Narrative-driven NFTs are something that every person in love with art and fiction should check out. Matteo Santoro, one of Hollywood’s leading animators and filmmakers elevates and creates NFTs with narrative in mind. Tune in to explore the world he has created and learn about the soul drive concept he’s incorporating into the Narrative he creates. He joins Eathan Janney, and Josh Kriger to share his first NFT: the animation of a practical robot that Matteo built himself, all set in a dystopian future with a Western feel. Matteo shares how grateful he is for having a supportive audience that inspires him to give his best in this independent project. Matteo also talks about his plans on expanding the soul drive metaverse and setting up expectations for future NTFs expanding upon what he’s already built.
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Matteo Santoro Of SIFT NFT, The Narrative Driven NFT Film
This spotlight episode features Matteo Santoro, one of Hollywood’s leading animators and filmmakers. He has directed a sci-fi film entitled Higher Power and worked as a VFX artist on movies like 300, X-Men, and The Incredible Hulk. He has also created album artwork for Nine Inch Nails and TOOL. While working on conceptual designs for some of the biggest comic book and movie franchises, he has also found himself working on NFTs for some of the world’s leading artists, including Alex Grey and Soey Milk. Matteo, welcome to the show. It’s great to have you here.
Thanks for having me.
This is such a special episode for a few reasons. I don’t know if you realize this but you are part of episode number 99. This episode is special too for me because when people think about the industry, they think about the folks creating the contracts, the artists, the marketing side of this, and some of the IP. You are a creator too and working on a key part of the equation, especially when you think about the video dimensionality of NFTs and where that’s going. Zooming in on that with you on this episode is exciting to me. I would love to start at the beginning of your career in animation and film, and how you’ve got into the space.
I started in 2005. I came out from Boston with $500, an air mattress, and a big dream. I ended up working in visual effects to get a job. I’m working at this place called Prologue Films. I was doing opening titles for TV shows, and from there, I ended up getting my first gig at a big VFX house called Hydraulx. That was my intro to the movie special effects world. I’ve got to work on Alien vs Predator, Avatar, and some of those Marvel projects. I’ve even got to go on the Alien vs. Predator set when I was a kid, which was the coolest thing in the world and probably the first time in my life that I was starstruck because I’ve got to hang out with the actual predator.
I worked as a generalist doing everything from animation to concept design like designing alien planets and different creatures to doing matte painting work and then bouncing over into the animation realm. I’m bringing those things to life. I love doing concept stuff but my heart has always been in the directing thing. As a VFX artist in the background, after about 5 or 6 years of working on Hydraulx, I worked on my own sci-fi short that I put together. It took me about one year. I’m slowly chipping away at that and I put that online. It’s called Offline. That was the thing that kick-started my directing career because after that I ended up getting contacted by the CIA.
That whole thing opens the door for me because, as a director and a visual effects artist, I’m able to utilize my VFX skills to elevate the work that I’m doing. I can film something but I don’t have to rely on hiring a VFX team because I can do that myself. I was able to infuse that into some of my own indie projects. After that, I ended up doing the sci-fi movie that I wrote and directed called Higher Power. It was an indie film.
We shot it for under $500,000 but it ended up getting theatrical distribution to a couple of places. It was picked up by Magnolia Films. It’s on Hulu, Amazon Prime, and that kind of thing, which was cool to see because that was definitely a labor of love. With $500,000 to try to pull off a big sci-fi thing was quite the undertaking. We only shot it in under twenty days. I did probably 90% of the visual effects myself, which was absolute hell.
I’m learning the Hollywood lingo being here for the last many years also from Boston. Does that make you like a predator? You are like a predator plus.
I ended up doing the voice of the predator in that movie. It was a total fluke situation. They are growling but that’s a whole other conversation. My first movie came out and after that, it was the question of, “When do I get my second one off the ground?” After licking my wounds from the first one because it was brutal trying to put that thing together. It was all about trying to figure out how to get that thing off the ground. I had this idea for this project and it’s an original IP, my own concept. It’s like my own Star Wars.
