Featured Artist | Jamal Ulbricht

Jamal Ulbricht


Meet Jamal Ulbricht, our new RenderMan Featured Artist. Jamal is a university student who is passionate about music, photography, and CG art … on top of that he’s also a recent winner of the NASA Exploration Art Challenge! Jamal combines his passion for music, design, photography, and illustration to bring a unique artistic perspective to his 3D work. We are excited to have had the opportunity to chat with Jamal, and can't wait to see what he creates next.

Jamal's winning Art Challenge entry "The Collector" 

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I’m a German university student majoring in Media Conception, and I’m currently finishing an internship at Nintendo in Japan. I’m really loving it here, so I’ve decided to stay a couple of more months and help an orchestra as an audio engineer, which is a lot of fun because music is another passion of mine.

What is your creative background? How did you get started in animation?

Along with music, I have a passion for design, photography, and illustration, so doing 3D art really allows me to mix that knowledge into a single place.

I’m very lucky that my family has been very supportive of my creative career, because I grew up in school systems which didn’t really empower creative expression and made it hard to find artistic support. Growing up, it was very typical to hear classic pessimistic arguments for a career in the arts, but that only increased my drive to pursue a creative career path.

Jamal's Illustration work

Inspired by Ghibli films growing up, I really wanted to be a 2D animator at first, but everything changed when I saw Finding Nemo at the cinema as a kid. I was beyond impressed and considered it nothing short of magic. Since that day, I have been determined to be a CG artist.

Finding Nemo was one of Jamal's inspirations as a kid

It’s been a long journey of course! At first, my family didn’t have enough money for a workstation, so I started making stop motion films and drawing animations on paper and then taking pictures frame by frame and using Windows Movie Maker to edit them.

I was able to work on a workstation for the very first time during my university studies, where I started using Blender. It was a rough start … There's just so much to learn in CG!

One of Jamal’s first creations in CG, relit with RenderMan.

What are you up to nowadays and how do you stay creative?

Thanks to my job with the orchestra here in Japan, I am always traveling through this beautiful country. Since I’m always on the move, I needed something portable, so I do everything from my Macbook Pro.

Jamal's photography during his travels keeps him creative

“I’m kind of in love with RenderMan, and in some ways it’s changed my life...I know that sounds a little exaggerated, but the way it approaches rendering has made me appreciate the world in a “physically plausible” way...”

My MacBook allows me to do a large amount of work, such as editing videos, producing music, 3D modeling, shading, and rendering, as well as use Adobe software every day. The laptop has been at the center of all my creative pursuits lately.

What inspired your Art Challenge entry? Tell us about your creative process.

I always play music before getting visually creative, so after about 20 minutes of playing piano, The Collector was born. The Collector looks through the glass with a dream-like gaze, which mimics the musical score I wrote when coming up with the idea. I really envisioned a dreamy, almost surreal image while playing, and I’m happy with the creative path that process took me down.

The Collector - Breakdown

Aesthetically, I’ve always been inspired by anime and manga and I really wanted to bring some of that comic book feel into my art challenge entry, for example by using a dutch angle I tried to give the composition a more dramatic look with a bit of tense movement, and by building a very chaotic background, I wanted to convey that lived-in aesthetic common in Ghibli and Pixar films, where things look messy, but it gives images a lot of character and personality.

How did the AMD Creator Cloud help you with your final vision?

Rendering a 4K image on a laptop can be quite challenging, and although at first I had some technical challenges, I was able to rely on cloud rendering during crucial moments leading up to the art challenge deadline. Ranch Computing’s support was instrumental to getting things up and running smoothly. I’m so glad I reached out, they really helped me render successfully.

“The project would not have been possible without the AMD Creator Cloud...I'm really glad I didn't have to sacrifice my creative vision...”

From a technical perspective, and as a perfectionist, the AMD Creator cloud was not only great for my final frames, but it was really instrumental for dialing in the shading details and especially the lighting. I was able to achieve multiple creative iterations every day, something that’s usually only possible in a studio environment. Generally I have to stop working while I’m rendering, but instead I was able to send work-in-progress renders to the cloud, which allowed me to make better informed choices.

First vs final lighting rig, after many cloud renders

The project would not have been possible without the AMD Creator Cloud. Although my MacBook Pro was able to handle the scene well, it’s still a very complex render, so the images were taking a very long time to converge. I would have had to scale the scene back without the cloud rendering, or I simply would have had to reduce the creative scope in order to account for longer render times on my laptop. Although I was really motivated from the start regardless of resources, I’m really glad I didn’t have to sacrifice my creative vision by sending the renders to the cloud.

How was your experience with RenderMan?

I’m kind of in love with RenderMan, and in some ways it’s changed my life … I know that sounds a little exaggerated, but the way it approaches rendering has made me appreciate the world in a “physically plausible” way, which can be quite a mind bending experience. I no longer look at things in the real world the same way. For example, I have a new appreciation for mundane things when I put them in the context of light transport or shading, which in turn really motivates me to recreate things in CG. This new viewpoint has also affected my aesthetic choices in my photography.

“I’m very happy I found the art challenge”

From a technical perspective, I was really motivated by all the new features in version 24. It was a game changer for me to render very small details thanks to Bump Roughness, or have a huge amount of shading control thanks to MaterialX Lama, especially the improvements with LamaHairChiang, which allowed me to easily render beautiful looking fibers inside the moon canister.

Overall, I’m very happy I found the art challenge, it has allowed me to discover so many new things about CG and it was an amazing way to improve my skills. I’ll definitely be participating again.

How does your cultural background inspire and motivate you?

I am from Germany and as a citizen it's very easy to get access to education, even if your family doesn’t have much money. The German state has sponsored 90% of my life as a student, so my cultural background helped me reach my professional goals.

Besides my German upbringing, I’ve always been very inspired by Japanese media, especially The Legend of Zelda, Hayao Miyazaki movies, Dragonball, and the music from Joe Hisaishi. I owe a lot of creative inspiration to Japanese art and it continues to inspire me every day.

Fan Art of Studio Ghibli's Porco Rosso, by Jamal Ulbricht

Do you have any advice for artists to stay inspired?

There are two things I can entrust to every artist. First, art is everywhere. Get out, empty your mind, and just watch. From a power supply line, to the way snow gives new shape to the world around us, even the dirtiest of walls has a story to tell. Learn to open up and see the world with creativity, in a unique way which represents who you are.

Jamal's photography

The other is listening to classical music. Not only classic European composers such as Beethoven or Mozart. There are so many classical composers around the world, for example, a composer who helped me find inspiration even in the most uninspiring periods of my life was Joe Hisaishi. I consider every score of his a masterpiece. I just need to listen and creativity flows into my mind.

All in all, don’t be afraid to break from what is expected of you, and rediscover yourself time and time again. I was not very good at math when I was a child, but I’ve fallen in love with it through 3D art. Don’t discourage yourself when things are hard, simply find a new way to discover them and appreciate them … suddenly the learning process becomes a much happier place.

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