oh my god, what I’ve done.

Jack Sachs

ILLUSTRATION  .  April 25th, 2019

We sat down and had a chat with the British illustrator Jack Sachs in Paris on the March 15th 2019. That was great, here’s what we said.

Where were you born and where are you right now?

London. I lived there until I was 25 and then I went to Berlin. After university, I just had enough. It’s stressful, it’s intense. Actually, it’s not the image that you think it is, it’s not as open culturally as some other cities. I mean there’s a lot going on but it’s all about earning more money and trying to be better than everybody else, it’s really competitive.

Berlin is like the opposite, like, it’s almost too far the opposite. It’s like, too relaxing sometimes (haha). Also, I’m surrounded by people who are working really hard and I think if you don’t have that network in Berlin you can just become a fucking astronaut!

So you feel there like a ‘hype contest’ going on in London?

Yes and it comes from money I guess. You need money to survive, to carry on going, to live basically. That means that everybody is competing for their jobs. I guess it’s because it’s such a big center of advertising, design, culture, fashion, etc. And on the island of England it’s also THE cultural center. So everybody is trying to be in London, at the top. Whereas on mainland Europe there’s many different cultural centers, Paris, Amsterdam, Berlin, Milan,… and they’re all better known for different things. While in England it’s all in one city and everybody is looking over their shoulder a bit I think.

What are you doing in Paris these days?

I came here for the half marathon actually! And there’s my friend from high school that I wanted to see the most. I think out of all the cities in mainland Europe (apart from Berlin) this is the one I’ve been to the most. My friends are pretty busy so during the day I’m just cycling around, meeting  people, different things. I went with my friend  to a yoga class yesterday! You know what it’s like, when someone visit your city, you wanna a see them but you can’t just drop you life to spend your all week with your friend, everyone need some space.

Who have you met in here?

I met Antoine Horfee and Ines Alpha, who are artists I really admire. They are both doing moving images, animation and I just wanted to say hello and met them but also go to their studio and see that process. So I just wrote them a message and that was it! Super interesting. 

Why did you choose to live in Berlin?

I wanted a change from London, I was just working in order to survive so I wasn’t enjoying my work. I visited Berlin quite a few times and every time I was like ‘I’m gonna move here, I’m gonna move here!’ . It just appealed to me and seemed like a good place to be. You know, it’s fun, it’s different, it’s achievable. Then, one of my friend moved there and I said to myself : fuck it, let’s give it a shot. At the time I didn’t have any connection with England, a house or anything and my family lives in Hong-Kong. So I went to Berlin with some stuff, I was lucky I found a place quickly in Neukölln.

Can you tell us about this half of last year you spent in Asia?

So the starting point was this show I had in Seoul called ‘Soft Life’ and then I had the opportunity to do some teaching at the university of Seoul. I just thought, my family is near, I have this opportunity to start a trip and I did. I began with Seoul and then carried on for 6 months. I went to Japan, Hong-Kong and China a little bit. I spread the word about my show on instagram and then I found people to hang out with. Also, I was working with people there – the guys who organised the trip, The Association of Illustrators – and they knew a lot of people so I got to met their friends.

Wasn’t it to hard to come back to reality after this?

Not really because in Hong-Kong where I spent the last 3 months, I was working, I had a studio there, a house and to me it was like life, I wasn’t travelling anymore. When I was there I didn’t want to do commercial work, I wanted just to make something, based on my time away, something to come back with basically.

You know I make these films where I shoot footage and then combine them with 3D animation, so I was shooting a lot in Hong-Kong. I really like the way it look, I think this city works better with my style of making images. I think Berlin is fun in a lot of ways but I don’t like how it looks. I love the graffiti, I love the streets and stuff but for my work it doesn’t fit. While the lines, the lights, the buildings, the atmosphere in Hong-Kong is really the kind of stuff I want to combine with my films. So I started to making this film, almost finished it and then I came back. Now it’s been 2 months and I don’t have much time to work on it because I’m earning the money I missed out on last year. But it’s fun, it’s really nice to have a project going slowly, you can think about it more.

Can you tell us more about this new film?

It’s the final step of my ’soft life’ project. It’s gonna be about 3 minutes long. I’m really pleased with it so far. It’s combining a lot of 3D techniques I was learning last year. I took me a long time to understand the work flow for using Octane and motion tracking but I finally figured it out and I’m so excited about it!

How did you learn to achieve this incredible look in your 3D works?

Only from the internet really, I didn’t learn that in school. It’s a crazy story actually. Before my final year at the university, I was only studying drawing, I had never did any computer graphics or anything. One very hot night in London, me and my friend were at a party, it was very far, we cycled there, we were very excited. We played fighting, he pushed me and my drawing-hand went onto a wine glass and a big chunk of glass got stuck in my wrist.

