Onyinye Ubah

My notebook in primary school then was full of spider man drawings and would get into trouble a lot in class. Just the way most artists started, I started watching lots and lots of cartoons and then try to redraw it. In time, I started off as a comic book writer professionally because my drawing was poor. I wrote comics for a while and then started drawing again. Gradually I became an animator. I did that for a while and jumped into visual development for animation. At a point, something happened. I found myself falling in love with computer graphics works in live action movies. The trotting into film concept art led me into matte painting which is not yet a thing in Nigeria.

Meanwhile, I tried to study arts in Yabatech but I dropped out. I did not really fancy the arts in Nigerian universities. I mean, there are beautiful artists from schools like Yabatech. But those arts aren’t just for me. I took some professional courses online on animation and painting and nothing more. Since then, I started using Maya, Redshift, Nuke and Photoshop. I have been using after effect a lot recently since I am currently working on my first short film. I haven’t returned to university or college then. That was in 2013. My interest was beyond what they were teaching then. Notwithstanding, I wouldn’t advise anyone to just drop out of school except they are sure of what they really want. Left for me, I would have gone outside Nigeria to study what I wanted if I could afford it then.

When I started newly, only my friends and family took me serious. By friends, I mean the very two friends I have – Segun Samson and John Zino. We took ourselves seriously from day one. Many of my friends I used to draw with in secondary school all moved on to do other things and would ask me, ‘Are you still doing this kids stuff?’ Not quite sure if anyone looked down on my art though, just that they weren’t sure if that was a reasonable career for anyone to pursue. In my research in arts and graphics works in films, I discovered an artist called Dylan Cole and everything changed. I knew it was what I was looking for. His portfolio showed he was the matte painter on almost all the films I loved. I began looking for techniques of matte painting and all.

Matte painting in films is creating environment that do not exist. In films, there are environments that don’t exist or that’s not possible for directors to go and shoot at the location. Matte painting (2D and 3D) creates illusion of those environments. Sometimes, these illusions do set extension, they project environment on to a set which actors are acting on. Example is the Lord of the Rings. Most of the cities establishment shots are matte paintings.

Quite funny though, but I saw a shot from Conan the Barbarian the Dylan Cole did in 2007. It was at that point I realized I was born to do arts and not going anywhere. All the love I had for film up to that point all made sense to me. I just knew I wanted to do shots in films and grow to do my own short films. Although a lot of times, people asked me how I planned to make money with something that’s not common in Nigeria. It was quite discouraging in the beginning. But now, I have had the chance to work on a Hollywood show that I am a fan of. In recent times, I have had some people asking me how they can start a career in matte painting. I make sure I answer all their questions and teach them what I know.  Back then, my antidote for discouragement and giving up was to spend time watching Lord of the Rings. It was that simple for me. That film reminds me why I do what I do. I love that type of story construction. It is similar to Ogboju Ode, written by D.O Fagunwa which I hope to do something about it in the future. (Yes, I said it!)

My growth entails a lot of research and watching films as well as looking at a lot of artists’ works. Also, I plan to go to some places in Nigeria and other parts of the world with beautiful scenery, all in a bid for more exposure and inspiration. In all, inspiration from life is still the best. Here’s my art timeline:

2010-2012, I was a comic book writer. 2013-2015, I became an animator and illustrator. 2016-2017, I became a concept/visual development artist. Then 2018 till present, I am a matte painter. I have grown and revolved overtime especially having the knowledge of painting has helped me a lot to decide competition and color grading better in my matte paintings.

My dream is to make matte painting to spread as much as possible so that Nigerian directors can start having it in their films. I once worked with a movie director, Jame Omokwe for the show, Ajoche. I did couple of matte painting on that show. In the nearest future, I see myself going deep into Industrial Light and Magic (ILM) and mostly shooting my films either computer graphics or live action by the side until it becomes big enough.

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