Amber Gibson: Welcome to Inside ACMI X: a series where we discuss TV, film, videogames, virtual, augmented, and mixed reality, with the people currently making it in Australia. Each episode will feature a resident that works at ACMI X: ACMI's screen-focused coworking space housing 72 practitioners. I'm Amber Gibson, the Community Coordinator. During this episode, we are talking to Marc-O-Matic about non-fungible tokens or NFTs; collectible, digital art and assets that are sold and experienced almost entirely online, but can also be connected to real-world physical items. Marc-O-Matic is an Australian multidisciplinary artist, auteur, animator and technologist, who creates immersive art and storytelling experiences across augmented reality and virtual reality. Marc-O's been diving into CryptoArt and NFTs for over a year now and has currently sold over 27 artworks earning just over $1 million across some of CryptoArt world's most notable marketplaces and metaverse spaces, including SuperRare, MakersPlace, Decentraland, 1stDibs and many others. Welcome, Marc-O.
Marc-O-Matic: Thanks for having me. It's great to be here.
AG: For listeners who haven't experienced your work, are you able to describe your multimedia art form?
M-o-M: Sure. Essentially, I combine traditional art practices with new and emerging tech to create interactive and immersive storytelling experiences. So my background as a traditional self-taught illustrator has branched out across animation, game development, interactive media, augmented reality and virtual reality. Over the last five years, I've been tapping into augmented reality storytelling by transforming flat artworks into experiential pieces that come alive in front of audiences. And I've worked a lot with various tech companies, city councils, and various organizations to realise their stories through augmented reality, often transforming very heavy subject matter into engaging content that audiences can actually jump into and explore.
AG: You mentioned you're a self-taught artist. How long has it taken you to develop your style?
M-o-M: Oh my gosh (laughs). I think like any artist I've been drawing since I can remember. I started teaching myself flash animation 10 years ago, 10 years plus, and this is a time when YouTube wasn't even a thing. So combining illustration with animation and then later game development, and then eventually moving into AR and VR, it's all just quite experimental. I'm still learning new tips and techniques and tricks here and there. And that's kind of been I guess my work ethic, not to just confine yourself to one particular skill set, but to diversify. With that sort of ideology, you can take a simple concept into something much more immersive and expansive.
AG: Yeah, awesome. And for those people who aren't familiar with virtual and augmented reality, can you explain what they are?
M-o-M: The two fall under one umbrella, extended reality, which is XR, and AR and VR sit under it. AR is superimposing content into our reality, so overlaying objects on top of our reality, either to reinforce the subject matter or to explain what the object is. So that's primarily through iPads, tablets or even AR eyewear. VR is escaping from our reality. You're transported into a reality created by the developer. You're donning this headset and you're jumping into this virtual environment.
AG: You've gone from illustration to animation, to game development, and then you've moved into the AR and VR space. When did you start really catching onto the metaverse and NFTs and think, "I'm going to really give this a go, I'm going to try and learn how to market myself on these spaces?"
M-o-M: To be honest, I actually came across NFTs in early-2020 when the pandemic hit. A lot of my projects had fallen through. I started looking into other potential ways to monetise and profit from my creations. By chance I discovered CryptoArt, that's what it was called back then. I looked into the space, and at the time, I didn't know how big some of these platforms were. I applied to (two) CryptoArt markets called SuperRare and MakersPlace. Those are two of probably the largest CryptoArt marketplaces and probably the most reputable, so they're highly curated spaces.
I submitted my work, I got accepted, and then I started minting my own digital animations and artwork. The very first artwork I sold, I woke up at 3:00 AM in the morning and someone had put in a bid for about 11 Ethereum, which back then was about $3,000 U.S. And that just blew my mind. That was like, "Holy shit. Someone's just bidding for my digital work, what is happening?" That became the first stream of income from the NFT space. I guess ever since I've been releasing all kinds of NFT artworks, and yeah, it's kind of been my primary source of income.
AG: I heard you say the word 'minting' just before. I'm wondering if you're up for giving our audience a quick definition of what minting actually means.
M-o-M: The term 'minting' comes from the traditional process of making a new coin; stamping metal to create a new coin. I guess that term itself carries across to the blockchain to create new blocks of data for the blockchain. So in the instance of NFTs, when you say you're minting an NFT, you're essentially creating an NFT and you're setting up the parameters about what utilities are stored within that NFT as well.
AG: For anyone who hasn't explored this space yet, are you able to go a bit further back and describe the term 'NFT'?
