Today, when digital tools and online resources are making all forms of design more accessible, efficient and refined, analog methods are becoming more of an art. Yet for Warsaw-based studio Ars Thanea, handcraft is more relevant than ever.
For those who have been around long enough, Ars Thanea is something of a legend. Founded in 2007, the studio has been designing for digital long before many of us entered the industry. And while the Ars Thanea team continues to forge ahead into VR / AR / XR, live-action and beyond for their clients today, they are not afraid to go the opposite direction: back to analog.
Combining handcraft methods with digital, the studio creates internal experiments that often either lead to client work or fuel it.
The studio's recent project for the Australian indie-pop band, Sheppard, makes a solid case for the technique. The project, in which Ars Thanea designed a cover for the band's new album, "Die Young," involved a combination of 2D design, clay sculpture, photography and post-production. Inspired by a scene from the band's music video, the resulting image is full of emotion, movement and mystery.
To create the image, the team started with a 2D concept to visualize the scene. With the help of sculptor Cezary Kostrzewski, their vision soon materialized as real clay sculptures. The studio then worked with photographer Szymon Swietochowski to capture the live scene, and finally took it into post-production for finishing touches.
“In ‘Die Young,’ we really wanted to achieve the most realistic effect possible,” said Piotr Jaworowski, founding partner and executive creative director at Ars Thanea. “The handcrafted sculpture is imperfect, which makes it more real, more human.”
Today, 3D tools and techniques allow such incredible detail and texture, we can study an image under a magnifying glass and still feel unsure whether it’s a photo or a graphic. When you can create any visual you imagine with no more resources than a mouse and a design program or two, why do it any differently?
Well, for one, because it’s fun.
“The truth is that in most cases we are able to achieve the desired effect with both methods, but the analog gives us, above all, the opportunity to interact with a real object,” said Jaworowski. “We can touch it and we can feel it – something that seems so obvious and ordinary, yet in the digital world, it is completely inaccessible.”
Working with analog materials is also a way for the studio to experiment and grow their capabilities.
“Thanks to such artistic projects we learn a lot and test various methods and techniques, which we later use in other commercial jobs. The unexpected always happens here,” said Jaworowski. “You have to challenge yourself to get exactly what you wanted. It's much more demanding, but at the same time extremely rewarding.”
"If you don't challenge yourself to do new things and only keep on working in techniques you already know, you'll be doing the same projects all your life."
Another Ars Thanea creation, titled “MOM?!”, features a hand-sculpted cube of ice with a digitally enhanced spider inside. The blend of methods led to an image so visually surreal, it’s hard to know where digital ends and analog begins.
In this case, the creative vision began with the method itself.
“This is a perfect example of a project that was born out of… the need to experiment and to explore unknown territories,” said Jaworowski. “We really wanted to check how we would work with 3D printing and we were wondering how the physical object would be transferred to digital. Unlike the standard creative process, we first chose a method and only then came up with an object that we would show – so ‘how’ was prior to ‘what.’”
In mixing analog with digital, Ars Thanea not only pushes the boundaries of their work, but reinvents it.
“If you don't challenge yourself to do new things and only keep on working in techniques you already know, you'll be doing the same projects all your life,” Jaworowski said. “I think that there is an inner need for a quest, and maybe this is the drive of our desire to reach for something new.”