Interview with Youtube’s u m a m i

Justin Tomchuk, AKA u m a m i, is one of YouTube’s rising stars. At 252K subscribers and counting, he makes moody, surreal animations that draw on everything from classic advertisements, fine art and sci-fi to Thomas the Tank Engine and Campbell’s Cream of Chicken Soup. He does the bulk of the art and animation himself, as well as scoring his work with his own music under the name HEXSYSTEM. His Interface series is due to wrap up any day now, with 23 of 24 episodes complete. I sat down with him to ask about what advice he’d give to artists just starting out, what movies he thinks are worth learning from, and ended up learning a lot about how technology might affect art in the future.

Photo: Justin Tomchuck / Karolina Szablewska

I asked him first what advice he wishes someone had given him when he was at college, and if there was anything he wants to say to any young artists just starting out.

“Well, I went to art school, but there was also a film program there. There was no way they would have known this back in 2012 when I was graduating, but I think they should have pushed the fact that all multimedia was going to completely change. Everyone was pushing you to join the union to get into the film industry and work your way up for 20 or 30 years. It’s like the old way of doing things, right? YouTube and stuff were looked down upon, ‘Oh, that’s just cat videos,’” Tomchuk reminisces. “But what people should have done was told us to embrace it, and say all these television networks and movie studios, they’re still gonna be there, but there’s also going to be this huge new market that isn’t even being taken seriously. So, I’d say to someone in college right now, instead of rejecting new tech, all this new stuff, check it out and embrace it.”

Photo: Justin Tomchuck

Tomchuk utilises a random face generator developed by Nvidia for the character KAMI’s face in Interface. I ask him if there’s any new tech that excites him at the moment.

“There’s this girl, she bought herself a full body tracking suit, like they use on movies like Lord of the Rings for Gollum,” Tomchuk says. “And she programmed this entire 3D room using the Unreal Engine. And she can basically do like theatre that plays back through a Twitch stream that looks like a completely different 3D character, but with all the correct tracking. It’s completely new, like that’s a such a new thing. And I just feel like the way technology is going these days, there’s gonna be so much opportunity to do completely new fields that haven’t even existed yet.”

“And this other guy, Joel Haver on YouTube. He uses rotoscoping, but he uses a software called EbSynth which is based off of some sort of neural network. And it allows him to make animations of his video recordings,” explains Tomchuk. “But he’s doing it in such an innovative way. And he capitalised on it, and his channel blew up, because it’s like this new technology. People haven’t seen it before. You know, I think there’s a lot of stuff coming out, especially with neural networks and videos, GPUs and stuff that’s gonna really change things up in the next 10 years for sure.”

Photo: Justin Tomchuck

I asked him which films he’s inspired by, and if he were to create a mini curriculum for a film class, which films he’d want his students to watch.

“Well, I found it was always teacher’s preference, you know? It was very subjective,” Tomchuk says about his own time at art school. “But for my personal watchlist I’d say The Last of the Mohicans, The Silence of the Lambs, Sling Blade, Watchmen, Uncut Gems and There Will Be Blood. A lot of these movies just let the scenes speak for themselves without exposition. And I feel like there’s a lot you can learn from just watching scenes happen. Showing things rather than telling them so much. And part of the problem I have with movies and TV shows these days is a lot of them are bad, but if they were to cut out maybe half of the dialogue, and just pace it better, that show might actually be all right.”

Photo: Karolina Szablewska

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Chris Johnson

May 2021
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