The rise of digital street art: Discover the artists bringing 3D to the streets
“It’s like a whole new canvas for us to work on”: We speak to four artists to find out why digital street art is here to stay, and how it’s going to impact our future.
Digital street art is rapidly emerging as a new and exciting discipline in the creative world. Unlike traditional street art – which requires physical space, materials and permission – digital street art encompasses a medley of styles and approaches, from AR to VR and digital murals. Offering artists new avenues for self-expression and experimentation, no longer is the discipline of street art bound to the walls of buildings. Instead, artists can use technology to bring creations to life through 3D. All you need is a camera, laptop and your imagination – and the city becomes your canvas.
Thanks to new and emerging tools and technologies, artists are now able to create the impossible, from turquoise-coloured creatures sprawling out of the subway to a clock mechanically transforming into a timer or a phosphorescent orb twisting like a spider in the street. Proving the unmatched capabilities of digital street art is a campaign created by Lenovo and SuperHeroes NY to launch its new Lenovo Yoga Pro 9i laptop. In the campaign, a selection of digital artists have been invited to reimagine street art, using their laptops and AI-driven 3D image-capturing tools to place their artworks anywhere they like. The artists involved are UK-based Tobias Woldeck (@hati.hati.mas), Canada-based Camyl Buenaventura (@camylbuena), India-based Raghav Anil Kumar (@shutterauthority), who were each commissioned to build their own artworks for the campaign. Further artists include Matteo Scappin (@scaprendering), Ian Padgham (@origiful), Shane Fu (@3dShane), Michaela Coleman and Erik Rasmussen (@eravfx), Damián Gaume (@marblemannequin), Ash Evans (@mreGFX), Nicole Morena (@nicky.blender) and Diane Hoang (@dianedidthat).
So, what is it about the discipline of digital street art that has captured the imaginations of so many artists and designers working today? For Raghav, a seasoned digital street art creator, accessibility and the freedom to create are what captivated him to experiment in the medium. “The biggest advantage is that you can create very realistic videos of real places with augmented visual effects,” he says. Across Raghav’s portfolio, you’ll find visual effects and 3D animations integrated into live action backgrounds – monsters raiding a city and stomping on buildings; trees coming to life in a forest; or aliens taking out the rubbish. “A lot of these ideas, if not impossible, would be highly unfeasible to do in the real world.”
For this campaign, Raghav has created two videos using the Lenovo Yoga Pro 9i laptop. The first depicts a grand, large-scale clock located in his hometown of Mysuru, India. In the video, the clock morphs, twists and transforms with a “series of intricate mechanical animations into a huge hourglass,” explains Raghav. “The Yoga Pro 9i was able to handle the entire 3D and VFX compositing pipeline very well, thanks to the dedicated graphics built into the laptop.” In the second video, the audience is transported to a forest and set in front of a wooden sculpture, placed at the base of a Banyan tree. Magical and phosphorescent leaves start falling in front of your eyes in twinkling, star-like motion. “I was quite surprised to see the [the laptop] flawlessly handle a pretty heavy particle simulation I did with thousands of leaves and flowers that flow with the energy emanating from the sculpture,” says Raghav.
As well as achieving realistic visuals, another appealing aspect of digital street art is the speed at which projects can be realised. For Raghav, whose work has “always” been about integrating visual effects into 3D animation, he enjoys how the medium allows him to visualise his ideas in a shorter amount of time, “compared to actually building something like it in the real world”. He adds: “Being able to create a video like this within a week or so lets me explore lots of ideas that would have otherwise never seen the light of day.”
Someone who fully agrees with this statement is Tobias, an artist who merges traditional graffiti with digital media. An advocate for art in both the physical and digital worlds, Tobias’ creation for the campaign sees a “massive amount of noodles or worms” bursting out of a subway entrance. The piece is titled Al Dente – “like how I eat my pasta” – and sees traditional graffiti elements incorporated into the backdrop while the snake-like monster fills up the scene. Tobias used a “typical workflow” to get the final result: “shooting in a nice urban location, tracking the camera and just letting your creativity flow into creating a new surreal thing.”
There are many reasons why artists are increasingly working in the world of digital street art. One of which is that the discipline allows you to “view everyday places with a fresh perspective”, adds Matteo, an experienced digital street artist who has become known for twisting reality with geometry, patterns and objects. Additionally, it’s a highly accessible medium that allows users to work from any location at any time. “It’s getting easier for people to create digital street art because tools are more portable, powerful and easy to get,” Matteo continues. That’s not to say it’s easy to create a piece of digital street art, though, as Raghav points out. “It is still an art form that requires a considerable amount of effort and skill, where the artist has to spend a week or two just to create a short 15-second video,” he says.
Compared to a few years ago, the amount of tools needed to create a digital artwork have dramatically decreased, allowing both experienced and emerging 3D creators to engage with the discipline. Camyl, a creative based in Canada, has recently discovered digital street art. Her journey started in music videos, shooting music festivals and various videos for local and international artists. However, when working in film specifically, Camyl felt like there were limitations with “just shooting reality,” she says. “Some of the artists I worked with had smaller budgets and wanted to do bigger things, such as be on the moon or be a giant walking over a city. I wanted to do more.” After this, Camyl decided to learn the ropes of 3D animation and CGI in order to push her fantastical ideas further. “Now if I want to build worlds and create scenes from sci-fi to fantasy, I can create anything I can imagine.”
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Matteo Scappin WIP
Digital street art has opened up many opportunities for Camyl, and she’s thrilled by the prospect of how it will impact her work and that of the next generation of digital creators. “It allows artists to create dynamic, interactive and engaging work that is extremely attractive to the audiences we have today,” she says. “With the rise of VR and AR, and all of this new technology surfacing, it is truly an exciting time.” After creating her project for Lenovo, Camyl now feels inspired to continue working more in the discipline. “I only recently started seeing more and more artists who I have followed for years also shift towards this medium, and I’m seeing some of the most phenomenal works of art I’ve ever seen in the 3D art world. Creating full CGI and 3D scenes has been fun, but compositing them into reality is something that is really impressive to me. I would definitely like to explore more of the digital street art world, combine these imaginative worlds I have in my head, and bring them to life.”
So, where will digital street art head in the years to come? According to Matteo, digital street art is going to move more towards AR, but there are still some limitations in the technology. “[It] isn’t quite ready to create photorealistic results in AR using just smartphones,” he notes. “Right now, digital street art works well on flat, 2D screens where most content is shared. I’m sure that we will see photorealistic recreations of streets and cities in VR, which is more flexible than AR, since you can render better quality graphics on laptops.” But these current limitations aren’t all bad; at the moment, Raghav prefers viewing digital street art on the social feed, “because it’s accessible to a much larger audience”.
As an emerging and fast-evolving discipline, it’s hard to predict which direction digital street art will turn in next – but if the past couple of years are anything to go by, we’re going to see more exciting, mind-bending and boundary-pushing work. Camyl believes that this is only the start for the discipline. “It will continue to evolve and grow into something even bigger,” she says. And as technology continues to advance, like it has with the powerful Lenovo Yoga Pro 9i, artists will have more ways to express their creativity. “Given that we are only in the early stages of the development of AR and VR, I can see more and more artists embracing the medium and finding new ways to express themselves through it,” she says. “It’s like a whole new canvas for us to work on, and the possibilities are endless.”