Design / Art

Tradition meets new in these oddly satisfying set designs

CGI studio SEEN teams up with set designer Niklas Hansen to create a gravity-defying still-life editorial.

24 May 2023

SEEN is a Copenhagen-based CGI studio, founded by photographer Sigurd Høyen. SEEN has an impressive eye for details and an omnipresent curiosity for working with the latest technologies to deliver photorealistic computer-generated stills and animations. The studio’s photographic background has given it a focus on realism, tactility, and natural light when creating their grounded yet fantastic universes.

Niklas Hansen is a set designer based in Stockholm who has been working as a set designer for 20 years. Hansen does both stills and motion. Depending on the client, the sets vary in size from singular objects in studios to full rooms.

How did this collaboration come to be? 

SEEN: — Ever since discovering the work of Niklas online via Instagram, we’ve been amazed by his style and level of detail, and have been super keen on working on a project together, so when this opportunity arose, we felt so lucky and super excited. 

— We were approached by Niklas, with the brief of creating an editorial in full CGI around virtual creativity. Niklas and the Scandinavian MIND team were looking for a CGI partner to tell a still-life story that uses technology to break boundaries and conventions in the interior space. Not limited to products that exist in real life. Rather exploring the arts and possibilities.  

Niklas Hansen: SEEN and I found each other on Instagram and have since then been in dialogue, wanting to do something together. I later got the question Scandinavian MIND if I would like to do a CGI still life, and I immediately thought of SEEN as my cooperation partner.

How has the work process been in the creation of the images? 

SEEN: — Everything you see in the images is full CGI from chairs, boxes, and curtains to the ashtray. Some props have been searched online and others modelled from scratch and then textured. Our workflow requires a variety of software, from the initial build-up of the 3D scenes and props to texturing and lighting and finally adding life to a still render. So we went through quite a few software’s amongst others: Cinema 4D, Octane Render, Marvelous Designer, Substance Designer, Substance Painter, Photoshop, After Effects and Indesign.

Niklas Hansen: I started off by doing some hands-on and simple hand sketches in combination with some mood boards with different materials. And then we met and discussed and developed the pictures for the final result that you see online.

How does the work differ in designing a scenery digitally in comparison to doing it physically?

SEEN: As there are no physical boundaries there aren’t any restraints, and we have total creative freedom. We’re able to try out various creative directions before deciding on the right way to go. This is something you rarely have the opportunity to do in real life due to time and budget constraints. We really feel that creative boundaries can be expanded endlessly. Finally, working fully digitally opens up so many interesting collaborations as you are not bound by physical proximity. 

Niklas Hansen: When I create a set in a studio things can sort of happen by accident. A shadow can be created by a standing object that you didn’t think of, which both can be a positive and negative thing. Everything that you see in the pictures is there by choice, so you have to decide upon everything, which both is the benefit but also the challenge of it. For instance, how do we make sure to make the right sort of choices when it comes to materials and lighting, so we don’t overwork the picture.

The theme of Issue 4 is “Virtual Creativity”. Where does the inspiration behind the images come from? What did you want to achieve? 

SEEN: We wanted to keep it realistic, grounded and tactile, but still breaking the law of physics, making the viewer curious about how we composed each render and what we included. Working with ordinary objects such as chairs, glasses, and cutlery made it very down to earth, but then adding some blue orbs that we somehow can relate to, but still really can’t tell what it is, was really appealing to us – hopefully making the viewer curious and inspired. For us it was so much fun to work with all the textures and adding all these imperfections in the woods and metal making it look old and used, trying to avoid the polished feeling of 3D, but making the textures tactile and real. 

Niklas Hansen: — Since the beginning I wanted to work with old objects that had some sort of history and that could tell something. I also  wanted to create pictures that caught the eye of the beholder, and something that started a questioning of the pictures’ motives. For example, ”Is that balance possible?” or ”what is that blue blob made off?”

 Interview by Erik Jansson.