Ep.159: How to make it as a foreign artist in Japan with Mateusz Urbanowicz

By Iva Mikles •  Updated: Jul 09, 2018 •  Interviews

Hey, guys! In this episode, I am chatting with Mateusz Urbanowicz, a full-time freelance background artist, illustrator, animation director, and creator. Among other projects at Comix Wave Films studio in Tokyo, he also worked on the movie “Your name”.

Get in touch with Mateusz

Key Takeaways

“Make your projects with your whole heart. Do the best you can and you will learn a lot in the process and people will appreciate your hard work!”

Resources mentioned

💡 Please note: We are supported by our readers. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn a commission at no extra cost to you. Thank you! For more info, please read our disclosure.

Special thanks to Mateusz for joining me today. See you next time!

All artworks by Mateusz Urbanowicz, used with permission

This episode is sponsored by

Episode Transcript

Announcer  

Creative, artistic, happy! That’s you. There are endless possibilities for living a creative life. So let’s inspire each other. Art Side of Life interviews with Iva.

Iva Mikles  

Hello everyone, Iva here and welcome to the next episode of Art Side of Life where I chat with inspiring artists and create variety or related videos. Before we introduce our guest and go to the interview, let’s thank our sponsors. If you’re looking for a top quality print shop and online store to sell your art prints then you should definitely check out imprint imprint has been helping artists print and sell gallery quality prints of their work all over the world for over a decade. Go to artsideoflife.com/inprint and use promo code artside to get 10% discount. Have you heard of arts Nick’s arts exists subscription books have unique high quality art supplies. Every month you discover new art products, limited edition tools, exclusive supplies and useful techniques. Go to art artsideoflife.com/art snakes and use promo code artside10 to get 10% discount. If you are a digital artist, you will love our stupid app which turns your iPad Pro into a virus graphics tablet for your Mac. So you can use all the programs like Photoshop right on your iPad, go to artsideoflife.com/astropad and use promo code artside to get 10% discount. And now let’s go back to the interview. My guest today is matters Urbana and in this episode we will also talk about how to make it as a foreign artist in Japan, and why background art is as important as character design materials is a full time freelance background artist illustrator, animation director and creator originally from Poland now living and working in Japan. He studied electronic engineering until he found out that he can make living by making art. So he finished computer graphics degree and thanks to a scholarship from Japanese government. He went to study at Korea University in Japan, where he graduated with honors with a short animated movie right places. For four years he has worked with comic wave films animation studio in Tokyo, working on many projects from which the most known is movie your name. And now please welcome matters. And let’s get to the interview. So welcome everyone to the next episode of Art Side of Life. And I’m super happy to have Mateusz here. Hi.

Mateusz Urbanowicz  

Hi. I always I always begin my videos with Hi, welcome to my next video. But I guess I’m not going to say this

Iva Mikles  

is also your next video. So that’s good. But let’s talk about you. So because this is all about you and your experiences, so maybe we can start with your background. And you can tell us a bit more when you decided okay, I want to do art because I guess you studied something else, right?

Mateusz Urbanowicz  

I always did art but I did not think about it as art. It was just my hobby that I was doing in between like coding because I did it. I did programming and all kinds of stuff like this. But I always like kept scribbling something and painting just as a hobby. So I didn’t like think, okay, I want to be an illustrator. Because in Poland, it was kind of impossible at that time to become a person that can support himself with with art. So I was like, Okay, I’ll just do like go to some kind of a programming job or do some kind of like engineering job, but I didn’t think I will be able to become an artist. So that was kind of from where I started.

Iva Mikles  

Yeah. And what changed the your mind or was there some mentor or maybe some of your friends they told you like, oh, actually, you can do this, or you can go study to the school.

Mateusz Urbanowicz  

It was actually really just a chance. I was really lucky. Because we went with two friends to an exhibition of the Wacom tablets of the tablet to use for painting and drawing. And I wanted one so we just went there. And the guys who were showing the tablet were like, Oh, well you’re just setting those. So here are the computers just test them as you as you want. So I just sat there and started to paint and draw and I was explaining to my friend, okay, you do this and you do that. And when there’s like a finished painting, and when I looked back there was like 20 people looking at what I was doing. And the guys that were like selling the tablet were like huh, we can use these guys So they, they asked me to go with them to various shows like, like a big shows of like electronics and all kinds of stuff to show how to actually use those tablets to people. And I was like, Okay, so with this skill, with my skill, I can actually work and do some work. So maybe I should just look for a place where I can use those skills. But yeah, that was kind of difficult, important.