I went to the hospital, woke up the next day and the doctors told me that I probably couldn’t hold a pen anymore. I was pretty devastated. Either I could take a year off of university or learn a new skill. I was under really strong pain-killers, I was like out of it for months but I downloaded Maya and with my left hand I tried to start learning that. It was long but during this time I began to understand how this 3D process work. After a while I could also use a mouse and about 6/7 months later I could draw again after a lot of physiotherapy. 

Did you feel a difference in your drawings between before and after the accident?

My handwriting was always shit, my drawings were always pretty messy. So nothing really changed. But the massive change was that I started to do 3D and I carried on doing that. I wouldn’t have started doing it if that haven’t happened. At the end, that’s a blessing honestly. I know it’s a bit cheesy but it changed my life! Because I really enjoy drawing and I like my drawings but I couldn’t have any commercial success with them, no client would use this for advertisement. They are just messy, it’s always pen and paper, I never learned how to use adobe illustrator and stuff – so as professional illustrator I don’t think I would have had a chance. It was a really crazy event and now I can live from my 3D works. I’m still drawing all the time but it’s more personal now, I don’t sell it.

For me it’s really fun to have 2 separate practices, they’re always informing the other. If I don’t want to draw, I’ll do some 3D stuff and the 3D will make me feel different about drawing, they’re always keeping the other one fresh and it keeps you from being bored.

Do you do all your animations and all the character rigging by yourself?

Well a lot of my rigs are like super basic and when you learned things yourself, you didn’t go to Hyper Island or one of these schools and you know how everything works. I have huge gaps in my knowledge, there’s certain things I just can’t do. UV mapping or proper character face rigs and stuff.  For face rig, I’ve got my own way doing it, I move the elements by hand rather than actually putting bones in a face for example. I guess that’s been my approach the whole time, find a different way to achieve what you have in mind. And at the end this is a way to find you own style by trying to solve problems, by not knowing what I’m doing.

Do you work with other 3D professional from time to time?

I work on my own pretty much. Once or twice or worked with character animators, I provide them a rig and then make it like ‘run up the stairs’ and ‘do a backflip’ and all that shit. I can’t do that. It’s got a point now that I tried and learned as much as I can but I realised that if a job is happening and the client says « we need this character run up the stairs and do a backflip » I have to say « it’s not my skill set, I can’t do that ».

Do you think you reached some kind of a limit?

Nooo. I need to put some effort and learn. But I think now it’s just about being honest and saying « look, this is what I’m good at, I’m a designer. I’ll design you a character and somebody else can make it do what you need. Or, you can let me animate it and it will be my weird thing ».

I mean, I can make a character run up the stairs, kind of but not well though. I guess someone like me or Julian Glander are probably the same, we have our own kind of messy way of doing funny things. People like it or they don’t.

Let’s talk about technical stuff for a minute. So you started with this 3D software called Maya?

The very first thing I’ve got was called Daz 3D, a really creepy software. You just start with a human in a T-pose, you can move it around and people use it for weird shit, weird people on the internet. So that was the first time I could control this, I could animate that and this was funny. Then I tried learning Maya because it was free as an art student but Maya is like trying to learn Chinese whereas Cinema 4D is like French or Spanish. It’s difficult you know but you can do it (haha).

C4D is the best thing and it’s crazy like now there’s individuals producing these high quality 3D animations. One person or 2 or 3 people working together and they are making really high quality artwork. Before you needed at huge team with big technical skills and this is the difference between Maya and C4D. I was working in studio in London as a freelancing for a while and I was coming, using C4D on my own and making something good. But then there was a whole team of people making something on Maya and it will take them weeks and this is like perfect but nobody cares really. Get the difference between 10 people in a few weeks making something perfect or one person in a few days making something really good, you know.

There’s a lot of design courses that teach 3D and some people would say « Oh my god I did 3 months of Maya and I hate it so much », it makes people off. Because school is still teaching it like it’s important but I think it’s dying out. It’s also because if you’re used to Adobe – which most young people are – jump to C4D is not so big. But I’m sure Blender is just as good but I just never used it. There is some really good designers out there using it, like Julian Glander or Jelly Gummies (Sam Lyon).

 

And what about Motion Tracking?

