Visualdon Discusses His Roots and Quitting His 9-to-5 for Digital Art
Don Mupasi is a U.K.-based 3D visual artist and photographer from Zimbabwe who has amassed a large following over 400,000-strong for creating striking retro sci-fi 3D animations and NFTs under the alias Visualdon. The self-taught creator also makes tutorials and 3D assets for other designers, which he offers for sale on his website Motion Squared, and additionally teaches thousands of students programs like his tool-of-choice Cinema 4D — including his introductory animation class, a staff pick on the digital learning platform Skillshare. On July 15, Mupasi will release his first drop with Crypto.com NFT — a collection of surreal animations and loops titled “Adventures in Space.”
Before he found independent success as an artist, however, Mupasi was an uninterested high school student with declining grades who taught himself 3D animation through YouTube tutorials — before landing a motion designer position at the Manchester United football club, which he held for almost three years, followed by a brief stint as a 3D animator at a popular European e-commerce website. Eventually, an uninspired Mupasi decided he’d had enough nine-to-five drudgery for a lifetime and left his desk behind for the creative freedom and flexibility of being a full-time artist and entrepreneur.
“From very early on, I instinctively felt I couldn’t rely on any one thing — [so] I developed a handful of creative and financial outlets. That has turned out to be very useful and has afforded a lot of freedom in my creative work and life.”
Hailing from the rural Zimbabwean settlement of Chatsworth in the country’s Masvingo Province, which Mupasi uncharacteristically shared on his otherwise mostly art-focused Visualdon Instagram page during a trip home, he credits his adaptability and entrepreneurial spirit to his experience as an immigrant. A year following the tragic passing of both his mother and father, which respectively occurred only two years apart in 2003 and 2005, a then 12-year-old Mupasi was adopted by his aunt and uncle in the U.K. — the latter having emigrated from Zimbabwe in the 1970s, seeking refuge from conscription in the Rhodesian Bush War.
Raised as their own in Stoke-on-Trent, England, a city near Manchester where his uncle eventually settled by way of Scotland, Mupasi was exposed to opportunities he may not have been afforded otherwise — and aims to share his success with the people of Chatsworth through charitable donations to clean water, renewable energy, health and education projects in the area.
Crypto.com NFT spoke with the enterprising animator about how he first discovered his talent for motion design, leaving the corporate world to fulfill his creative dreams and how his background has affected his experience in the NFT community, as well as some of the themes in his art.
Preview the collection and read the interview below, and visit the “Adventures in Space” drop page for more information.
How did you get into 3D animation?
It was during high school, when my friends and I were working on a video project. We wanted some 3D text titles on the video, so I looked around to see what program I could do this in — and that’s when I discovered Cinema 4D. After the project was finished, I kept playing around in Cinema 4D to see what else I could do and make. It turns out there was a lot, and as I got better with the software, the more I enjoyed using it — which made me want to learn even more.
Early on, I mainly did motion graphics design in Cinema 4D. In that field, I got my first professional work and employment. It wasn’t until later, when I became a freelance artist, that I switched to the style I do now: more creative concept and environment animation and design.
What are some of the inspirations for your art?
One way of answering this is by asking a slightly different question: “Where do my ideas come from?” — and the answer is many places. [An idea] could come from something I’ve seen or read, or maybe some music I’ve listened to. One of my friends is a composer, and when he sends me some of the new songs he has written, that sometimes sparks an idea. Of course, some ideas do just pop into my mind — but that kind of pure, original inspiration is quite rare. Part of the fun is not knowing where the next idea will come from.
You’ve done some corporate work; can you speak about this experience and why you decided to quit?
The first reason I quit was that I wanted a chance to work on more creative projects. Corporate work was interesting at times, but my role was usually more technical since it was based on designs and briefs by someone else.
The second and bigger reason was that I realized the nine-to-five thing wasn’t for me, and this was confirmed even more after I became a freelancer. I find it easier and more natural to work when I want, and rest and relax when I need to. If I’m in a good flow, I can work for several hours — often more than nine-to-five hours — and when I get tired or hit a creative wall, I can stop anytime to recharge. Whether that’s day to day or over long periods, I find it’s a much more natural rhythm for me — and I’m a lot happier and more productive doing that.
How did you support yourself after quitting your nine-to-five?
I run a blog and YouTube channel called Motion Squared, where I make tutorials, and I made and sold 3D assets that other 3D artists could buy and use in their own projects. I had done this on the side while I was doing the nine-to-five, so it provided extra income.
However, on its own, Motion Squared was not enough to support me — and shortly after quitting my job, I had a hard time paying my bills and maxed out all of my credit cards — but with the extra free time, I worked very hard and after a while Motion Squared got properly off the ground and became sustainable; I could finally support myself and make a living from that alone. This allowed me to pursue more creative projects, which I posted to my Instagram as Visualdon, leading to what I do today.
How were you introduced to NFTs?
One of my followers mentioned them to me back in November 2020. Still, I didn’t make anything until March 2021, after another artist suggested I give it a shot.
What made you want to create them?
The appeal was the novelty of it all and finding collectors who would buy my work. Working only on personal projects with a chance to sell them to collectors, and often for substantial amounts of money, is a dream for any artist. For artists, making money can be a very sensitive topic. Still, the reality is that it’s tough to monetize creativity. NFTs provided a new way to do this. I wanted to make the most of a good opportunity, and I think many artists are in the same boat.
“Working only on personal projects with a chance to sell them to collectors, and often for substantial amounts of money, is a dream for any artist… Still, the reality is that it’s tough to monetize creativity.”
I understand that you’ve offered a lot of your previous animations for free as downloads on your website.
