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Jack Usephot: ‘Don’t create from memory alone’

Brazilian graphic designer Jack Usephot talks us through mastering the art of composites and photo manipulation and his thoughts on Affinity Photo for iPad.
‘Lone Rider’ created by Jack in Affinity Photo for iPad.
Let’s start it simple. Describe your job in 3 words

Visual, creative and challenging.

Tell us more about yourself. How did you get to where you are today? Are you entirely self-taught?

I have always had a love for digital art. For many years it was just a hobby, something I would love to do professionally—I couldn’t though, I was just terrible at that point. In the past, I had no idea how I could do it better, or even if there was a market for it.

By mid-2014 I met a guy who was the first digital artist I’d known, Hugo Ceneviva. By my insistence, he started to mentor me—giving me tips and directions about what I should study if I really wanted to succeed as an artist.

“Pure hard work and dedication, hours and hours, days and nights by myself, working so hard to improve.”

I didn’t have classes, just direction. I think that’s enough when you really want to achieve something, so I made it. Pure hard work and dedication, hours and hours, days and nights by myself, working so hard to improve. I’m still not satisfied though, I still keep pushing myself further.

Where did your passion for matte painting/digital retouching originate from?

I don’t have an exact answer for that. What I do remember is that at some point, when I started to study digital retouching, I made a kind of mood board by putting together all the images and styles I love the most. So by doing that I figured out what I should learn first, as there are a lot of styles and kinds of art to create within the digital world. I’m still not finished learning that first technique by the way!

What qualities do you think are required to be a success in your field today?

When it comes to the technical qualities, certainly it’s important to have photography and editing skills. However I would say that the most important thing to be a success is persistence, because every day you’re being tested. You’re going to face difficulties you have no idea how to solve, you’re going to get tasks you think you’re not able to accomplish and many times you’re going to fail. That’s when you’re going to evolve if you have persistence. Of course, you also need to have the basics; ethics, commitment and honesty.

You’ve started your own online masterclass platform, tell us how this started?

From the audience my work gained me on the internet, a lot of people from Brazil started asking me for tips and art tutorials. That’s when I thought having an online masterclass would be a good way to help people by sharing my art knowledge with a professional approach, and also make some money.

What advice would you give someone starting out in the industry?

If I could give any advice, it would be, be good! Don’t think about the money, don’t focus on the praises, just focus on being as good as you can, and to expand on that point, do it every day. This is a job like any other, and in order to master it, you will have to put in a lot of effort. In practical terms, software skills are important however, don’t forget about the other disciplines like composite photography skills and so on.

Do you have a top tip for matte painting?

The top tip I could give is—use references to create your work, don’t create from memory alone. For example if you want to create something like an underwater theme, use reference material—you need to be sure how light works underwater, or how bubbles look in the ocean and so on. Use photographs to give a realistic look to the image or look at illustrated concept designs to bring in an unrealistic style— however, always use references.

“use references to create your work, don’t create from memory alone”

Where do you start when planning a new concept piece?

Well, I usually get inspired by TV shows, the landscape I see when traveling or when I’m on my way to the office. Rio has a lot of beautiful and inspiring landscapes. But most of the time I’m inspired by colours and concept art that I see on the internet. They inspire me to make a beautiful image to transmit a message, a feeling or just the beauty in itself.

What does the process of your work involve? How long does it take you for the average piece?

My creative process starts with planning. To start, I look for appealing assets to create a concept. I make sure I get 70% or so of the assets needed to make it possible because I don’t want to start to create something I won’t be able to get finished. It’s only after I finalise the concept that I can see whether the idea I had in mind also works in the software.

The production stage then involves compositing tests, followed by cutting the images and blocking them, blending textures with layer masks and not forgetting light and colour corrections too. At this point I can see whether all assets are working together and if I need to replace any. Finally, I apply an overall grading. Sometimes due to having a dirty asset I have to introduce a cleaning up process, which is usually where my retouching techniques come into play.

Do you have any particular visions for projects you’d like to work on in the future?

Oh boy! There are so many! Most of them are landscapes, medieval themes and so on. I just have to find time to get them done and to actually live as well!

How do you see the industry evolving over the next decade?

Well personally, I think video is the new black. As social media continues to grow and evolve, interactions start to be more and more dynamic. Animation, VFX and composite skills will be needed more than ever before.

“As social media continues to grow and evolve, interactions start to be more and more dynamic”

It doesn’t mean still images will no longer be useful, I think that one thing doesn’t take-over from another but that things just come together. Sometimes to be used together, sometimes to become another entity, we just have to be prepared and always be curious.

So, when you get some downtime from your busy schedule how do you choose to spend your day?

To be totally honest I’m addicted to my work, please don’t judge as I simply love what I do, that’s why it’s my hobby too. However, don’t get me wrong, I like to enjoy life out of the office too.

Rio has a lot of beautiful places to go, beaches and restaurants near the sea. In summer here it’s hard to keep your concentration inside the office, knowing that there are so many things to do. I usually go to the gym twice a week and sometimes I go riding too, to compensate for those long arduous hours sitting on the chair working as though there’s no tomorrow.

What piece is your favourite to date?

I think I’m going to answer with the cliché, the current one is always the best.

What’s your ultimate goal?

Well, right now my goal is to finish all my classes so I can dedicate some time to live and study abroad for a while.

Tell us something interesting that we wouldn’t know about you

I live on an island and go to work by boat. Really, the island is in the continent, in a big lake, it’s an island though, I think that’s often what inspires me to create something.

“I live on an island and go to work by boat”

Do you have a motto you live by?

I don’t know if it’s a motto but it suits me pretty well and helps me to get out of the studio sometimes and enjoy life. It’s ‘work hard, party hard’—day to day life isn’t like that at all… but it is kind of.

What did you think about Affinity Photo for iPad?

Affinity Photo for iPad was such a great surprise, I think the app is amazing and will take it’s place easily in an artists workflow. Before it launched there wasn’t any software like this on the market—working with high performance and offering such powerful tools on this platform. I have no doubt why it’s a success.

We love your ‘Lone Rider’ piece you created in Affinity Photo for iPad, talk us through the concept process for this piece. Where did you get the vision from?

The piece is filled with movement, the idea was to create a western landscape full of dynamic movement but beautiful too, and nothing is better than a sunset to bring that look. The low light of the sunset combined with a dramatic sky is certainly powerful to bring this dramatic feel to the whole scene.

For more details of Jack’s work and his classes please visit his website.