Four years ago, Natalie Liu was studying marketing when she had a bit of a personal crisis. “I had always wanted to be creative but I used to have really low confidence and I didn’t feel like I could do it, but when I moved to a different city away from family pressures, discovering what I didn’t want to do with my life made me change direction,” she tells us.
Based in London, Natalie is a Chinese-Swedish artist and designer working with CGI to create digital works. Despite having an education from Hyper Island’s motion creative programme, she describes her largely as a self-taught creative and is currently working at a studio in central London, while producing her own stuff on the side. Since moving to the city three years ago, she’s worked alongside Field.io, Traum.inc and Fluent Studio.
One of Natalie’s most recent projects is an example of the stuff made “on the side”. Titled Ajna, it is a music video for Ruven which guides you through layers of reality within the subconscious world of Ajna, watching them grow on “meditative landscapes and ever blooming flowers.” This idea was borne directly from Natalie’s collaboration with Ruven who described the song’s concept as revolving around “balance and a meditational state.” However, it’s also an embodiment of Natalie’s own state of mind: “When I arrived in London everything was very chaotic and I lost like ten kgs, but at the moment i’m in a good state of mind.”
Natalie describes Ruven as “the best collaborator I could imagine,” and the project is the perfect example of how she likes to work. “He supported me in my creative decisions and helped me to brainstorm if I was hitting a wall,” she says. “I prefer projects which allow me a lot of creative freedom, which is why I think it’s so important to have a steady flow of self initiated work and it’s also why I enjoy doing projects for musicians.”
Throughout the song, Ruven uses sounds from nature and so before the pair even began creating anything, they knew if was going to be a “digital reality taking place somewhere in the nature.” Ajna is derived from hinduism, Natalie explains, “where it represents the third-eye chakra, a part of the body strengthened by meditation and responsible for our intuitive, subconscious mind.” She therefore “started by reimagining a hyperreal 3D design of the graphic motif of the lotus – the symbolic representation of Ājñā.”
After creating the lotus, Natalie then moved on to making a “digital plantscape” of blooming flowers, a sort-of evergreen digital garden. “Pushing the lifelikeness of the flowers shapes and forms was one of the main challenges in the project,” she says. “I did a lot of trial and error before I finally found techniques I was happy with.” The final result is mesmerising and beautiful to watch, a fitting tribute to the concept of Ajna.
Visually, the video is indicative of Natalie’s wider portfolio which sees her exploring highly contrasted hyperreal images “to evoke a message or have intention of making people think or feel something.” Through this technically adept imagery she then addresses themes of introspection, reflecting things which are happening around her, whether it’s political, cultural or personal. “Since my parents are Chinese but I was born in Sweden, there is always an element of mixed identity and duality,” she adds. “When I started in design I mostly focused on my eastern identity and created concepts around that. Currently I’ve been more in the western sphere, which has a lot to do with me moving to London and getting sucked into the life here.”
Finally, she tells us about why she’s so interested in the worlds of CGI and digital design: “Making an image in 3D hyperreal is technically challenging at times, because you have to discover your own techniques, but it’s like nailing a trick in sports that you’ve been practising on, it so fulfilling when you succeed… I also like being part of the global 3D community. It’s like a modern day art movement sprung from new technology. Most of the people that I know in London are experimenting with similar technology, forming sub movements who then push aesthetics in their own unique way.”