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Jeff Simpson Interview
Jeff Simpson is an illustrator, concept artist and colourist who has worked at Ubisoft on the Assassin’s Creed titles.
So, hello, Jeff. I suppose my first question to you is: How did you get interested in art?
I was fortunate enough to have two parents who were already interested in the arts. My mother was an art teacher, so I kind of grew up around it; it was never really a choice. I’ve been drawing since before I can remember, and there was constant encouragement, throughout high school and all that. I branded myself pretty early as ‘that artist kid’. I never really had much chance to explore anything else, which I suppose is all right seeing as I suck at everything else.
Well, it’s pretty great that at such a young age you get to work on such prestigious titles. How did you manage to achieve that?
I am not at all sure, but I’ll try to explain. Basically, I have to give all my credit to the internet. I don’t know how I would have done it, say, ten years earlier. Ever since high school, when sites like DeviantArt and CGtalk began to come out, I started to post my work online- not thinking I’d get famous, or anything, I just wanted a place to show my work and get feedback. I thought it was incredible- I mean, in what other era would there be a forum where you could put something up for literally a worldwide audience to see and comment on? You learn really quickly how to handle critiques. After a while of that, I began to make a bit of a name for myself- people started to recognize my images and watch my progress as I went from traditional to digital to a quasi-mix. I did that for about seven years, all through college- when college ended, I was lucky enough to land a job at a terrible, tiny little game studio in Vancouver. They made very bad games, but at least it was a concept art gig. When I went home, I kept doing art and building my portfolio, and eventually an art director named Pascal Blanchet, who worked at Ubisoft, called me up and offered me a job. I was really lucky, but it really did help to have put myself out there.
Maybe it has something to do with the really distinctive style there is to your concepts, kind of dreamy and Klimt-esque. It definitely stems from a traditional background.
Well, I never really got to paint much in the traditional style- I think it’s really just that I hold to traditional values rather than digital ones. I really don’t like it when I see Photoshop that actively looks like Photoshop. There’s just something about it that looks plastic and fake. Obviously that’s fine if you mean it, if that’s the statement you’re trying to make, but I really try to make works in which you can’t tell what the medium is right away, so that it becomes secondary to the image.
I suppose that anyone reading this interview could just do a quick Google search for your name, and your work would show up?
Yeah, definitely. My main website is surrealsushi.com, but I have a number of accounts on sites like DeviantArt, etc.
Did you imagine yourself working in video games? Was that your goal?
Well, when I was in college in the early 2000’s, the Lord of the Rings movies were coming out, and you could buy the special extended editions that had all kinds of extra, behind the scene kind of things. That was really the first place I ran into concept art. Until then I had no idea that that kind of thing existed. I saw Alan Lee and John Howe doing all these character designs and handing them off to 3D artists and I thought that that line of work was significantly more interesting than whatever I could do in the fine arts spectrum. It was around then that I realized that concept art was actually a job, and a relatively new job, because back in the 70’s and 80’s you were a matte painter or an illustrator and concept art was all bundled in with that.
Do you have any advice for people looking to become concept artists?
Yes. Everyone wants this job: artists, programmers, everyone working in the studio wants concept work. They see you draw and think to themselves ‘I can do that! I can draw!’ Well, yes, learning to draw is very important, but it really takes something extra, something special that makes you stand out, makes the video game industry pay attention. You need to infuse a little something unique in there, a small part of yourself, to really push it out. Just a recognizable style will help you a lot. Learn how to render, all the techniques, learn perspective, 3D techniques, all of that, but above all try to develop something original in your work.
Awesome, thank you so much for joining us, Jeff!
This interview is part of a series of exclusive Concept Art, Illustration, VFX, 3D and Comics Podcasts created by Syn Studio. If you enjoyed this podcast please share it with your friends. And please sign up below for our newsletter to keep informed about all of our great podcasts, interviews, tutorials, articles, videos and other material created for you: the artist.