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Gabriel Juarez: concept art student interview

Gabriel Juarez

Concept Art Student / Pixel Artist at Cyclone Designs

“Before studying concept art, my work mostly consisted of pixel art. I would involve myself in cute projects, which typically entailed stylized animals and a simple clean style. It wasn’t until my friend and director of Cyclone Designs pushed me to start studying films that I really broke into my concept art passion.” Check out concept artist student Gabriel Juarez’s story so far…

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Tell us a little bit about yourself: Who are you, what do you do, and where are you located?

Gabriel

Hello! My name is Gabriel Juarez. I am an 18-year-old concept art student in the San Francisco Bay Area. I was drawn to creation at a young age through video games, which I’m sure is the case for many artists! The environments in these games fascinated me, and I’d always wanted to create my own. I just loved the feeling of being immersed in these fantastical worlds. I currently work as a pixel artist for a small team called Cyclone Designs, and I spend much of my free time studying concept art.

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Tell us about your art: Your style, themes, genre, and some of the favorite projects you have worked on.

Gabriel

Before studying concept art, my work mostly consisted of pixel art. I would involve myself in cute projects, which typically entailed stylized animals and a simple clean style. It wasn’t until my friend and director of Cyclone Designs pushed me to start studying films that I really broke into my concept art passion. Since then, I’ve been more interested in filmic pieces. I work in pixel art and study concept art – for me, each has quite a different feel, but I enjoy both equally!

A Middle-Eastern-inspired city scene using 2D and 3D techniques.
A Middle-Eastern-inspired city scene using 2D and 3D techniques.

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Can you describe your typical workflow, and the software/hardware you normally use when creating your artwork?

Gabriel

Working on a concept piece, I will usually use Blender and Photoshop. Blender is an immensely powerful tool, as it enables you to sketch, design, and iterate with ease. Working in 3D space is so nice. You don’t have to worry too much about managing layers and folders. And, most helpfully, 3D does some pretty powerful heavy lifting for perspective and lighting. In my workflow, I’ll use Blender to do this heavy lifting – architecture, design, textures. Then I move into Photoshop to embellish, involving photobashing, VFX, overpainting, and tweaking.

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Tell us about your CGVerse mentorship. What are some of the valuable things you learned during your time there?

Gabriel

CGVerse was really my first step into learning effective concept art creation. I did not have extensive experience before studying there. Before my time there, my understanding of concept art was that everything was painted in Photoshop from scratch. But I learned that this was not the case at all these days. There are a multitude of powerful tools which can help you create compelling concepts with ease. Most importantly, I learned how to incorporate 3D into my concept art workflow. Like I mentioned above, it is an immensely beneficial tool which gives you a level of control over your piece unthought of in 2D.

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Could you tell us more about your mentorship artwork? What new techniques and challenges did you cover when creating these pieces specifically, and which techniques are you look forward to using more in the future?

Gabriel

I would like to share some of the techniques and strategies I learned in regards to using Blender efficiently. The first of these is using 3D to block out and iterate. Blender offers much greater control for sketching than any 2D software would. Since we live in a 3D world, it is much more intuitive for us to lay out objects in 3D software. You can use Blender to visualize your environment and iterate on design, lighting, and camera placement. It’s good to play with your blockout – changing your scene is as simple as distorting and moving your shapes, and just like that, you have reimagined your original concept entirely. It is a more fluid approach to design.

Another powerful technique I learned was using trim sheets to build assets for my scene. Surprisingly, trim texturing is not so commonly discussed, especially in the context of concept art. The technique essentially involves having a single texture with various elements which you can map to wherever you want on your model. You can compile textures from different structures – gateways, windows, and ornaments – onto one trim sheet. Then, you can map the texture to a simple geometry in your scene and easily create a building. My Middle East-inspired piece utilizes just two trim sheets to accomplish all the architecture texturing in the piece. It doesn’t need to be too clean, since you can embellish in Photoshop. Having this tool will enable you to create compelling assets at a much quicker pace.

A jungle and temple setting inspired by the cultures of Indonesia and Africa.
A jungle setting inspired by the cultures of Indonesia and Africa.

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What inspires you?

Gabriel

I would say traveling. Since half my family lives in China, I often have the opportunity to visit, and I will always spend a couple days in some new place along the way. Traveling makes an immense contribution to your art. Having experiences in unfamiliar cultures and settings broadens your perspective and introduces you to a diverse landscape of people and ideas. Whether it be a character, environment, or prop, your concept’s design will benefit from your ability to reference an experience. I like to call it experience economy.

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Who are your favorite artists, traditional or digital, and can you explain why?

Gabriel

I especially like the works of Piotr Jabłoński, Zhengyi Wang, Sergey Kolesov, Aleksandr Nikonov, Martin Deschambault, among many other artists. I believe they are all masterful in handling the shapes and proportions of their pieces. This appealing, dynamic design is something I would like to study in much greater depth for my own scenes.

Library interior scene combining 2D and 3D techniques.
An interior scene combining 2D and 3D techniques.

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What can we expect to see from you next?

Gabriel

I will be working on more personal pieces with the techniques I picked up from the school. Since I’d spent much of my mentorship learning illustration skills, I had not focused too much on design. I think I will have much fun exploring how to make pieces with more compelling storytelling.

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