and forth while living with his wife. After being there for a while he was offered the opportunity to move to Munich to be an art director, and he took that. He’s a really passionate guy and a totally open book. He sort of exudes creative energy, I could feel it through the screen of our Skype call.
After talking for a while about the cars we both liked, and our own career ambitions we started talking more about what were some of Leo’s influences in art, film, and music. He likes oldies, nothing new, stick to the classics, “90s shit, that’s my thing”. With art, he looks at a broad range from modern art, to graffiti.
He mentioned specifically Cleon Peterson expressing the juxtaposition of the aggression, with the cleanliness, the violence with the beauty in his work. Flying Fortress, the graffiti artist from Hamburg. Another influence was Daniel Arsham, preserving now for the future. You can see some definite influence of Arsham in Leo’s work. But Leo continued to express the importance of continually looking at art, absorbing all that you can.
His day job is as a proper designer, he answers calls, manages a design team, etc. We talked a lot about the demands of clients and the line between being an artist and a designer. To Leo, being a designer is to relinquish your own style to meet the client’s needs. Being an artist is growing your own style that people come to you for.
I asked Leo what he thinks he is, he emphatically called himself a designer. But I think he’s both. From his own personal work you can see that he’s developed his own stylistic language. It’s edgy and hyperbolic. You can’t be an artist at work, and that’s the case for Leo.
But it’s after work where he really catches his stride. He told me, lately, it’s been rare for him to get to bed any earlier than 3 am. Behind the helm of his computer, he spends hours refining his craft. Not for the sake of notoriety or recognition, but because this guy has an enormous amount of curiosity.
He explained to me his process for each of the cars he designs. They all are born of a question, or an ambition to learn something new. He used the example of shading. If he wants to learn shading, that will be the main element for the design.
He usually peruses the internet to find a car that piques his interest, typically they are older cars, he’ll bring that into V-ray and begin. With each one of his designs, he told me the first thing he does is “take the wheels off and lower it… really low”. He mentioned that he likes all of his cars to be low and wide.
It’s an interesting technique, and good advice I think to look at individual projects as almost like a homework lesson. From the start saying, from this project I want to learn “x” element of design, or “x” software plugin, or “x” technique. When you work this way you build upon your skills procedurally.
Say for the first project you focus on learning shading, you spend hours making sure the shading on a project is just right. Then for the next project, you learn to texture, not only will you by the end be good at texturing but because of your first project, the shading will be spot on as well. This sounds like a no-brainer, but there’s an important distinction in setting out at the beginning of the project setting a goal to learn one new thing.
After talking a bit more about technique and Leo’s process, I thanked him for talking with me, we’d been strangers before the interview. He expressed to me the importance of being an open book, of sharing your knowledge and experience when asked about it. I found that really compelling, and important also. As a now senior creative Leo wants to be the resource for others that he wished he had coming up in the industry.
“Keep learning, stay curious. I do a lot of collaboration all the time, not because of recognition, it’s just pure collaboration. No mysteries, I can show you but it doesn’t mean that you will know. You can’t be afraid of showing your “secrets” every time you show someone your secrets you’re forced to learn more. That’s how you grow if I don’t show you I won’t grow.”
This interview is a part of a series exploring the basics of automotive design and cgi, and the people who are designing the future of human transportation. If you enjoyed this interview please consider signing up for my weekly newsletter.