While attending art school in Tours, France—and in between a rigorous schedule of all-night partying—Olivier Bucheron (aka Zamak) worked in a foundry. As he explains, "it was a dirty and filthy place where we made whatever for whoever—a hot spot, I'll tell you that!" It was there, amidst the grit and grime of machinery and alloys, that Bucheron first conceived the idea to build his own machines. But unlike the practical machinery surrounding him, his creations would be more surreal—the type of characters plucked from science fiction or fantasy. Bucheron's striking robots, vehicles, and machines reflect the vivid creativity and near-obsessive attention to detail of a dedicated artisan. From the choice of paint, to the texture of the metal, to the way light is reflected, each of his characters is a highly evolved study in the boundaries of human imagination.
Bucheron, who renders his characters using Cinema 4D, Vray, and Photoshop, first began experimenting with the idea to do so nearly eight years ago while studying fine art in France's Loire Valley, an area known for its good wine. Today, he works as an art director at Funktrip, a design studio located in Paris. And to bring life to the characters that populate the fictional world of Zamak, Bucheron makes time whenever and wherever he can in his busy schedule. More recently, he launched the Zamak blog as a means to share his characters with a larger audience. And though Bucheron still has a day job, his robots continue to grow in number, as do his plans for them.
Where does the name Zamak come from, and what does it mean?
To make it short, ZAMAK
is a metal alloy commonly used in foundries (i.e. key rings, etc.). When I was a student [studying] fine art I worked in a foundry. The contrast between those worlds was pretty strong and this factory became a place for experiment, in which, I did, for fun, some sculptures in ZAMAK—[hence] the name.
How did working in a foundry influence, or inspire, your ideas to create these characters?
The experience didn’t directly inspire my characters and their design. Let’s say that the foundry, rather, was where everything began. The chaos from where I first started to do engines, cars, etc.—characters came later.
These robots, creatures, and vehicles you create are incredibly detailed. Can you explain to me how the creative process works?
The process can be very different [for each one]. It actually depends a lot on my motivations and how much I’m [into the idea]. I like working fast to have a quick result, that’s why I use simple forms to start. Then I leave the creation for awhile—hours, days, weeks—and [when I come back to] work on it again [I] add accessories, details, refining lights, shadows, texture. What really [matters to me are] not details but the [overall seductive] aspect.
Do you mean the character needs to be visually seductive? Can you give me an example of some of these aspects?
It’s the global picture that has to be seductive, through colors or light choice, like sweets or pastry. The character can be terribly ugly, even disgusting, I’ll put it, [but I'll still] present it like [it's] the hottest model ever. I’ve [also worked as] a photographer, when I was a student, shooting pictures for weddings. [So] I like the studio [approach to] shooting. It gives the chance to underline the visual identity of my characters, to make them look good. I guess this is my “ fashion and beauty” part!
What tools do you use for rendering?
I mostly use Cinema 4D for modeling and animation, Vray and Photoshop for post-production.
Is there a story behind these characters? If so, please explain.
There is not one story but several, one for each character. When I draw a character I always think first: What is he like, his way to be, what reaction would he have towards situations or what would he say, his psychology, like a real human being, with a life and a past.
Can you give me an example of the back story for one of your characters? For example, what is the story behind Porouge?
Porouge (Peau Rouge = Red skin) is a [blend of] Native American and Japanese ninja warrior. He is rather independent and turns out to be a mercenary too. He’s a lonely man, kind of dark too. The common point of all my characters is that they aren’t nice, [they’re] either nasty or mean. They all have a personality with good and bad sides. What they are depends a lot on my mood. I guess there is a bit of me in all of them.
Do you have any plans to further develop the storylines behind these characters. For example, perhaps expanding them into an animated short film, or even a series?
That's a good question. I actually want more and more [to] animate [everything in] this small world. I already have storylines that should be expanded. [But] more than skills, what I lack is time.
Do your characters only exist as illustrations, or do you produce 3D models?
[Up to now] everything [has been] two-dimensional. I’m currently looking for a process to volumize them. I’m looking toward three dimensions for that.
So in volumizing these characters, would you be creating 3D models out of clay or some other material?
I would love to do some of them in resin. It seems possible with rapid prototyping technology, just a bit expensive for now. Clay… well, why not, but it’s pretty hard stuff to work with, requires time.
Looking at your characters, there's a sense of science fiction meets Japanese animation. Can you explain where you draw influence for the visual aesthetic of these characters?
Everywhere, any details. It’s always hard to know why something pops up in your mind. Sci-fi cinema and fantasy in general [are an influence on me]. I’m not a big fan of manga, but I keep having a look at it, Ghost in the Shell
, Dragon Ball Z
, others. Also, the Internet and [the] artist portfolios [of] Michael Kutsche, Ashley Wood, Daniel Simon, 1st Ave Machine, and Michelin‘s [mascot].
In addition to character designs, your portfolio mentions that you do graphics, illustration, and web design. Can you tell me a little bit about this other work you do?
Yes indeed, this the commercial part of my work. Currently I'm an artistic director at an agency in Paris called Funktrip. I just got this new position.
Where do you see yourself 10 years from now?
Los Angeles. You would be welcome to drop by!
All images featured in this article were used with permission from the artist. Images are © 2008 Zamak, all rights reserved.