Halil Ural was born in Turkey in 1983. He grew up with the pop culture and cartoons of the ’80s and ’90s and has been passionate about drawing since childhood. He studied at the Istanbul High School of Fine Arts, where he concentrated on drawing and painting, and the Marmara Faculty of Fine Arts, from which he graduated in 2006 with a degree in graphic design. He currently works in the medium of digital painting as a freelance science fiction/fantasy illustrator and concept artist for book publishers, game developers, and advertising firms. His website is mrdream.deviantart.com.
What were your favorite monsters when you were a child?
There are many of them. When I was a little kid, my favorites were mostly the cartoon villains such as Skeletor and Trapjaw. From the movies, I liked the sandworms in Tremors and I liked Gremlins. Dinosaurs became popular in the early ’90s, possibly because of the Jurassic Park movie. So if T. rex is regarded as a monster, then I can say that it’s also among my favorite childhood monsters.
If you could have one of the creatures from one of your paintings as a pet, which one would it be?
I think my creatures are not tame enough to keep as pets but it would be nice to have that griffin-like creature that I painted for the cover of Kestrel’s Midnight Song.
If you could be one of the creatures in one of your paintings, which one would it be?
I guess I would be the cat in Miss Nevermiss.
The paintings all have a strong narrative element. How much background story do you imagine before creating the painting?
Well, I believe that any subject matter can be a story itself and it’s important to interweave the main story with other small side stories. It makes them more believable and more alive. And I also have bits of symbolism in some of my paintings. So that visual narrative is a nice way to bind them. The background story sometimes gets developed as I refine the subject matter, though it’s another case when the client comes up with a pre-written background story. If that’s the case, then I have to follow that pre-written path for it, which means I don’t have much space to play. At that point, I have to figure out how to tell someone else’s story with my own visual language. In the end, it becomes a fusion of the client’s story and my narrative.
Leave Her Alone is one of the most interesting paintings I have seen in a long time, because of the point of view. It is composed from the first-person point of view of the villain. Tell us about your decision to do that. Tell us about the project that this was for.
It wasn’t actually for a project. It was a personal piece where I experimented with the narrative uses of camera angle. So the decision for that composition was made to challenge myself. I wanted to make a fight scene without showing the fight. The foreshortening gives the impression that the character you are looking at is bravely standing up to a tall guy, probably a stronger guy. The first-person point of view from the villain’s eyes is a form of interaction with the viewer to exaggerate how the character you are viewing is determined to protect the girl, by even guarding her from the viewer.
Hibernate is my favorite painting of yours. It seems to have an environmentalist subtext that reminds me of Princess Mononoke. Was this in your mind when you created this painting?
It was an old piece I did for Taron’s “Natives of the Lifeless Forest” Challenge at CGHUB.com. The environmentalist subtext is there, but at the same time, the tribe of blue creatures who hunt the tree-tortoise creature is also a part of that lifeless forest too. The theme is the tension between extinction and over-population. My “lifeless forest” is a glacial land that life has not permanently abandoned. It’s a place where trees can travel when they awaken from hibernation. And of course, it is almost impossible not to get inspired by Miyazaki’s works when the subject is “Natives of the Lifeless Forest.” So my answer would be yes.
Prophecy of Tides is an unusual painting. It has a figure that you would expect to see at human-scale, but it is contrasted with the landscape to give it monstrous scale. What are some of the emotions and themes that were in your mind when you created this painting?
Yes, he indeed is enormous and his lower body is blending or fading in the horizon. He’s like a giant ghost of the past that blocks the sun. He is wearing tribal dress, looking into the distance, and possibly foreseeing a coming danger. The main themes in my mind were the flood of Genesis and colonization. Prophecy of Tides is my take on mankind’s grasp of its own myths.
Many of your digital paintings have effects applied so that they resemble hand-painted works. How did you do that? Why did you do that?
I love the depth of colors and how the brush strokes look in traditional mediums. It has that organic feel that is a bit hard to achieve digitally. So I decided to simulate that natural look, especially in my fantasy-themed works. I started building my own customized color palette and brush sets for Photoshop. Also, sometimes I do not fix all the flaws or details in everything. I believe the rawness and flaws make them look more hand-painted.
What is your dream project?
There are too many ideas for various possible “dream projects” in my mind, so it’s hard to put all of them together into one single project. After all, if it’s a “project,” it needs to be one step ahead of being just a “dream.” I would love to see my paintings get animated, so maybe a feature-length animated film would make a good “dream project” someday.
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