Iva Mikles  

And how was it for you to learn about like to use maybe the tablets or digital media? Or did you use it on something else before at home or at school,

Mateusz Urbanowicz  

I started to paint on my computer, just with a mouse, I use that free software to do like a web manga kind of thing. So I would, I would draw it with just a pen on paper, and then scan it and just color it on the computer. But doing it with the mouse was really a pain. So I wanted to buy a tablet, but they were really expensive. So I had like a cheap one. We have a different brand. But when I heard about, okay, let’s test the vacuum, once event, I wanted to go there and test the real thing. So I always knew that I can do it digitally. And it was kind of easier to get nice quality things done than like by hand. I didn’t have like the tools I have now like good watercolors and good paper and all kinds of stuff. So for me, it’s like digital painting was a way to make nice things cheap. I use free software only and stuff like this. So yeah.

Iva Mikles  

And when you start using the digital software, the free ones, do you have recommendations for people who are just starting out for the free software’s?

Mateusz Urbanowicz  

I used, I used software that was called GIMP or Gimp, I think. But there are more applications right now. I think the one one you can use, I heard a lot about Krita, which I didn’t try so much by myself, because now I’m using Photoshop, because this is like the standard we use in the industry right now. So I have to use it also. But yeah, now I’m doing my own work, I find myself going like a little bit in different directions. So I use a lot of iPad Pro with procreate to do my art right now. So it’s just, you know, how whatever kind of fits your bill and the tool set that you want to use?

Iva Mikles  

Yeah, so we will talk about the motor as well about the process. I think we’d later but let’s go back maybe to the school you chose back in Poland? And how was it for you also learning Japanese and deciding to go and move to Japan,

Mateusz Urbanowicz  

I actually, again, going to the school that had a little bit of a tie up with Japan because it was made with the help of Japanese government to kind of allow people to study it again, computer science. So this was the only like university in Poland that had something that was similar to computer graphics, that was more kind of directed into learning how to program and do codecs and do like image compression and all kinds of of those in it kind of view of computer graphics. There were some things about like design and typography and those kinds of basics but no painting and no digital painting. Just you know it things. So because I didn’t want to go to four full art college, I went there and I was studying by myself doing a comic by myself. And while I was studying in the university, I did a comic by myself. So yeah. And actually the school was like, tied up with Japan, but we didn’t have any like Japanese language studies or any Japan culture studies or anything like this. This was just a government of Japan gave a little bit of one month money probably to make the school but yeah, there was no tie up or anything.

Iva Mikles  

Yeah, because I told you learn Japanese before you move.

Mateusz Urbanowicz  

No, no, I learned the Japanese when I came to Japan. We kind of a shock way to do it. But yeah, I didn’t know any Japanese. I didn’t know English. And this is why I was able to actually come to Japan. But I didn’t know no Japanese actually.

Iva Mikles  

Yeah. And so when you came to Japan, did you already have a work or it was only studies at the big Getting.

Mateusz Urbanowicz  

When I finished my university in Poland, which was, which was the undergraduate course, I wanted to go to work actually. But I could not find anything in Poland that was kind of satisfying for me creatively, because they wanted people to that can do like basic design things, print things, but no illustration jobs. So I started to look in various places what to do with myself. So when I heard that there is like a scholarship, to go to Japan to study, whatever you want, actually, there were only like eight places for the whole Poland. That year, I was like, Okay, I’m going to submit my papers, I had good grades in university, maybe I’ll be able to go. And actually, I was able to go, I was chosen for this program. And I was able to go to Japan for three years to study the subject I chose, and I chose like manga, and animation. So I was able to go there and study the things that I wanted to do in the future. So of course, the first step, of course, the first step was to just learn Japanese because I didn’t know Japanese, but the thing that I knew how to speak English decently allowed me to participate in this program. So I was really, really lucky,

