3D Artist

Q&A: Beeple

News & Features
Carrie Mok

The artist tells us how he’s been able to keep creative for his 11-year strong Everyday project, and what it was like to work with a fashion house

Q&A: Beeple

Beeple is an infamous name among the ‘everyday’ movement in 3D for his extravagant and vivid sketches. Created in Cinema 4D, Beeple’s (whose real name is Mike Winkelmann) Everydays often reflect a quick sci-fi scene; some are tongue-in-cheek, showing a futuristic version of something we’ve been accustomed to in popular culture in the present day. Others are more reserved and almost contemplative. Either way, one thing is for certain, they’re all insanely gorgeous.

Outside of his Everyday projects, he’s worked on concert visuals for the likes of Justin Bieber, One Direction, Katy Perry, Nicki Minaj, Eminem, Zedd and deadmau5, as well as creating short films that have screened at Miami Art Basel, onedotzero, Prix Ars Electronica, the Sydney Biennale and Ann Arbor Film Festival.

Earlier this year, Beeple’s work entered a new medium when some of his Everyday projects were featured in the Louis Vuitton Spring/Summer 2019 collection at Paris Fashion Week. We spoke to him after his return to the US about how he came to be featured on high-fashion runways, and his work so far.

3D Artist: Can you tell me how you got started in computer graphics?
Beeple: So to be honest, I really just started doing this stuff. I went to school for computer science and in my spare time was doing a lot of little art projects, and stuff like that. I just started doing that more and more, and started teaching myself. When I graduated I tried to get a job doing web design because there was a bit of programming and art to it. I got a job doing that and then started teaching myself 3D stuff, doing a lot of personal projects. It was all built out of self-taught things I found interesting and wanted to get better at!

3D Artist: Where do you get your ideas from – you’re creating a different image every single day for your Everyday series! How do you keep them fresh?
Beeple: I’ve been doing the Everyday project for 11 years now, and it’s something that I started because I wanted to get better. The first year was actually drawing. I saw a British artist, Tom Judd, who did a sketch every day in his sketchbook and I thought it was pretty cool, so I started doing drawing every day. Then I thought I always wanted to learn 3D so I thought maybe I can use this to learn 3D because I didn’t know it before that, so I thought I would do a render every day.

In terms of inspiration, there’s tons of stuff online. There’s tons of ArtStation and Behanced and stuff like that. Honestly seeing other people’s work to be that good is really inspiring to me.

Q&A: Beeple

3D Artist: You use Cinema 4D in your Everyday images right?
Beeple: Right now I have for the last few years, but along the way I did photography. I wanted to learn how to use a digital SLR, I never used a camera. I didn’t know anything about ISOs or focal length, so I did that for a year. But the last four or five years, Cinema 4D has been a piece of it. I use other 3D programs, and Photoshop as well, but Cinema 4D is the bedrock.

It just works really good for me in terms of being flexible to work with different programs, there are loads of great plugins and a great community that makes and releases tutorials for free. It’s just something I’m able to work with really quickly. The tool doesn’t get in my way. That’s sort of what the Everydays are about – they’re like a sketch each day. This isn’t like a totally finished thing, this is something I’ve spent a couple of hours on. It’s definitely been really good for that.

Q&A: Beeple

3D Artist: Going back to the photography and sketch past of the Everydays, do you think these Everydays represented a different chapter in your life and career?
Beeple: I think I did it because I wanted to learn photography. Part of that was I was getting married at the time and I didn’t want to hire a photographer. I could just spend the money on buying a digital SLR and learn how to use it! That was part of why I did that, and it was something I wanted to learn. But it wasn’t like ‘okay now I’m a photographer, I want to do photography’. It was kind of cool to help me think about composition of shots and it fed back into the 3D work. But since I’ve been working in 3D with Cinema 4D, that’s always been the main focus. I did a year of Illustrator too, but a lot of it was learning Illustrator and taking that back into Cinema 4D to make something. I feel like working in 3D, since I started, it’s been the main focus and these other disciplines fed into that.

3D Artist: What’s the best thing about creating a different piece of art? And the hardest thing?
Beeple: I think there’s a lot of freedom in it in that you’re sort of free to just try things. You know there’s very low commitment and you know it’s going to be done in an hour. So it’s like I’m going to try a thing and it might be stupid, it might be dumb and it might not work but I’m not going to waste a bunch of time. You’re going to waste maybe an hour, and you’ll probably learn something. I think that it helps weed out a lot of ideas that you put up on a pedestal. I think the Everydays are good at getting some of that clutter out and getting to the ideas that have hold value and do have some legs to become something better.

The hardest thing is just finding time. Quite honestly I just don’t want to do it. Like tonight, there’s a football game, so I’d rather just go watch that but I have to do the pictures. At some point I have to make that happen. I think that’s the hardest thing, trying to find motivation to really try and not just phone it in. It’s not like I’m not going to do it, each day I’m choosing to do it, but there are still a lot of days where I don’t want to do it, like I’d rather watch a movie rather than spend two more hours on a computer.