When you are dealing with your own IP, it’s difficult. It’s an uphill battle in general to get a movie big but when you are dealing with a sci-fi thing that’s not based on a comic book or a cartoon and there’s no real built-in audience, you have to convince a studio that this is something that they should believe in. That’s where the NFT component came in. I was like, “I can create an audience through that realm and see where that goes.”
I always think about it when I watch the credits. It’s like, “There are a million people putting these things together. There is so much structure that’s already built in to make these movies. It’s hard to get it, conceptualize and know the right people.” What I find cool about NFTs, although it still helps to have a big team and a big idea to get NFTs going, it levels the playing field a little bit. You can jump in and compete with everybody else that’s there no matter how long they have been around. I’m curious, when did you first hear of NFTs and when did it click for you like, “This is a place where I have a little bit of an edge as opposed to being a little bit behind?”
I first heard about it from a friend of mine at the dog park. My buddy Spencer is like, “There’s this new thing coming up called NFTs.” He showed me the deeper work on Instagram and he’s like, “Don’t you do this?” I’m like, “Yes.” He’s like, “These things are selling.” Especially back then, when I first heard about it, I was like, “This doesn’t even make any sense. What do you mean these are selling?” We would always talk about it and I’ve got the opportunity to work on my first one because I was approached by the psychedelic artist Alex Grey to do his first NFT with him, which was quite an honor.
My introduction into it was collaborating with an incredibly prolific artist. We designed this beautiful animation together. Alex and I worked for a while together on a bunch of stuff. I have done a bunch of work for them and TOOL. He came to me to bring his work to life. From there, that opened the door for me to collaborate with a lot of other traditional 2D artists like Miles Johnston and Soey Milk. I’m doing a collaboration with Robbie Trevino. I’m taking these 2D traditional painters and the guys who used traditional mediums. Taking their work into the third dimension and animating it because that’s how it works.
Why NFT? There are a lot of different modalities that you have used in the past. What is it about NFTs that sparks your passion?
It’s the leveling of the playing field. The community aspect of it is beautiful. You can co-create these things. The degree of separation between you and your audiences is not like it was before. You are directly connected with them. You can provide content narrative and even be driven by your audience in a way. That part of it is where I was attracted to and also the future. I’m a futurist. I love new technology and my skillset. I’m an animator. This is the stuff that I’m into. I have been working as a VFX artist for many years. It made sense for me to explore this as a new medium, especially if I have been sharpening my sword. I might as well use it.
Let’s go a little deeper into the NFT film project that you’re working on. It’s exciting. Where did that idea come from? How well does it work? What’s the utility of the NFTs? When’s it going to be released? Break it down for us.
The origin of the idea happened during quarantine and I was building out this sci-fi world because I was trying to put together my next movie. I didn’t know at first that I was going to use NFTs to help bring it to life. After writing the story, I ended up building this practical robot out of vacuum parts. It’s in the trailer. You can see it.
When you say practical robot, do you mean it’s functional? Does it walk around?
It’s an actual model.
I feel like every robot is practical.
Practical is the name of the game for robots.
In visual effects, there are practical effects, which you are not using a computer to animate. When I built this robot, it was almost like a passion project to try to keep me from going and staying during quarantine.
This is all working out for you but this is evidence that you did go with it.
Most artists are.
It’s like that Saturday Night Live skit where the girl starts talking to their house plants or whatever.
Once I put that together, from there, I started building the costumes. I made all these weapons, my storyboard and everything. I assembled my team. It was only five people, my trustee Director of Photography, Dallas Sterling. He’s there for me. They worked hard on cool creative things. He was like, “Let’s do it.” He didn’t want anything. He just loves getting stuff done and making things.
