Christopher: So I guess for starters, what was the moment?
Jama: If I tell you you’ll be like, wow, I didn’t expect that. So basically started studying aerospace engineering when I was 18 or something.
Christopher: Aerospace engineering!
Jama: Yeah, like corporate engineer–I think it was kind of a mistake because I was told it was going to be like design editing but it turned out to be like math, physics, and all of that stuff. There was no going back so I had to finish it. So six and a half years spent there, came out in my mid 20s and you know usually in your mid 20s, now people expect that you start…
Christopher: Let me guess…what are you going to do with your life?
Jama: Yeah, now you’re going to start doing real things and … I couldn’t because I really didn’t enjoy it at all. And then I — I realized I had to earn some money but I couldn’t earn it by doing what I was told to be doing. I had a drawing sense in graphic design a little bit so I started working with a graphic designer. It was back in Turkey, and then I saw this concept art and I was like, wow, this is so cool.
Christopher: So, concept art.
Jama: Yeah. It looked so painterly and beautiful. Most of the guys were working for movies and games and I was like, that’s it, I want to do that. I think that was kind of the moment. But I didn’t know how to do it and everybody was like–there was just a few tutorials online of people teaching you how to do it but I was isolated. I couldn’t ask anyone, there was no one around me in Turkey and when I went back to my country as well. So it was all through online that I learned this. And I started picking it up. I remember I would spend just five months saving for a Wacom tablet because I thought that’s it. When that tablet comes in, I’m going to…
Christopher: My life will be changed.
Jama: Yeah, I’m going to destroy those guys and it finally came in and I made a few brush strokes and I realized, shit, it’s not about the Wacom tablet. It’s about knowledge and skills.
Christopher: And lighting.
Jama: Exactly. And back then I also started playing with 3D a little because my painting and drawing skills were not that good, so I would try to kind of balance that with just rendering stuff but still, you could render a few things but if you don’t know the basics of lighting and how to set up materials and all of that stuff, it’s super, super difficult to get something good from the computer, right? So I went back to basics so I had to restudy everything but this time, there was no money or time for university so I started just studying in my spare time. Just every weekend after work, I’d spend another five or six hours watching tutorials, practicing, trying to understand and learn and actually, I think that was a very smart decision because even though I was doing a lot of 2D back then, it still was a big investment into my overall skill set. Understanding of how material works, how light works, how like metallic surface is different from that surface, all of that stuff. So I actually came back to properly using 3D maybe for three or four years ago when I started working professionally as a concept artist.
Christopher: So you were really focused on 2D up until about four years ago and then you started to shift. But you had learned a bit about 3D earlier and you just came back to it…
Jama Jurabaev, Morgan Character Close-Up, Photoshop
Jama: Exactly. I just felt like I’m not in control of what I was doing. Like my modeling skills were good but when it came to lighting and rendering, I always felt like, I didn’t know how to do it. It’s probably because of my lack of understanding of all of these physics behind light and how real world lighting works. So that’s why learning the basics were a massive thing for me. One of the reasons I came back to 3D was–especially in doing concept art for films. The pacing is so quick, you can’t constantly draw everything, it’s impossible. Especially solving the design problems. Say you have to draw this environment, the interior, and then you have to draw every single person. Instead of that, you can just set it up in 3D so you can move your camera and all of that stuff. So 3D has that advantage over 2D. So it’s not like I had to, I just realized I had to pick it up otherwise…
Christopher: You had to get back to it.
Jama: Exactly. And then I started using 3D through Maya but I was always like, shit, this is slow. Especially when it came to rendering. I think that’s the difference in working as a concept artist, like I told you. The turnaround is so quick that I don’t have the luxury to kind of wait for a render for like three or four hours.
Christopher: What did you use when you had Maya as your render engine? Now it’s often Arnold but then, Mental Ray. Yes, so all CPU.
Jama: All CPU, no real time preview. Just press and wait.
Christopher: Now I go to lunch and cross my fingers and see what comes out.
Jama: It’s a completely unproductive way of doing things because you’re not seeing, you’re not in control. So your job is more becoming technical rather than creative. I always try to push towards creative because the less time you wait for rendering, the more time you can spend actually thinking about creative. Design, how it works, and stuff like that. I started looking for better solutions, of how I can actually take those skills that I have, especially in 2D. One of the biggest advantages of 2D and painting is the speed–it’s not simple but it’s faster. You can paint or draw something very quickly.
Christopher: What are your favorite applications that you like to work in?