Iva Mikles  

actually. And for the, when they sponsored your studies, did they help me also to find like accommodation and these kinds of things, I had to do it by yourself or

Mateusz Urbanowicz  

the program was was for students. So I had like a student dorm that I could start with. And I had, I was a research student first. So I had like a year to research whatever I wanted. But if I wanted, I could move up to graduate studies. So that’s what I did. I did the exams, and I entered the masters course. But yeah, they helped me a lot, actually, there was like, how do you call it NPO. So there were helper students from the university, that Japanese students that helped us to get accommodated, get a cell phone with a bank account that is needed to get a cell phone to get internet and this kind of strange things. And it’s really difficult if you cannot read anything. And can you speak Japanese, because there’s no one in Japan, almost no one in Japan speaks English. So that was really difficult. But we got we got some help. And it kind of kind of made a cushion. So I was not like, just thrown in. And there were also some friends I had here in Japan, because before going to Japan, I searched for any people that went before me. So I had some Polish people that were actually studying in the same city. So I had kind of contact with them. And they helped me a lot to

Iva Mikles  

is there also some kind of like groups of artists, you know, maybe Facebook groups or something you can recommend for someone to research if they want to go there.

Mateusz Urbanowicz  

I know about a group of French animators that work in the anime industry that made a website and a group here in Tokyo in Japan, actually. But yeah, there are some programs that you can look for. And you can contact the Embassy of Japan in your country, and they will tell you what programs are there available for you. So yeah, I was in the program eight years ago. So probably things changed. So it would be better to just turn to the people that know the best. So the embassy and just search on the internet. And that’s the easiest way. That’s how I found about about this.

Iva Mikles  

That’s really good. And how was it for you to find your first job after school or just getting really into the industry, the studio life in Japan.

Mateusz Urbanowicz  

That is that is another kind of lucky chance for me because I was for my graduation project. I was doing a short animation that was called right places. And at that time, I was doing most of the things I did digitally. So I was looking for good animation done digitally that I can kind of learn from so I did a lot of learning and this kind of reverse engineering from Makoto Shinkai is work so all his movies, and when I learned that he’s actually coming to our university to do a lecture. I was like, okay, I have some animation done for my project. And if I make a trailer from this thing that I have already done, and just give it to him like a DVD or Blu ray Disc, maybe he’ll he’ll see it and comment on it or whatever. So I made a trailer of my work. I actually finished it like five minutes before the lecture, and I was in the lecture hall hole, making a cover from it with my scissors. So I was like, in the front row, I was like, what this guy’s doing. He’s like cutting out something. And I was like making a cover for a DVD jacket. And when he finished the lecture, and he was talking about his, like, creative process and stuff, I was like, if I can speak to him, and my professor arranged just a short like meeting, because Oh, heck, okay, this is a student that wants to do animation, just he has a trailer. So and actually, the producer of Makoto Shinkai, and he himself watched the DVD, like, behind the stage right there. And they were like, hey, just do you want to come to Tokyo? Like, wow. So I was able to get a job with my work. So I actually was able to show my work to the producers at the studio and get a job with my work. And let’s say it’s what it was a portfolio because this was my current work that I was doing. So yeah, I was really lucky at this point, also, but

Iva Mikles  

yeah, yeah, but you were prepared, you knew to take a chance, and then show it to them. Right. So that’s, that’s kind of you did extra work. So

Mateusz Urbanowicz  

I think it’s really important to have something to show to have a finished product that you can show not some sketches or paintings, but think that you would like to do to like to participate with, participate on. So if I want to do a movie, you can do a trailer, or you can do a short movie, if you want to do a comic, you can do just a comic, just a short one with good quality. And then when the chance comes, and there is like a publisher that wants to publish your book, you’re not. I have some sketches. But you know, okay, I have this and this and this. So I think this is really important for getting a job, not only their first job, but a job. And also, being ready is really important, I think, yeah,

Iva Mikles  

definitely. Because also, what would you suggest someone who is just starting out? And they’re maybe not sure if they want to be in comics or making movies? Or would they should they prepare more types of portfolios or more products? So if you meet someone doing comics, and you want to show them the comic, and maybe you have something like that, so you don’t, you’re not scattered around.

