There is a story that my mother tells me from time to time. She was with me when I was 3 years old at a crossroads when I started looking around. There was a lady with a big hat on her head, and I looked at her and said out loud, “Look, Mom, there’s a hat, and the hat is on the lady. Everyone around laughed, but this event marked the beginning of my interest in fashion and the influence it has on daily life.
Some time later, I was in my aunt’s darkroom developing photographic film. There was a red light there and pictures hanging to dry. I had great fun looking at the moments she had captured in black and white afterwards. In my opinion, she took many iconic pictures of the family, and that stuck with me. Later, I picked up the camera myself.
I also remember reading old Parisian fashion magazines at my grandfather’s house and admiring the looks. It’s amazing that I could still relive those fleeting moments decades later. These three elements – observing, capturing and preserving – are what make fashion photography so appealing. Once you start, you can not stop. At least I can not.
Black & White (2012-2020)
I love shooting in nature, putting the model in contact with a tree or water, or both. Most of the images above are taken with a 50 or 85mm lens. However, when I turned to 3D photography, I faced a major problem: How to capture a living, breathing person in 3D? The photogrammetry process required that images be taken of a static object. For my first scan with Kimberley, I had her lie on the ground during the capture. It actually worked, beginner’s luck. The next model was sitting on a bench, and I even tried photographing her standing up, but that proved too error-prone.
I became aware of ‘Infinite Realities’ on the Agisoft forum, which boasted a 100+ camera rig. That was the solution, of course, but I decided to go the minimalist route. I bought a turntable and installed 3 cameras and a light. The model rotated and was instructed to take only small breaths during a rotation. After initial failures, I installed two lights that eliminated each other’s shadow, and voila: the smallest full-body scanner you could have. To get better coverage, I increased the number of cameras to 8. I still had cracks in the scans because the models were never quite still, but I was able to fix those in Zbrush.
I could only do very static poses, nothing dynamic. I had to find a way out. To do that, I turned to animation and rigging. This is a process of creating digital bones in a digital body that animate the mesh through rotation. To make this work, all I had to do was scan models in A-pose. The 3D scans became real game characters that could be animated and inserted into a game engine.
I remember well when I had a Unity 3D demo running at the Hello Bank pop-up store in Brussels. Two men came in and I scanned them with a Kinect 3D. They were interested in the “people dancing on water” that was on a monitor, so I explained it to them: I can scan people, manipulate them and animate them. Something must have clicked, because before I knew it, I was scanning the entire Belgian soccer team, the ‘Red Devils,’ for Carrefour campaigns.
But I noticed that the characters’ shorts did not move naturally enough, and I realized I needed to go further. I separated the clothes from the body and animated the clothes using the simulation in Marvelous Designer. This process opened up a whole new set of possibilities for me: scanning the clothes separately and fitting them to an avatar.
I could easily change the color of the texture of the 3D clothing and create endless combinations. I discovered avatars and rigs from DAZ and Poser and learned to create morphs and facial expressions with Wrap and Zbrush.
Now I am putting it all together: Character, clothes, pose, light and camera. Exactly what I started with, but now completely digital.
We have now reached the end of my transition from 2D to 3D. I love playing with different scans, animals, props and even generative design. Each rendering became its own story. It’s been a long road, and it’s taken many months of practice and research to get here. But what about photography, you ask? Well, thanks to 3D simulation, I have more insight into lighting and more confidence in staging.
Monster Qian (2019-2020)
Thanks for reading and checking out the pictures, see you on the next project!