3D design artists are taking it to another level with the fantastical landscapes they’re creating. The spaces they design are surrealistic but also nostalgic. What gives this effect is creating something familiar to people, like a living room, bedroom, or castle in a dreamlike space.
These fairytale scenes are so visually captivating, I imagine many would love to visit them but unfortunately, they only exist in a digital world.
Each designer has their own style and creates an absolutely different universe, but one pattern remains in all their works. The deep connection between indoors and outdoors. Between nature and living spaces and also reality and fantasy.
The blurred lines between the indoors and outdoors are supposed to remind viewers that we humans are not separate from nature. We are one with it. The artists in their designs want to imagine and inspire viewers how it would be to live in harmony with the environment.
Some of them started creating these designs during the pandemic when they were stuck at home and wanted to bring the outdoors indoors. To reconnect with nature and have it closer to them.
These surreal scenes are also supposed to bring a feeling of relaxation and meditation to the viewers. Somewhere where you can escape in your mind.
Let’s meet some of the artists whose works are perfect examples of this exciting trend.
Jenny M Jiang
Jenny is a designer who specialises in 3D motion and still life visuals with a focus on 3D environment creation, brand assets, product campaigns, and digital fashion. She’s based in New York and creates for pleasure and also serves brands worldwide.
“The beauty of creating these worlds is that you don’t have to account for actual physics and if we could actually turn these into reality; it’s completely open to your imagination. So the idea of an open-to-the-world house for me is appealing because I’m always curious to imagine what it would look like to live in nature, but in a way that coexists with modern lifestyles,” she tells us.
For Jenny, an interesting thing about these natural, surreal spaces is that they are (ironically) built using computer-generated technology.
It’s fascinating for her because the process of creating these worlds requires a lot of behind-the-scenes technicalities like modelling, lighting, camera positioning, and rendering, but the results are commonly worlds that are really beautiful and abundant in nature.
Jenny thinks a factor of why people are drawn to dreamscapes, at least for her, is partly influenced by being in lockdown during Covid, and the need to escape to spaces that are relaxing and beautiful yet liveable.
Jenny thinks it’s important to maintain a certain level of familiarity with her artworks: “I don’t want it to be completely fantastical, and I think a way to do that is to create a scene that feels realistic but has that tiny element that’s surreal and imaginative. Sort of like creating spaces that have nuggets of surrealism throughout, which also creates aspects of discovery within these artworks.”
Jenny believes that her designs give a nostalgic feeling because they’re all based on memories or experiences that are very common and joyous.
Her Watermelon Canyon design was inspired by that feeling of going outside and feeling the warmth from the sun on your skin. Jenny thought of developing a place that encapsulated this feeling – a space where you take a pillow and lie down on a mushroom and read, there’s the sound of gentle water in the background, and you can smell the flowers. “Basically my idea of an ideal Sunday afternoon,” says Jenny.
Designs like Watermelon Canyon and Tea Party both explore the calm, meditative effects of nature and attempt to highlight the beauty in the natural world and perhaps even elements that are less often thought about; things that otherwise would be considered mundane or insubstantial, like ground mushrooms you can lie on.
Jenny hopes through her work, that she can create places that people would want to go to and tell a story. But most importantly she wants viewers to feel happy when seeing her work, because she’s “always been interested in how art, design, and beauty could affect people’s emotions positively.”
Based in London, Joe Mortell is a digital designer who creates intricate interior spaces and surreal landscapes. His work is inspired by retro-futurism, surrealism, and organic architecture.
Joe’s designs look like they are from another world but they seem so real and familiar at the same time like they are ready for someone to step into them and spend the day. How does he get that effect?
“From designing in this way, I’ve found that creating a space with this feeling relies a lot on how you can see yourself being in the image. If you add chairs, beds, or sofas it easily allows you to imagine walking in and sitting on the furniture. If stairs, doorways, and other visible pathways are there that go off the edges of the image it makes you imagine this larger space surrounding it. It then comes down to the details which is one of the most important aspects. Adding small marks in textures, objects at a slight angle are the details that you subconsciously scan when your brain is deciding if an image is real or not,” he tells us.
He loves how organic architecture allows him to blend natural elements into his designs so seamlessly. Some of his favourite projects consist mostly of curved forms with the occasional straight wall to provide some contrast.
He uses retro-futuristic furniture because it naturally sits well within spaces like these and it’s a style that sums up the type of design he prefers. He says he is a “more is more” type of designer. Futura House and Biophili Conservatory are perfect examples of it.
The connection between nature and these spaces comes from trying to create images that could only exist in a digital way. Our houses and the spaces we visit daily are very often cut off from nature. They’re uniformly box-shaped with our only connection to the outside being through windows.
“However, it would be difficult to live in such natural places in the real world so it feels very satisfying to create these ideal places in a digital space. Because, in reality, they would be quite difficult to live in or even exist, they become surreal and let you imagine what those spaces would feel like to visit,” says Joe.
Biophili Conservatory is a favourite design of his that he created. In his mind, it’s part of a much larger building that could be fully explored. “One of my main references for that scene was the conservatory at the Barbican,” he explained.
“If you haven’t been I would thoroughly recommend it. It’s an incredible sanctuary that’s free to the public and it’s full of tropical plants, trees, birds, and exotic fish. It’s also part of the Barbican Centre which is one of my favourite places for architecture and design. I love everything about that place!”
Biophili Conservatory is a scene where he managed to combine his two main themes: places filled with natural elements and greenery alongside retro-futuristic furniture and architecture. He tells me that this scene was a challenge to create and he ended up on version 20 before he was happy with it. He wanted to create a larger space in, what he considers his main style – a scene completely immersed in greenery.