Mateusz Urbanowicz  

I can only speak for myself, because when I came to the to Japan, I was like, okay, doing animation is really hard, and requires a lot of people and a whole studio. So I will start from making comics, because you can do it from by yourself. And I started to do some comics, but my professor told me, You know what, your comics are okay. But they look like animation. So try to do some animation. And I started to do a storyboard and a trailer for an animation that I wanted to do just as a test. And I think that making a project with your whole heart, so putting everything you have into your work is really important. So either if you are doing a comic, just do the best comic you can, you can do, just aim high. And if in at some point, you’re like, Okay, I cannot do this. Just, you know, try to do it. Even though you see the like the hugeness of the project and how impossible it is to make just you know, you’re starting at this, it will be not perfect, but if you do it the best you can, someone will appreciate it, I think. And if you do do it the best you can also you learn a lot in the process. So I think this is also important. I mean, making something just for the portfolio to show to people and kind of strips it from the passion that you have for your work. So I think making a project that you’re passionate about and you want to do this, just make it the best you can and show it to people. I think that the passion you have will kind of trend relates to what you’re doing.

Iva Mikles  

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Mateusz Urbanowicz  

I think I felt like an artist that knows everything already and is the best and no one around knows anything. And I’m just like the God that came into the studio and I will show everything what I have. And I was wrong. Of course. Now that I look at it, I mean I had some skill that I developed doing my animations and my comics and learning everything by myself that was the problem. I was I was not working with anyone before that. So that was the problem with my kind of approach. I had to learn a lot about working in a group about adjusting my style to other people so I could make a part of the team. I was learning a lot every day from other other people that were at this kind of job for years and they were the real professionals and it kind of taught me to be more kind of humble and just listen to other people and what they have to say about the reasons why they do stuff like this and not the other way. So that was kind of how do you say I got a strong kick in the first like year but this the thing that kept me going was like I was kind of sure that I can learn and I was sure that I if I put everything I have into this kind of stuff I can do what they are doing if I try and try and try and learn and learn and it took me about three years probably to get to this level that I could participate in their projects on the same kind of quality but when you it was a steep like wall when I kind of that I hit When I first arrived at the studio, yeah, but

Iva Mikles  

when you were working in the studio, you were working all digitally or traditionally or kind of combination.

Mateusz Urbanowicz  

99% Digital, actually. And this was what I was expecting, because I knew that the works of Makoto Shinkai in the studio, the comics were films that makes his movies is digital. That’s why I was kind of aiming for the style I felt at home in Photoshop. I felt I felt at home making backgrounds using Photoshop. So I kind of knew what I was getting into. Not really, but I thought I knew. But yeah, that was also kind of a shock.

Iva Mikles  

Yeah, because basically now for anyone listening as well, that it’s good if they know where they want to work, then to research their style. And yeah, what again, kind of try to do the style by themselves, see how they would fit.

Mateusz Urbanowicz  

Probably, if I was going to go, I don’t know, for studio jewelry or place like this, that does everything by hand, I would have to paint my backgrounds all by hand and learn the technique a year in advance. But I was trying to get into this kind of digital painting. So I was learning the digital painting, and I was trying to make my my portfolio my graduation work digitally and match the style of the studio, I would like to get into the best I could. So this is kind of the approach that should be taken, I think. But yeah, on the other hand, you should kind of not close yourself into this narrow category, or I’m doing only digital and only like this and only this style, because this kind of makes you narrow. And so some studios, some some places will not be happy with you if you can do only one thing.

Iva Mikles  

And how is your art process. Now if you can tell us a bit more about that. Like, you also sometimes go from digital to traditional, right. And if you can take us through some of your biggest steps.