Jama: Just Photoshop and a tablet. You can do anything you want. But then like I mentioned, there’s another problem. You can draw something but if you want to change an angle, that means you have to redraw everything. If you want to change the scene, you have to redraw again, so that’s a 2D kind of limitation. That’s where 3D picks up, but then 3D without proper materials and without lighting also looks cheap. So it’s all about balancing those two things together and to actually spend more time designing things rather than thinking how it can do that.
Christopher: When you came back to 3D, was there something career wise that happened? In fact, were you already working in a professional capacity as a designer and then you got a new job?
Jama: Well, not exactly. There were maybe three or four years where I was trying to learn as I worked. Various types of jobs, doing websites, business cards and all of that stuff that wasn’t directly related to what I’m doing right now but I had a period which was like my learning period. After that, I had a small agency where I was doing illustrations and stuff like that and a little bit of commercials and then when I started doing commercials, we had to use 3D to make animation and stuff like that. It was all very, very slow. I never thought, I’m going to pick it up professionally. I was told, I’m going to have people who are going to do it for me because I had a good eye and I could say, this is the way it should look. But then there was a period of time where I was invited to MPC which was my first digital effects company and then when I went there I just realized, okay. Now I need to do it myself, there’s no way around it. And then at that time I started using 3D.
Christopher: Was MPC four years ago?
Jama: It was five years ago.
Christopher: Okay, good. And then how long were you at MPC?
Jama: About two years.
Christopher: Okay, great. And then after MPC?
Jama: I went to Framestore.
Christopher: Framestore and…
Jama: Then I joined ILM.
Christopher: What projects did you work on when you were at MPC and Framestore?
Jama: At MPC, I was officially in the commercial department so I did a lot of commercials, Samsung, Audi, a lot of stuff for commercials which was also good because the turnaround was very short. That’s the difference between film and the commercial industry. In advertising, you have like three months to do the whole commercial because it’s only one or two minutes. So it was a great experience and then I also did something for Guardians of the Galaxy and X-Men.
Christopher: Guardians of the Galaxy and X-Men.
Jama: Exactly. And then obviously I went to the Framestore and there I did Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Peter Pan, what else. There are a lot of projects that are still in development which I can’t talk about. Sometimes with movies, it takes three years to do.Some of the projects I was involved years ago are still in development … hopefully next year they will hit the cinemas and I’ll be able to share some stuff.
Christopher: Among MPC, Framestore, ILM,you were doing feature work and commercial work, right?
Jama: That’s true. At Framestore, I was doing films, I didn’t do any commercial but they all had commercial departments as well. So I think it’s only ILM that doesn’t do any commercial work, they just focus on film production.
Jama Jurabaev, Knight, Gravity Sketch, Octane, Photoshop
Christopher: Were any highlights from MPC that you were really proud of or at Framestore?
Jama: Well, I have this kind of personality where I enjoy any type of job. Sometimes it could be quite boring, then it’s a lot to do with your motivation and if you challenge yourself, if you say this time, I’m going to do it faster and better. Whenever you have that motivation, it always brings that enjoyment back into what you’re doing. I think that kind of describes my character, I’m always trying to find the most efficient way of doing something. How can I do it faster, how can I be more creative, spend less time on technical aspects. That’s why at MPC or Framestore, I was really, really motivated in learning new tools, like expanding my tool sets so I could actually produce work more efficiently. In the nutshell, I loved all of them, all of those small commercials like what we did with Samsung, that was really cool.
Christopher: Having a virtual camera, especially–I know this is switching gears before moving into tools more quickly but … there’s render and then there’s final render, and some tools are more for previs purposes and others are for final. So now you’re at ILM, have you moved into a new realm professionally or are your responsibilities different? Are you still a solo artist within a team or do you manage other artists as well?
Jama: I got promoted to art director position just a few months ago so now I’m actually responsible for the project and the team of other people working with me. But I don’t think anything changed in terms of the way things work but I think ILM is like the next step. It’s more professional, and has many talented people there. We had an amazing team at the Framestore but maybe if I could put it that way, ILM is more mature; they have so much experience and it’s just the team I’m working with right now is more mature in terms of their level of expertise. When I came to Framestore, they were still using Mental Ray and Maya and a little bit of Modo which is also a CPU based render. But I wanted something that has a live preview. I have to see what I’m doing, at least a noisy version of it, but I have to see it. So that’s the point when I said I was using Keyshot which was another CPU but really powerful render which had a live preview. And then essentially I convinced them to buy Keyshot.
Christopher: Keyshot for everybody…
Jama: It’s pricey but yeah, it was like a bit of a challenge to convince people. Especially artists, they can be very conservative. They’re used to doing something for ten years and it’s very difficult to switch gears and to move and to accept something new, you know?
