Bacon X CGI artist on creating for Disney and Marvel, painting till his hands are sore and why CGI artists need to get outside and be nice
Jelle Van De Weghe is a CG artist who has worked in feature film since 2011. Originally from Bruges, Belgium - but now living in Copenhagen and working at Bacon X - he was a ‘hands-on’ kid who loved being outdoors but became increasingly gifted at creating graphics with computers, despite constantly fighting his urge to be out in the sun.
After a family friend referred Jelle to an animation studio in Ghent, Belgium, where he had his first brush with adland as a freelancer and where he quickly progressed his skills. It was after this he started to work on feature films. Although he is a self-confessed tech novice, his portfolio begs to differ. He’s now a CGI-focused creator who’s made work for world-class entertainment brands. He’s done texture and modelling work for Disney’s VFX Oscar award-winning film ‘The Jungle Book’ and created CGI for several major film projects for Marvel, including two Thor films, Avengers: Infinity Wars and Aquaman.
LBB’s Jason Caines caught up with Jelle to discover how as an outdoor-fanatic he deals with long days in a dark room, what it was like to create work for Disney and Marvel and his advice for budding CGI artists.
LBB> What were you like growing up as a kid and where did you grow up?
Jelle Van De Weghe> I grew up in the outskirts of Bruges, Belgium. It was a pretty sleepy town but a great place to grow up as a kid. I spent most of time outside building camps, climbing trees and skateboarding or playing football. When the weather was bad, I'd be inside drawing, building things in clay or playing with Lego or GI Joe.
LBB> When did you start to create and what work did you make?
JVDW> My parents tell me that I've always been creative and independent since I was a kid. I was into creating and building things - whether it was indoor or outdoor. I'd either be building worlds for my GI Joes from whatever I could find, drawing things I saw in my dreams or building camps and weapons out of sticks.
LBB> How did you become interested in computers and gaming?
JVDW> To be honest, I'm not really interested in computers nor gaming. When I'm not at work, I try to spend as much time away from the screen as possible. I love what I can create with the help of a computer and the software but I know very little about hardware and coding. I know how much GPU memory Mari requires but that's about it. I started using a computer for my art during my Graphic Design studies and it has since been my main tool. I do, however, plan to go back to the canvas one day.
LBB> You've worked at a few places on some big projects, including at MPC with the Jungle Book film - what was that experience like and what did you do?
JVDW> The Jungle Book was a mad but inspiring project. I was working at Cinesite at the time but when I found out that MPC was going to work on a live-action adaptation of my favourite Disney classic, I decided to go back to MPC to work on it. The team consisted of a bunch of really good friends and amazing artists. We worked so hard and pushed every single boundary which resulted in an Oscar for best Visual Effects. I was in charge of texturing the main wolf Akela, setting the standard for all the other wolves. Together with the groom artist, we came up with a new fur texture workflow that we then introduced to the rest of the department. To this day it is still the work I'm most proud of.
LBB> Most recently you did some work on a few Marvel films at Industrial Light and Magic and Framestore and I've seen you've worked on some other Marvel projects in the past. What was it like doing the texture and lookdev artist work on those?
JVDW> Ah Marvel...it's a love/hate relationship. They have given me a job for the last couple of years and I hope they will keep doing so. Working on a Marvel show means big, expensive visual effects and usually a lot of creature work, so I enjoy the actual day-to-day work. However, I'm getting a bit bored of superheroes so I don't mind a break from it.
LBB> I see you've mostly worked in films and games and have been in adland for just two years. How did you decide to get into advertising and how did you get your foot in the door?
JVDW> I've only worked on commercials as a freelancer. After my studies I worked in Belgium for a while where the main share of VFX work was in either commercials or music videos. A family friend who studied at the film school in Brussels had just set up a small animation shop in Ghent and gave me my first job in the industry. I'm still grateful for that opportunity as it kickstarted my career. My main goal was to work in feature film though, so I kept working on my showreel during my free time until I landed a junior role at MPC London.
LBB> What's your day-to-day like as a VFX artist? What do you think is the hardest part of your role?
JVDW> Drinking coffee, painting until my hand is sore, chatting and laughing with friends at work, sitting in dailies and meetings - it's not a bad life. The hardest part is being trapped inside in a dark room. I'm an outdoorsy type and I wish I could do the work outside.
LBB> What have been some of your favourite projects to work on, that you'd like to mention?
JVDW> Valerian at ILM and The Jungle Book at MPC
LBB> Do you have any advice for budding VFX artists that would like to do it for a career?
JVDW> It's hard to narrow it down to just one, so here's my top three:
1) Find a speciality and become really good at it.
2) Stay humble and be nice to everyone. It's a small industry, the person sitting next to you now could be your lead one day in another company.
3) Take a break from the screen. Go outside - travel, explore and observe. It will make you a better artist.
LBB> Do you have any plans for the future or projects that you're working on that you would like the people out there to know about?
JVDW> Right now I'm taking a break from feature film and spending some time in Europe. I'm excited to work with the talented team at Bacon X in Copenhagen and to play a bigger role in a smaller company rather than a small role in a big company. I'm impressed by the quality of work they have pushed out and I haven't worked in advertising for a while. Change is good!
Other than that, I'm making my own live-action short films together with my friend Benjamin Kousholt, who's a talented screenwriter/director/animator.
We're currently wrapping post production on our first one and Benjamin has started writing a new story for a short that we want to film early next year.