11 Jul YOUSAF EJAZ – RISING DIGITAL ARTIST
BY: WAJHI JAFRI
Shakespeare once famously said: “It is not in the stars to hold our destiny, but in ourselves.”
Perhaps the playwright was talking about Yousaf Ejaz, who today is one of Pakistan’s leading conceptual artists, and has worked on a number of critically and commercially acclaimed projects.
His former boss, Head of Operations at Unicorn Black, Abbas Saleem Khan, had the following to say about him: “Out of all the artists I have encountered, Ejaz has a sensitivity to color that is unmatched by anyone in Pakistan. He was probably the first international quality concept and texture artist that we have produced and even after ten years, one of the best!”
We recently sat down with Yousaf to learn more about him.
(All featured artwork by Yousaf Ejaz)
Let’s begin with your background. Tell us about your education and your home town.
I grew up in the city of Peshawar, the capital of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. I was born to a very humble family and because of some very unfortunate circumstances, I had to leave school so I have no formal education beyond the eighth grade. Growing up in that environment was tough but it taught me a lot, without which, I think I would have never made it to where I am in life today.
So, when did you know you wanted to be an artist?
Growing up, I hardly had access to gaming consoles or comic books. But the arcade scene in my city was really booming back then in the early 90’s. My first-ever gaming experience was Street Fighter 2 at one of the arcades. It was amazing and we used to play nonstop for hours. I just fell in love with that game and was blown away by the animations and art style. I was so impressed with it, that I started copying the art, trying to draw characters like Ryu and Balrog for hours. I think my first-ever serious piece of art was a painting of Iori Yagami from the King of Fighters, which I sold to an arcade owner for handful of game tokens/credit, after which I started getting commissions from most of the arcade owners to paint posters for them. They used to pay me either in games/credit or art supplies but it really helped me figure out what I wanted in life, which of course, was a career in art.
What hurdles did you face?
One of the biggest obstacles I faced was the lack of an art scene in Peshawar. There were no art books, comic books, and I hardly had access to animated movies or any type of movies for that matter. I didn’t know where or how to start, as there was no internet, so I had zero contact with the outside world or any online art communities.
Was there a eureka moment for you?
I can’t say it was one single breakthrough moment, but one of the biggest breaks for me was the emergence of internet cafes in early 2001. I didn’t know how to operate a computer so I had one of my friends help me out, and that was when I started exploring the amazing world of Computer Graphics (CG) Art. I was just blown away by all those amazing artists and their artwork. I used to take inspiration from their art and even started copying them, so please don’t sue me *laughs*
That really opened up my mind as an artist. It also helped me improve my skills, and it inspired me so much that I began saving for a computer. So I got myself a job at a book shop, worked long hours, saved as much as I could, and within a year I got my first computer. But that was just a start since I had no experience with computers and tools like Photoshop etc. Learning these tools was a bit of a struggle.
That’s really inspirational! Do you have any anecdotes to share from this time?
Back then, art supplies were both rare and expensive, so I learned to paint with food colors. I used to create skin tones by mixing red and orange food colors with cold cream and my mother used to complain about us running out of cold cream every few days. I never told anyone at home about using it in my paintings, though they did figure it out eventually. *laughs*
What games and comic books have you drawn (no pun intended) inspiration from?
I really liked games like Street Fighter 2, Tekken 3, Super Mario 3, Sonic the Hedgehog, Sunset Riders and Streets of Rage. My first next-gen experience was Resident Evil 2 on the PSX, but my all-time favorite would be Shenmue on the Dreamcast – that game was just amazing for its time.
Amongst the current generation of games, I love the Uncharted series, Gran Turismo, The Witcher and Mass Effect series – they are just awesome.
In terms of comic books, my all-time favorite is definitely Kingdom Come by Alex Ross. It holds a very special place in my heart and is definitely one of the greatest achievements in comic book history. I am also a big fan of Sin City and The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller.
Who are some of your favorite artists?
There are many artists I look up to and follow. Some of the old masters such as John Singer Sargent, Isaac Levitan, David Roberts and John William Waterhouse to modern masters such as Frank Frazetta, Edgar Alwin Payne and Paul Felix to our industry legends like Syd Mead, Craig Mullins, Sparth and Steven Messing. To be honest, it’s a never ending list. I follow anyone whose work really appeals to me.
Can you tell us about your work at Trango Interactive?
The first video game was Shera Jutt at Trango Interactive. I was one of the lead texture and concept artist on that game. It was an amazing learning experience for me but we had to sack it in favor of doing commercial work to survive as a company. At Trango Interactive, I had the privilege of working for many international clients such as Crystal Dynamics, Sega, Backbone Entertainment, Nike, and Toyota. Also, worked on on games like the Tomb Raider: Legend, Sponge Bob, Death Jr 2, and Darkfall.
What was it like at Unicorn Black?
Burka Avenger was my first experience working as an art director on a fully-animated TV show. I helped develop the overall theme and its world. I think it went pretty well, being the first TV show in Pakistan to land a Peabody award and getting nominated for an International Emmy Award.
Can you tell us about your work at we.R.play and Disney?
At we.R.play I have art directed the services department to deliver top notch art assets to international clients like Pocket Gems and Kiwi Up. Working for Disney Interactive was definitely a dream come true. I was working with them remotely from Pakistan for a myriad of projects.
I’d also like to mention some of the great people I have worked with. This includes Shahryar Hydri, Abbas Saleem Khan, Uzair Zaheer Khan, Haroon Rashid, Mohsin Afzal, and Waqar Azim, amongst others. They really helped me grow as a person and were good bosses, teachers and in the case of Mehran Khan, someone who challenged me to become a better artist.
Can you also tell us about the software you use and share more about your creative process?
I mainly use Photoshop and a Wacom tablet as my tools of choice. As for my process, it mostly changes from painting to painting and is mostly based on the requirement of the job. Though I do really like to experiment with different techniques.