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Ben Mauro: “The Art is Finally the Valuable Thing”

Why artist are collecting each other's NFTs.

Ben Mauro has been steadily checking off his bucket list throughout his entire career. First inspired by his obsession with the first installment of Halo in high school, he embarked on a path that has led him to the forefront of the game and entertainment industry.

Now, as a senior concept artist and designer, he’s come full circle, designing Halo’s 11th installment, Halo Infinite. He’s also contributed his creative talents to creating the universes of Star Wars, The Hobbit, Call of Duty, and even helped NASA design its Mars habitat and Mars Ascent Vehicle (MAV).

Ben has also become a pioneer of the NFT space, breaking records with his launches and playing the game differently—slow and steady—with his personal collection that spans a decade. With sold-out collections on Space Drip and SuperRare and his wildly successful series, Evolution, amassing $4.5M in sales and counting, he’s most recently created a universe entirely his own with HUXLEY, his graphic novel NFT series.

Slow and Steady Wins the NFT Race 

Taking a calculated and methodical approach has served Ben well. Approaching challenges in reverse by asking the questions, analyzing, and creating a decisive plan has been the key to his momentum in not only his career but in the digital art space as well.

“The space doesn’t really like to do things slowly, but I’ve been doing things very slow and methodical, which is how I’ve been building things my whole life, so I hope that that kind of stands out more and more now that a lot of people kind of just did things quickly and left,” he explains.

The world of crypto has indeed moved fast and, though studied, Ben’s approach has been steady and allowed him to keep up. He was a part of the first crypto boom in 2016 and was at the starting line for NFTs in 2020. As he studied the industry as it changed, he figured out how things worked and applied his skills and experience to launch some of the most successful collections to date.

He watched as one of his friends, creative concept artist Victor Mosquera, entered the space and reached out to him for guidance as he dipped his feet in and was accepted to SuperRare super early. After that, Ben quickly found his audience and began figuring out how to deliver for them. He began experimenting with different chains and sharing his creature designs and analyzing what was happening. 

While others were creating and launching as much content as possible, Ben was sitting back and strategizing how to create something lasting and sustainable. “I’ve been working on this for 10 years, and I want to make sure I’m doing it right,” he says. “It’s finding the right people. Launching it the right way. Making sure it’s set up in a way that If I spent 10 years working on it, it’s ready to go for another 10 years. I think more people are seeing that this is a real thing and it’s not going anywhere and I’ve been trying to do the right things as much as possible.”

On Pressure, Pacing, and Burnout

There’s a reason Ben now adheres to a more measured approach. Starting his career in the entertainment industry post-college and beginning to check off those bucket list items came with a cost—burnout. “I felt like my life force battery was close to zero,” Ben recalls. 

The 24/7 work culture in the LA film industry paved the way for him to reach a career milestone of joining the Weta Workshop team in New Zealand, where he not only got to work on major Peter Jackson and Spider-Man projects but also enjoyed a major change of pace.

“I felt like my goal in life was always chasing knowledge,” Ben states. He has a knack for going to the source of whatever he’s trying to explore, and there was nowhere better to learn how to be a great designer than the place where the most unique universes were being created. 

Being pushed out of the office at 6 PM and not allowed in on weekends opened up space and time Ben hadn’t had in years. Over the four-year period he lived in New Zealand, he caught up on rest, absorbed all of the knowledge from the Weta team, and found the time to create his own work.

“It was like I’d learned what I was searching for and it felt like at that point, what was holding me back was that I needed life experience. I needed to get out and explore, which I couldn’t do sitting in an office.” 

So he got out in the world and started living. “I saw it like RPG meters. Working in a studio, my skill level was very high, but my life experience was very low. I sold all my belongings and lived out of a suitcase for a period of about three years, exploring the world and filling up my visual library.” 

Potentially sacrificing some skill level by trading his PC for a laptop and creating makeshift workspaces all over the world, he focused on life experiences to balance it out until the scales tipped once again and he sought out his next adventure—building HUXLEY. 

It’s no secret that pushing the pace in the NFT space has been part of the game for many and Ben’s perspective runs almost counter to the industry standard. However, he’s found time and again that the trends are unsustainable and his instincts are right. He maintains his focus on quality over speed, making his own rules, and getting people to understand that quality takes time.

Now that he’s leading his own teams, Ben draws from his life experience to keep his projects moving forward without anyone feeling overworked. Ben protects the longevity of his projects and teams by setting a sustainable pace and avoiding the “never-ending thing you need to feed” mentality that can be felt in this market. 

