The Edge: Jonatan Catalán Navarrete – Lighting and Shading Artist

July 01, 2014 4 min read

Jonatan Catalan Navarrete - alma 01

Novedge: Tell us a bit about who you are and what you do. 

Jonatan Catalán Navarrete: My name is Jonatan Catalán Navarrete, I am a Look Development Lighting & Shading Artist working freelance. I am passionate about animation, photography and film; it was just a matter of time before I would find the perfect combination of these interests in computer animation and in the lighting & shading role.

Jonatan Catalan Navarrete

Novedge: Who is or has been the biggest influence on your work? 

Jonatan Catalán Navarrete: After more than 10 years working as a Lighting & Shading Artist and trying to find my own style, it is hard to name a specific influence, but maybe it all started with the way that I understood lighting and how it could be used to express emotions and help tell something through colours and shadows. 

At the beginning of my career I found the work of Tadao Ando to be very inspirational. He is a very talented architect who has a special way to work with natural light in his buildings. In other cases the inspiration comes from elements of a film. The work of some cinematographers can be very helpful: Roger Deakins, Emmanuel Lubezki, Wally Pfister are good examples. Film soundtracks are also a very good source of inspiration.

Jonatan Catalan Navarrete - grandfather 01

Novedge: Can you talk about your creative process? How do you approach each project? How do you collaborate with clients?

Jonatan Catalán Navarrete:It depends on the project. Usually if a client comes to me,  it is because he saw something in my style or portfolio that he wants to get for his project, so I have to figure out what the client wants and how we can make that happen. It is very important to look at a lot of references, concepts and to have many conversations at the beginning, as sometimes the client knows what he wants, but doesn't know how he wants it, so this process helps us start in a good way. 


Jonatan Catalan – Lighting & Shading Reel 2012 from Jonatan Catalan Navarrete on Vimeo.

In the early days of production, I try to have a style frame that can represent more or less the look that I want to get at the end of the project. It is very useful to discuss some points at that moment and it brings about very transparent communication between you and the client. 

Jonatan Catalan Navarrete - grand piano key beauty 01

Novedge: What is a recent project that you worked on? 

Jonatan Catalán Navarrete: I recently finished a project on which I worked for the last eight months but I don’t have permission to talk about it yet, I hope to tell you more details soon. However I can talk about my work in the feature film Grand Piano starring Elijah Wood and John Cusack, one of the most challenging works of my career. 

I was responsible for a full CG sequence at the end of the film, where we see the interior of the piano with the keys' mechanism and something else, I don't want to give you away anything… but for some reason, the piano has a gears' system and a safe box inside.

One of the most important things about this project was the realism, because in this sequence we have some shots that go from Elijah Wood and other actors to the inside of the piano, so we needed good continuity in the photography of the film. I had to pay attention especially to the lighting & shading to make the sequence credible and I had to do my best with the details of the keys mechanism, because someone might say “hey the key mechanism doesn’t works in that way!”

Jonatan Catalan Navarrete - grand piano safebox beauty 02

Jonatan Catalan Navarrete - grand piano safebox beauty 03

Novedge: What software do you use?

Jonatan Catalán Navarrete: This project was one of my first done in Maya, but at this moment I feel more comfortable modeling with 3ds Max. I used Maya for shading, lighting and rendering, as usually Photoshop was the choice for texturing and After Effects and Nuke for compositing.

In the look development process I worked with Maxwell Render, I think it is very powerful at this stage because you don’t have to think in parameters and this kind of technical nightmares, so you can advance much faster. At the end of the lighting & shading process, I had to switch to V-Ray because LampPost VFX, the VFX company of the film, had a pipeline and render farm for V-Ray.

In my Grand Piano reel, you can see some shots from the look development rendered in Maxwell Render.


Grand Piano – Look Dev. Lighting & Shading Reel from Jonatan Catalan Navarrete on Vimeo.

Novedge: What are the rewards and challenges of working freelance?

Jonatan Catalán Navarrete: Well the rewards are easy to talk about: more freedom to select a stimulating project that suits your personal taste, direct contact with your clients, more control over creative decisions, maybe the typical you get to be "your own boss"? Hehe .

About the challenges, working for a company or studio, you have to think only about your role and finish the work by your deadline, but as a freelancer… you have to do all that plus talk with clients, create a marketing strategy to get more projects, manage the website and the social networks to have presence online to get attention for you and your work… it is hard to find time for all of this, but knowing it is all for your own benefit, even the challenges feel like a reward at the end.

Jonatan Catalan Navarrete - kimochis 01

Novedge: What would you like to work on next? 

Jonatan Catalán Navarrete: I like to think that my next project will be stimulating and challenging. I don’t care if it is a feature film, a short film or advertising, I want to be part of an interesting project, learning new things, enjoying my work… that’s how I see my future.


To  see more of Jonatan's work, head over to his website and blog. You can also follow him on Vimeo, Behance and Twitter.

And don't forget to follow Novedge on Twitter for all our latest updates.

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