We went out to the desert and somehow, I put this thing together. I shot it. I put all the VFX effects on it. After that happened and I started putting the trailer together, that’s when I was like, “This thing could be cool as an NFT. Why not try to push the medium because I know that people are doing stuff for narrative and there aren’t any rules to this game.” I love that. That’s my favorite part about it. It’s like people are making them up as they go. If they work, they stick. It made sense to me. That’s where it all came from.
Edge of NFT is definitely a no-rules environment. A lot of people gravitate towards the, “There are no rules here.” We have seen it, so we will talk a little bit about that and ask you some questions.
I watched it five times. I’ve got pretty pumped about it. We shared it with the whole team and everyone decreased their productivity because of you.
It’s like a video game. I love that.
It’s got almost like a Western field to it, although it has that dystopian future feel to it. It’s got this practical robot that you constructed, which is a bit scary and weird in this particular trailer. The one thing that I have to say is I’m impressed with some of these NFT projects, including yours, the level of detail and intricacy people are putting into this stuff. That’s what I noticed with yours. I was like, “This guy is not fucking around.” I was very impressed with the level of attention to detail and professionalism you had to put into it and potentially on a low budget. What made you feel like you wanted to put as much into it as you did give when you are not sure there’s going to be some return on investment?
Soul Drive: When dealing with your own IP, prepare for an uphill battle. You have to work hard to convince a studio about a pitch that’s not based on any comic book or has no real built-in audience.
Anytime I put my name on anything, I’m going to believe it, especially if it’s my artwork. Anytime I’m going to invest my time into something, especially with a movie, if you are a director, you have to believe in the project before you even start. Once you start getting into the nitty-gritty, it’s like, “I’m married to this thing.” That’s why I paid attention to the detail because it was part of me in a way. It’s built into the infrastructure of the story. I have a metaverse component to SIFT as well.
I can get into the nerdy details but there’s this thing called the main character. He is protecting this world called The Soul Drives and all these back up the consciousness of humans from the past. It’s a broken metaverse that people are living in. It’s these uploaded souls in a way. I want to expand upon that world because it is a version of the metaverse. It’s almost like a haunted glitched-out matrix reality but that’s where his family lives.
It’s cool that you came up with that concept. I don’t know that I have ever heard of this concept of a soul drive before but it’s very apropos to what we are looking at down the line. I saw an article and it’s about Elon Musk’s Neuralink, “Connect your brain to a computer,” project. It is coming right along. They are going to start integrating with the human brain. This concept of a Soul Drive is great and wonderful to explore. I’m sure it’s going to capture a lot of people’s imagination.
Ray Kurzweil is a futurist. His whole thing was about uploading your consciousness before you die and allowing your brain to live on in a virtual Nirvana. It’s nerdy stuff but I love that.
It seems like what you are building lends itself to some interesting partnerships or co-creation opportunities and the process of doing this versus doing traditional movies is quite different. Can you walk us through that in terms of what the process has been like and what kind of partnerships you are exploring along the way?
So far, it has been an independent experience in putting this whole thing together outside of the guys to help me on set but the partnerships are the community. It’s like my friend, Lady PheOnix. She opened the door for me and gave me some introductions. My buddy, This Is Real is a big NFT artist. It’s the same thing. All these guys are opening arms like, “This is a cool project,” and the partnerships with other artists. It’s like batting the fence. It’s building itself and that’s what’s so beautiful about this entire experience.
You can answer this question from a process perspective. It’s a more intimate journey that you are taking with your audience. How much of contrast has that been for you and what else have you learned along the way?
It’s incredibly rewarding. When you are doing a feature, you are dealing with studio executives, building this thing in the background and there’s such a long period of people not knowing anything about it until it’s getting close to being finished. In this new example, I’m developing this movie with the fans in a strange way. You get that reward of the reaction of people getting excited. When people get excited about something, there’s the synergy that happens. I get excited by people being excited and it makes me want to create more.
We have been hearing a lot about narrative-driven works in the NFT world and story has been a huge part of what we have seen having an incredible influence on where and how things work out. Can you tell the readers what that means to you, this kind of story, this lower aspect of things, and where you might see it going in the future?
