Exclusive: Interview with Mate Jako!
Monster Legacy had the pleasure to interview a freelance, overlooked creature designer — Mate Jako!
Monster Legacy: A more personal question first. What inspired you to become a concept artist?
Mate Jako: Well, for a lot of artists you read, their main inspirations are usually comic books, fine art, or cartoons, and they are great, but the main trigger in my life that launched me towards art was monsters. As a child, I loved “scary movies”. I still remember myself watching Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Conan slaying that horrendous-faced wizard — created by Carlo Rambaldi if I’m right — from behind my dad’s armchair for protection. Or no matter how scary the transformations in The Thing were, you could not look away. Monsters are extremely commanding and expressive.
As a result, I always wanted to know how they were made. In Hungary though — where I’m from — it was very hard to access this kind of information. People didn’t even know what special effects were. Then, while I was still in this age, something happened: I read an article about Stan Winston about his work on Jurassic Park in a magazine called Cinema. Within the magazine, there was a double page of him standing in his display room. As a lot of your readers already know the Predator was there, Terminator on the other side, one of the Alien from Aliens, and as I kept reading I realized that this one man was responsible for all the creation of those creatures I loved so much in all those movies. Then I saw the title under his name: creature designer. And I was like: I wanna be that!
That desire is very much present within my work to this day. And even though I’m not a special effects artist, horror, and beauty, as two lovers, define what I do.
Monster Legacy: Who are, in your opinion, the most inspirational creature designers and artists in the industry?
Mate Jako: What a tough question. There are so many. Well, if I have to mention a couple of names whose work I really like and influence me, they have to be Neville Page, Steve Wang, Greg Broadmore, Mark “Crash” McCreery, Miles Teves, Carlos Huante, David Meng, and Simon Lee. And the list goes on and on!
The reason why I love these artists and craftsman more than any others is because even if they work digitally their primary approach is — almost every time — traditional. These people understand art and they use that knowledge and experience to push forms, and shapes in the most creative and unusual ways possible. I want to be like that, but I have to learn a lot more.
With Carlos Huante, who is a lovely, incredibly generous guy, we had an art hot line a couple of years ago, and he went even that far that he told me that he liked my work and gave me tips to improve it, and pointed out the mistakes I have made. I was speechless. That is one of the blessings of the internet: you can talk to your heroes.
Monster Legacy: What do you think are the most effective Monster designs you have seen in films?
Mate Jako: Human-like ones. I’m sure that a lot of people would disagree with me on this — but in order to create good design you need to understand how the human mind works. You can create a huge alien with tentacles, and a big massive red mouth, like a flesh eating plant, and make it completely surreal, it will be creative I’m sure! But scary? I don’t think so.
The human body is not only a beautiful design, but by adding human elements to a creature your mind recognizes parts of the design, while disassociates with others (human head, flesh-eating flower mouth, for instance). And that clash in your mind creates the fright! Just check the list out: Godzilla, Alien, Predator, The Thing, Wolfman… You take the human element away and they become much less emotionally involving.
Monster Legacy: How do you approach a creature design?
Mate Jako: First thing to set down when you create any kind of artwork as commission — not only creature designs — is figuring out what is that the client wants. Then you start to pour in your own ideas. It’s great to go up there on the internet and look for animal reference photos. Do your research! A year or two ago I had to create orcs for a fantasy video game called Fantasy Dynasty. The French based game developer was lovely, because they were opened for a lot of ideas, but they were very hard to reach so I had to figure things out myself. I knew I wanted to leave the huge bulky orc designs behind from other games, and create something more original. In the end, they loved my designs so much that they created this other species of orcs called “swamp orcs”.
It was a great experience, and a proof that sometimes you just have to go with your gut instincts. I also have seen designers just being so good that they start to doodle and something fantastic happens on the paper. I’m not like that. But I’m also quite lucky because when a client gives me the brief and tells me what is the creature about, I usually have an image in my head of what is going to happen.
Monster Legacy: What is your preferred technique for your illustrations?
Mate Jako: Traditional techniques. Don’t get me wrong, I love digital tools, and digital art makes the process so much faster in several cases, but in 98% of my work I start with the traditional approach. That means pencil, and paints on paper. You can create anything if you have a solid knowledge of traditional materials. What I usually do, depending on the deadline, is — I create a pencil sketch or a full render, scan it in and either finish the design with digital platforms using Photoshop or Painter, or in some cases fix the designs using the same tools.
If you were wondering that if I ever worked or want to work with 3D software my answer is, I love it. Those are amazing toys (for example look at what Aaron Sims and his team create with them), and I’m not saying that that’s never going to happen, but for now I’m more interested in creating creature designs and images with a more “fine art”-ish approach.
Monster Legacy: Could you talk about your involvement with the independent film project titled P.O.V.?
Mate Jako: P.O.V. is the second project I worked on with award-winning short filmmaker and published author Richard Anthony Dunford. It is a horror feature looking to complete filming and post production in mid-2014. The film itself is very crazy and unique in that every second is seen directly through the eyes of the lead character. It is a very interesting and intense way of approaching fear as a subject matter. I was responsible for providing concept art/creature and make-up design for the feature. A little something that establishes atmosphere and a look for the movie. Considering that the creatures are the stars in the movie, that is not a small undertaking.
Monster Legacy: Could you talk about your Kruhaxitan designs?
Mate Jako: The Kruhaxitan designs were created for a previous project I have been involved with Richard and his team, called Sex Tape. Unfortunately, we don’t really know if that film still going to happen or not, so I guess I can talk about it a little. When Richard first contacted me, they told me that they wanted a vicious demon coming back from hell for taking revenge. Since I did not have any further guidelines, but I knew that they wanted to use a practical approach to bring the creature to life, my first design was very human-like. I tried to keep it simple, considering the limited budget, and it could have been easily achieved with body suits and make-up.
They liked the design but they wanted something more hound-like, so that was the direction I was going to. I decided early on that the demon would have no eyes, because in ancient cultures evil entities don’t have any to symbolise a lack of soul. I created all the designs during two afternoons. Due to the lack of time, they are far from perfect, but it was for more of a first direction — and they loved them. Especially the second one, which would have been further developed if the movie got the greenlight.
Monster Legacy: Do you have other projects you are currently working on?
Mate Jako: One film-related project that I recently created was the movie poster for a short movie called Incognito, directed by Jeremiah Quinn. Nothing creature-related at the moment, apart from my personal dream project, a macabre fairy tale book for grown-ups that I am writing and illustrating. The process is not fast since I’m doing a lot of other things as well, but that is how I work I guess.
Monster Legacy: What kind of creature you would love to design for a film?
Mate Jako: There is not really a creature I would like to design really, but I’d love working with Guillermo del Toro! He understands creature design, he knows what he wants yet very opened for new ideas. But as it is, I’m still very much at the beginning of my journey as an artist. Who knows what the future might bring?