Could you please introduce yourself?
My name’s Ada Sokół, I’m a Polish-born artist-designer, mainly using 3D as a medium, but I also do a lot of art direction. Recently I moved to Stockholm, and I am now working from here.
What’s your current state of mind, as of November 2021?
I am so much more positive compared to the beginning of the year.
How was the pandemic for you ? Lots of 3D artists had lots of works, with everything going digital, Did you work a lot ?
Yes, it was a hectic period. I think I’ve never worked as much as at the beginning of the pandemic; I didn’t even have time for my non-commissioned projects.
You mentioned that you settled in Stockholm, could you tell us about it? Where were you before, why did you decide to move?
For 18 years, I lived in Wrocław, my hometown; then, I moved to Warsaw, where I started my studies. I quit, wanting to study abroad, and decided to apply to the London College of Fashion. So I was in Warsaw for two years and moved to London for several months, but I didn’t fall in love with this city. Later I went back to Poland because of personal reasons.
During all this time, I was working and doing my graphics. Then I moved to Paris, and I lived there for three years, maybe even more. It made sense to be in Paris when the culture was glowing. But when the pandemic started, I missed my closest people most, so I moved back to Poland and continued working intensely. That was supposed to be a temporary thing, and I didn’t know what to do next. Life gave me a clue because I fell in love, and on the first of October, I moved to Stockholm with my partner.
Congratulations ! Going back to your studies, you were studying fashion before going into CGI, weren’t you? What was your idea at the time?
Since I was a child, I’ve been surrounded by visual culture; my parents are architects; my father switched from architecture to architecture rendering. They’ve been pushing me to draw, explore software, and create all the time. When I was a teenager, I felt that fashion was another way of expression, which was also very visual; it seemed interesting. There aren’t any prominent universities connected to fashion in Poland, so I couldn’t get educated professionally. I applied for fashion studies in Poland, but it was always in the back of my head that it couldn’t help me with the career I wished to have. My portfolio was already quite attractive when I applied to the London College of Fashion. The professors asked why I wanted to take courses when I already had such a solid portfolio. So, on the one hand, I wanted to work in fashion; on the other hand, I became more and more aware of climate change. Fashion is stunning in terms of expression, the atmosphere it can build, but nowadays, it is harmful to the environment, so I started developing my visuals in other directions.
Why CGI, why are you interested in the CGI process?
As I mentioned, I’ve constantly been exposed to visual culture; my father was one of the first 3D designers in Poland. I was doing graphic design for a long time and got commissioned for a fantastic exhibition, still in Poland, where all the post-digital artists were invited. My task was to create the perfect poster for this exhibition. My options were to do exactly what I was used to doing or to try something completely different. So I called my father and said, “Hey, I’ve got two weeks to do a special poster; how can I do this in 3D?” and he advised me to use Blender, which was not as advanced as it is today. I started learning it, and I realized how many possibilities CGI gives, from designing the product, making images that look like photography, to creating uncanny worlds. I fell in love with the many opportunities it is giving, and at that point, I didn’t have people around to work with. I feel like this is the only medium that doesn’t require an entire team to create.
We noticed that you use CGI to create uncanny, fantasy worlds, which is not a photographic approach and makes this usage more interesting. You also obviously realize that CGI has a less important impact on the environment than a traditional shoot. Were you conscious of that when you started CGI or did it come later?
No, this knowledge came later. When I started, I didn’t know how photoshoots were produced in studios, and also, I wasn’t aware that brands were sending all the products that might be thrown away in the end. So, all those things and my philosophy came along with years of working, but at the beginning, I wasn’t aware; I just wanted to try a new medium.
So there was first the feeling, then the rational ?
How did you develop your uncanny style?
One of my first editorials was with Novembre magazine, and there was clear visual communication, visual style; I was amazed by this. And I grew up being influenced by architects such as Zaha Hadid or fashion designers like Iris Van Herpen, so I’ve always been attracted to those organic, beautiful shapes. That’s how it worked.
So organic architecture has a great influence on you?
Yes, and I forgot to mention that I was majoring in architecture in high school; it made me very aware of what I was doing; in Poland, it’s possible to attend creative high schools. It meant that there were days on which we focused solely on drawing and had art history classes in our program. I grew up looking at the architecture industry and exploring architects, and one of my favorite ones was Zaha Hadid, who I mentioned before. Most of all, it gave me drawing skills. Knowledge of architecture is part of our culture, and even if I’m not doing any architectural projects now, it influences me a lot.
What about your creative process, when you are not on the editorial side but on the side of business requests. How do you go from the request to the brief to the delivery ?
It’s a pretty complex one. The most common process is getting the request, bringing the brand, whether the client wants me to recreate a 3D model, what kind of product will be shown. This is the first step. I used to 3D model everything, and brands were used to that. Now they sometimes already have their own models, and it’s way easier when they send it to me. While the 3D models are being developed, we are working together with the client, on the creative part, the kind of mood, if it’s the Holidays or a Valentine’s Day campaign, or maybe they just want to create something beautiful with gold, or something very natural. Then we’re coming into production, depending on whether it’s images or animation; I’m preparing the scenes, looking almost like photographic set-ups, with the right colors, the right lighting, the right products. It is the most complex part of my work. When it comes to animation, if we have to animate a lot of things, we have to use render farms to speed it up, allow a few reviews for the client and the collaborators, then create the final files and send everything in high quality.
How do you handle the references the clients give you ?
When I like them, I’m just adding little details; when I don’t like them, I’m trying to elaborate why or asking what kind of other direction we can follow, I always try to search for something new… And I don’t like to copy anyone, so I always like to build from the sketch and build the concept from the very beginning.
You have your own references, they are evolving, you mentioned Zaha Hadid, do you have other strong creative references?
For sure, there are plenty of artists, photographers, musicians & designers… For instance, I love Elsa Peretti; she was such a role model as a female designer (plus her unique style!). Right now, I also look very often at environmental activists.
There are brands who are looking for a low impact, sustainability, are those the brands you are trying to work with ?
There are a few I would like to work with, like Pangaia. I believe this brand is just one of the best out there. Many people are making a remarkable impact, and I could make a list, but I wouldn’t like to take ten minutes of this interview. The most important for me right now would be to work with Pangaia.
You mentioned you started CGI for this exhibition in Poland. When did you realize you could make a living out of CGI ? When did you realize it could be your life?
When I started doing commissions, I think the Linda Farrow campaign, which was my first real campaign, appeared printed in stores and was exhibited in absolutely every medium that was relevant at that time. I realized that if I can have my big campaign, my images printed worldwide, then maybe I can make a living out of this and not just treat it as a hobby. And it happened. I started to get even bigger clients, bigger campaigns, better chances to work with amazing people.
We see you emerging as a strongly positioned CGI artist, which means that you are similar to photographers as people call you for a very specific image, for your universe. Did you decide that straight away it was the way you wanted to be seen, or did it come with the time?
It came with time…
Even if you now have a team, you didn’t create a studio with another name. You are positioned as an artist, so when did you realize that this was the right way to develop?
When I started, I was very young, so my future dream was to create a full studio with a team to make something bigger out of this. People didn’t know me initially, and I had requests from people wanting to be my interns, but they were six years older than me! It was problematic.
I was not prepared to build a studio, which is why it looks like this now. My team is very small at the moment; it’s not a proper studio yet. Though, this is still my goal for the future.
Do you feel this is the right time ?
Yes. I feel more prepared and aware.
Cool, it is the best moment to interview you then. How are you going to develop that? You mentioned that you were having frustrations due to the Covid, you had so many business orders that you couldn’t develop your own editorial projects, your side projects. Are you going to do more editorials now, as photographers do, to show what you can do?
Right now, I am mainly working on commissions with the clients, commercials, or my collection of products. I’m also doing NFTs. I’m trying to avoid a lot of editorials as they usually don’t give me enough artistic freedom. I just need some way to grow and create my ideas; this is why I am trying to do art in my personal projects and the NFTs. It is also linked to the fact I’m building my team now, and I have much more time to create something personal.
How are you organized? Do you have a studio manager?
No, Monika is my assistant and my right hand; she is accommodating. She doesn’t know much about 3D but has an amazing graphic designer background; she also loves multitasking, helping me with communication and clients management. She handles everything that organizes my work, which took me a lot of time, such as writing a hundred emails per day and getting on calls. She’s also helping me with the production; when I want to print something, she helps me with sourcing and printing options. So I shouldn’t call her an assistant; she’s much more, but she’s not a studio manager yet. I’ve hired a very trusted 3D modeler. In September, I started working with animators, who are animating parts of my scenes, so now I can focus on the creative side of everything.
You are just focusing on creative direction now ?