Mateusz Urbanowicz  

I started to do watercolor painting. Again, when I was still in the studio, maybe that was this kind of reaction to making everything digitally, I was kind of sick of Photoshop of making things on my computer. So I started painting again. And I felt kind of refreshed, I felt that my creative process is taking a lot from this making things by hand again. So I started painting watercolors in my free time and those projects kind of kind of developed into bigger things and bigger things and illustration studios and watercolor painted comics and all kinds of things. And in the end I got a little bit of attention in the internet doing things by hand and not digitally. And I think that I kind of mixed the process a lot I do a lot of prayer preliminary work digitally. I do sketches in procreate I do sketches in Photoshop I do sketches by hand and then color them in procreate and test the colors in procreate but also do stuff like finished work in procreate also in Photoshop also. But I think that most of my hand painted work got a lot of traction. So I just wanted to continue with this. But yeah, I tend to mix a lot. Go from digital to analog to digital, if I’m not sure about the colors, I test them digitally if I want to I want to do a sketch for something difficult. I do it digitally. But if I want to paint an expressive painting, I do it by hand. So I kind of go back and forth between those two things. And I feel kind of at home in both categories, I think

Iva Mikles  

yeah. Because now also for the your your full time freelance now. Right? Yes, yeah. So you kind of combined both of these techniques on your own project as well. And yeah, so how do you combine all your maybe the income streams or what do you kind of live from what is the main thing? Is it a client work or is it selling prints or if you can mention

Mateusz Urbanowicz  

i i quit the animation studio to be able to do my own work. So my own art and to be able to share it with with as many people as I can. The problem with the animation studio I had there were two things. One was that I could not do my own art, which was not allowed even If I did it like, in my free time, I could not sell it. So I could not do a book, I could not do an album, I could not do a book cover, even if such a commission comes to me. And the second thing is that it’s kind of frustrating for me doing a movie, for example, that has, like one year in production, I can not show anything to anyone. I’m kind of used to this kind of short attention spans my, my attention span is not really long. So I feel best in kind of short projects that I can focus on and do just my work, and then show it to people and then do something different and show it again. So that was my purpose. And this is what I am trying to do right now I’m trying to do as much of my own eyes as I can. So I’m really grateful to my Patreon supporters that support me, I have also some web stores that I sell prints or my videos in, which helped me get like, my rent paid and pay for my tools and my expenses. But also, I take commissions, if I think that the project that the Commission’s commission is, is interesting, and if I can make it my own art, and if I can show it to people, which is really important for me, not only the finished piece, like oh, here’s a book cover I did but also make a video out of it, and make a story out of it make a how I made it video, and kind of make it into my own art project in a way. So these are the Commission’s I accept from time to time, which also kind of make a second tier of my work. And there’s the book that I did, for example, which is also luckily selling pretty okay. It is on the Amazon, like bestseller list for a month, I think. So this is also one thing that is supporting me right now. And maybe will also connect to like future books or albums or whatever. So I’m trying to be like, in various places at once.

Iva Mikles  

Yeah, exactly. So you have you have Patreon, as you said, and you have the book selling then yeah, so sell art prints, right?

Mateusz Urbanowicz  

Yes, I have, I have Patreon, I have Gumroad with my like, digital content, I have my ticket shop where I sell like prints and also original paintings from time to time. I have the book and I have the Commission’s so I tried to like have my fingers in a lot of phases.

Iva Mikles  

Yeah, definitely. Because if something one of the streams doesn’t work, then you can rely on the other ones. And there is always like, yes.

Mateusz Urbanowicz  

And it also kind of gives me this. How do you call it kind of buffer. So if the the commission that I was that I received is like, Oh, I don’t really want to do this, because this is just a commercial work that would give me money, but not kind of the good to anyone like artistically, I can say, Let’s maybe not do it and choose this other thing that I’m kind of excited to do. And it’s kind of shiny, and I want to start to paint it. So I’m really grateful for my for the support I’m getting from my followers and my Patreon supporters and that they share my work and they buy a printer too. Which really helps.

