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How Artjail’s JD Yepes is Nurturing Creativity in Los Angeles


The artist and Artjail partner tells LBB why the studio is building an artistic network connected by passion - and why he’s always drawn to work with ‘a dark elegance’

How Artjail’s JD Yepes is Nurturing Creativity in Los Angeles

As far back as he can remember, JD Yepes has always been ahead of the mainstream curve. “Growing up in South America, I was a strange mix between an extrovert and an outsider”, he recalls.

“You had the same kind of social groups that you might have seen anywhere else in the world -- skater kids, rockers, geeks, all the rest of it,” he continues. “Although I hung out as part of every group, I was never a core member of any of them. I was always observing them with curiosity and an analytical mind, because I wanted to understand and absorb their sensibilities and styles. That is what formed and influenced my creativity and my ability to adapt to different styles, trends, and personalities”.

Fast-forward to today, and the Venezuelan-born digital artist finds himself spearheading a west coast creative revolution alongside the boutique VFX house Artjail. When the news broke that JD would be heading up Arjail’s burgeoning LA presence last month, he described feeling ‘a massive jolt of excitement’ following the move. 

“Artjail feels like a breath of fresh air because we can create award-winning work, and at the same time provide a fulfilling life for our artists”, he explains. “In turn, our clients value that. The nimbleness which comes with our boutique size, combined with the depth of our talent, means we foster deep and meaningful relationships with our partners”. 

It’s an approach which can only come with experience, and a certain amount of pedigree. Fortunately for Artjail and the studio’s clients, JD brings buckets of both. With his credits including blockbuster feature films such as Thor: Ragnarok and the Bourne Legacy, as well as park rides, Super Bowl spots, and award-winning commercials campaigns with directors like Joseph Kosinski, Marc Forster, Oscar Hudson, Tarsem Singh and Spike Jonze, JD is able to draw on experience of the most high-profile visual effects projects imaginable. 

Above: JD served as compositing supervisor on this acclaimed spot for cannabis company MedMen, directed by Spike Jonze.

As Artjail’s managing director John Skeffington explains, the decision to bring JD on board felt like an important moment - as well as a testament to the studio’s existing values. “JD was the perfect fit for our studio creatively, and with his leadership style”, he says. “He leads by example, and fights for the creative integrity of the project. He's always looking to add to his projects, and also support his team to ensure the demands of our industry are not just understood but rewarded”.

“From a leadership perspective, JD is a warrior, someone who gets into the trenches and fights alongside his team for a creative idea”, he explains. “On top of that, he’s simply a phenomenal talent. That’s obvious from the career he’s had, and it’s an incredible privilege to see him work”. 

But JD’s creative and technical experience is not just deep - it’s also diverse. In fact, some of his most enduring and defining memories in the industry to date come from a somewhat surprising place. “In terms of what has influenced my approach to my work, I’ll never forget having the opportunity to work on two park rides at Disneyland’s Avengers Campus”, he says. “I worked on two experiences connected to Guardians of the Galaxy and Spider-Man. Even though they were highly challenging and demanding, There’s something unspeakably magical about seeing your work going from a flat-screen into a physical space. All I could think about was that my children could have the chance to experience these projects in such a physical and memorable way - that made me feel incredibly lucky as an artist”.

Above: Web Slingers: A Spider-Man Adventure forms part of the Avengers Campus at Disneyland California. JD was also part of the team behind Guardians of the Galaxy - Mission: Breakout! 

In fact, the more time one spends with JD, the more you realize how tactile he is as a creator. Soon after joining forces with Artjail he, in collaboration with the British artist R James Healy, created a sculpture based on the studio’s logo. 

Above: The above sculpture, commissioned by Artjail, comprises three separate elements - representing JD, John, and Steve. 

“There are magnets inside each piece which ensure the three elements can merge together”, says JD. “That kind of speaks to the company we are, and the team we want to be. It’s a powerful and unquantifiable invisible energy which brings us together and defines us”. 

From Small Beginnings

As JD himself can attest, he can trace his own creative revolution back to the moment where he, alongside his father, set up his first home computer.

Looking back, that snapshot in time - sitting in front of a screen in the early 90s with the creative world suddenly at his fingertips - feels like the point at which JD’s fate was set. The passion it ignited for art, and digital art in particular, burns just as brightly today. “I didn’t have many video games installed on it, so I ended up designing cards and banners”, he recalls. “At age 16, I took a graphic design class. The teacher was using a program called After Effects which completely blew my mind. From that point, there was no turning back”. 

That sparked a career which has evolved into an abundance of skill in visual effects. “Friends have described me as the swiss army knife of VFX”, he laughs. “No matter what problem you have, I have a solution for it!”. 

But in terms of quality, JD’s career thus far feels more like a designer store. Fuelling his creative drive, however, are the moments where JD sees work he can’t help but wish he made himself. “I’ve had that instant feeling whenever I watch any of Denis Villaneuve’s work”, he says. “Films like Blade Runner: 2049 speak to the kind of mysterious, dark elegance which I want my own work to carry”. 

Above: Denis Villaneuve’s stunning Blade Runner sequel, alongside the likes of Dune and Arrival, is an example of the ‘dark elegance’ JD wants to pursue in his own creativity. 

Happily, this is the moment at which Artjail features in JD’s story. For an artist looking to pursue work with creative integrity, and develop their own voice, there could scarcely be a more comfortable home. “Being part of Artjail brings such a unique perspective to every project”, he notes. “We embrace the freedom to be selective, and I can feel how the wider team shares my passion - the kind that keeps me up at night when I can’t stop thinking about a creative task or idea. Maybe it’s my hispanic background coming through, but that passion is what I get out of bed for each morning”. 

Currently, the LA branch which JD leads is searching for the right collaborators. “That’s my focus right now”, he says, “finding the right people who we want to work with, and who want to work with us. Our core team is in place, and now we are selectively adding and looking to nurture the right talent to create something incredible”.

It’s just another example of how a commitment to creative growth is such a core component of both JD and Artjail’s state of being. “I judge the success of any given day by how much I’ve learned”, says JD. “If I’ve learned something new, it’s been a good day”. 

For the wider creative community, it seems that JD and Artjail’s work is a lesson worth taking note of. With their unmistakable dedication to creative integrity, both JD and Artjail share a united passion. For the rest of us, all that remains is to watch where that creative spirit leads next. 

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Genres: Visual VFX, People

Artjail, Wed, 02 Nov 2022 08:31:00 GMT