The extraordinary 3D artwork of Julien Lafortune presents a remarkable combination of delicacy, vibrance, and blurs the line between fantasy and reality.
Montréal, Québec — Canada
Julien attended The Université du Québec à Montréal (UQÀM) to complete a degree in Interactive Media, a very diverse and intensive program. Although he is a multi-faceted individual with a variety of creative potentials, his passion lies in 3D design, where he brings his experience as a generative and interactive programmer, background in photography, and appreciation for cinema to the planning stage; ultimately creating work reflective of an extra-terrestrial dreamlike experience.
ONE MAN'S TRASH
MAUX DE TÊTE (HEADACHE)
What was your experience like at UQÀM? What program did you take and how has your academic background shaped you as an artist?
At the very beginning, I wanted to study cinema at UQÀM. I didn't make it in the program so the year after that, I preferred to open up to another program. That's when I found out about Interactive media. I didn't know much about it, but it just seemed so creative and so innovative that I decided to take a shot. I made it through the interview and the selection process and there I was. I did a degree (so 3 years) and really loved it. I then worked in an interactive studio where I was doing generative visuals, interactive programming, and more as a creative coder.
Your portfolio has a variety of work ranging from 2D animation, 3D designs, videography, sound design, and installation projects; how do you navigate through your ideas and specifically channel your talent for each mode of production?
My different channels of talent come from my large interest in arts in general, especially digital art. I feel like my background helped me a lot with the visual aspect of my work, the fact that I was coming from a cinema background. At UQÀM, we were working on so many projects that I needed to find a way to be creative in every aspect of the work. That’s where I found out about sound design, videography, mapping, and installation. Schoolwork was a good way for us to start, and achieve huge projects even at the beginning of our degree.
Which mode of production did you begin to learn first? When and why did you start with it?
I began learning Generative and Interactive Programmation in two softwares we were using, Max MSP and TouchDesigner. Max was more about sound design, generative sound, and programming sensors. TouchDesigner was more about real-time visuals, controlling and receiving data from sensors also. I was not a great programmer and didn’t know anything about coding at that time, so these softwares really helped me get into programming, without having to code everything myself. These are nodal programming softwares, as we call them.
PARTICLES X SPHERE
Regarding your 3D artwork: when did you realize that you liked this form of creativity? What drew you to it?
When I got a little better at it. I could make scenes that I would have liked to photograph. I didn’t mention it, but yeah, I did a lot of photography before getting into digital art and interactive media. So for me, it was kind of a refreshing way to create, as I was mostly doing real-time visuals before. By real-time visuals, I’m referring to the generative stuff I made in TouchDesigner. These are real-time rendered, so they don’t have as many details as a render frame can have. When I realized I could set up the depth of field, the lighting, and what I like the most, the materials and textures, that’s when I fell in love with it.
When did you begin making 3D art?
I started my 3D artwork journey during the first lockdown here, in March of 2020. I began for mostly two reasons: I had a class during school and I was terrible at it, and the other reason was that I wanted to get into game engines, and I thought that I needed to reinforce my basic learning of 3D at that time. So I started by learning online, through tutorials, readings, and practicing every day. I was literally just doing 3D in my days.
Reflect on an impactful experience you’ve had (either solo or collaborative; can be production relation or just a general life experience)
It has to be the Tokyo International Projection Mapping Award we took part in in November 2020. As for a lot of people, 2020 has been a hard one for me. But a couple of friends and I, back in June, decided to submit a project for the TIPMA, and we got picked to do it. The contest was about a projection, animated video involving 3D which was projected on the Tokyo Big Sight. Unfortunately due to Covid, we couldn’t make it there, so we were on a live zoom call during the night (13hrs more or less of delay). But this experience was crazy, and we had the surprise to win a prize, so it was an amazing experience for me. Remember that I started 3D only a couple of months before that. It motivated me to keep going after that.
How do you conceptualize your work before you begin to produce it? (Do you draw things out beforehand, make notes, etc.)
I wish I could draw, but I’m terrible at it. I take a lot of notes for installations, bigger projects, or team collaboration. I brainstorm a lot on my own, writing everything down in a notebook. I have a smaller one that would always be in my jacket, so I was always able to write [ideas] down even in a coffee shop, bar, etc… For my personal work, I use Pinterest and Miro to do some mood boards. This keeps me inspired and up to date with what I want to achieve visually. I used to do almost daily renders, so there were moments where I just got on my computer and played around until I got something out of it.
How did you feel when you finished your first render of a 3D model to bring it to completion?