The narrative is built into the human DNA. We have been telling stories around the campfire since we were cavemen. In general, people are attracted to the narrative. That’s part of humanity, the myth. Naturally, things are going to progress in that direction. The most inspiring work to me has a sense of narrative. It doesn’t need to be like a movie to have narrative content. It’s a thing that gives you a sense of a story like you are going somewhere. It gives you that feeling like there’s a journey and that’s the stuff that reflects life. That’s why I’m attracted to bringing that element into the NFT space.
He also published a de-centralized book with $LIT WTF about aliens as well.
He was definitely commenting on this concept of like, “We are leaving this up to the fans. We are leaving that up to the fans. It’s scary but it’s exciting.” Have you had to face that a little bit in terms of, “This is how I thought this drag would go,” and people are coming in and say, “This is what should happen,” or has it not gone that direction?
Not yet, but I’m sure at some point, that will happen. I am a storyteller. First and foremost, I’m going to tell the thing I want to tell. You can go along on the ride and there might be something there for you or not. There’s definitely a connection between the audience and the director.
Do you have any other ideas cooking in your pipeline for this project that you wanted to allude to on the show? We love to give our readers early alpha.
It’s in development. I dropped it on the foundation. The future of it is up in the air. I’m planning on expanding the universe in all kinds of different cool ways as I was telling you about that little Soul Drive element. There’s going to be a second SIFT drop that incorporates that concept of these broken digital experiences. It’s my universe that I want to continue to build out in a different way.
Talking about losing soul drives, I remember I lost a regular drive. I’m so upset about it.
Imagine if the relatives of your past are on there. That would be bad.
Thank you for sharing a little bit about this fun and exciting, uncertain future of what you are going to do. We are certainly onboard and excited about it. I’m sure the readers are as well. Tell us a little bit about what other projects inspire you when you look around and say, “I want to do stuff like that.” What is it you are looking at?
A lot of the narrative-driven stuff that’s happening in the NFT community, I’m definitely into a lot of that stuff. I love Rio’s work. He has been a real inspiring character in the world just like the philosophy behind things that Lady PheOnix is presenting. It feels science-fiction within itself. I feel like I have entered The Matrix and I’m now a part of this community and all these cool characters. The list goes on and on.
This sense of being inspired by those around us is exciting. You can always have that thing historically. It was a lot harder to connect with others that are doing incredible things or feel like you can play in the same domain. It’s more of like a consumer society. It’s cool what’s happening as we move forward in time and we have all these metaverse resources and ways to connect.
It’s becoming less of a consumer society and it’s a creative society. We are going to have to be inspired by some far-off vision of somebody you saw in a movie like The Predator, “Would I ever be there?” It’s the people around you that can inspire you. That’s super exciting. The Edge Quick Hitters are a fun and quick way to get to know you a little bit better. These are ten quick questions. We are looking for a short, single or few-word response but we can feel free to expand if we get the urge.
Question one. What is the first thing you remember ever purchasing in your life?
A wristwatch. It was one of the first things that I bought myself.
Was this a Swatch?
No. It was called Rusty. It was a surfer brand. I remember saving up all this money to try to get this because I was doing all this dive, spear-fishing, and stuff when I was a kid. I grew up on the water. I bought this watch and I remember specifically being proud of the fact that I bought it myself.
We had another kid’s watch purchase. It was Nikita. She said she bought these cheap watches and they would break and she would just buy another one. It’s pretty cool.
What is the first thing you remember ever selling in your life?
Lemonade. I did a lemonade stand at one point in time. I’m searching back there in the memory banks and my soul drives.
Since you are a creator, you’ve probably got creative with it. You threw some strawberries in there so it feels like the strawberry lemonade.
It’s probably more about writing the poster or whatever.
This soul drive concept was really interesting. You are like, “That’s what I remember.” This idea of a soul drive where somebody goes in, edits it, and makes it strawberry lemonade or grapefruit juice.
The next question is, what is the most recent thing that you have purchased?
I bought water from the gas station. The coolest thing I have purchased is a new motorcycle. I’ve got a BMW or Nike, which are my favorite things in the world.
Next question, what is the most recent thing you sold?
An eBike. I’ve got one of those Sur-Ron eBikes. That was fun and super dangerous. Whenever I’ve got the motorcycle, I didn’t need it anymore.
What is your most prized possession?
My most prized possession is my dog.
It’s a Husky with blue eyes.
Soul Drive: The reward of working with fans is seeing them getting excited about what you have for them, resulting in a powerful synergy. That will inspire you to create more.
Her name is Rah. She’s the love of my life and my most prized possession.
She is beautiful. I had a Husky as well and they are very special.
Matteo, if you could buy anything in the world, digital, physical, service or experience that’s currently for sale, what would it be?
One of those tickets to space, probably. I will definitely do the Mars one. It’s a long haul but I’m good to go. I’m all about that sci-fi life, so I might as well live it.
This next one is a little bit more of a philosophical question. If you could pass on one of your personality traits to the next generation, what would it be?
Is creativity a personality trait?
That’s my strongest. I wouldn’t want to give my Math skills or anything like that. Definitely, it’s my creativity. That would be number one.
If you could eliminate one of your personality traits in the next generation, what would it be?
I’ve got a cap off doing tips at a restaurant as far as I can take it.
What did you do before joining us on the show?
I took a shower.
What are you going to do right after this show?
I’m going to go for a run. I’ve got to stretch my legs. There has been a lot of behind computer action for me in making sure and getting this drop organized. I love being outside. You’ve got to smell the roses and running is my Zen place. I’m going to take a run at the beach.
My girlfriend runs on a Venice beach every day. That’s her thing. Fortunately, we live by the beach, so she has that opportunity.
A lot of our guests happen to have done the same thing before the show is after because they are focused on some type of work or whatever. Would it have been interesting if you said shower? I’ve got a wash off the filth of this show. Walking around in the desert, filming that trailer, I’m sure you’ve got a little bit of something to wash. It was cool, gritty, and awesome stuff that people can latch on to. We are excited about the job and everything you are going to be doing in the future. Where can readers go to learn more about you and the projects you are working on?
I know we talked about some kind of a giveaway for our audience potentially. Did you come up with an idea or should we let them know that’s to be announced?
It’s to be announced but there’s a soul drive component on the horizon. We will plant that seed.
It’s something exciting there and we appreciate it. I’m sure our audience will be pumped as well. Thanks so much.
Thanks for participating. It looks like we have reached the outer limit of the show for this episode. Thanks to everyone for exploring with us. We’ve got space for more adventures on this starship, so invite your friends and recruit some cool strangers that will make this journey also much better. Go to iTunes, rate us, and say something awesome, then go to EdgeOfNft.com to dive further down the rabbit hole. Remember, we always invite you to co-create and build with us at Edge of NFT.
We are unlocking a whole new way to connect and collaborate with us through our own NFT drops, Spirit Seeds leading to Living Tree NFTs, which light the way to our event, NFTLA. It is a one-of-a-kind, immersive and unforgettable experience at LA Live in Los Angeles from March 28 to 30, 2022. Check it out at NFTLA.live. Move quickly because early bird tickets are moving very fast. Lastly, be sure to tune in next time for more great NFT content. Thanks for sharing this time with us.
- Matteo Santoro
- Neil Strauss – Previous episode
- Nikita Nguyen – Previous episode
- @MatteoCSantoro – Instagram
- iTunes – Edge of NFT Podcast
- NFTLA.live – NFT LA Conference 2022
- Jenkins The Valet
- Spirit Seeds
About Matteo Santoro
Matteo Santoro directed a sci-fi film titled Higher Power and worked as a VFX artist on movies like “300,” “X-Men,” and “The Incredible Hulk.” He also created album artwork for Nine Inch Nails and TOOL.