When people view Joe’s work he says he’d like them to feel the sense of surrealism he has in his mind when he first thinks about the scene. “I try my best to capture that,” he says.
He admits that some designs are more successful than others due to what he can achieve technically, but he says he always tries to learn new methods and ways of doing things so he can translate exactly what’s in his mind. “If I can inspire other people to create something from that it would be brilliant,” says Joe.
Ariadna is a Barcelona-based freelance designer, who specialises in 3D visualisation, interior design, and architecture. However, she also works in content creation for social media, branding, and photography.
Ariadna created her project Gaudism to explore aspects of Catalan modernism at different scales and translate them into a contemporary minimalist expression of natural forms; focusing on the curves, the dynamism, the beyond fairytale aspect or fantasy feel that this movement generates with its shape, the light play, and its surroundings.
Deeply inspired and entirely driven by nature and the desire for tranquility, peace of mind, efficiency, and balance as she states on her Instagram where she showcases her work, describing her design style as organic, ethereal, primitive, and futuristic.
Ariadna dreams that these surrealistic nature houses could stop being surreal and become reality: “This is something essential that we all need to understand that we as humans are not something separate from nature, so why do we keep it out of our homes? How can we build with nature? How can we bring it back to our homes and what benefits can this have to our day to day? How can we go back to the primitive concept of living in caves but with a futuristic approach?”
“We are currently living in an extremely loud world, everything happens too fast, everything is available everywhere, we are constantly feeding our brain with information and miss information and more noise, and a lot of us are reaching our limits,” she tells Artefact.
“Every year there is more and more talk on mental health issues and how mindfulness can be an aid. Mindfulness is actually very primitive, although it seems like now it is more relevant than ever. In the natural world – as opposed to the artificial world we have created – everything has a cycle that requires a specific amount of time,” Ariadna says.
“When people see my designs I would like them to take it as an invitation to reflect, how would I feel in a space that looks like this? What is this space made out of? How long did it take to make? What does my routine working from home look like in a house like this?”
In her art, she tries to express that “our actions are predetermined to an extent by the spaces we inhabit. If I live in an apartment, in the city, with a supermarket below me, a car to take me around, my office is two buildings down, life gets too comfortable, and it’s easier to become inactive, as opposed to living in a house that could be in a park, my food is growing on the rooftop, every morning the light comes in through lightwells, lighting up the cave, it invites you to go outside, and live with a different rhythm.”
James Tralie is a digital artist, living in Washington, D.C. He is a video producer and animator for NASA but the mesmerising scenes that can be seen on his Instagram page he creates for his own entertainment.
These designs portray scenes that are out of this world: Surrealistic cozy spaces, dreamy aquascapes, hypnotic castles with the most beautiful archways, and lazy rivers passing through them.
With his designs James says he wants to create almost like an amusement park or a theme park where all the places he creates are kind of connected. Especially the ones with a lazy river passing through, he imagines that there is something you can grab, sit on, and float on it and visit all his scenes at once.
His project Great Indoors started around the beginning of the pandemic. James was trapped inside and wasn’t able to go outdoors or meet friends to explore places. This project started with a longing to be back on hiking trails, visiting museums, and greenhouses.
Stuck in his room and his office working, James wanted to bring the outdoors indoors and create this relaxing, at times nostalgic, experience for himself. He was very happy when his dreamlike creations resonated so much with others and that they shared their experience with him.
“I just really enjoy creating these worlds inviting people in, even if they are just scrolling really quickly through their feed, if they just take a couple of seconds to breath and just take pause and reflect on where they are in this moment, use the space that I design as kind of an inspiration for almost like a meditative experience for them,” James tells us.
In his art, boundaries between nature and indoor places are blurred. It seems that nature in his work invades the indoors but neatly, it seems like the wildness is supposed to be there.
“I really think people see a lot of changes are going on, the climate change, destruction of our environment, part of us really want to hold on to these places that we cherish so much, have this appreciation, finding a way to live in a harmony with us as we continue to grow as species,” says James.
The surreal scenes he designs also seem very nostalgic, they bring up memories and emotions. How does he get that effect? By having elements that are familiar to people, like cathedrals, glass windows, and the interior of a family room or a living room.
It is having those connections to something that is tangible, something that people experience while also projecting elements of surrealism to the scene, to take it somewhere else.
Sai is a London-based 3D artist creating dream-like sceneries. They design for brands all around the world and their creations can also be bought as NFTs.
Many of Sai’s designs present places for relaxation located in nature. Winter Solstice is a perfect example. It portrays something that could be a living room or a listening room but in the middle of a forest.
So why did they choose to put these two things together and what is the connection between them? “The play of sensory connection and escapism of imagining a living room in the middle of the blue forest seems impossible to our eyes but pleasurable for those who take a chance of dreaming and wonder.”
Sai’s designs seem very connected to our world but also feel like they could be somewhere else in the universe.
“I think that effect comes to play when you see a range of realistic interior pieces combined with surreal nature and imaginary landscapes,” says Sai.
They think that it’s the absence of humans in the scenes that plays an interesting part in offering viewers an opportunity to imagine themselves in the space.
They also explain that it’s pushing the boundaries of the imagination and the merging of something unusual or different combined with the ordinary, that you wouldn’t necessarily see in real life.
The blurred boundaries between nature and indoor spaces also come from allowing the digital and the natural to coexist. “In our everyday life and surroundings, it is somewhat impossible to be found,” Sai tells us. “So I feel as if it allows the viewers to daydream offering a chance to escape.”
Featured image by Joe Mortell