This week we had the pleasure of speaking with illustrator and designer Jono Yuen who is one of the most talented and all-around nice guys I’ve interviewed. He has contributed to huge projects but also stops to smell the roses and illustrates Pharrell’s crazy hat and Mauricio “Shogun” Rua (I am a big UFC nut!). I asked him about this creative process, fatherhood, and his love for Asian films, and more! Read below for the full Q&A…
I’ve worked at design agencies before so I know how strenuous is can be coming up with concepts and executing ideas. As someone who handles Creative Direction / Concept / Design / Animation, what is the secret to handling so many roles effectively?
I don’t think there’s any real secret, it all comes from experience and continually learning. Probably the best thing you can do is to learn from the people around you. Being observant and wanting to better yourself is important. I’m lucky to have worked with a lot of talented people, and I’ve really learnt a lot from the guys that have come before me just by working with them.
Besides from that, working on solo projects has helped me personally. In that situation you do everything yourself, so after years of seeing projects from start to finish you end up developing skills in a lot of different areas. When it comes to bigger projects in my professional work however, often I work with a team and I get to concentrate on only one or two of those roles at a time. Mostly I work at a top level to establish a creative direction and work with the team to see it through. So sure, I handle different roles but it’s not so often that it’s all those roles at once.
Looking through your illustration work it looks like not just one person has executed them. You seem to have a looser drawing style in some pieces and a tighter, more expansive color palette in others. Could you tell us a bit about your creative process?
Sure, firstly I guess the reason for that is because I enjoy exploring different styles and techniques. There’s so much to learn and each style teaches you different things. Also I think because of my design background, I tend to think that some styles are better suited than others in achieving certain things. So my goal is really to create a style of my own that can vary slightly from project to project, and use techniques from other styles to best bring to life what I’m trying to achieve.
In terms of process, I always try to plan out what I want to achieve at the very beginning. I’ve learnt that I get the best results this way. From there I’m still experimenting with different methods but I’ve recently learnt the benefits of sketching digitally, so I’m excited to try that on my next project. The idea of using different layers while sketching and being able to skew, flip and transform elements of a sketch really turns my idea of sketching on it’s head. I’ve tried jumping straight in and skipping the sketching phase but I feel like it’s jumping the gun. You could spend hours rendering before realizing your composition sucks. So working all those things out from the beginning is vital to make sure you’ve got a skeleton that holds all the meat in place.
Do you think fatherhood and/or entering your 30’s will change your creative way of thinking? Do you think it will affect your work positively?
I think both fatherhood and entering your 30’s makes you appreciate time a lot more. I don’t know if it’s related but I’ve just recently felt an urge to really start sharpening my style. I think previously I was very free and open to widening my range but now I’m very interested in being more focused and tightening things up. Perhaps, I feel more an ease with what I do now and finally have what I need to put into practice all that I’ve learnt up to this point. So I’d say it’s a positive thing, I feel like I have more direction and confidence than I ever had.
I’ve ALWAYS been fascinated with Graphical User Interfaces in fictional films. The first that really blew my mind was Minority Report when Tom Cruise was navigating the holographic computer interface. How in the world do people come up with the designs and functionality of these designs? Can you offer any insight from your personal experiences or encounters?
Well for Minority Report from what I understand, Spielberg had organised an ‘idea summit’ in which visionaries and futurists were invited to help imagine the world described by Philip K. Dick, who wrote the short story. Amongst them were scientists, MIT alumni, a researcher from DARPA, a pioneer of virtual reality, and also a bunch of designers who would draw all the things they discussed. So everything from transportation, food, advertising and GUIs were thought out in detail.
The best fictional user interfaces go beyond mere eye candy, and are well thought out and backed by research. You have to consider what technologies are around at the time, who’s using it, for what purpose, does it read well to the audience, is it believable, does it help drive the plot and so on. Spike Jonze’s Her is a good example of this. I think the most successful GUI in films are ones that feel believable, and in order to achieve that you have to know what’s possible.
