THE MAN BEHIND PIXELSAURUS
YOU MIGHT NOT KNOW HIS FACE, BUT YOU’LL KNOW HIS ARTWORK
The name Mark Curran will be familiar to long-time readers of NZPC, being that he spent eight years working at the coalface producing this very magazine, but, these days, you’ll find him running Pixelsaurus, an online base-livery design and vector-template studio. His artwork has been emblazoned on cars in nearly every arena of New Zealand motorsport — even at one time nearly half of the D1NZ field, and many drivers aboard, including in the Supercars Championship. So, what makes this wizard of the Wacom pen tick? We sit down to find out what goes into a design and sneak a few tips for those budding designers out there.
NZPC: Hi, Mark. First, can you introduce yourself to the readers?
I’m Mark Curran. I run Pixelsaurus Limited, a graphic, web and motorsport design company based here in Auckland. I also specialise in creating and selling rendered vector templates via my online store at pxlsrs.com
What are some of the teams you have worked with that readers might recognize your work for?
Probably quite a few — the likes of Ben Wilkinson, Brad Smith, TJM [Team Jenkins Motorsport]; and I’ve done quite a few for Gaz Whiter over the years. In 2012/’13, I had upwards of 25 liveries in the D1NZ field, as well as [in] V8 SuperTourers, GT cars, and [on] international drift cars as well.
How long have you been designing go-fast art for?
Since about 2005. I’ve been working full time as a graphic designer for 15 years, eight of those working at Parkside / NZPerformanceCar … with the likes of yourself [ed. Marcus], Peter Kelly, Brad [Lord; former NZPC ed.], and Gray [Lynskey; former news editor].
Where did your interest in and passion for motorsport come from?
I grew up around speedway, and both my brother and I raced karts. I also got out to racetracks to watch racing all the time.
In those younger years, was that passion just about the racing or was the interest in liveries a part of it, even back then?
It sort of came afterwards, but I do remember playing with Microsoft Paint and taking photos of cars and playing around changing colours, etc. But, during uni and the first few years of working, it began with a few mates of mates — ‘Hey, I have a race car, and you draw cars, can you draw me a livery?’ My first big break was Angus Fogg’s LG livery for his NZ V8 [car], when one of his team members worked with me at the time. It’s always been friends of friends; obviously, I now have the Facebook page and Instagram [account], which helps the international side of things, but word of mouth has always been key.
So, what do you think of that LG livery, looking back on it now?
Looking back at it, I definitely wouldn’t do it the same way [now]. It was heavily brand dictated, and it did suit the style of the car, but if I was to do it now, it would be much different.
How different are the programmes you were using then compared with now?
It’s essentially the same process as it was 12 years ago, just much more refined. I wouldn’t say [that] it’s any easier. It’s actually very hard to not end up doing the same thing over and over again and … [producing] that cookie-cutter look that you see so often — [I’m] just trying to do something unique, something that suits the car and that suits the brands.
Where are you pulling your inspiration and ideas for liveries from?
A lot of it is what I like to call the ‘Ken Block effect’ — every time [that] he comes out with a new gymkhana car or video, it seems to dictate what people want for the next 12 months, which is a massive pain, because you don’t want to copy what has already been done, but you certainly do take styling cues from those really big guys. [You have to] … look back at retro liveries, Nascar, V8 Supercars, and just [try] … to combine elements and come up with something completely unique.
Who are some of the big names in the livery game that you look up to?
Guys like Nick Moss and Peter Hughes over in Australia, who do a lot of the V8 Supercars designs, Andy Blackmore in the US and Berzerk Design from Germany. Also the likes of Clint Bridger and Granger Design over here, who have been doing New Zealand’s iconic liveries for some time, at the same time having a lot of respect for Andrew at AWS Graphics and Richard at RA Graphics, guys who are your ‘competitors’ but you work with and chat to most weeks.
Is there a race series that you really hope to see one of your pieces in that you haven’t yet — perhaps Formula 1 (F1)?
Not so much F1, because those are very manufacturer-based things, but you get some, like the Renault F1, which is a really good-looking car, as it so far away from the brand, unlike the likes of Ferraris and Mercedes, which … are a red car or a silver car and just an evolution from the previous year. I have had cars in V8 Supercars already, and in all top forms here, but getting one into Nascar would be a dream.
When you go to the racetrack now as both a race fan but also livery designer, are you able to separate the two and simply enjoy the racing without critiquing all the artwork?
You learn to live with it. In those early years, when I was doing so many D1 liveries, … [there] was quite a bit of anonymity, as everything was over email and over the phone. But it was great to go to the track and actually see your work in real life.
When you’re designing a new livery, are you a pen-to-paper type of guy, or is everything straight into the vector template?
Most of the teams I work with already have a main sponsor and a fair idea of what the brand is going to be on the car, so I usually just start straight on one of my templates that I build.
Can you walk us through the process when someone commissions a new livery?
First questions I ask are, who are your sponsors, and what colour scheme do you have in mind? Most people already know, or they have a favourite colour [that] they have always raced with. Then I try and judge what sort of livery they are after based on a few questions about the styles they like, and build in it from there.
How many hours would you say go into a typical livery, from concept to delivering the files to the signwriter?