M-o-M: NFT stands for non-fungible token. NFTs are essentially unique blocks of data or information that are stored on a digital ledger called the blockchain. They are immutable so they cannot be tampered with or interfered with, the information recorded cannot be changed. NFTs are unique in that they're non-fungible. An example of what a fungible item is would be a traditional world currency. For example, an Australian dollar is a fungible item. So one dollar equals one dollar. You can trade each dollar and they will always equal the same thing. The same as cryptocurrency; one Bitcoin will always equal one Bitcoin. With entities, I guess the best example that people use is the Mona Lisa artwork. Historically, and through records, everybody knows that there's only one Mona Lisa in existence, created by one person and owned by one particular institution. So there can never be two Mona Lisas. Each block has to be different in its own respective way. Blockchain works in a similar kind of fashion. It reinforces that level of ownership and authenticity. For example, if a collector purchases one of my NFTs, it's an artwork but it's also a certificate of authenticity. So whatever happens to that piece in future, it will be recorded. It will show who it's been purchased by, who it's being resold to, at what price, who owns it now and so on and so forth. It's forever recorded on the blockchain and it can't be tampered with. That's just another revolutionary thing about NFT. You can't do that in the traditional art world. If you have a great curator you're working with that's fantastic, but if not, then you'll never see what happens to that piece in the years to come and you might be missing out on 100s if not 1000s of dollars in royalties that were owed to you.
AG: You've earned over $1 million from your art so far - congratulations. How did you know how to approach your artwork and has that changed?
M-o-M: To be honest, I left it to the collectors and the community to determine my value at first. When I first started in the crypto art market, I actually had no idea what my work was valued at. I've sold works in the traditional art space before. The most that I've sold my pieces for in the traditional art market has probably been (between) $1,100 to $1,500 for large-scale augmented reality prints. In the NFT art world it's different because, firstly, there's just so much more money involved in the space. There's so much more investment in the space. When I started selling I didn't set a price on my work. With these marketplaces, you can just leave them (the artworks) with no price and collectors can essentially place a bid on the piece. When I sold my first artwork, it (bidding) started from 0.1 Ethereum to one Ethereum. It grew to three to seven and then I think the largest bid I received was 11 Ethereum, (equivalent) back then to around $3,000. I think that now the price 10 Ethereum is roughly $55,000.
I honestly left it to collectors to see whether they would continue the bidding war. With a lot of my pieces, I don't really set a price or a reserve price on them. I just leave it (the piece) there, see if collectors place a bid and accept (what I determine to be) the most acceptable bid. The value of my NFTs and how much they've been selling for over the course of the last 12 months has increased. The first work I sold for about $3,000 while the last work that I sold was for about $26,000 on 1stDibs, which is a New York marketplace. I'm really grateful for the collectors who have stayed with me and supported me. I mean, some collectors don't even hold the work. Sometimes they do it (purchase pieces) as an investment. For example, one work I sold last year for about $9,000 and it's been re-listed on the market for double that price as the owner is looking to sell it for double that amount. It's just interesting to see that value growth.
AG: When you talk about collectors buying your NFT with the cryptocurrency Ethereum, when do you convert Ethereum into Australian dollars?
M-o-M: It's important to note that cryptocurrency is highly volatile so prices can fluctuate quite frequently, more so than the stock exchange. When I'm making a transaction (such as) converting (cryptocurrency) to cash, (the exchange rate) might change by a couple of dollars depending on how busy the market is on that day. If I want to convert my Ethereum, I send it from my digital wallet to a recognised cryptocurrency exchange. For Australia, we have CoinSpot. Once I've received that Ethereum into CoinSpot, I can then sell off that Ethereum and convert it into Australian dollars. This is connected to my bank account where I can withdraw the funds from.
AG: Does that mean that the value of that sale can fluctuate if you don't convert one of the cryptocurrencies, Ethereum for example, to Australian dollars directly after someone buys your NFT?
M-o-M: Absolutely. For example, I sold one work a few weeks ago for about $10,000. The withdrawal included a $200 fluctuation. So upon selling that cryptocurrency I received about $9,800. It's important to note that depending on the day and depending on the events that are happening around the world, (the value of) Ethereum can fluctuate quite significantly.
AG: In terms of selling your art, you mentioned that when you first started you randomly picked SuperRare and MakersPlace. How do you get onto them? Did you have to get an invite to upload your work? Are the marketplaces different?