I am a big fan of your Jeanswest iPad app. The crazy thing about it, is the initial interface can be used not just for jeans, but for any product essentially; cars, dogs, hats, etc. Was this model already established and you just had to fill in the gaps or was it created from the ground up?
Thanks, that was a fun one! The app actually had a lot of unique requirements so it was built entirely from the ground up. Working out the technical challenges was actually one of the funnest parts of the project. But we had a lot of them. One major issue was that the iPad couldn’t handle the processing power required to zoom so many hi-res photos, so it just kept crashing. The work around was to split the images into tiles to alleviate the strain, but manually that would take a person over 200 hours of mind numbing work, so we ended up building some more custom software to automate it.
What are some of your favorite Asian films or Anime?
What a fun question, I grew up watching Asian films with my grandparents when my brother and I were kids, so this is really bringing back some good memories! I loved all the kung fu movies like Once upon a time in China, Iron monkey, and all the Jet Li, Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee films. God of gamblers was great too, silly films like Future Cops, and any movie starring Stephen Chow. As an adult, I absolutely love films like Musa. It is simply incredible, one of my favourite films. In terms of anime, I grew up loving shows like Dragonball Z, Dr.Slump and Mazinger Z. In terms of anime films, I am definitely a Yoshiaki Kawajiri fan. Ninja scroll is the best, Wicked City and Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust are also amazing!
What did your very first site look like? Is it still online?
No kidding, the intro had an awesome animation of a horseman that exploded into a winged sabertooth tiger [laughs]! At least I thought it was awesome back then. Looking back now, I really just used the site a vehicle to showcase my animation skills. How funny to think websites had intros back then, that’s how old it was. Unfortunately, no it’s no longer online. What a shame!
Why has your interest in motion graphics waned?
I still love it but I just decided one day that I was done investing so much time into it. The nature of motion graphics is that it demands so much of your time. Honestly, I was fed up with constantly waiting for things to render. I will always have a soft spot for it, and I still really love seeing things animated properly, but it’s not for me. I’m sure I’ll still play around with it in the future, hopefully by then things will render instantly
What challenges did you face attempting 3D sculpting for the first time?
My biggest challenge was wrapping my head around Zbrush’s notoriously unfamiliar interface. I’ve had to learn so many new programs before like most of the Adobe suite, 3ds Max, Cinema4D, Maya, but none of them were as alien to me as Zbrush. Once I got started though, it was a lot of fun. It’s amazing what people can accomplish with it.
On a wider scope, what challenges do you face as a human being, tackling something new for the first time or perhaps forcing yourself to learn a new technique?
It’s always daunting doing things for the first time, but most of the time you realise it’s never as hard as you expected. The newest things I’ve had to deal with was buying my first home and having my first baby, both of which were extremely challenging, but now that the dust has settled it doesn’t seem as bad. I imagine it would be easier the next time, and that’s just the nature of new experiences, I guess.
What are you working on in 2014? Anything you could showcase for us?
Illustration will be a big focus for me this year, it’s where I started out and I feel like I’ve been on this long journey exploring other things and now I’ve come full circle back to my roots. I’m also planning to share more of my sketches and work in progress on places like Facebook, which I haven’t really done before.
Lastly, any advice for a struggling creative fresh out of college looking to land their first gig? How should they prepare?
I’ve realised now how important it is to spend time figuring out what it is that you really love doing. It’s not the end of the world if you don’t but if you discover that early you’ll be happier for it. Then spend time working at becoming good at it. If your work is good, it’s not hard to get it in front of the right people especially these days with what we have available like social media and basically anything at your fingertips. Most importantly though, be prepared to work hard, everyone has to earn their stripes. All the successful artists I know have been the people who have worked the hardest. Good luck to all the up and coming artists out there!
Stay up to date on all of Jono’s work by following his cookie crumb trail below: