My job is to conceive and develop the creative concept of the images
I like to use 3D to move around within that boundaries of perception, between real and unreal.
For the fast and fluid times in which we live, I don’t think it is conceivable to be able to blindly rely on any single means of communication.
Light and matter are indissoluble in the image.
If we want to summarise in a single word the many activities that Cristina Lello must know to do her job, it would be stylist. But we could also call she, set designer and art director. In practice, Cristina creates the settings for objects that will be promoted through advertising campaigns or simply inserted into a catalogue. Although the job of stylist has existed for decades, this is not so in Cristina’s case because she is a 3D stylist. That is, her settings are completely computer-generated images. To obtain the interesting results we can see, Cristina coordinates many distinct figures who collaborate in the creation of the images and at the same time interprets and translates the client’s wishes. In most of the settings created by Cristina, photorealism has been overcome in favour of explicitly unreal but highly communicative contexts, capable of stimulating specific sensations with their simplicity.
Cristina what does your job consist of?
I deal with art direction and specialise in communication and product visualization. My job is to conceive and develop the creative concept of the images: style, location, colour palette, styling, lighting … and challenging myself to meet the needs of the company and managing the production flow of the images, working side-by-side with 3D artists, photographers, graphic designers and other professionals. The projects almost always open with a mood board and end with the finished images, which are used for catalogues, advertising, websites and other contexts.
Every project that I take on, however different they may be each time, for me is always based on three fundamental Cs: Culture, Context and Contamination. Culture – which means always keeping in mind, in each project, the history of art, architecture and design, visual psychology, colour theory. Brushing up on, and studying these theoretical bases based on the project specifications helps a lot. Taste is often thought to be an innate quality, whilst the background and study component is fundamental. Context – which means being aware of the objective and the needs of the project, to better choose methodologies, tools and timelines to achieve a specific communication result. And finally, contamination – which means being inspired by sectors other than one’s own. I love graphics. I look at architecture, fashion, cinema … Taking an interest in and being inspired by different fields is fundamental in creating that serendipity that is necessary in creativity.
In your last works, I am thinking of Suspension and Theorem, you often went beyond photorealism. Why?
Academic studies in the past have given me the opportunity to closely follow and get to know different techniques: watercolour, oil painting, photography, and bringing me to 3D modelling software, with which I have worked a lot in recent years, because I see the potential that evolves quickly, and provides the possibility of expressing myself without limitations, exploring worlds free from the conventions of reality. I like to use 3D to move around within that boundaries of perception, between real and unreal.
For those who deal with communication, understanding the specific features and possibilities that each technique offers is fundamental to be able to obtain outcomes that result in a strong impact on the user.
I have also often worked with traditional photography in communication projects for interior products: in that context renting a location, props, assembling furnishings that have their own complexity in terms of transport and assembly, can be all-consuming, in time and money … So, on more and more occasions, choosing to use 3D images can give extremely broad logistical and economic advantages for the customer. But choosing this technique without understanding its intrinsic peculiarities can also lead to mediocre results, to images that appear as poor-quality copies of a real photograph. To avoid this, I learned that software and technique are not enough, the right creative language to be used must be understood.
Even in the most photorealistic and “commercial” sets that I design every day, while taking inspiration from real settings, I always try to instil a strong personality in the image.
How do you usually deal with the client to decide the “flavour” that your settings should have?
The customer’s communication objective is fundamental, and understanding it is essential. Usually those who contact me for work know my style and want this, but I have also faced projects that have different communication needs. I happen to have worked in sectors that are distant from each other such as food and cosmetics, but the basic stylistic approach is always the same. I try to keep a clean image, with a strong graphic balance in all the projects that I work on. The plans change, but the principles
of design remain constant. This obviously does not mean that it is not necessary to know how to adapt to the brief. It is always right to respect the DNA of the customer’s brand.
Could it be fair to say that until recently your work didn’t exist? I say this because you combine the activities of three-dimensional modeller, post-producer, art director and stylist into a single figure.
Let’s say that in general, I create images to convey products. What changes are the techniques and their management, which I try to unite in a unique and unprecedented way: academic artistic backgrounds, 3D representation techniques, photography, interior design and graphics. The combination of these things together form the figure that I am today.
Although I know the software, I do not, however, call myself a 3D artist. Over time I have preferred to work alongside more and more figures that are more technical than me, like modellers and post-producers, specialists in their own disciplines, to be able to devote myself more to the creative and design aspects of the work of art director.
Do you have authors or historical periods that have influenced your work in any way?
I have no absolute references. In each and every project that I start from scratch, I always find new inspirations and currents that can flow into my work.
An important part of your job is dealing with communication. In your opinion, what are the most interesting means of getting to know and spreading design today?
For the fast and fluid times in which we live, I don’t think it is conceivable to be able to blindly rely on any single means of communication. In any case, any channel, from social networks to magazines, can be fundamental. The difference in the choice is made by the type of product and consequent target.
Certainly, the digital media today is essential, and its importance has been greatly accelerated, which is also due to recent events. With the instability of the world of retail and fair events, the products will be communicated, and sold, more and more online, using digital and “remote” means. In such a context, I think it will be increasingly important to know how to create appealing settings and present the products with great scenic skill, in order to compensate for the lack of a live experience.
Much of your world is made of bits, what relationship do you have with real materials? Are there any you prefer?
I have never really abandoned the relationship with real materials, on the contrary, a few months ago I worked on a project in which I had to research and select materials for the interior design of a boutique in London.
The relationship with real materials is also fundamental in creating credible digital images: collecting references, observing the physical samples of materials, studying how light interacts with them, feeling them to the touch and then recreating these sensations in the image. I recently designed some catalogue images for a company that produces furniture surfaces. It would have been much more complex to create images with the right effect, without being able to see material samples.
It is something I often repeat to students: looking, studying, observing is the foundation, parallel to the materials. Understanding and studying light, for example, how a soft light or a hard light interacts with a satin or shiny metal, is fundamental. Light and matter are indissoluble in the image.
I don’t have any particular materials that I prefer. Recently, for a project, I became passionate about Italian marble and discovered an immense world. Each material has its own expressive language, which binds in a different way to form, light and stylistic mood: to create images that enhance the product, making it memorable, we must be able to recognise and interpret that language.