By Cristina Schreil
Aybars Turan has a background in fine art sculpture, graphic design, and visual effects. Naturally, he is as bemused as you might be that he now works at a car company.
Turan is a senior digital concept modeler at Tesla motors. Projects he’s been a part of have been in the news recently, including Tesla’s recently debuted Cybertruck.
Turan was immersed in sculpture, oil painting, graphic design, and visual effects along the way. If you think it’s an unconventional career path, Turan would agree with you. When he was approached by Tesla, he was “quite surprised,” he recalled. But, he advocates for the very open-mindedness and dedication that led him from studying various art forms at Academy of Art University to his current position. His attitude helps, too. “I love adapting and I love jumping into unknowns,” the School of Animation and Visual Effects (ANM) alumnus said.
He left his native Turkey—where he first earned a degree in sculpting and painting—to pursue studies in the United States. He spent four years on the East Coast, in New York, working in graphic design agencies and attending The National Academy Museum and School of Fine Arts, where he earned a diploma in fine art sculpting.
His lifelong interest in visual effects—stemming from his fandom of such movies as “Jurassic Park”—was what led him to earn his master’s degree from ANM. He recalls fun memories from his Academy days, including collaborating with other students on StudioX projects such as “Blue Bird” and “Dino Hunt.” “They’re encouraging you to join these collaborative projects where you can actually put things on your résumé,” he said of ANM faculty.
As it is for many Academy students, Spring Show was a turning point for Turan. Not only did he receive two awards, for his work in texturing and modeling, but he also landed a major job opportunity. That day jumpstarted the process that led him to become a lead 3-D artist for Playstudios. Even then, he was surprised to work at a video game company. “I said, I could totally do this. I do it for VFX, why not for a game?” he remembered.
During that time, he said he was still working on his craft, still creating his own art and publishing it online in his off-hours. “I always push in different directions to open different doors,” Turan said. Showing off his work on various online platforms like ArtStation and CGSociety. Being active in those communities is what attracted Tesla, even though Turan had no hard surface modeling experience.
“The anxiety started that moment because this isn’t a game studio, this isn’t a visual effects company, not a graphic design studio, it’s not an illustration—it’s this completely different tech and car industry. I had absolutely no idea what was going on, but I really wanted to jump in and experience this and see how it goes,” Turan said. “It’s a whole different world. It’s more design. It’s more engineering. Precision is so much [more] important. It’s a whole new level of modeling.” Turan added it was something he needed to teach himself and turned to his colleagues for information. “It took a year and a half of me actually getting cooked in that industry.”
One piece of his advice for Academy students who want a career like his may seem a bit unconventional—but Turan attests it worked powerfully for him: approach professionals whose work you admire and ask them for feedback, no matter how harsh. “I sincerely asked people’s opinion … some of them, if you reach out to one every day, it’s not overwhelming on you and it’s not overwhelming on other people,” he said, explaining he’d message people on their websites or through platforms like LinkedIn.
“I was getting some brutal feedback and I was literally enjoying it so much,” he said, adding a laugh. “I never felt down if someone whose work I adored or appreciated told me that my anatomy sucked or my texturing is bad. I never felt defensive about it. I was always, ‘How can I do better? How can I do it like you?’” His argument to students who feel timid at getting critiqued: remember that it could lead to internship opportunities. “You really don’t know what happens until you try.”
For more information, visit aybarsturan.com.