Iva Mikles  

Yeah, because it’s super, like beautiful. Oh, no. So your artwork that was like, Oh, that’s amazing. So yeah, really great. And how was your transition? You know, from the studio live to freelance when you decided to do it on your own? Like, did you save up money? And then how was it maybe also like, setting up a freelance in Japan? Is it like a lot of upcycles

Mateusz Urbanowicz  

it is actually really difficult because the most difficult obstacle that you have is the visa. So when I was working in the animation studio as a full time employee of the studio, that’s why I had the visa that I could use to stay in Japan. So I could not just go okay, I want to be a freelancer. Yay. So there are a few circumstances that came together and that I could switch to the Freelancer style of life because I got married in Japan. So I go to the house, husband visa, so I can just stay in Japan and do whatever work I want. And also while I was working In the studio, I was doing the watercolor paintings, which gave me a little bit of following on the internet. So I was like, okay, I can maybe start a store, or I can maybe start start a Patreon when I get out of the company. So I had this kind of following a little bit already. And also, I had an offer from a publisher that wanted to do an album of my works, which is the Tokyo storefront book that came out like two months ago, I think. So I had some already, like perspectives that I was able to follow later, while I still worked at the studio. And also, of course, I was the part of the criminal nasaw, your name, movie stuff, which was like a box office hit in Japan. So that also allowed the company to pay us a little bit more, so I could save some money to become the freelance Freelancer I wanted. So a lot of circumstances came together that allowed me to kind of switch to this kind of lifestyle. And the whole switch was not so difficult. There were some like, documents, I had to submit and change the visa and all kinds of stuff. But I already had so many things I wanted to do that I was too busy to think about anything actually. It is kind of scary. Especially while living in another country, you are not at home, there is no like safety net that you can use if something goes wrong. But that’s also kind of exciting. A little bit.

Iva Mikles  

Now for a year, right, the freelance?

Mateusz Urbanowicz  

Yes, yes, yes, I think it’s a year. But I was really lucky that I was able to get kind of big projects this year, because I was directing short animation movie, which I was not expecting when I was going to do the freelance thing. I was expecting doing my own work only. And when I was first, like asked to do this animation thing, I was like, I don’t know, again, animation. Do I want to do this. But the guys from the animation, the guys that wanted me to do the animation, were like, Okay, we will give you almost complete creative freedom to do this. We want your style, we want you we don’t want like your name, backgrounds. We want your art style, we want you to do the watercolors for this animation, and we want your ideas. Not the thing that you did in the animation studio before. So I was like, Okay, this is this kind of commission, this kind of project that I want to participate in as a freelancer. So I was really lucky to get this job also. That’s

Iva Mikles  

great. Yeah. Because as you mentioned, like going the different clients coming through, is it mostly through Instagram, or from YouTube? Or from previous connections you had in a town? Or how do you find new clients,

Mateusz Urbanowicz  

I don’t really know where they are coming from most of them. See my work in the internet, I think, like Behance, also, and Instagram and YouTube also. And also like through connections, like they are looking for someone that is capable of doing this and this and this. And I’m like in the narrow group that can do animation backgrounds, hand painted watercolor style, or something that is similar to this and this. So I have this kind of narrow, let’s say niche that I I feel comfortable in. So if they are looking for someone that can do, for example, a watercolor cover for a book that has traditional Japanese buildings in it and looks like something like this. I am like the top result in Google, I think so. I think it’s also important to find your kind of special sauce that you can be found when someone looks for this kind of taste.

Iva Mikles  

Yeah, definitely. And when you’re specializing like backgrounds and traditional art, there’s something you can give us as a tip, which you always do and we probably should know and maybe we don’t know yet.

Mateusz Urbanowicz  

I think with backgrounds, it’s important to think that it’s not only a background, so it’s not only like think that you think after painting and Knowing the characters, but the thing that actually differentiates a good example movie from just a normal movie, it’s that you remember this kind of one cut that you love in this movie. And you can see it with you. In your mind, when you think about this movie, for example, I don’t know, if I was asked about Steven Spielberg’s movie, I can see this cut, and it kind of pops up in my brain. So the background is really important to kind of make this kind of sin work. So to make these kinds of feelings to this kind of atmosphere, to kind of translate the theme that you want to paint into an image. So the background is almost or the same important level importance level as the characters, I think. So I think a lot of artists realize it kind of late, because they focused, especially in school or whatever, when they are learning on characters on people. But okay, so I have to do some background also here. And this approach was weird for me, because I started doing like buildings and drawing things. And then later I was like, Okay, I have to do some people also. So this kind of balance, I think, is really important. And thinking about the scene that the piece that you want to do holistically, so the whole thing is background plus characters, or characters plus background, not anything, the balance has to be there.