As he explains, “I feel like that’s one of the things I’ve been very good at—just kind of being very introspective. You kind of have to take a step back and see what’s working in your life and what’s not working, and it’s very hard because our lives move so fast now, but if something isn’t right, it’s like: What is it? What do I need just as a person that’s an artist working in this field? Am I imbalanced? Have I gone too far in one way or another way? Am I on the right path in life? It’s kind of taking that step back and assessing everything in our lives.”

“Huxley Represents a Project That is Completely Me”

HUXLEY, Ben’s graphic novel NFT project, was born out of the frustration of working in the film industry and the feeling of being in a “never-ending arms race” and losing his creative expression.

With HUXLEY, Ben is making the most of the NFT boom while building something that is bringing him back to what he loves most about creating art. 

“I wanted to go home and work on something completely me and that’s where HUXLEY started,” he remembers. “I wanted to do something that kind of brought me back to the beginning. I just loved drawing, and what came out on paper was something that 100% came out of my mind. Every shape and line was uniquely me.” 

HUXLEY is the culmination of all Ben’s life experience (so far), what he refers to as “an epic saga a decade in the making.”

Self-publishing and guiding his project his own way allows him to cut out the middleman. He’s able to create and launch his work on his terms and timeline. He’s gotten back to a place where he can see the DNA of his drawings faithfully translated all the way through to its cinematic trailer and, to him, that’s the most satisfying part of creating this project.

Creators Have a Duty to Stay Creative and Not Become Critics 

One of the most important elements of NFTs is creating a way for digital artists to generate revenue and finally demonstrate that digital art has value.

Working in the film industry, Ben quickly got the feeling that his skills were valued yet what he was creating was not because, to others, it looked so easy. “We are basically treated like we have a very valuable skill that people were hiring us to do to design their movies, but the actual image was not the thing we were being paid for—we were being paid for our time.”

Many artists can probably relate to using their craft to generate an income in exchange for creative freedom and control; it’s not an ideal situation. But for Ben, that’s where NFTs came in. Ben compares the trajectory of digital artists to that of musicians who now sell most of their work digitally as well.

“Musicians always had avenues to monetize their work. If they make one hit pop song, [they’re] set. [They] can retire from one great song. But, if I make one great painting and it goes viral on the internet, I don’t get anything. So we never had that way to monetize our digital creations in the same way. NFTs allow us to finally have that avenue to monetize our creations with digital art.”

As NFTs gain momentum in the market, the audience grows with fans and critics alike. But, in Ben’s eyes, whether you love it or hate it, the changes are going to happen anyway.

“We only have so much energy and so we can either use that energy to talk about why we don’t like it, which makes us basically a critic, or we can take that energy and create the change we want to see,” he emphasizes. “I’d prefer to use my creative energy to make something that I think is cool and kind of changes entertainment in a cool way that I want to see. I feel like as creators, it’s our duty to do that and not get caught up in turning into a critic.”

Art Allows Us to Leave Behind a Legacy 

In his career, Ben has had the opportunity to work with his personal heroes, from George Lucas to NASA engineers, and, has kept the artists who influenced him like Moebius, Juan Giminez, Katsuhiro Otomo, and Masamune Shirow close as he creates these new universes for us to explore.

When it comes to his work, he feels a responsibility to keep paving the way for future artists. “It’s almost like artists open a new door and find a path to go into a new pathway of imagination. There are infinite possibilities based on our personalities and what we like. We will always go in a new direction and I think it’s our duty to push it as far as we can in the time we have and hopefully make something cool. What certain artists have done inspired the hell out of me and hopefully by the end of my life, I will have created something that will inspire the next generation in the same way.”

For now, Ben is going to continue creating through HUXLEY and investigating all of the possibilities. To him, this is where HUXLEY and LAGO go hand-in-hand. With the digital art landscape becoming more interactive, the tools with which we experience the art have to push boundaries as well, and the technology and innovation LAGO is putting into its screens can take it to the next level.

“I think where things are going, they’re setting up their frames to be able to handle a lot of things that are coming and maybe things people haven’t even thought of or explored yet. [LAGO is] setting themselves up for the now, as well as the future.”

And the future matters. Ultimately what drives Ben is leaving a legacy just like those who have inspired him.

“We only have so much time on this earth. I guess that’s one of the reasons I wanted to be an artist in the first place,” he says. “It’s like visual proof that you existed on earth for a time. Our time is recorded in pictures so that when we pass away, we have physical proof we existed, like paintings that live on forever in a fine art gallery or these imagined worlds I’ve been so focused on. 

These are things that can live on after we’re dead and, I know it’s a bit morbid, but I’m just always thinking about this as we only have so much time. What is my purpose and the best use of my time? And I feel like being an artist is a pretty incredible use of that time. What is the biggest pursuit you can have with our existence on earth that will hopefully be remembered and inspire others to do the same?”