Buenos Aires-born 3D artist and art director Santi Zoraidez talks about the unlimited possibilities of computer-generated imagery, why it’s important to find a balance between the real and the surreal, and how digital channels can transform product presentation.

Digital environments and platforms have seen a surge in visitors and users over the past few months, which were defined by social distancing. Simultaneously, enforced by the cancellation of trade fairs, fashion weeks or any physical industry event for that matter, brands and manufacturers have felt a greater urge than ever to enter – and capitalize on – the ever-expanding virtual sphere. From AR-enabled furniture to in-game exclusive apparel and digital-only festival grounds: digitally generated versions of physical products and spaces are experiencing unprecedented growth.

One of the creatives giving shape to these artifacts and environments is South-American 3D artist-cum-art director Santi Zoraidez. After starting his career in Buenos Aires, he found his way back there via Copenhagen and Berlin. However, Barcelona is already calling his now family of four. With his ability to create spellbinding digital images and animations, Zoraidez has built a client base that includes brands that are operating at the forefront of their industries, from Apple, LG and Nike to Ikea, Visplay and Cassina.

Zoraidez produces personal works alongside commercial projects. The pictured piece, he says, was ‘done on a day of good news’.

You gained experience at established creative studios – including Punga in Buenos Aires and Zeitguised in Berlin – before fully committing to the freelance life. What has that bought you?

SANTI ZORAIDEZ: Before joining Punga, I had worked at more traditional agencies. And until that time I had zero experience working on animation projects, so I got a crash course in digital creativity. I learned about 3D design, the use of colour, how to create balanced compositions, but also about how to tell stories, how to work with a storyboard and how to transform a brief into something unique and special. It felt like being in school while working on commercial projects, which ranged from advertising to TV channel branding. The team there, and especially the founder Tomi Dieguez, helped me realize in which direction I wanted to steer my career.

I started to discover what other studios and creatives across the globe were doing, and I remember that the first time I saw the work of Zeitguised I instantly fell in love. That mix of art, design and commerce combined with powerful aesthetics and strong ideas attracted me. Since then it was my main reference when thinking about my career goals. When I moved to Copenhagen to assist a studio I found myself physically closer to the Zeitguised office in Berlin and reached out. The founder Henrik Mauler was super kind and I started doing some remote work for the studio. It taught me the importance of proportions and how to use light to develop a sense of materiality. Soon after I moved to Berlin to pursue more collaborative projects.

‘Get a comfy seat and enjoy a movie! Stay home!’ This was the message behind another of Zoraidez’s personal works, created during quarantine in Buenos Aires.

How has the COVID-19 crisis affected your work? Do you feel global lockdowns increased the relevance of – and demand for – digitally generated designs?

Change is happening, for sure. The arrival of COVID-19, and the global pandemic that followed, is forcing people to live their lives through their mobile devices. And, social distancing has accelerated people’s escape into digital environments, whether for work or leisure. Simultaneously, brands faced the impossibility of filming and photographing, which means they had – and still have – to look for alternatives. Solving everything digitally being one of them.

During quarantine I was approached by clients to create 3D visuals based on set designs because they were unable to continue shooting, for example. For some brands it’s a totally new world, but generating digital imagery can be faster and cheaper than complete photography productions, and often allows for more creative freedom. That hasn’t always been the case. A tiny modification used to take up to 40 minutes. Today, I can design while watching the final result in real time. 
 I think my field of work will only grow and expand as people become more exposed to – and thus familiar with – digitally generated designs and animations. I’m lucky my profession isn’t going through a crisis, like many others are.

A still from a series of films for Cassina to highlight new products presented during the Salone del Mobile features the Bouroullecs’ Cotone chair.

What are the benefits for brands that invest in digital versions and visualizations of their products, specifically when thinking about the interior design and furniture industry?

It allows brands to give shape to, and enter, completely new worlds with infinite possibilities in which products can show ‘impossible’ behaviour or appear in ‘impossible’ environments. These are all things that would be much more difficult to achieve, and be more costly, in the real world. Digital designs can be used to introduce new messages and concepts much more easily. With 3D animations you can tell a story. Apart from featuring the final product by developing videos or still images, clients often ask me to show the making process of products, where the materials used came from, or how a product composition can be modified depending on the needs of users. I like to use animations to represent a product’s main character.