M-o-M: Last year when I joined, the NFT space was quite small. It was a time before it all exploded. There are various NFT marketplaces, some are curated and others are not. SuperRare and MakersPlace are curated marketplaces. So I was really lucky to show them my work and eventually, I got accepted. I guess I was lucky to stumble upon those as being the most popular and I've sort of stuck with them to this day because they just offered the best service and they've actually shown support for the artists. They actually onboard them and get them involved in various group shows and exhibitions. There are NFT marketplaces such as OpenSea and Rarible which are not curated at all. This means that anyone with a digital wallet can essentially sign up and start minting and creating their own NFT artwork. With that, they're not curated. So with such a saturation of artists now jumping on board, it can be a bit tricky to get noticed and that's where a lot of the legwork in social media comes in handy.
AG: Do the platforms take a commission?
M-o-M: Yeah, they do. Again, it depends on the marketplace you're on. SuperRare and MakersPlace both take about 15% commission while other places like OpenSea and Rarible take about 2.5%. Another thing to consider is royalties. What's really cool about NFTs and the CryptoArt world is that most marketplaces have automated royalties. For example, if I sell my work for $5,000 USD and the buyer sells it off to another person, I essentially get 10% automated royalties from that secondary sale. Despite SuperRare and MakersPlace having curators, and they do have a curated platform, all transactions are automated. They (artists) don't have to worry about whether or not their royalties have come in. It will automatically come through once a work has sold, which again gives more power back to the creator.
AG: There's a solid paper trail there. You spoke about this idea of IP and being able to gain royalties off that IP that you own. What are those business considerations that you have to consider on these platforms?
M-o-M: It's kind of weird because when it comes to IP; the collector doesn't own the IP, they just own the certificate of the artwork. So they own the artwork but they don't own the rights to distribute or mass produce it in any kind of way. I essentially own the IP and the rights to show that artwork wherever I want. In a way, this goes against the traditional art world where I guess it's frowned upon to share (a singular) artwork in multiple spaces. If you share them, NFTs become more popular, which creates a level of notoriety when you see them across the entire internet. This builds up that value and scarcity at the same time because in essence, the blockchain determines who actually owns that work but you can still share that work and make it blow up on the internet.
AG: Can we blow it out even further and talk a bit about how NFTs connect to the metaverse?
M-o-M: In essence, the metaverse is really an evolution of the way in which we engage with each other now through social media. We're at this crossroad where we are using Web 2.0 technology which includes text, sharing information and communicating through videos and audio. It's all very visual. The metaverse is really a Web 3.0 technology, which comprises of blockchain technology and experiential technology like virtual reality and augmented reality. With these combined, it allows us to evolve from our screens to actually being able to pop on a headset and engage with each other in a much more experiential, physical and immersive way. It's a vast digital universe of interconnected worlds and spaces. Users like ourselves can embody our own personal avatars where we can actually engage, perform activity and do all kinds of things that break beyond the 2D flat screen that we're used to. It's really an interesting time right now as large corporations and organisations are trying to create the ultimate metaverse; the ultimate social experience. NFTs are like the items and objects that populate the universe. NFT can be anything from an artwork, to a piece of virtual real estate, to an actual building or even to an entire virtual world.
AG: Do you have any tips you can share with artists who are considering making NFT art?
M-o-M: Yeah, for sure. (I can share) some articles to look up, to understand the NFT space on a more technical level. I think it's really important to understand how it works. There's a really great article I recommend to newcomers called the NFT Bible. It basically gives you a whole rundown and breakdown of what NFTs are, how to create your wallet and the processes of minting your work. Another thing as well, if you're starting off, is I think that it's important to consider the environmental issues that are circling around NFTs. I know that's been a very controversial area for the NFT space because of the energy consumption around the blockchain, but it's also important to note that not all blockchains are the same and not everyone mints or creates NFTs on the same blockchain.
Ethereum is considered to use a significant amount of energy. It is transitioning to a cleaner system that uses much less energy. There are other blockchains out there that use completely different systems that use significantly fewer amounts of energy than Ethereum. Some of these platforms are Tezos, Solana and, I think, Cardano. Those are the new types of platforms that are more environmentally friendly. There's a platform called Hic et Nunc which is a platform that runs on the Tezos blockchain, so it uses much less energy to mint and run transactions on that.
AG: Thanks so much for joining us, Marc-O-Matic.
M-o-M: No worries. If anyone has any questions, don't hesitate to reach out. I'm happy to help out anyone who's interested in the space as well.
AG: Thanks for joining us on Inside ACMI X. For anyone interested in checking out Marc-O-Matic's work or reading those resources like the NFT Bible, the links are in the show notes and we're continuing each discussion around each topic on Twitter at @acmiXstudio.