I do all the tracking in C4D, it’s part of it now, it’s so good. Again, I’m not like very technical and people think « oh motion tracking must be so hard » but honestly, I put my footage in and it give me a 3D scan of the environnement and then I just go from there. It’s really that simple, I learned it with 1 or 2 tutorials, anyone can do it. It’s just so rewarding and funny. You go out with your phone, you film something stupid, you come home and then you put even just a simple shape with the lighting looking nice and it’s so satisfying. And also it’s a really fun game to try to match 3D lightning to the sun light, to make it look like the perfect fit and that’s why I’m doing it with Octane nowadays. 

Your whole style evolved and changed when you switch your 3D render engine to Octane. When did it happen?

A year ago I had this dying Mac book pro, I couldn’t run Octane on it and I was seing these amazing works on the internet, I really wanted to do it. So I saved a bit of money and bought a gaming PC, a Razer Blade, super nerdy. Then, I got Octane and I just never looked back. For so many reasons, like to be able to see your scene rendered as you move things around, it’s crazy. My scenes are pretty simples and for what I’m doing now it’s perfect, I’m really enjoying playing with the materials and stuff. It changed everything for me.

When I started 3D, the first time I saw something rendered in my previous render engine I was like amazed and then years went by and still enjoyed it but I wasn’t feeling that kind of excitement. Since I got Octane, I’m feeling that again so much. I think that having this high fidelity nice looking renders in the illustrative things that I’m doing is really fun for me. It’s still silly images but they are nice now (haha). I think it’s gonna be a long time until I reach any kind of limit with Octane.

What’s your daily routine in Berlin?

I get up pretty early, around 7am and do some sport. In Berlin that’s easy to have kind of a crazy lifestyle and I definitely enjoy partying and going out and I realised that if I don’t do some exercice, I’ll just get sick and die (haha). So I got really into running or like going to the gym or riding my bike. I’ve become one of those guys who wakes up early in the morning and does some sport. I still hate those guys but now it’s me! but it feels good and I really enjoy that.

Then I’m normally in the studio by like 10.30am. It’s shared place called « Random Collective » with a lot of animators, illustrators, really nice people and they’re all very active. I work there until around 7.30pm, 8 or 9 if it’s busy. But it’s also such a nice place to be, a lot of the time it’s just silence, serious work and then someone would say something and then we all sit down and chat for like half an hour and just like chill out. It’s not so strict, we’re like good friends now.

So you don’t party during the week anymore?

Oh no no no. The friends I know who are taking this career seriously, we treat it like a regular job. Monday to Friday you go and work in the studio, no matter what. I’m self-employed but I would feel weird if I wasn’t doing that seriously.

I’m also an illustrator and when I saw your Instagram stories, I felt an appeal and it made me want to do my own but I don’t know where it’s coming from really. Do you have an opinion about this?

I think it’s an interesting thing. At first when Instagram came, I remember I had a shitty phone, like a old nokia and I was like « pffff I’ll never use instagram, this is just to take pictures of your food, bwa bwa ». Then I got an iPhone, took pictures of my artwork, put it on instagram and I enjoyed that. For a long time I felt it was really good because it was like a chilled out version of my portfolio, it didn’t matter, I could publish anything, photo of my friends and stuff. But as Instagram became more and more important for art, it stops being this chill place and becomes your actual portfolio, it’s professional. It’s weird now because I’ve got fucking comments and shit on my portfolio and I think a lot of other artists say the same : websites are dead. Your instagram is pretty much your portfolio and this is where business is happening. Now, Stories, that’s where now you can post your dumb shit.

I think it’s really frustrating that you have to be on Instagram to exist as an artist. You have to adapt your work to their rules.

Yeah that’s horrible. You make a really detailed artwork and people look at it on a 2 inches screen. It’s fucked.

When did you start to grow this big audience you have now?

I started posting on Tumblr 10 years ago and I’ve been posting shit for years there. Nobody noticed for years and then 1 or 2 things got shared a bunch of times and it snowball from there and then I move over to Instagram. Then, it’s always the same, just carrying on posting, posting, posting. 

That’s amazing that we have these tools. But at the same time it encourage even more competitiveness. Like you see another guy in London and he’s posting shit all the time and everyone is like « fuck, that’s amazing!». London and this industry is already competitive but Instagram makes it like you can see other people on your phone in real time and you can compare statistically, numbers and comments and shit. It’s really bad for your head I think. But if you can control it, it’s a good tool for working.

We were having to conversation with my flatmate, he’s a DJ and he told me « a successful DJ is someone who goes to the party, plays his set really well and leaves the party ». That’s a healthy way to work and it’s the same with Instagram. A healthy artist would go, post an artwork and leave. But the ones who would stay all night and getting fucked up after that set, that’s when it’s bad for you head. When you’re on it the whole time. I’d say « ok this is good for my work, I’m posting something » but then I spending fucking hours watching videos where they crush things or slime videos and I’m like « what am I doing with my life?! ».

