Crossing dimensions: digital artists Wang & Söderström turn Klas Ernflo's illustrations into a 3D still life


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Dropbox Paper is a collaborative workspace that eliminates distractions that get in the way of creativity.

For this month’s Dropbox poster collaboration, Copenhagen/Malmö-based digital artists Wang & Söderström worked with Swedish illustrator Klas Ernflo in a cross-dimensional merge of talent. Working via Dropbox Paper, Klas, Anny Wang and Tim Söderström found a way to blend their different approaches – Klas’ flat ink paintings and Wang & Söderström’s hyperreal 3D renders – in a truly unexpected way, via that most classic of artistic compositions, the still life. The poster will be given out to every Nicer Tuesdays attendee on 1 May.

Given the brief to explore a loose theme of April, Anny and Tim thought of two events during the month – Easter and Siblings Day – with a unifying symbol, the egg. “We think the egg shape can really communicate these themes and fit our organic shape language,” they explained to Klas. Bouncing around ideas, they talked about “nest-like” compositions customised with patterns, bringing in a mixture of 2D and 3D abstract shapes from “both the Klas and the W&S universe,” and possibly mapping Klas’ illustrated patterns on to 3D eggs. For all these concepts, the duo shared tests, sketches, collages and swatches to show Klas how it could happen.

Though the two studios work in very different ways, they found common ground in their use of shape – abstract, globular, amorphous forms that could visually tie to both their work, to make the final poster truly collaborative.

Klas shared some initial sketches: a four-legged blob, a whipped-cream-esque totem, and a rounded, tubular shape akin to an unidentifiable wind instrument, all exemplifying his skill for strange forms. He used, as reference, some of Wang & Söderström’s own weird and wonderful sculptures, and an illustration by Christina Ramberg, Barbara Rossi & Ray Yoshida that explores the idea of siblings. It features pairs of illustrated characters, seemingly identical in shape but different in detail. Then he hit upon an idea for “sibling objects” – shapes that look related, but show how genes can emerge in a spectrum of variants. Again, he shared some sketches and reference images in their Dropbox Paper document to explain the idea, and Anny and Tim took the baton to continue running into development.

They shared photos of human siblings, and images of sand under the microscope, plus a rough sketch of how some of Klas’ sketched shapes could transfigure into 3D. “It would be nice to find a DNA that combines our shapes,” the duo wrote on the Dropbox Paper doc. “Perhaps we could agree on a shape or feature that all our objects have… so even if each object is different, the DNA feature will combine them.”

Careful to retain a collaborative final image, Anny and Tim asked Klas if turning his drawings into 3D renders was too much of an “interference” with his work. “On the contrary,” he commented, “it’s very amusing to see it translated into your world!” So the team decided on the process – Klas would paint a series of shapes in ink, then Anny and Tim would work their digital magic on them and bring them to life as digital sculptures.

Klas’ illustration featured some evolved versions of the original sketched forms alongside some new siblings for the family, including a large, organic shape referred to by the creatives as the “folded sweater”. Together, the trio then workshopped textures to apply to the items in the eclectic still life. Klas suggested the “folded sweater” should appear to have the feel of merino wool; the three-legged creature should look like Blu tack; the central, organic, instrument-like vase should be “made” from opaque glass; and the rounded furry blob in the foreground should have the texture of a “hairy mushroom”. Anny and Tim agreed. The final family of objects, originally drawn by Klas, were made into unbelievably realistic 3D artworks by Anny and Tim and given light treatment to add to their realism. In the final poster, they come together in a bizarrely satisfying collection of sculptures with beautifully complementary textures and shapes.

With hindsight, Anny and Tim say the process of collaborating over Dropbox Paper was not only entertaining, but useful to chart the project’s evolution. “Having one big document with everything from initial idea stages to tweaking stage was super. It’s great fun to look back and see a timeline of the process, that kind of history that most often ends up deep in mail conversations or sketches in the trash. It also gave a nice opportunity to contribute when you had time, only leaving quick notes now and then, or a big update symbolising a new turn of the project. It became a schedule as well as an idea space.” They describe the final work as “a group of four siblings posing in front of the camera – four individuals that continue the genes of their ancestors, but in new variations and mutations.”

Meanwhile, on the feed, they sign off: “We’re so happy with the outcome… thanks for a fun collaboration Klas! Hugs, Anny and Tim.” Klas seems equally pleased. “I’m really happy with the poster also! Thanks for inviting me to collaborate, I’ve enjoyed the whole process. You guys are great. Hugs back! Klas” Happy families!

Dropbox Paper is a collaborative workspace that eliminates distractions that get in the way of creativity. Because you can work with all types of content – from video, to sound to code – in Paper, you and your collaborators can easily edit and discuss all aspects of your project in one centralised place.

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