As a professional concept artist for the video game and movie industry for the past 10 years, Sylvain “Tohad” Sarrailh has worked on projects for Ubisoft, Rocksteady, Amplitude, Psyop, Oculus, Insomniac Games, Sony Pictures, and DreamWorks to name a few. As a speaker at the Master Classes 2018, he will present, Forest of Liars, a game creation of Umeshu Lovers Studio, located in Toulouse, France. Here he talks with Isis Sousa, about his education, work, his upcoming game and more!
Love Sylvain’s Art? Join us in Pris for IAMAG Master Classes and learn with Sylvain and Artists from all over the world!
1. You are both an art director and freelance concept artist. You have worked for many brands, including Sony and Ubisoft. Tell us about the beginning: how did you start your digital artist career? How old were you when you took your first jobs and what kind of jobs did you do?
I did 3D animation studies after High school. At the end of my studies, I worked two years in an architecture studio to make films and 3D images of different buildings projects. I then started freelancing to work on my comic book projects and on various orders related to illustration. Probably sensitized during my stay in architecture, I discovered a particular interest for the light, the staging and the ambiances, which is probably shown in my portfolio and which allowed me to have more and more proposals related to the artistic research of environments. I’m professional for about 10 years, but I’m specialized as concept artist and art direction for about 5 years.
2. What was the moment in which your work became more recognized and what do you think helped you to have that momentum?
My comic book was an important point in my career. Working on it I realized that I loved working on backgrounds and environments. I started sharing artworks and backgrounds from my webcomic, it was like concept art of my own project. I then received more and more project proposals from different studios.
Many people know me on the internet with my Badass Fanart illustrations, but it never brought me any customers 🙂
3. Did you have formal education or are you self-taught? How has been your learning process into digital art?
I practice drawing since I’m a kid. I did my first comic at primary school, and when I was teenager I made my first video games with The Game Factory (the ancestor of Unity). I am used to looking for things by myself on internet or with practice, I always struggled to evolve in a school setting. Fortunately I did not learn 3D alone because I might have been discouraged. Self-taught brings a lot of liberties, but sometimes you waste your time reinventing the wheel. I always keep one or two hours in the week to test new software or experiment with new processes in Photoshop. I work in co-working with other graphic designers; it’s a perfect environment to discover new things every day.
4. Looking at your work, two words come to my mind: ‘lighting’ and ‘color’. You master both of them, but which one do you think is most difficult to master and why?
Thank you! I think the light and the colors are complementary. Many artists start their images in grayscale. I begin all my images in color, it’s the best way to work in harmony the contrasts and colors of a composition.
About the choice of colors, I think it comes from the fact that I live in the South of France. All the buildings are colorful, the sky has a deep blue and the vegetation has varied colors. Maybe this environment creates my instinct with colors because I don’t have any rules about it. We don’t need to search a pure logic of a perfect rule for color; it’s more about your own taste and choice.
5. How many years of experience you have in the industry and which have been your main challenges as an artist?
Two years in architecture, three as comic artist and motion design and five as a concept artist. It was a good patch to learn and understand important points like narration, design, colors and framing.
It’s hard to find what was the main challenge, because each mission is a new beginning. I have to adapt to a new universe or a famous IP, interact with people who have all their own process and find new references. Although the project may seem easy, I will impose great demands to try to always make a better picture than the previous one. It is also a solution to never get bored.
But it general, universes like sci-fi are the most difficult because you need to design everything, each part of the illustration represent the future… and there isn’t references for the future! 🙂
6. Which are your 3 best pieces of advice for new artists starting out their careers?
When you graduate from higher education, I think the most important thing is to find your balance with what you love doing. Career sometimes devour some students fantasizing their professional future via the prestige of studios or big IP. Some people gravitate into the visual industry for the status it will bring them, without thinking about what exactly they want to do on a daily basis. They want to add Pixar, ILM or Marvel in their summary on Facebook. It’s very rewarding to have industry recognition, but it’s not the only way to be happy in your job. There is no ideal course, but conforming to the mold of an industry or a studio to be able to pass the first doors is not always the best long-term solution for a job as creative as ours.