Do you manage now to keep Instagram away now?

I’m still using it way more than I should. It’s crazy like, I’m working, my phone is there, face down and if there’s like 2 seconds of loading, I’ll grab it immediately and before I know it I’ve looked at Instagram for 15 minutes and the thing is loaded for ages. And Instagram stories man, watching that shit.. One time, when I was hangover, I woke up in my bed, watched Instagram stories and I watched all of them! I got to the end! I was like « oh my god, what I’ve done ».

Do you have a music in mind that fits your work?

I love music, I listen to music all the time but I’m really not a music-minded person. Whenever it does happen in a project, I work with people to do it. I find it very frustrating, it took me a while to accept that the music I like doesn’t fit with the art I make. Like my favourite kind of record covers aren’t the record covers that I would make. I like to work with sound designers or composers but when I do, normally I just say « you guys do it ».

Is there a new challenge now that you would like to achieve? Do you think that the technical gap can be to big sometimes?

Yeah, there’s no many.. Proper character animation for a start, I would really love that.

I think the problem is, when you’re working in a way that you enjoy and that you’re good at and it’s what you career is, learning a new software is starting at the bottom again and it’s so difficult. Finding the time to do it again and really pursue it, not try for half a day. I mean to get to handle one software it took me like 7 years.. and it’s not a way to say that you shouldn’t just try, but that takes efforts. Every time I see something amazing online I’m like « I wanna learn Houdini or proper After Effects or unwrapping shit » and I know I should but I’m really just enjoying what I do for the moment. You do things naturally I guess.

Do you know Laurie Rowan? We interviewed him not long ago.

Oh yeah man, he’s great, love it. He’s really good at character animation and stuff. He’s one of these people, I really enjoy looking at his work and – even with a knowledge in this field – you really have to ask yourself how he did it. When you see a Marvel comic or whatever, you don’t care because you know you’ll never understand it but when you see an independent artist making something really cool and original, it’s different. And you have to say like « hm interesting, what technique did they use? », I really enjoy that.

Don’t you think it can also be a bit frustrating sometimes?

Yeah but now there’s like a frustrating culture of people making tutorials like « hey! We saw this cool video from Laurie Rowan. Today we’re gonna look through the techniques of how he did that! ». I think that we should all share knowledge but at the consent of an artist.

Do you think this some kind of stealing?

No, not stealing. For example, Laurie is an artist and he learned a bunch of techniques on his own. Now, you can’t copy or teach his artistic ideas. You can only teach his techniques. I think somebody who’s not an artist, a very advanced technician said to himself « hey, this is popular on the internet, other people would want to know how to do this » and then share his techniques. It’s interesting because, on one hand, I do believe in sharing all these things, because it’s how I got to where I am, I asked people questions and stuff. However, I think this thing of saying « let’s take a part of somebody’s work » is a bit unhealthy.

But I don’t know because from a technical point of view, we should share these things. I don’t know, it is weird. When someone is asking for my 3D files, I can tell them what I use or roughly how I did it but I’m not giving them my files, that’s my shit. It’s like saying to somebody « hey, can I have that drawing? ». Also, I have to remind myself sometimes that I was like that. Because now so many people are asking me « hey, what software do you use? », it’s like a joke for me now. And, I was doing that, years ago, so I have to be nice and say « hello, I use cinema 4d » (even though it written on my website and on my page and everywhere! haha).

Do you work with an agent?

I was at Blink Ink in London for a few years and this year I left. Because they weren’t my agent, I wasn’t employed by them and they weren’t representing me but I was a director on that team of directors which kind of put me in a weird position. I’m not a director you know, I’m a designer. I think for a long time it was great but in the end I decided I want an actual agent. So 3 months ago I signed a 6 months trial period with Bernstein & Andriulli and that’s cool, we’ll see how it goes! 

It’s just fine to have somebody fighting your corner, making arguments for you sometimes you receive requests of non-negotiable jobs with fixed budget and if you’ve got a problem with that budget, it doesn’t matter, they find somebody else in 10 minutes! I got an email the other day like « hey, quick turnaround, couple of days, illustration » and I emailed back an hour later and they told me « oh, sorry we got somebody else already. »

What are you going to do here in Paris after having answered to this last question?

I’m gonna go and check out this second hand clothing store and then I’m gonna take my bike over to Pigalle, see my friends, buy a nice bottle of wine for the person who let me her flat for these days in Paris and then, I don’t know :)

Jack Sachs is a British illustrator based in Berlin – you can find his works on instagram and on his website.