posted on May 17, 2020

Interview: Jama Jurabaev

Interview: Jama Jurabaev

by Jort van Welbergen

So Jama, let us jump right in. It's such an honor to meet you once again. I remember first seeing you at the Industry Workshops Demo Day in 2016 where you were blowing everyone's mind with, I think, it was Marmoset. You've done quite a couple things since then, what have you been up to recently? How are things?
Wow. 2016 feels like such a long time ago. A lot of things happened since then, actually. I had a chance to work on some awesome projects and finally went freelancing since January of this year.

Going freelance must have been quite a journey.
Right now, I’m working as a freelance concept artist. On the side, I’m doing a lot of VR R&D and launching my teaching platform. Very busy times! 

Oh wow, that sounds amazing! Launching a new teaching platform as well? That must be super exciting for someone who loves teaching as much as you do (and is very good at it). What sort of stuff will you be teaching? Is it gonna be a set class or a more guided mentorship? 
It’s a guided mentorship program. I’ve already launched two pilot terms earlier this year and It has been an amazing experience. Most importantly, I did it the way I wanted to teach it. Where I’ve heavily focused on is constant interaction between me and students. 

Apart from knowing your tools and having certain skills working as a concept artist in films, you need to know how to work with other people and deal with a constant stream of feedback coming your way. You need to know how to solve design problems. That is something I’ve always felt was really challenging to teach offline.
In my pilot 5-week course, students were given a movie project to work on and it was a lot of fun since it made them feel and experience what it’s like working on the real thing. I would teach them how to deal with the feedback, how to present their work, be time-efficient with tasks, etc. Also, we had a discord channel where students would work as a team helping each other and I occasionally would pop in to check their progress. We eventually became friends with some of the students and I met some of them in real life later on. You rarely get this experience these days, but I like it. By the end of these pilot courses, I made a couple of adjustments. It felt like the course was too intense! I mean, I work really hard, but I could see it was a bit too much for students.

So, the next term will be an 8-week course, divided into two 4-week parts:

• 4 weeks of Environment Design for Films

• 4 weeks of Creatures Characters and Props Design for Films

You can either take them separately or take them both in a row. Overall, these courses are not for beginners. They are for people who have the skills but want to level up their problem-solving skills and get a real film project experience.

I think you mentioned you wanted to offer multiple languages as well, is that right?
Yes. So far, I teach it in both Russian and English. It is very challenging I would say because it doubles the amount of work. My students were very surprised when they found out that I actually record both languages separately, not just do different voiceovers. I think that is the right way to do it since there are different conditions and terms for people working from different countries. What works for people in the Western world, doesn’t fully apply to people working in the Eastern world and vice versa. Having the experience of both worlds, I can give students a better direction in their native language.

So, going back to where it all started for you, you grew up in Tadzhikistan, back then still in the USSR. That must have been quite influential; how did you end up doing art?
Oh, that was a long ride (but a fun one). Honestly, I’ve never thought I would end up making art and making a living out of it. It all started when I saw Terminator in the late ’80s. It totally blew my mind, and I was obsessed with drawing robots in my sketchbook for quite a long time. But it never went beyond just being a hobby, and I stopped actively drawing at the age of 16-17. A year before my graduation from university I bumped into some concept art on the internet. That was like a revelation for me. I finally saw artists doing it as a real job. I was in my mid-twenties. It was a tough call, but I started making my first baby steps in concept art. First, I started working as a graphic designer, but I would spend a lot of hours working on my painting and design skills in my spare time. Well, it took some time. I got my first in-house job position exactly six years after I started my first digital painting.

I think it’s always good to remind ourselves that getting anywhere takes a long time and a lot of effort. Do you perhaps have any tips for readers that are still somewhere struggling along the path?
I do have a couple of tips that I try to follow:

  • Be patient. Nothing happens overnight. If you keep consistently doing something you will get somewhere.   
  • Stay focused. Try to focus on one thing at the time. It is so easy these days to get distracted by all the things around us. 
  • Set realistic timeframes. Like study anatomy for an hour, study 3D for two hours. Once you have a timeframe it will help you to stay focused. 

Did your family support you? What do they think of where you are now?
They always supported me. Without them, none of this would be possible. Obviously, a career change is a tough call for everyone involved. My family, including me, had obvious concerns about my choices but they always supported me, and I’m very grateful they did so. Right now, they are so proud of me. My dad tells everyone he knows that I worked on this and that movie! It makes me happy to see them happy! 

