Liquid CGI Skulls Make Death and Taxes Actually Look Appealing

Artist Chadwick Makela got his start in ceramics. Now, he makes visuals for Coachella and A$AP Rocky.

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Jun 17 2016, 6:15pm

Still from A$AP tour visuals. Images courtesy of the artist

When cover art is striking enough, it can become a large part of a legend. Think of A Tribe Called Quest, or early Ninja Tune imprints. One young artist who's creating the visual identities for many of today's artists—and in the process, making a name for himself—is Chadwick Makela. With a distinct, balanced style, he's been climbing the ranks of the EDM elite and is now branching out into digital group shows—like Digital Madrid—and collaborations with rappers.

None of this was planned, though. What started as a hobby blossomed into a career. Makela actually earned a degree in oil painting and ceramic sculpture, and that was all he really did until a few years ago. But his gravitation towards music proved strong enough: looking to collaborate, he began hitting artists up to see if they needed help with branding or artwork. Eventually, he found himself a few powerful unions.

Artwork for Slander

Makela's main tools are the ones you'd expect, like Cinema 4D, Photoshop, and Illustrator, but he also dabbles in ZBrush and After Effects. Procreate is the go-to for all his digital illustrations. When asked if he uses pre-designed models (raw models like cars or TVs), the 25-year-old is pretty up-front about doing so. "A lot of artists would probably get to this question and lie, but I think if you do a lot of 3D art, it's pretty obvious that models are your friend," he tells The Creators Project. "I try and do all original stuff, but for the sake of time—and how quick the music industry works—it would be a huge crippling factor to model everything from scratch because of how long it takes."

Still, he's created a personal brand that no model could account for. Skulls and skeletons are a prevalent theme in his catalogue, one that presents a strong combination of tactile textures and cold sleekness. Luxury and death coexist regularly in scenes of gold and grayscale.

From Makela’s the Digital Madrid group show

But there's always a danger of slipping into a formula, one Makela regularly pushes back against. When working with regular clients, he takes the approach of creative director, building on the brand they've already built, purposefully reutilizing past imagery to continue their themes. But with newer clients, it's more collaborative, and they brainstorm what the final project will look like. "The biggest obstacle," the Seattle native says, "is they usually want a similar look to what I've done. So my goal is to always push them further and try and do something different to stand out."

Animation was the obvious next step. Makela, as an animator for Sus Boy, created the visuals for DJ Mustard and RL Grime in the Sahara Tent at Coachella this year. He also worked for Sus on the recently completed tour visuals for A$AP Rocky. But Makela's already got his eyes set on even bigger things: "My next dream would be doing visuals for a dome venue. Creating and rendering all original content in 360 degrees would be my ultimate dream project."

Check out more of his work below:

Artwork for Q

Artwork for UZ

Artwork for Hucci

For more from Chadwick Makela, visit his Instagram.

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