Talking Art and Technology with 3D Artist David McLeod

Normalities abandoned, 3D artist David McLeod’s visually intoxicating work creates a landscape of digital simulation. Shapes and textures wondrously flow with mesmerizing smoothness — the tangible informs the intangible, and it becomes slightly less than impossible for one to pull away from the state of marvel his art facilitates.

Australian born and New York-based, McLeod, 33, entered the 3D space five years ago and has been exploring a host of technologies and softwares ever since. Amassing over 238K Instagram followers, his work has also caught the attention of musicians such as Beck, and brands such as Apple, Canon, Toyota and Bloomingdales. 

Truly a visionary, it was an honor getting to talk about art and technology with the renown 3D artist last week. Meet David McLeod, and feel free to remember his Australian accent while reading our interview:

Can you tell me a bit about your background in art and what drew you to becoming a 3D artist?

I guess I’ve had a bit of a strange start to working as a digital artist. It’s been about five years that I’ve been involved in working in 3D. Before that, I actually worked in digital advertising — creating websites and working on digital ad campaigns. So, I kind of think of 3D as still being a relatively new thing that I’m doing at the moment. It was really something that was a bit of a shift from when I was working with digital design as it’s been mostly self-taught. I learn a lot through looking at stuff online and trying to understand what’s possible with the 3D software and digital manipulation tools that we all have access to these days.

Five years ago, it was something that was kind of still in its infancy, in terms of individuals picking up this software and using it in their personal work. A lot of 3D work up until that point was really reserved for 3D production houses — stuff like Pixar. Around the time it became a lot more accessible for individuals is when I found myself looking into what’s possible with 3D. It kind of became an obsession from that point on — I sort of fell in love with experimenting with it.

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What do you wonder about? How do you explore these things in your art?

A lot of what inspires my work is seeing how people to respond to the tangible aspects of the intangible. I like to see how people respond emotionally to different kinds of textural or motion qualities. I like to observe that, and it informs a bit of my work.

I also think, in terms of inspiration, I like observation of mathematic rule and geometry that can be observed in nature. That’s something I’ve become quite fascinated in recently. I think it’s really kind of anything and everything, but these are two things I keep coming back to.

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What technologies and softwares do you use in creating your work? 

I use a PC and the program I spend the most time in is Cinema4D. I also work with some plugins that simulate particles, which simulate fluids or things like fire-simulations. The interest for me comes in to how to take these sort of simulations that typically are used to create a waterfall or something like that— I like to see how that can be pushed into a different direction, and used in a way that it wasn’t intended for.

I also use this software package Houdini, which I’ve been learning recently. Houdini is a way to work procedurally — it’s kind of a bit like visual programming, and it allows for a huge amount of possibility in terms of customization in terms of how to create assets in 3D.

What is it like being an artist in New York, and how has living in the city inspired your work?

This is a great city to be in. Just the pure scale of the city, as well as how how many people live here, it’s a great opportunity to collaborate with other people and learn form other people, and to kind of take in experience. This definitely has helped inform my work, as it has with a lot of other people I’m sure as well. I think that besides that sort of opportunity in terms of learning and growth, it’s also great in terms of the bottom line — there’s a lot of work here as well. It’s a great city to be freelancing in.

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How did it feel to have your work featured in Beck’s ‘WOW’ music video? I’m a huge fan and loved the video.

I’m like you, I’ve loved Beck for a long time. I’ve been listening to him since the 90’s. So, when they got in touch, I was over the moon. I was very happy to have some sort of involvement — it was a great thing to be a part of.

One of my other favorite music videos, which actually features 3D art as well, is the Chemical Brothers’ ‘Wide Open’ music video that he’s also featured on.

Yes, it’s fantastic! It’s conceptually very tight and flawlessly executed. The studio who produced the video is The Mill and they do amazing work.

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Can you tell me a bit about having your work featured on Apple Keynote and Apple’s website?

Apple got in touch with me after seeing some of my work on instagram. They wanted to feature some of my work in promotional graphics for the release of the new macbook pro. It was a nice surprise and somewhat surreal to see my work featured in the Apple Keynote presentation!

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Can you tell me about a brand collaboration you’ve worked on that stands out in your mind as being a really interesting experience?

Probably one of the more interesting collaborations from last year was the work I did for Omega watches. They got in touch looking to create a series of little teaser videos for a watch they were going to release… they have a yearly fair, called Baselworld, where they release new projects, and as part of this, they wanted to hint at the qualities of the watch before the fair was to happen.

The watch they were releasing was a diving watch, so we thought of creating a theme about liquid and liquid motion. Which lead to a series 3 videos of each with a fluid stimulations that has different materials from the watch applied to the fluid. For example one of them has a rubber material, and the other was carbon fiber from the watch strap, etc.

Having something like carbon fiber, which is something you wouldn’t necessarily associate with fluid, applied to fluid… for me, created an interesting result.

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A still from one of McLeod’s teasers made for Baselworld.

What helps you feel creative? What sort of atmosphere do you prefer to work in? 

I share a space with 5 other people, but we have our own separate areas in the studio. It’s a nice balance between being able to work kind of on my own, but also have other people around to discuss things with — you know, if you wanted to discuss an idea, of get an opinion on whether something is or isn’t working.

I’m always listening to music at work. Particularly, music that is lyric-less — ambient music and electronic music that fades into the background tends to help me focus.

Speaking on the day of Trump’s inauguration, what are your goals going forward as an artist in 2017?

It’s something that I’ve thought a lot about: how art can help people. And I agree with you, art is probably more important now in 2017 than ever. So, I’ve been working out a plan on how to use my art as a means to fundraise, and using that to donate money to charities which are now in need of funding.

In general, I’ve been thinking about how art can used to give back a little bit. Because for the most part, art is something that I do because I enjoy it and I like to share it with other people. But, it would be nice to give it a greater purpose — to help people.

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For more of McLeod’s mesmerizing work, check out his Instagram, vimeo, website and print shop.

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