Wow, that’s amazing, I am really happy to hear that, having support from loved ones is so crucial. I heard you also graduated as an aerospace engineer, what has led to making the decision to study that? How does that influence the work you do today?
Honestly, I thought aerospace engineering would have more design-related classes, but it turned out to be very math and physics-heavy education. But I don’t regret spending six-and-a-half years of my life studying there. In the end, engineering teaches you how to solve engineering problems. That is actually a big part of being a concept artist. You get to solve so many visual and design problems on a daily basis. So, my engineering background definitely helps with that.

It seems you do quite a lot of different things instead of specializing in just environments or characters and also use a lot of different tools; do you have a single approach or mindset that works for tackling all these things? Or, do you approach each subject matter differently?
I guess that is a great side of being a concept artist/designer. You get a chance to work on so many different projects and tasks. Every project is a challenge. I often find myself scratching my head and thinking, “How the hell on Earth am I supposed to do this?” And then you start looking for a solution using the tools and skills you have at the time. Obviously, time is a factor as well. Sometimes you have to deal with very tight deadlines. That is why I prefer to approach each task differently to finish it on time and be as creative as possible.

I think that is an interesting point because a time limit does mean you need to be creative, but wouldn’t you say good design takes time, as well? Do you tend to use a limited amount of tools or do you try to use different tools each time?
Absolutely. Anything good takes time to make. However, the design isn’t the final product. Sometimes you can design a good spaceship in a day, but it takes a year to make a final-looking asset in the film. For that reason, when I design something, I try to focus on the big ideas mainly and use the tools that will allow me to come up with original ideas. Once I find the ideas, I always keep in mind the fact that my ideas will be visually taken to the next level by all the other talented artists working on the same project.

I remember you said once that you treat feedback as an equation; could you maybe give an example of that?
Just as mentioned above, addressing feedback is all about problem-solving. Let’s say a client asks you to change your composition and have a few variants by tomorrow. The unknown here is how or what tools do I need to use to make it happen on time? Once you answer those questions, it would be much easier and efficient to deal with that feedback. Sometimes there is more than one way to address the feedback.

Do you have any tips on approach perhaps for people that are just starting out? Perhaps a small insight from the teaching platform you are building?
Oh, that is probably the trickiest question of all. :) But I guess the honest answer would be there is no single approach. And that is what makes it so much fun. Any problem could be solved in so many different ways and each of them both technically and creatively could be challenging.

So, let's talk VR. You certainly are a pioneer when it comes to using it past the common rollercoaster experiences. What has led to that? How did you discover this passion? 
I totally think VR or AR is the next step in the evolution of making art. It’s just the next level regarding how you create art and unlocks so many new possibilities that weren’t available to artists before. VR kind of combines everything I like about 2D and 3D approaches. The moment I tried it I knew this was something I was waiting for a long time.

What is holding people back still when it comes to using VR more in a professional manner?
Hmm, tough question if we don’t want to offend anyone! Artists are super conservative, in general. Which I totally understand and respect. Just like with anything new, you will end up having a lot of people who are skeptical about it. It is a very natural phenomenon. But the good news, more and more professionals are picking up VR and once the tech becomes better, better resolution, cheaper and lighter headsets, VR will become a mainstream tool for artists.

What would you like VR to be in the future? Do you see the same future for AR?
I think both VR and AR have a bright future ahead. The only thing is, both of these technologies need people to push them further. Technology doesn’t evolve and move forward just like that. Technology is moved forward by human effort. So, both VR and AR need people, who will unleash the true power of this technology.

Do you have any specific examples of where VR and AR are really powerful tools? I know for instance VR is used a lot in setting up shots and cameras for films like The Jungle Book.
There are a lot of NDA’d projects I know of where artists use VR and AR which I cannot talk about, unfortunately. But hopefully, we will know more about those in a year or two.

Any personal projects you are working on? Any projects you'd like to work on in the future maybe?
Right now, I’m fully focused on my educational projects. I had some really tough times learning everything I know, so it is my pleasure to be able to share this knowledge with people who need it. There are so many things I want to share with the community and it takes a bloody long time to prepare courses and tutorials, but I’m getting there. Project-wise, I have a soft spot for anything James Cameron does. I hope to work on one of his projects one day!

That’s amazing Jama, thanks so much for a brief peek into your brain. To close it all off, if the community has any further questions, where can they find you? 
Thank you, too. It took a while to put this interview together. Thanks for all your patience and effort put into chasing me. 

You can find me on social media:

My courses:

Tutorials and Patreon:



Portrait by Olly Lawson


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