Iva Mikles  

Yeah. So you’re supporting as well, the mood maybe of the characters if, like, say it character, meaning some rain or something. Yeah.

Mateusz Urbanowicz  

I mean, if you are, if you look, for example, at Studio Ghibli movies, and see how the backgrounds work with the feelings of the main character, it always is in perfect synchronization with the with the feelings of the character. For example, I don’t know in how those flying Castle, I think, is the English title. When Sophie goes out to the hills, there’s nowhere nothing there. And it’s like, really, really atmospheric and the rain starts pouring and pouring. And there’s like the wind. And you can see the city from where she is kind of escaping. And she’s all alone. And the wind is like blowing her around, and she’s cold, and probably kind of hungry. So this is the setting that you want to show and the background is the only tool that you have to do this, but also the music, for example. But in case of illustration, or comics, there’s the background that you can use the you’re really important too, I think,

Iva Mikles  

yeah. And working also with the colors for the background, as you said right to support the mood, like the saturation or the saturation of the colors and these kinds of things, right.

Mateusz Urbanowicz  

And the distance for example, distance of things, do keep everything in focus, or just the character and the character surroundings and you make blurred everything else. Or you blur the character and just just show the background, for example. There’s there’s a lot of techniques that you can use to make the background kind of speak for you.

Iva Mikles  

Yeah, have you had like a favorite project or favorite background you ever worked on?

Mateusz Urbanowicz  

There are some things that are kind of, I don’t know, favorite,

Iva Mikles  

let’s say that’s memorable.

Mateusz Urbanowicz  

For example, when I was still learning how to paint backgrounds digitally, and I was using the books that the studio of Makoto Shinkai published, I was painting all kinds of things. And there was like this painting of a shop like a convenience store. And there was the inside of the shop and it was painted really meticulously with all the things inside like, oh, geez, this every detail is there. And you can almost it looks like photorealistic Lee. And I was like, Oh, this the guy or whatever, whoever painted this. The artist is so professional. And this is so beautiful. And actually when I was doing the backgrounds for your name, I was painting the same store because it was based on the same kind of story that they had like the photos that they took in the location hunting, so I got the same photos and I was painting the same store and was like, Oh, yes, I’m painting the same storage at my from outside but in the same place. So it was really kind of interesting and lucky for me that was I was able to paint the same things that I learned from. So yeah, this was the one of the most interesting things. backgrounds.

Iva Mikles  

Yeah. And when you paint locations, do you have a reference pictures, or you go to location to sketch there.

Mateusz Urbanowicz  

For me, for my own project, most of my illustrations are done. From the photos I took on my walks. And from my location hunting, I sometimes just go intentionally, to a place to take a lot of photos and to explore it. And sometimes I just go for a walk. And oh, this is interesting. And like two months later, I’m looking for a photo of a car. And okay, I have this guy in a photo that I took, when I was doing animation backgrounds. In the animation studio, we had a lot of photos that the staff took while location hunting with the director in a location that was going to be the inspiration for the backgrounds for the movie. So even though I did not go there, personally, we had a lot of reference photos from which we could work. But sometimes, of course, I have to work just from my imagination, because there is no place like this, or you cannot take a photo of such a thing. So I sometimes use like, like different photos to make an amalgam of a place that I’m looking for. Because I’m going for like, quite realistic style. So I have to have the details of places that I cannot go to. And also the text, for example, it’s really difficult to do a realistic poster, for example. So I have to have some examples of a poster. Okay. The standard poster that is, in such places looks like this kind of so I’ll do something similar maybe. So I do use a lot of photographic reference. But most of the times, it’s just inspiration.

