Declan McGurry: Destined to Create

Lightmap caught up with Declan McGurry, a 3D artist at Schawk in London, to learn about his journey as an artist, the evolution of 3D and the impossibility of working without HDR Light Studio.


As far back as he can remember, Declan McGurry always dreamt of becoming an artist. Intrinsically influenced by the endless competitive duals with his older creative siblings, then nurtured by his Father’s career as a Lithographic Printer; his chosen career path as an artist seemed almost inevitable.
”My older sister is a traditional artist who sells her own artworks and teaches art to adults and my Father was a Lithographic Printer, so you could say it runs in the family. I started a 4-year apprenticeship at 17 at his then company, as a hand Colour Retoucher in 1987 – which was before computers took over, so it was all film and hand masking etc.”

Since 1987, Declan has cut his teeth at Schawk, a global print, packaging company. Their London office produces advertising for print, which now includes digital advertising. His commendable 31-years of service and loyalty to Schawk is not down to a lack of ambition but influenced by a continual stream of opportunities to grow as an artist.

During his time at Schawk, the industry and technology have evolved with the times, as did Declan’s vision for his career. An opportunity at Wace (the companies name before it was taken over by Schawk) around twenty years ago to watch in-house artists create scenes for a 3D animation called Johnny Pumpkin exposed Declan to the world of 3D and his interest in the industry bloomed from there.

”As technology changed, I evolved with it and was by now very interested in finding a way into the world of 3D. High-end systems moved over and Apple Macs took over, which meant Photoshop and other Adobe suites became the new tools, but interestingly for me, 3D software became a possibility.”

”Maya at the time was something like £15k for a license so that wasn’t going to happen. However, around the year 2000, there was a freebie software called Strata 3D which I got to cut my teeth into. Then around 2002, I got hold of a demo of Cinema 4D and I haven’t looked back since.”


With the groundbreaking 3D work captured in Disney Pixar’s 1996 film, Toy Story, the relatively new world of 3D was firmly placed on the map. For Declan, who was at this point working on a mix of colour and creative retouching projects, the evolution of 3D allowed him to add another string to his bow and remain employed despite a wave of industry change.

The challenges and opportunities afforded to Declan over this time include working with leading brands such as Coca-Cola, Gillette, John Freida, Schweppes and Carling, which usually included product rendered still images with the occasional animation.

”One of the most challenging projects I have worked on was an animation for Pampers. The project required the creation of two babies walking, one wearing pull up Pampers vs regular pull-ups, plus several animation clips with just the nappy, displaying some of its new innovations.”

”Having to rig and animate a couple of babies and get the walk right was a new challenge for me – perseverance was the key with some ultra-fast learning involved.”


Evolving with technology is crucial for any artist, and with the rapid change and evolution of 3D, Declan has utilised a variety of software ranging from Cinema 4D, V-Ray, Photoshop, Illustrator, After Effects and HDR Light Studio; his go-to apps for most projects. Prior to this, Declan retouched images with Creator on SG and Scitex, with the help of huge spools of tape to archive with.

A key piece of software Declan finds impossible to work without is HDR Light Studio; the innovative lighting software is the first consideration when lighting any project at Schwak, the first being a campaign for Coca-Cola. Since then the software has lived up to Declan and Schwak expectations, and they have never turned back.


”Being able to craft light like a photographer and create good quality product renders you need good quality, flexible tools like HDR Light Studio. The software is not only a great time saver for me but incredibly useful. Being able to place those little catch-lights and subtle reflections just where you need them makes it impossible to do without – it’s also one of the most enjoyable parts of the process.”


Throughout the years, Declan has found that settling for good in a fiercely competitive creative field that is continually changing is never good enough and striving to learn as much as possible is the key to evolving as an artist.

”To grow in any creative field you have to continue to look around and learn from others. It’s inspiring to see the quality of CG out there which has continued to push me as an artist – very much like the competition with my siblings all those years ago. I want to be better, I can be better, being good is never good enough."

”One of the things I love about 3D/CG is it’s so vast, you’re always learning new things because there is just so much to learn: new software, new updates, new challenges. While that interest remains, you naturally evolve."


As an artist who has experienced the industry before and after 3D technology, Declan is excited for what future holds for the industry, even if the pace of the modern day makes his position difficult to predict going forward.

”The industry is vibrant and exciting. Technology continues to race forward. It’s hard not to be in awe of the really great artists and all those software creators who just keep astounding us in film, advertising etc. How much this will affect me on a personal level in the next 5-10 years is hard to say.”

”The advances in software/hardware may influence clients to take their own work in-house in the future, simplifying the process and cutting down on their costs. So who knows? Whatever happens, the future is buoyant, that is for certain.”

Thank you to Declan for sharing your work and story with us. To see more of his images follow his Behance.