Most are pretty quick these days. It would probably be three to four hours, if I don’t have to create the template first. At the moment, that’s the part that takes the most time, especially if they don’t have photos [that] you can use to draw the car [from].
So, is that where the template side of Pixelsaurus comes from?
Sort of; I have always done it. When I first started out, I had a few requests to draw people’s cars,
which I have always done growing up, and it just grew from there. We were sitting down at work one day, and someone sent me an email saying, ‘Hey I saw your livery — I do liveries myself, can I buy the template?’ Yes, you can. Pedey [Peter Kelly] turned around and suggested [that] I start selling these things online. So, about two days later, I had half a dozen vans I had been working on loaded into the store.
So, it just grew from that?
Yeah. Today, I’m sitting at 175 templates, ranging from commercial vehicles to race cars, motorbikes, and speedway cars, stuff like that.
It must be a great buzz to see your templates popping up on the internet being used by big names.
Yeah, I get a massive buzz when I see some big names using them. I have a few signwriters in America who buy my speedway templates to use for Nascar driver Kyle Larson’s sprint cars.
Are there other people doing the same sort of templates, or are yours unique?
It is a little unique in that I’m the only one that does fully rendered vector templates. There are a few people that do Photoshop templates, where they are taking photos of cars and dropping highlights and shadows on. The only issue with that is, being photos, they are not very good for signwriters to work with, as they like to work within the vector space.
How have advancements in modern vinyls and digital printing changed what you can actually achieve with a livery?
I spent three years working as a signwriter. When we first started, we were using cast vinyls, which are designed to go on the flat side of a building. When the first conformable vinyls with air release came out from 3M, they made it so much easier and sped up the process, so you could do a full wrap in a night. But there [was] … still a lot of cutting and layering [of] vinyls, but now, with printed vinyls and the wrap industry, it’s now making it much easier. Nowadays in motorsport, you’ll see liveries completely printed, with all the minor sponsors, etc. already printed on the side in one piece.
You must have designed some liveries over the years that never actually made it onto the race car for whatever reason — does any one of those stand out in your mind?
Probably not one that instantly comes to mind, but it does happen more than you’d think in top-tier motorsport — like SuperTourers, where their whole goal leading up to the season is securing the support needed for that season, so a team might go through 20 liveries before they settle on one. But then you also get different clients pitching to the same brand. For some of the big brands like, say, Repco, you might end up doing five pitch liveries for five different teams in one off season.
Do you treat the designs differently for different motorsports?
In the likes of go-karts, speedway, and drag racing, etc., where the public can get up close and personal with the cars in the pits, you want to build a little more detail into the livery so [that] they can see all the little things. Whereas, with the cars like the enduros that are hammering down the back straight at 250kph, you just don’t see that detail. You also have to keep in mind [that] for TV, things like white on white will just blow out, and you’ll never see it.
Is there a type of motorsport that you enjoy doing liveries for more than others?
Not really. I just take each job as it comes, but I do love speedway, because
it’s just a lot of really bold and bright colours. While they are simple, you can include simple little design elements to make them really cool. Because the cars are so aggressive and they have that wedgie, fast shape already, the car does a lot of that work for you. But [if] you take something like a Nissan Sentra, it’s hard to make it look fast, so that’s when you’d go retro or softer, as it will compliment it better rather than something super aggressive.
You touched on it a bit before, but is there some science involved in the designs to help them work with cameras, etc. that people probably don’t even think about?
Absolutely. You take something like drifting or speedway, where the cars are shifting directions and they are changing the way [that] they move through the corner. Making the livery act like a barcode for the camera helps with the camera’s ability to focus. If you have something that is really really confusing for the camera or, say, has a lot of blank space, the camera will struggle. Another consideration is contrasting. If you have a white car with light grey laid over it, sitting under the sun, you just won’t see it.
And, finally, putting you on the spot a little now, do you have a few pieces of advice for budding livery designers out there?
1. Keep it clean and keep it simple. The worst thing I have seen people do is place logos over a super busy background, so you end up losing the logos. At the end of the day, those sponsors are the ones supporting you, so ensuring [that] their logo stands out should be a top priority. 2. Also, understanding what sort of format the signwriter who will be carrying out the work wants [is important] — if they are happy for straight PSD [Photoshop file format], which are super complicated, that they can play around with, [that] is cool. But a lot of signwriters still use programmes like CorelDraw and FlexiSign, which are 15-year-old programmes running on 20-year-old computers that can’t handle the design heavy and overly complicated files. 3. When you’re doing your templates, try to remove as much distortion as possible. You might take a really cool photo of the car where you’re lying down and looking up to it, but what that will do is pinch the top of the car in, so your livery will be distorted and will never fit the actual car. 4. Draw inspiration from others. There are so many people out there who do it extremely well, and there is a bit of a formula to getting a livery to look good on a car. Have a look overseas where they get crazy, especially in South America — if you ever need inspiration, just look at how wild they can get.
Thanks for your time, Mark. Catch you around the pits this summer.
‘Fanga’ Dan Woolhouse commissioned a custom template of his VF Commodore, which the boys at Frankensignz then designed the livery on
Mark’s template wearing a livery fromGranger Design