MEMBER MONDAYS | Carlos Mats
is a multimedia artist and diver from Honduras, Central America. In 2004, he founded Xchematic, an arts & technology studio as a primary creative outlet, and transformed it into his life mission with projects all over the world. He is currently completing a fellowship through the Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative (YLAI) in Austin, Texas with our organization. We chatted with Carlos to explore his world and what’s he’s most excited about visiting ATX for the first time.
Can you remember what first ignited your passion for creating art? Was it a specific person's influence, or a piece of art that you saw? Or has just been something that you've always knew you were going to do?
I remember always being fascinated by art and design. As a child, I would cut out logos from newspapers and magazines, collect them, analyze them, deconstruct them, and try to recreate them on my own. I would stand marveled at gradient graphics on the arcades’s designs, and wonder just how they were made. They would always baffle me, especially the half-tone ones. My mom identified my passion early on - she would put me on my chair with my pencils and I’d stay there for hours drawing dinosaurs, NBA logos or random abstract things. There is one drawing I distinctly remember I was so proud of, I must’ve been 8 or 9, and I drew “a bullet that was going so fast that it melted” - so it was a drawing of a reflective fluid with momentum suspended in air, shaded and everything. So yeah, I’ve always had that eye, and affinity for the audiovisual arts.
How does it feel to be one of only 250 promising leaders of the Americas, and to represent your country by coming to the United States to expand your leadership and entrepreneurial skills through the YLAI program?
Representing my country is a badge that I’ll always wear with pride and honor. Through YLAI, I have the backing of The Office of Cultural Affairs of the Department of State, the United States Embassy in Honduras, Meridian Center, and The University of Texas in Austin - it’s hard to convey in words how amazing that feels. It’s one of the biggest professional satisfactions I have experienced. A big boost to my career, and a huge validation of my work. It’s been 14 years of trials and tribulations as an entrepreneur, and I’m thankful to be now at a place where I can enjoy the success. It energizes me. and puts me in a position where I can create more things to make my country proud. We certainly need good news, and I’m ecstatic to be a vessel of joy for my people.
What do you hope to accomplish with your time at Motion Media Arts Center?
Together with Faiza and Carrie, we have established clear goals for my fellowship in MMAC - redesign the website’s home page, produce aerial photography, help to synthesize the branding, and create a VR tour video. Most importantly, I hope to create value, in return for their kind hospitality.
Since this is only your second week in Austin, Texas - What are you most excited about - both in your fellowship with us and visiting Austin for the first time?
Austin is a city that I’ve always wanted to visit for its tech, music, and arts culture. I’ve been meaning to come for years, so you can imagine how insane it is for me to finally be able to stay for a month. I’m very much looking forward to going to the second weekend of the Austin City Limits Festival. What I’m most excited about is my career-spanning “FLASH FORWARD” exhibit that we have planned for this week here in MMAC. It’s going to be insane.
“Austin is a city that I’ve always wanted to visit for its tech, music, and arts culture.”
As Founder and Lead Designer of Xchematic, you said that you turned something that was just your primary creative outlet into "a life mission". Was there any specific moment or event that cultivated that huge transitional step in your career as a designer?
I started Xchematic in my bedroom, while I had a day job in parallel, so my schedule would be from 8 to 5 to work on the job, then come back home, and work from 7 till 3AM on my clients and projects. This went on for several years, even when I moved up to better and better day jobs - my last one being the Lead Designer of the Honduras Central Bank, which is one of the most prestigious institutions in the country. Their perks are stellar and unmatched, and their employees that get a full, open-ended contract (like I did), stay there working for several decades until they retire. It’s a dream job for many, for sure…but after 2 and a half years of it, I quit. That was my transitional step. Committing on my instinct of going all-in on Xchematic, committing on being an entrepreneur exclusively. Quitting the best job security one could have in the whole country was a huge step to take, and everybody (even my family) looked at me like I was crazy. For me it felt natural, and thankfully it has worked out beautifully.
Three years ago, you shot a film in Amsterdam called Vaenquish. Its use of editing to play with time really reminded me of a lot of earlier Christopher Nolan movies. What was your biggest inspiration for writing and directing this film?