I felt relieved because it was for homework in college. But once I got back into it, in March, I felt great and proud. I started by watching a lot of tutorials and trying to replicate these. Once I got a bit better, I tried to do my own stuff. I’m not really that good at modeling, it’s still a challenge for me. But it’s fine, I use assets sometimes or I reuse my own models a lot.
What has been the biggest challenge to you so far when creating 3D artworks?
Two things. One was that I wasn’t always able to come up with what I had in mind initially. I just didn’t have the skills sometimes. That can be frustrating. The other thing was that I wanted to be good so fast, that I was doing it every day, but I wasn’t doing anything else. After a while, I felt uninspired. I didn’t think it would happen, but it did. I kind of scrapped a lot of my work at that time.
ONE SHADER TO RULE THEM ALL
What are your preferred programs to use and why so?
I mostly work in Blender. It’s an open-source software that has a great community and so many learning resources. Also, it’s free. It was perfect for me when I started learning because it was free, so [there was] no need to worry about paying for a license.
For 3D modeling, did you find the learning curve to be difficult? If so, how did you overcome this, and what would you say to others wanting to learn 3D modeling?
It is difficult and very frustrating most of the time. As I mentioned before, I was always in Blender working on my scene every day, and it’s the best way to learn. Also, trying new things and different things is important I think, especially when you are learning on your own. Make sure to learn new things and not just do everything the same way every time.
I think that the most important thing is to have fun. Yes, it’s frustrating, yes you will feel discouraged, but you have to stick to your work and continue. You will get better. It takes time, but be patient. The learning curve is so nice to watch after a while. I feel like it’s not even me who did my first artwork. I don’t like them now, but I like watching them and I feel that I improved.
What elements do you find yourself incorporating in your 3D designs? What significance do they hold to you?
I [often] feel like retouching my artwork in a photo program (I use Lightroom most of the time) to give my work a more organic feel. I feel like the aspect of my work brings me back to my photography work, a couple of years ago. I was into film photography a lot, and I love to make a grainy kind of image.
Describe how you plan for an installation or projectile project.
Installations are probably the hardest for me to plan. I’m a visual type of person, so I always need to either sketch it down or write things down. A lot of the time, we are in a team (I actually never did a project like that on my own), so it helps to visualize ideas. Then we can exchange the idea and bring it somewhere else.
What do you envision with the collaborative performances? How does the content of the performance influence the backgrounds chosen to be projected?
So for Lost Screen Dream, as an example, we [already] knew what the visual content would be before actually setting up the performance. It was the same stage set-up for every projection, and we decided afterward that we would involve dance in the project. I came up with this intense soundtrack that was partly made in the studio with a friend the week before. We were jamming and found some amazing sounds out of this session. After that, I did the soundtrack and added some punctual sounds at specific times for the performance.
Click to view 'Lost Screen Dream'
When reflecting on all the work you’ve done at UQÀM, is there a particular moment or memory that stands out to you? What about the people you’ve met along the way?
There’s plenty of moments for sure. I think about Alta Mira, which was really my first project shown in public. We were 3 students working on that. 2 days before the deadline, my external drive broke and I needed to do the interactive sound design from scratch. I remember staying up in a coffee shop until 4:30 in the morning so I could catch up the day after. The project was actually super cool even if we only had our personal money to put on it. I remember my dad building me the structure and me carrying it in a moving truck cause it was way too big for a regular car.
The people of UQÀM are definitely people who will follow me for a lot of time. Even if we are now a bit separate because of the pandemic, we keep in touch. We were very close, because of the small size of our class. I mean, I was seeing these people more often than my own family actually, so they are very important to me.
Click to view 'Alta Mira'
In the process of creating work, what have you learned about yourself? How has it changed you?
I learned a lot about myself, and it changed me in a way that I couldn’t really explain. It’s just a part of me, and I’m glad I can now create for a living. As a young person, I didn’t know what I wanted to do in life, and when I got into Interactive Media, it just suddenly made sense to me, and I knew I could be a creative person for a living.
Where do you hope to be in the near present future? What are your goals/ what would you like to achieve?
As a 3D artist, I want to constantly improve and get better at it. I would also love to reach more and more people, for sure. But larger than that, I hope that better times are ahead of us, and I can’t wait to create experiences that can bring people back together and make them forget about these dark times we are living in right now. This is probably what I wish for the most for the next couple of years.
Julien has an interesting collection of work viewable on his Instagram and official Portfolio Website! Feel free to check them out:
Portfolio Website: julienlafortune.myportfolio.com/