That was simply a way of getting my work to be seen and hopefully enjoyed by more people. Then, later, I had the idea to set up donations and use the money for charity.
Can you share a little about where that money goes?
The money goes to clean water and energy projects in my home community in Zimbabwe. For example, this year, we will fund the drilling and installation of a clean water borehole at my old primary school. Another potential project will be installing solar panels at a different school, and also building a small computer lab. Beyond that, there is a general need for similar projects related to water, energy, health and education. My uncle is a chairman and founding member of a charity called H.E.L.P. International. We are running the various projects through that [organization]. The projects I am involved in will be [in] Chatsworth, but the charity has projects in other African countries — and Asia too.
You don’t usually post a lot of personal information on your social media; why did you decide to share the story of your upbringing in Zimbabwe?
I just wanted to tell my story. I thought it would help anyone who follows me understand me a little better and, by extension, understand my work and art better.
What kind of reaction did you receive?
It was overwhelmingly positive. Many people found it interesting or surprising, and some said it was inspiring.
If you don’t mind, could you please share any details about what led your uncle and eventually you to the U.K.?
My uncle came to the U.K. during the ’70s, when there was a civil war in Zimbabwe and young men were being forced to join the army. During that time, Zimbabwe was under British rule, so the British government offered refuge to young men like my uncle. He eventually found himself on a plane that landed him in Scotland. He was then given a scholarship to study and, after he finished, he gained citizenship — and has been here since.
How I ended up in the U.K. is also a long story, but the short of it is that my mother passed away in 2003 and my father in 2005. I had other relatives who would have looked after me, but my uncle and aunt in the U.K. decided to take me in and adopted me in 2006. They became my new father and mother when they brought me into their family and gave me a completely different life than I would have, had I stayed in Zimbabwe. Life back home is tough, and is often just about surviving. Even if you work hard, opportunities are very few due to the political and economic climate in that part of the world.
“Being from parts of the world where it’s generally hard to make a living, NFTs have also been an incredible financial opportunity.”
Do you find that people have any assumptions when they see your work and then learn about your background or vice versa?
I don’t know really, and I wouldn’t want to guess. I can only go on what people have directly said to me in comments or messages on my pages. The majority of people who follow me just appreciate my art, regardless of whether they know about my background or not, and I think that’s great.
Have you connected with any others who share similar backgrounds in the NFT space?
Yes, I know a few artists like me in the NFT space — and others I don’t know personally, but follow their work on Twitter or Instagram. For them, being from parts of the world where it’s generally hard to make a living, NFTs have also been an incredible financial opportunity.
Has your background affected your experience as a motion designer and digital artist in the NFT community?
From the outside, not so much — since people naturally get to see my work before they ever find out my personal background.
But internally, I think my experience has given me a perspective that emphasizes adaptability. I’m always trying to learn new things and improve my skills so that I can always be in a position where I can take advantage of new opportunities as they come, or deal with unexpected problems. Applying this to my work is the reason why, from very early on, I instinctively felt I couldn’t rely on any one thing — [so] I developed a handful of creative and financial outlets. That has turned out to be very useful and has afforded a lot of freedom in my creative work and life.
“My experience has given me a perspective that emphasizes adaptability. I’m always trying to learn new things and improve my skills so that I can always be in a position where I can take advantage of new opportunities as they come, or deal with unexpected problems.”
Have your roots ever been a source of inspiration in your art?
Generally, yes. Going back to what I said earlier, I try to draw inspiration from as many places as possible. My personal experiences are another source for that, though maybe I haven’t put too many specific elements of my background into my work yet. But I do think about it a lot and plan to have a little more of it in my work moving forward.
I’ve noticed some spiritual undertones in your work; can you speak to your spirituality and how it influences your art?
This is a hard one to put into words — but, in a general sense, I think the best kind of art is [work] that magnifies the beauty of everyday life. This is what I try to do with my own art. Visually, I try to convey this through scenes and compositions with a lot of color and exaggerated elements — like large suns, moons, hills, mountains, lush forests, etc. I place and move my characters in those scenes to convey certain feelings and meaning from those moments. I’m also a Christian, so there are some elements of that in my work. I’ve explored a few ideas of creation, light and darkness, and used some religious symbols.
I’ve also noticed a recurring theme of figures or vehicles moving forward through space, away from the observer’s point of view.
Maybe this is a bit cliché, but I’m fascinated by the ideas of going on long journeys, exploring and constant movement. It’s why a lot of my visuals have those figures walking or driving somewhere, and it’s also why a lot of the visuals are seamless loop videos.
On some visuals, though, the significance is more technical. If you have a subject like a person or a vehicle, it’s something to focus on — and it also helps to emphasize the scale of a scene.
What is the significance of space in your art? What does it represent to you?
To me, space represents endless possibilities and discoveries — but, as beautiful as it is, there is also a certain coldness to space. This is why an equal amount of my visuals are of scenes and compositions that are much warmer, grounded and closer to home. But talking about space again, though, I’m a bit of a NASA history buff — and that has sparked some ideas for several visuals I’ve done.
“To me, space represents endless possibilities and discoveries.”
Can you share any details about your work as a photographer? Did your photography share any themes with your digital art?
I mainly did portraits, but tried to use lights and shapes in interesting ways. One of the things I did was use projection as a light source, opening up exciting ways to shoot. These days I just shoot for fun once in a while, mainly landscapes and portraits of friends.
What are your future plans as an artist and educator?
I want to work on larger productions. I’ve had help from friends and other collaborators on all my best projects, so the idea is to expand on that — and set up a small team and studio. As far as teaching goes, I just want to continue coming up with creative and fun ideas that are also good for teaching the software to newcomers and my existing students.
Visit the “Adventures in Space” drop page.