Yes, and the final result. For example, I’ve been working for the Scopes Driven by the Porsche Festival. I was creating two complex animations, and I needed help with a mushroom animation very promptly. The animator I hired delivered the animated model of the mushroom. I focused on the movement, the material, the lighting, the composition. The animation part would have taken me a few days. So I’m on the creative side and the final visual output.
In terms of development, what do you think about being represented ? Would you like to have an agent or you would prefer building your studio and to handle that part as well?
It’s a rocky topic for me. I had a long history with agents, and it just wasn’t working as it was supposed to. When young artists already have their clients, they don’t need an agent, in my opinion. If you have a strong portfolio but struggle to get clients or commissions, it might be a good idea to get one. The last time I was represented, I was amazed at first because they grouped the best creatives in the world, but to be honest, I expected a lot more production help from them, not only managing the clients and writing emails.
A few classic agents don’t do the production side, because CGI production is difficult, and lots of CGI people are freelance, not settled.
I think it is still about awareness that might come with time. For example, agents are handling part of photography production, but not CGI; they still don’t understand the pipeline of 3D. I believe in a few years they will be able to take that part of the production, as they do with photographers, but for the moment, I haven’t had the chance to work with anyone who could help me with it.
But you have learned to handle it yourself, even dealing with intellectual property and the usage rights I guess ?
Yes. I wasn’t prepared when I started, but I’ve just learned how to handle everything during the last few years.
Building your studio, how do you plan to develop it? Is there someone, maybe Monika, who can look for business opportunities, or do you just take incoming requests? How is it developing at the moment?
Right now, I am busy with the commissions; I try not to take projects I am not excited about. In my opinion, it is similar for all the creatives, if you are enthusiastic, you are giving your whole heart into the project, and if you are not, it won’t be as good as it is supposed to be.
It’s pretty hard when you are in an artistic position and you are also trying to build your studio. You mentioned targeting brands, like Pangaïa, do you need to do something to get in touch? How do you handle this business side, the prospection ?
I don’t remember when was the last time I sent anyone my portfolio. Still, I haven’t figured out how to contact people, brands, or organizations with whom I would be pleased to collaborate; I’m crossing fingers that it will happen one day organically.
In terms of directions that you might want to take, you mentioned wanting to work with environmental activists, sustainable brands… How do you see yourself in three years? When you are young, three years seem long, but maybe not when you’re an architect…
I agree. I wish to figure more as an art director and to start working with different media. So far, in terms of digital, I have only worked once with AR, with Snapchat, creating a filter for Spectacles. I aspire to work more on this kind of project, needing a different technical approach, on which I can only be on the creative direction side. I also wish to build a universe around my work and translate my visual aesthetics to each medium.
Also through NFTs?
Yes, and also with objects. I cannot give too many details about this, but it will include different media, from fonts to real-life objects; I started doing 3D printing as well, I can now present one collection, but I’ll also be working with brands. As I said, I’m trying to translate my aesthetics to each medium, including the design of physical objects.
From CGI to the physical world and then back to showing it on CGI again…
Any music project ? We noticed your contribution on NTS…
That was a mix. To be valid, I got three days to produce my playlist, but I was so excited! I listen to music almost all the time during work, it is a great inspiration and gives me motivational energy.
But I never was talented musically. I tried to play guitar when I was a teenager, I am also a terrible singer. So whenever I am working for a cover for an artist, I am delighted. My goal is also to create music videos; so far, I cannot find a way to translate my extremely detailed animations into longer videos because it could take me a few months or even years. A music video needs 3 or 4 minutes of footage, and sometimes a 10 seconds animation takes me a few weeks. Anyway, my dream is to create or direct a music video some day.
We go back to NTS, how did you get that opportunity? Would you like to have more media coverage ? Do you think you need to communicate more?
I try not to focus on the promotion too much; that would also be Monika’s task. If you want to create something extraordinary, you need to be focused on your work, and advertising is time-consuming. I don’t have any strategy. I’m pleased to be interviewed by you, but on the other side, this is not my work. I feel that I am working when my entire focus is on creating. Maybe I should start working with a PR person with more experience, plan, and general knowledge? I hope one day I will find the right person for it.
Your website is currently being developed. How are you thinking your new website?
I have the opportunity to work with an amazingly creative designer, we used to be just friends, and now we’ve decided to work together. I adored my previous website, but it wasn’t environmentally friendly, so I wanted to change that. And Joanna is specialized in digital ecology. We are working on displaying my works in high quality, so quite heavy files, in an ecological way. It is very challenging. Low-tech websites don’t usually have portfolio purposes. Our approach is to make something well-designed yet very ecological - from the servers, domain host, carbon footprint, etc. - absolutely everything.
Does CGI work really have a smaller impact than photography?
Photographers have an entire studio and many people in the team; this is creating many issues. Brands are sending the products to the studios, and they don’t send them back; it’s just for the photoshoot. This is a significant advantage for 3D; we just need photos, so no product is wasted. Everything that can reduce waste nowadays is beneficial. The second thing is that we can reuse and change our works; I just need my PC to change the colors, whereas photographers need a whole team.
How do you you see the NFTs then ? They also have an important carbon footprint.
I am very excited about NFTs, I’ve been looking for a new way of showing my work, and the blockchain technology is impressive. It is also damaging to the environment. Lots of cryptocurrencies are trying to make greener algorithms, and there are already some platforms using them.
Ethereum is not sustainable is it ?
Indeed, Ethereum is not sustainable.
They are working on a new Ethereum, aren’t they ?
Ethereum creators promised for years that 2.0 would be more ecological. It was supposed to be done this year; it’s already November, so… I can only assume it is pretty problematic. For example, the Hic Et Nunc platform was very ecological, and it was closed down last week; no one knows why. Tezos is green and sustainable; not many NFT platforms were using it. Hic et Nunc was the only one I know that has also been pretty popular.
Did you invest yourself in cryptos?
Yes, I am investing in crypto. I believe our money is a social construct, so our currencies will also be more and more digitalized. Probably 5 or 10 years, we will be using only cryptocurrencies.
Starting to create NFTs was a way to develop knowledge of cryptocurrencies. My first NFT was released in January, it was a bit too late, but I am interested in how digital artists can work independently. When I work on commissions, I am dependent on someone else’s feedback. Now I can dedicate my entire creativity to work. I was looking for a way to create something from scratch that feels mine. NFTs have been perfect for this.
What do you think Marc Zuckerberg is doing with Metaverse?
Some people came up with this term, Metaverse. I saw an interview with María Paula Fernández, the woman running JPG; she aimed to create a decentralized digital space. She obviously imagined something very different from what Zuckerberg is trying to do.
Wasn’t it supposed to be a place like the internet at the very beginning, a free space for creativity and art ?
Yes, and one of the huge companies takes it from underground people trying to do something new, a decentralized internet. Now even the name of it is in the hands of this big company; it’s stealing. It shouldn’t be like this.
I agree with you that Facebook is trying to own the concept by owning the name, thinking they can control it. And the level of design is scary because there is already a standardisation. What’s your view? This metaverse, digital universe that we can create, how do you see its future? Bringing your art into it? Is it a new form of architecture ?
I don’t have a Facebook account, but I do have Instagram, so I am not entirely out of the system, as I’d like to be. If you want to be successful, you still need one of these channels to promote your work. Instagram was always with me, and I wish to keep it, even against my values. I don’t have an answer for it; I don’t know how the metaverse will develop. As independent artists and creatives, we have faith, but maybe in a few years, it will be that we won’t have any internet independently from Facebook or Metaverse. It’s problematic for me to answer; I don’t even want to; it’s scary.
Is there a part of you that can still be excited about this new construction because it could be free?
No… If many brands are going to be sucked up by Facebook, it will be completely centralized; it will be in the hands of one person; I’m not excited about this.
We share the fear. Let’s move on to final less heavy questions.
If you had to do a different job at a different time in History?
I would be a dancer; I miss the physicality in my work. So, if I could choose now to do a completely different thing, it would be dancing professionally.
Are there any books that helped you in your personal development?
My Bible for 2 or 3 years, it’s Yuval Noah Harari, 21 Lessons for the 21st Century. It was a life-changing book. Even if I’m still struggling to apply it directly to my work, it helped me understand what’s going on in the world. There is also Alice Rawsthorn, one of my most admired critics. She also co-founded the Design Emergency - a project to help us understand design’s role in building a better future.
Any artists that you would like to mention?
In connection with fashion, Miuccia Prada! I like how much concept is behind her shows. Elsa Peretti previously mentioned in the interview. Studio FomaFantasma. Wojciech Siudmak. Norman Leto. Neri Oxman, although she is more on the science side of arts. Timur Si-Quin was a huge inspiration at the beginning. Florian Joye, also connected to Novembre magazine. Grimes. Dorian Electra. Torbjørn Rødland. The list can go on and on…
What’s your advice for CGI artists?
Build your own style and stick to it, so no one can copy-cat you. Do that to stand out.