In a video I created for Cassina, for example, I showed how comfortable and light a Patricia Urquiola-designed sofa was by making it interact with soap bubbles that didn’t explode upon touch. In that same video, a carpet seemingly generated light breezes, making the sofa change its composition.
 Another benefit: in the virtual sphere you have a very wide reach to gain visibility. I know from personal experience: media platforms like Instagram have helped me enormously in growing my business and client base.

The virtual sphere offers plenty of opportunities to transform passive consumers into co-creators

Congolese fashion label Hanifa put on a virtual fashion show during lockdown, Gucci released a set of tennis outfits in the mobile game Tennis Clash, Helsinki Fashion Week 2020 paired designers with 3D artists to realize their collections, Louis Vuitton released a collection within League of Legends and digital fashion house The Fabricant auctioned the first item of virtual ‘haute-couture’ for $9,500. In short: the fashion industry seems to be one of the quickest sectors to capitalize on the potential of going digital. How do you think furniture and homeware marques can take advantage of similar opportunities?

I think there’s huge potential for manufacturers to offer their clients the possibility of seeing their desired product in, for example, their home space before actually purchasing it. AR and VR hold the potential to see how a sofa would look in a living room, which colour might work best in the interior and fits the user’s taste best. With time, the realistic qualities of digital designs will only expand further, allowing prospective clients to feel like they are making a truly informed choice. You can now even let them walk through a digital art gallery or showroom to get to know a complete collection. That’s pretty fantastic!

A still from a series of films for Cassina to highlight new products presented during the Salone del Mobile features the Bouroullecs’ Cotone chair.

Indeed. We’ve seen a sharp rise in virtual gallery tours and digital viewing rooms. Do you think such virtual alternatives to physical spaces will thrive post-corona, too? 

Totally! And I believe this will not only have its effect on the world of art and galleries. I expect fully digital events will become part of our new normality. Brands selling shoes, clothes or furniture might want to have realistic virtual spaces where they can showcase products and highlight details – and give their customer base a chance to interact with the pieces. Recently, I’ve been working on some virtual set designs for an app by a big furniture retailer. Customers will be able to use the application to modify the space, and pick and place furniture pieces and switch between available colours and materials. Finally, they can experience what they’ve designed by means of virtual reality. So, the virtual sphere also offers plenty of opportunities to transform passive consumers into co-creators.

Colorful Nooks is a piece of imagined furniture for an imagined space that Zoraidez ‘hopes to make for real at some point’.

Coming back to that growing sense of reality you mention, why do you think we still hold on to our realities so much when giving shape to spaces in the digital realm, where ultimately there’s no gravity or limit to space?

There is, of course, a lot of room for digital design to move further away from our physical realities and create truly ‘artificial’ spaces, but unexpectedness can also generate anxiety. The most challenging part of my work is making it look magical and captivating, but feel ‘human’. Taking good care of proportions, the use of light and materiality is essential. I personally like my work to evoke an urge to be touched. To achieve that sense of ‘tactility’, I pay special attention to how materials look in reality – how rough or reflective they are. For inspiration, I love to wander around flea markets and warehouses for construction materials. I like to say my work lives at the intersection of digital and reality. I try to modify or intercept reality with digital means to achieve a surreal tension. I love to think about how the objects I design would be realized in the ‘real’ world, and I love to see my work 3D-printed and feel how its relation with the real world is in terms of body and scale.

A still from an animated piece for Visplay features the shop-fitting system Qubo.

Can developments in the digital realm challenge entrenched design processes?

I believe there are technologies that allow creatives and designers to think, create and develop products in a significantly different way than in the past. But the most interesting results are achieved when you work at the intersection of different work methods and disciplines. Last year, I got the awesome opportunity to be part of Timberland’s initiative called Construct 10061. I was invited to the brand’s factory in the Dominican Republic to collaborate with industrial designers, footwear designers and a 3D printing company to rethink every step in the boot-making process and create new shoes that reinvent and push the boundaries of design. I ended up experimenting with 3D-printed soles, which were then adopted by another designer who used a more conventional production process for the rest of the shoe, based on sketches from a creative director. It resulted in a never-before-seen concept shoe. I think digital and new technologies will play a part in more and more production processes, ultimately maybe even replacing more conventional methods.


This interview was originally featured in our current issue, Frame 136. Get your copy here.