Christopher: Yeah, and that’s where something like plugins–I think certainly one thing that’s helped Octane gain acceptance, OctaneRender has a variety of plugins for some of the leading products. Like the Cinema 4D OctaneRender plugin, people love it. So this would be a good place to jump into your tools. Do you have core applications that are your primary tools? Photoshop I’m sure is one of those, but are there other core tools that are really important?
Jama: I do have something that I use at the moment and I think it has a lot of potential. Photoshop is one of them but I always told people, someone needs to come up with a competition. Competition is a very healthy thing because it will drive both programs, it’s just like, iPhone and Samsung. They’re competing with each other, like Apple and Samsung, they’re trying to get the best phone out. I think the same with the Photoshop; if someone came out with a similar, competitive version of that, that would be great for everyone. For example, recently i started using Blender.
Jama: Yeah. It’s amazing, I think it’s the best software ever.
Christopher: Wow. Blender is the best software ever…
Jama: At least for me as a concept artist. It could potentially have a lot of problems with the pipeline and stuff like that so I wouldn’t say it’s the best software for everyone but just for me, the person who needs the 3D as a base which I will be painting over in Photoshop, it’s amazing. And also I love the fact that it’s free and it forces people to write amazing plugins to get some income.
Christopher: I have heard people really like Blender. What do you think are the primary advantages of OctaneRender over Blender, for example?
Jama: Actually there’s an (OctaneRender) plugin for Blender, so you can use OctaneRender inside Blender. But I prefer a standalone version. It is faster and simpler i would say. You can quickly set-up a realistic lighting and use procedural (box mapping) for textures.
Christopher: The procedural mapping ?
Jama: Yeah. It’s super simple and you can actually avoid doing UV and all that stuff, you know.
Christopher: UV? Oh, UV Mapping. Right. So looking for image and lighting and texture integrity, okay, that makes sense. In addition to OctaneRender, are there any other applications you use?
Jama: I also use 3D Coat.
Christopher: 3D Coat. Interesting, first time I’ve heard of it.
Jama: It is a very good sculpting/modeling/texturing app.
Christopher: Great. Are there any other applications that you are using?
Jama: I know a lot of things, a little bit of everything, but I’d say standalone OctaneRender, Blender, 3D Coat and Photoshop are my main ones.
Christopher: What about your hardware? What are you using and how has that progressed–maybe starting back with MPC and now to ILM….
Jama: Well, I think we need to go back a little bit. I actually did a year in computer engineering as well before I swapped to aerospace engineering.
Christopher: So when would this be, roughly?
Jama: Well, when I was 17 I went to uni so it was like a year after that.
Christopher: So what year roughly?
Jama: It was ‘97 to ‘98.
Christopher: Okay good.
Jama: But I didn’t really enjoy it because I just felt like it was too much. I do understand tech a little bit but I can’t say I’m super into it so usually whenever I need tech, I just find bright people to help me with it. I mean, when I was at MPC, because even though we’re creating just stills, for Photoshop, we need a lot of RAM so my only concern would be a lot of RAM. 64 (GB) is good.
Jama: The more the better. Obviously sometimes you get it, sometimes you don’t. And now obviously with Octane and Keyshot I demand more like I said. I need good CPU and also GPU.
Jama Jurabaev, Caveman, Photoshop
Christopher: It would seem like you want to get–obviously with the Titan or the 1080TI which is actually faster than the Titan by a little bit. You lose a gig of RAM but 11 or 12 gigs of RAM gives you a lot of breathing room in terms of what you can actually load in terms of your asset and just work with you so you’re not relying on out of core texture? Is that where you have to allocate some of your assets into system RAM and it just slows down the process basically, it’s an extra step. You’re not using dual Xeons, are you?
Jama: At the time I use dual Xeons.
Christopher: You do, okay. That’s great for ZBrush. I’m sure it’s very good, but not needed for Photoshop or Octane.
Jama: It’s good for Keyshot as well and just any CPU driven calculation, it’s perfect for that. But then at home, I have 2 x GTX 1080s.
Christopher: So you have a single CPU PC at home, and … are you working off servers at ILM or is it all just workstations?
Jama: We do but I have no idea how everything’s working. I told you how at one point, I just decided that I’m not investing too much energy into understanding it. I’d rather find smart people who know everything better than I do and just pay the price.
Christopher: Yes. Do you have a workstation at your desk that’s yours or do you work from a server?
Jama: Kind of both. I have one Linux machine, one Windows machine.
Christopher: Okay. Do you use the Linux for final render?
Jama: I use Windows for everything I do, but occasionally if I need to check something in the pipeline, I switch over to Linux.
Christopher: Okay, yeah. Is there something that you’ve found–do you know what GPUs they’re using in your workstation right now, are they Titans, TitanXs?
Jama: Yes, Titan.
