With the fashion industry advancing in a myriad of ways over the last few years, technology has played an undeniable role in pushing its boundaries. From digital runway shows to fashion in the metaverse, innovation has been at the forefront of mind. As for the latest revelation to take fashion by storm? Futuristic three-dimensional avatars. These graphic renderings are often hyper-realistic and play on sartorial themes such as brutalism and surrealism. Bold and deep colours, intense expressions and maximalist ensembles are just some of the common traits displayed in this mode of design.
For Singaporean fashion photographer and art director Shania Lim, the eventual popularity of 3D animation came as no surprise. Currently based in Paris, Lim’s passion for her craft stemmed from her obsession as a kid “with anything light- and shadow-related”. She adds: “No matter the process, the end goal is always to eloquently translate my visions into something tangible.” The 23-year-old prides herself on being multidisciplinary and staying attuned by constantly finding ways to improve and tap into undiscovered opportunities.
JJ Low—a 24-year-old Singaporean freelance 3D artist based locally—is in a similar headspace of trying to convey his artistic vision through his ethereal sci-fi digital landscapes. Describing his style as “characters or sculptural abominations inspired by cosmic horror”, Low has worked with notable celebrities like JJ Lin and Fiona Xie. Having initially studied to be an interior designer, his knowledge of spatial design helped ease him into 3D animation. “Having a foundation in 2D design made it easier for me to transition into 3D as I was self-taught from then on.”
“3D design is another dimension that creatives can explore to envision immersive and interactive experiences.”
The duo collaborated on and released 3D work in 2020 titled ‘Otherworldly Entity’. They have since set their sights on a fresh series of artworks for Vogue Singapore’s March issue. Inspired by the theme ‘Roots’ and prominent subcultures in Singapore—namely ‘rave’, ‘biker’ and ‘drag’—they produced three animated artworks. “With these subcultures in mind, our objective was to elevate the three looks by putting our own spin on them while keeping them cohesive and within the lane of their respective inspirations,” Low shares.
Drawing influences from fashion powerhouses like Rick Owens and Ann Demeulemeester, each artwork features maximalist elements and is spliced with recognisable tropes from each subculture. “For drag, I pulled from the regal outfits worn on stages of drag pageants with their exaggerated curves and proportions, Madonna’s iconic 1990 MTV performance of ‘Vogue’ that solidified itself in gay history, as well as the late Cherry Valentine, a contestant on RuPaul’s Drag Race UK, known for her signature red colour scheme and high fashion looks,”shares Low.
The technical process of putting such 3D compositions together is tedious, the duo highlights. It begins with rounds of ideating and discussion, an unceasing push-and-pull until a middle-ground that suits both Lim’s and Low’s palettes is found. Explains Low of their creative differences: “My style is more maximalist while Shania’s is more elegant and minimal, so compromising and finding middle ground is key.”
From there, Lim delves deep into research and references, producing various mood boards that include set design, lighting and material guides for the garments of the avatars. “Everything about the initial vision is planned so that when I pass it on to JJ, he has a multitude of details to expand on.”
“Our objective was to elevate the three looks by putting our own spin on them while keeping them cohesive with their respective inspirations.”
The envisioned hero images are then sent over to Low, who works on sculpting everything within the 3D space, experimenting with poses and textures.“Lastly, I do a 3D scan of our models’ faces which I can then manipulate in my 3D software and fit onto the virtual model,”shares Low.
The three subcultures referenced for this project were selected due to their role in shaping the local fashion space in the late ’80s and ’90s. Looking at the scene currently, Lim notes the growth in personal identity over the years. She describes Singapore as a melting pot of old traditions and new influences, remarking: “Since we are a young country, it is only natural that the fashion scene here is relatively new as well. There are a multitude of styles here that branch out from subcultures, and I’m sure this is only the beginning.”
Lim also speaks on her perception of the future of 3D within the fashion landscape, both locally and internationally. “I think that many aspects of fashion are incorporating more digital components, such as designing garments in 3D software, creating digital sets for campaigns or runways without models and so on.” Low shares similar sentiments, adding that 3D artists and designers often work hand-in-hand, from garment to campaign productions. Of the relevance of animation within the industry, he says: “3D design is another dimension that creatives can explore to envision immersive and interactive experiences.”
“There area multitude of styles here that branch out from subcultures, and I’m sure this is only the beginning.”
As for what is next? Lim plans to get involved with set design and wants to build more lasting relationships with other creatives within the fashion and music industries. “I do know that it’s a build-up leading towards something big and I’m excited knowing that it will be on my terms,” she adds. Meanwhile, Low wants to shift his focus back to building a unique, aesthetic point of view. “Right now, I feel like a piece of clay, being able to mould myself to fit the various visions and creative concepts of projects.
The March ‘Roots’ issue of Vogue Singapore is available for sale online and in-store from 15 March 2023.