We may know that sea levels are rising, but for many of us, it is hard to visualise how it might end up affecting our daily lives. World Underwater, Hayden Williams’ surreal digital depiction of rising tides in ordinary situations, has been created to do just that.
“The spark that ignited this series was a trip to Venice. While travelling there I learned how the city is frequently flooded,” he explains to It’s Nice That. “It surprised me learning how Venice prepares, defends, and inevitably repairs itself from unforgiving tides. I began to imagine, ‘what if the rest of the world lived like this?’”
His 3D renders show everyday scenes such as New York metro stations, diners and cinemas – all partially submerged. These images of a dystopian future are also given a dream-like quality, with beautiful blue skies and a unique pink hue that is at odds with the gravity of the situation.
Hayden, who is based in Frederick, Maryland, features pink in the majority of his work: “I think it’s very emotional. There’s no conscious reason other than because I find it the most pleasing of colours, I can only guess why,” he explains. “Maybe because pink is very rare in nature and I’ve learned to covet it. Or maybe there is some known positive effect of pink light on the brain – they painted an entire prison in ‘Baker-Miller pink’ believing it to be calming.”
Having focused more on photography over the last five years, Hayden, who has a background away from the arts in biochemistry and computer science, has shifted his focus towards 3D graphics.
Before even beginning to render an image, Hayden has a strong idea of what he hopes it will look like. “I usually have a very clear image in mind when I imagine a photograph I want to take or a scene I want to render,” he says. “I imagined the two ‘Pipe Dream’ images of flooded subway trains when I was daydreaming about my move to New York for an internship. The subway is something many people are familiar with, so I thought it would be the perfect subject to flood.”
On top of compiling a vast amount of images as references for each scene, Hayden spent much of his time on the render itself, primarily due to the fact he did not have the right equipment. “I was using a Macbook Pro for the first eight images in the series,” he says. “This is not an ideal setup for rendering as my render times showed; it took around 60-120 hours to render each image.” The amount of time it took to create each image was lengthened further by the fact that Hayden obsesses over the small things, spending hours fine-tuning tiny details such as ripples in the water.
But while he focuses on every small detail in his work, the overall goal of the project was to change things on a much larger scale. This was born out of a frustration with the lack of acknowledgement of environmental problems, something very apparent in the US under a president who is a notorious climate change sceptic. “Climate change is an obvious problem, and I find it absolutely ridiculous how many continue to deny its existence,” he laments. “We should be talking about how to solve it, but instead we somehow have to convince half of the world that there is something that needs to be solved in the first place.”
The series is still ongoing, with more images in the pipeline as Hayden continues to experiment and enjoy his move towards computational graphics. “With digital art, there are essentially no boundaries,” he says. “The only limits are your skill and creativity – you are free to create your own world.”
About the Author
Charlie joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in December 2019. He has previously worked at Monocle 24, and The Times following an MA in International Journalism at City University. If you have any ideas for stories and work to be featured then get in touch.