The two traps to avoid are: being those willing slaves ready to accept any condition to work on a prestigious project, and the egocentric creatives unable to soften to stick to the demands of the industry. The essence of our work is knowing how to bring new ideas while working together every day. The key is to find your balance on what makes us really happy including what our work involves for the rest of the production chain. We do not have to be consensual to be universal, nor to be cleavable to have an identity.
And the last point: be patient. Creating beautiful pictures takes time; it’s the same thing for a career.
7. You were a speaker on an IAMAG.co master class/workshop in September 2017. What did you teach? Can you tell us about the event, from your perspective? Any special moments?
I presented three ways to produce an illustration: from scratch, with photo bashing and from a 3D base. I try to share my artistic philosophy to motivate artists to go out of their comfort zone. It was intense for me because it was the first master class I lead in English. I had a lot of pressure because the participants came from all over Europe and I didn’t want to disappoint them. Fortunately Patrice helped me a lot and it was a great event. My favorite moment was the portfolio review; it’s an opportunity to discover the portfolio of each participant and to talk with them to know what are their influences and artistic vision. Animating a master class is very instructive for me too, because I have to clarify my concepts and my process.
8. You have profiles on different places, such as ArtStation, DeviantArt, Facebook, Twitter, Behance, Instagram and so on and all of them are neatly updated. Which platforms do you recommend most for artists? Why? Do you have any tips for succeeding on social media?
For professionals of the CG industry, I think the best places are Behance and Artstation, because there is a lot of art directors and producers who search good profiles on them. DeviantArt is a pretty good platform, but it’s more interesting for a mainstream public and not specialized industry. If we forget the daily shitstorm, Twitter is my favorite network to get my daily inspiration dose! I share on it lot of references I found every day.
In my mind the best way to succeed on social media is to be careful to not become too narcissistic. We can speak everyday about us and or life, but the best way to keep attention to the others and share their works too!
9. Who are your favorite artists today and which ones have influenced your interest in art over the years?
I love the paintings from the Hudson River School, it’s like the roots of the modern fantasy. The painters from this art movement have a pure sense of depth, scale and color. Every painting could be the first step for an epic story.
Anyway, my masters of composition, design and narration from our century are: Satoshi Kon, Bong Joon-ho, Céline Sciamma, Akira Toryama, Bill Watterson, Lewis Trondheim, Shinji Kimura, Spike Jonze, Robh Ruppel, Yōko Kanno, François Boucq, Hiroaki Samura, Arnt Jensen, Rumiko Takahashi and Steve Purcell. Sorry for this long list, but it’s impossible to choose only one. It is important to have a variety of influences and you should never consider anything sacred.
10. You are creating a game project, ‘The Forest of Liars’. When did you start working on this idea and how did you assemble the team that is bringing this project to life? How’s it being funded?
Two years ago, I already had the desire to build a video game studio. But despite my many personal projects, I had not yet found the idea of a specific game that would give me the final desire to move to the creation adventure of the studio. I let the ideas coming. Designing and thinking a game can quickly switch into just a dream by wanting to imagine a maximum of features. Constraints and limits are often excellent bases for creation and originality. Ideas have matured as a puzzle that comes to an end as I think about people who might be motivated by the project among my acquaintances. I quickly went to Arnaud (the co-founder) because we share a common vision of a balance in the production of a game, the project pleased him and he had a minimum of freedoms to add his ideas.
Clozee and Jean have joined us quickly on the project, and even if we want to stay a small team, we hope to recruit one or two more members in the coming months.
11. What can people expect from this game and when do you plan to have it launched?
Forest of Liars is a narrative adventure game that delivers a different experience every time you play. You will encounter strange and extraordinary characters who can assist you on your quest to reach the center of the resplendent and dazzling woods. But not all new friends can be trusted. You must unmask the liars among your companions and expose those who threaten your expedition.
I think it will be launched at the end of 2019! We will update the official website soon with the first trailer: www.forestofliars.com