3D Artist: Have you ever missed out on a day?
Beeple: So far I have not missed a day, which even I’m surprised about! I’m surprised more that I haven’t just forgotten one day, but now it’s pretty hard to forget – everyday when I wake up I have a mental idea of when I’m going to do it. I don’t think I’ll forget but maybe it will…

Q&A: Beeple
3D Artist: Your Everyday pieces were used in Louis Vuitton’s Spring/Summer 2019 collection at Paris Fashion Week this year – how did that come about?
Beeple: They just reached out to me and said they wanted to use these pictures on clothing items. They picked out 10 pictures and had me modify them a little bit. Some of them were more modified where they took two Everydays, and they were like ‘Can you put these concepts together?’. Most of them were just very small changes, they just wanted me to add the Louis Vuitton logo in. There’s one which is a sci-fi building peeking out of the clouds and it had a McDonalds logo on it, to show what McDonalds might look like in 100 years in a crazy weird sci-fi building. They just wanted me to replace the McDonalds logo with the Louis Vuitton logo and they just put it in front of the t-shirt. The interesting and cool thing about it is that throughout the whole process, I was like ‘How are you going to put these robots on a $5,000 women’s dress’ – they kept saying they were going to use it on things and I didn’t believe them. It just so happened we had a trip planned to Paris for a talk I was giving around that time, and we thought we’d extend it and go to the opening. When we went to the opening, I had never seen the photos or the clothes before then, so the people I was working with didn’t know what was used. The show starts and I thought that there was at least a 50% chance they didn’t use any of the stuff. The first person came out, and they used it. The second person came out and used it! The third, fourth, fifth, sixth – they used all of it! I was like ‘Oh my god’ and I was just freaking out! They just put it on the front of the shirt too, it wasn’t like they used it on a texture on a belt clip and you couldn’t even see it! That was definitely super surreal and weird. It just seemed very random – a super random use of these things that were just not at all intended for that purpose.

3D Artist: How much time did it take for the whole process?
Beeple: They contacted me in mid-July and to be honest I didn’t spend much time on it as they only needed small changes. Basically they just needed it at a higher resolution, swapping a few elements on most of them. Really it was not very much work at all. That was done by mid-late August and the show was a month later. During that month I didn’t hear anything. They said they were using them but I didn’t believe them!

3D Artist: I understand you’ve worked a lot with musical acts, could you talk a bit about that?
Beeple: So one of the other projects I’ve done besides Everyday is releasing these DJ clips. These are ambient clips, which people can just download for free and use the clips. They’ve been downloaded a lot of times and are pretty popular in the DJ scenes. It kind of led them to look for custom content, and that’s brought in that kind of work to allow me to work on that kind of stuff.

Q&A: Beeple

3D Artist: Is music also a passion for you?
Beeple: It’s definitely something that gives me a lot of energy and motivation, and kind of something I feed off while I’m working. But I don’t make music, though I used to a long time ago. It informs a lot of the work I do.

3D Artist: Which of the concert visuals that you’ve worked on stand out the most for you and why?
Beeple: Probably the stuff I did for Zedd because, you know I’ve done stuff for Katy Perry, Eminem, Nicki Minaj – a bunch of people. On those projects, they are big teams so people and I’m just one person on the team and I’m not even leading the team. A lot of the times I’m just coming up with the designs for specific songs. It’s very much a team effort, but it’s very much a big production with dancers, multiple levels of management, what the label wants, what the artist wants, what the production company wants. But the Zedd thing was me talking directly to Zedd, coming up with things from start to finish, from concept to here’s the final file. That felt more like my kind of show versus just being on a big team.

3D Artist: I guess it makes you more hands-on?
Beeple: Yeah I was responsible for everything and – the thing that made it a lot different too is you normally have a tour, it’s very last second. I don’t know why that is but that’s always the case. It’s like ‘Oh shit I’ve got a 30-date stadium tour coming up in a month and a half and we’ve got literally nothing’. It’s like, how in the fuck is that that you’ve waited ’til the last second to come up for these visuals for this tour that you would have known about months ago, but that’s the way it always is. The only way you can get it done is throw a ton of people at it. The Zedd thing was weird in that the album got delayed so I had like eight months, nine months to do all of the work myself. So that was something that made it very different to the norm. Rather than being one piece of the pipeline, I was able to be the entire pipeline.

Q&A: Beeple

3D Artist: You’ve created a lot of visuals for Creative Commons, what’s important to you about sharing with the design community?
Beeple: The reason I chose to do this is because I really enjoyed making those clips and I had no use for them! I tried DJing myself a few times and it really wasn’t something I found that interesting, but I really like making the clips and I would make custom clips for bands I was DJing for. The band didn’t really appreciate that, that much weirdly. But I still had a lot of fun making these abstract clips, and maybe someone else can get use from them and if so, that’d be cool. I feel like I just got lucky there that it springboarded for me to be able to do that for a large part of the freelance that I do!

3D Artist: What’s the most important thing you’ve learned in your career?
Beeple: Good question. Maybe something to do with patience though I’m not a very patient person. Something that I’ve learned regarding the Everydays, is slowly incrementingly practicing and that’s the only way to get better at something and there’s really no shortcut around that. There’s some level of patience there but I wouldn’t consider myself a patient person in general though!