Iva Mikles  

Yeah, kind of put some storytelling from the posters in your background. So they’re like a lot of details. And when you are working in the studio, how was your time limited? Or how was your maybe scheduling of the project? Like, did you have a day for a painting? Or did you work on many things during one day,

Mateusz Urbanowicz  

I was only a background stuff. So I was only painting backgrounds. So I had a scene or a location that was kind of my part in the project. So for example, okay, so you do do the railway station in Shinjuku. And all the scenes in the animation that have this location were mine. So this, so it was easier later to match the styles. So one artist does this and it looks kind of more consistent. And ideally, in the animation studio that I was working at, because this was a cinema movie. So it was kind of high quality. We had like ideally one day per background. But of course, there are some difficult backgrounds that have like a cityscape, whatever that takes like three, four days to finish. But you have also backgrounds that have only sky or some trees, that takes like half a day or a few hours to finish. And so on average, I think I am not so fast in painting. So I think about two days per painting was what I was doing. But I was I didn’t have a kind of quota of paintings that I had to do. But that was the overall old line for the movie, of course. So we had to kind of schedule the things and then see where the work and deadline curves meet. And is it still okay or are we in a really bad shape? So in the end, we were working like in the weekends and then all all weekend everything. But yeah, we had to meet the deadline. So yeah,

Iva Mikles  

yeah, that happens sometimes. And now, your process on YouTube, right? You post a lot of videos on YouTube, how you also do traditional and digital, and maybe can you share your maybe dream scenario in five to 10 years maybe what are your projects you would like to work on in the future and maybe two is the last thing like what would be the thing you would like to be remembered for in like really long time.

Mateusz Urbanowicz  

I would really like to work for a long time I think so. I would like to do a lot have projects kind of bigger things, I think so like animations or books or comics that would be like bigger, bigger projects not only like an illustration or two, but kind of thing that conveys a story I would try to convey. And to show more stories in my work. Even if I’m doing just an illustration series, I always try to, like show a story in my illustrations in my comics. So I would like to try to show some more some, a little bit more bigger story. So longer animation, longer comics, something more storytelling, I think, I don’t have like a one path that I would like to follow, oh, I have to be an animation director, I want to do an animated movie, for example, that would be really nice to be able to do it. And if I have a chance, and I if I have a good idea that I think would work good in this kind of media. I think I would do that. But I am not like so focused on one direction. If I think I have a good idea for a comic, I will probably do a comic, if I have a good idea for a book, I will do a book probably. But I will the main my main goal is to convey interesting stories that make people kind of enrich their lives. This is a lofty kind of thing to say. But I think yeah, I would like to do work that are not only like click Beatty, and only have these kinds of content that people want to see and just click on them because this is cute or whatever. But I would like to show them things that will kind of make them stop and think a little about stories and their surroundings and and all kinds of things. So yeah, I would like to make more storytelling works, I think,

Iva Mikles  

oh, that’s super cool. Yeah, just something to stop and think and be maybe inspired by the whole story or the environment or the characters. So yeah, that sounds really great. So I’m looking forward to see some of these projects in the future. Me too. Yeah, so but thank you so much, again, for being here. It was really inspirational.

Mateusz Urbanowicz  

Thank you. Thank you for inviting me. I really enjoy all your channel and content. I watched someone some of the interviews, I have to watch more. So I’m really happy to be able to participate in this.

Iva Mikles  

Oh, thank you so much. I really appreciate it. That’s super nice to hear. And hopefully everyone also listening now is now inspired and can go create now more stories and backgrounds. So thanks, everybody for watching. And thank you again. So yeah, so bye. Bye. Hey, guys, thank you so much for listening. I really appreciate you being here. You can find all the resources mentioned in this episode at artsideoflife.com. Just type a guest name in the search bar. There is also a couple of free artists resources ready for you on the website as well. So go check it out. If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe and leave a review on iTunes or Stitcher so I can reach and inspire more artists like you. If you want to watch the interviews, head over to artsideoflife.com/youtube. Continue to inspire each other and I will talk to you guys in the next episode. Bye.

Announcer  

Thanks for listening to the Art Side of Life podcast at www.artsideoflife.com

Hi, I am Iva (rhymes with “viva”). I am an artist, illustrator, founder of Art Side of Life®, and Top Teacher on Skillshare. Since 2009 I've worked as an illustrator, character designer, art director, and branding specialist focusing on illustration, storytelling, concepts, and animation. I believe that we are all creative in infinite numbers of ways, so I've made it my mission to teach you everything I know and help either wake up or develop your creative genius. Learn more about me.

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