To be mentioned in the same sentence as one of my heroes is extremely flattering, certainly Nolan’s work - especially his magical realism style - has been deeply engrained in my psyche. I think Inception and Interstellar are the pinnacle of modern filmmaking, and The Prestige is damn exquisite. However, it’s actually a far lesser-known director that made the greatest impact on me, his name is Shane Carruth, he has a cult following for being an uncompromising auteur. Primer was his first feature film. Get this: he wrote, directed, acted, edited, made the music, designed the poster, made the website, did sound design and self released the film, all by himself. Sundance went berserk when he premiered it there in 2004, and he won the Grand Jury Prize. It’s a fantastic work of art, the way he shot it on a short budget, the way he avoided the use of expositional dialogue, and the complex nature of the film…it forever changed me. That guy is unbelievable. Being interested in film, I vowed to myself to create something as personal and as inspired as his work, and it became my cross to bear for several years. Gladly, I feel that I have achieved it, as I did my very best with all of the production aspects of my passion project Vaenquish as well, and it has been highly regarded in the festival circuit, winning technical awards for best editing and best cinematography, and has represented Honduras in The Los Angeles Film School in Hollywood. The audience has universally expressed positive intense emotions for it, which is the biggest compliment for me. It’s my pièce de résistance.
Were there any major challenges you had in the production process for the film? I can imagine being in a new country and making a film on a minimal budget must have felt overwhelming at times.
Ben King, the owner of Earth Works, the music studio where I did my artist residency in Amsterdam, always made me feel welcome and supported. He took me in like a brother, making me feel at home, always there to provide wisdom and warmth. I never felt overwhelmed, actually the opposite - I felt empowered. He made the transition of me living in Europe very organic, I instantly felt like a member of the family. When I presented to him the script of the short film, he internalized in such a way that we got locked on the same wavelength, and he became a producer. We did run into some hiccups during production, as all productions tend to do - the actress that was initially going to portray Gray Jacket, one day she abruptly quit in the middle of rehearsal. Apparently she felt overwhelmed with the process, and just threw everything and left. It was shocking for me, and very rough…I felt my dream running out of my hands during those days, when I finally had it so close. But then, thankfully Daniel Matias Ferrer stepped up, and Rob Duijker came on board, and it was pure magic from then on. I’m not kidding, it really felt like we could do nothing wrong. We came together as a unit, we went out location scouting together, rehearsals were a blast, and the production sessions felt like heaven. We even jammed in the studio before and after we were done for the day. It was perfect, I really love those guys.
When you work with a client on a branding project, how do you help translate what they want to see into a compromise of your philosophy and aesthetic? How do you help them create something even better than what they first envisioned?
It’s a joint journey. We listen, ask, internalize, and explore, until we feel we have together discovered the project's essence. After that, I’m given free reign to create whatever I want, under the guidelines that we have discovered together, and that’s a very liberating thing. I love clients like that.
You are doing an exhibit at Motion Media Arts Center that incorporates all of the different mediums you have created (film, photography, design, film, virtual reality, UX). Why is it important for you to be eclectic in terms of the different ways you can express yourself as an artist & designer?
I’m deeply interested in so many different disciplines, and I feel the urge to create in all of them. I always need that rush of mastering a new skill, and bringing something unique to life that didn’t exist before in that area. It’s so addictive. I feel that my self-worth is tied to how much I create, how often, and especially how unique it is what I’m creating. The motto for Xchematic is “we’re in the business of creating cool stuff”, so it's basically therapy for me, to be busy and engaged in all areas. It’s my calling, and I feel the most alive when doing it.
After your time in Austin, what plans do you have for your career? Is there anything in the immediate future you're hoping to get a start on creating? What long term plans & goals do you have for yourself?
Short term, I would love to take my FLASH FORWARD exhibit back to my country. That’s going to be fun. Mid term, in Xchematic, we’re investing in disruptive technologies for the next decade, like AI, XR and blockchain, and we have projects in progress in some of those technologies. You’ll have a first-hand look of a couple of those projects this Thursday on FLASH FORWARD. Long term, I have to make a feature film. I know I can create the best full-length film my country has produced.
MEMBER MONDAYS is a weekly interview series highlighting current members & alumni of the Austin School of Film + Austin Cinemaker Space community! Each week, we’ll be featuring one of our incredibly eclectic community members and take a deep dive into their work. Gaining an insight into what makes them, them.