Christopher: I think that’s the most cost effective and powerful card for GPU rendering. But it’s great for Photoshop too, it’s 12 gigs of RAM and a really fast chip as well. So I guess the last part of the interview is really about what you’re trying to accomplish in your work; what is your mission? You talked a little bit about finding new ways, pushing yourself, which is partly efficiency, can I streamline this, but also how can you push yourself to something that you maybe haven’t accomplished before. Can you talk a little bit more about what your goals are like and what you kind of–where you see yourself going?
Jama: Just like you said, I think I find myself–in many occasions in my life, people would say, you’re crazy, you can’t do this, no one has done this. It might sound ambitious but I think you’ve got to be ambitious. I really want to find and build these intuitive tools and ways of doing work because. I think we’re still far away from having super intuitive tools to make all of that easier. Say for example, when we had phones 20 years ago but they were all like, menus and typing.
Jama: And it wasn’t the best way to–and then the iPhone came out and the touch screen and life became so much easier. It opened so many new ways of doing things. The way you would manipulate things. I think the same with rendering? Right now, with the real time preview renders, there are so many opportunities for me as an artist. Now I don’t have to wait. Now the next step would be how we can improve 3D modeling so it’s not as technical as it is right now. And especially with VR coming, I can see that this would be the next step for me. I can see a lot of potential because VR opens new ways of manipulating, drawing, modeling, etc. I`m super excited about all this new technology. Like Otoy is working on the cloud systems and new six degrees of freedom cameras.
Christopher: 6DOF, six degrees of freedom. Yeah, they are working on that. So, let’s see, anything about game engines? Have you started experimenting with game engines?
Jama: I actually did. I started using Unreal last year and then I picked up Unity. It’s the same logic as, for example, why would you wait for something if you can have real time rendering? That’s like the ultimate goal. With Octane, when they announced Brigade, I was like one of those guys that was like, I want that shit, give it to me! Because it’s just so logical. When you can just have everything in real time.
Christopher: Everything in one place. One thing I’ve wanted to ask of an artist too is–maybe I’m wrong about this on some level but aren’t game engines a real threat to compositing apps like Nuke? I mean Nuke has an incredible toolset. I don’t think game engines are anywhere near as sophisticated when it comes to that specific niche but I could see it…do you think that’s an issue or not a conflict there?
Jama: Well that whole compositing thing is not my area. I know on movies, they are trying to implement real time shots.
Christopher: And trailers, several trailers now for some big features have been done in game engines.
Jama: It’s all super impressive and promising. I kept saying this to people; I don’t think it’s technology that’s holding us back right now because technology is out there, it can do things. It’s us that’s keeping it back. We’re very conservative.
Christopher: Wait a minute, you just said something, “artists are very conservative”. We need to highlight that in this interview…it’s counterintuitive.
Jama: I think we’re very conservative. Every tool that comes out, it potentially means you have to learn it, you have to spend additional time. So that’s why people are like, I’ll do it the old way, I’ll do it the way I’m used to doing it and that’s what I think has been keeping the progress back. I wish more people would explore and try new things. It’s exciting, how can you not enjoy the fact that every day there is something new coming out that helps us to be more creative. A simple example is the phone, right? When the iPhone came out, people were laughing, like who is going to buy it, it doesn’t have the real buttons or keys and now…
Christopher: Yeah that’s crazy, we know what happened.
Jama: I was going to say that just with iPhones, the technology was out there; touch screen was out there. But Apple made it user friendly and the rest is a history.
Christopher: I think there’s an artist we’re really close with named Neel Kar who had a way of describing that experience in Octane – and I think the same goes for Redshift – it’s like you’re a virtual cameraman. You really can move around and say now, I want a shot of this. You do not need to screw around with presets and render engine technology to complete your visualization that you’re trying to accomplish.
Jama: Absolutely. It’s just that case when I, as an artist, I know principles and the tool is super simple. I can just plug it in and I can move my camera and once I understand the basic principles, the light composition, the program does the rest for me. So I just move my camera and I see what’s happening, which is pretty priceless.
Christopher: And I want to ask you about Gunwoman. Her shoulders haunched…it’s haunting, a powerful work.
Jama Jurabaev, Gunwoman, Photoshop
Jama: I always try to put some story elements into my paintings. Something that would make you think. To be honest there is no particular story in that painting, but it least it makes you think about what will happen next or happened the moments before this shot. People love stories. That is the reason why we go to cinema. To find out happens next!:)
Christopher: Awesome. On that note, I think that’s a great place to wrap. Priceless! Well, thank you Jama, I appreciate your time, and your incredible contributions to this community and storytelling in general. It was a wonderful interview.
Jama: Thank you.