“Mind-tickling is the feeling you get when you see a common, everyday object, but something’s a bit off or the object reacts in an unusual way,” says Anny Wang, when we chat about the term she and partner Tim Söderström came up with to describe how their reality-defying 3D renders stimulate the senses. “It tickles the brain in a way that starts to awaken you,” she continues. “You think, ‘What just happened, or what is that? Is something wrong with it?’ That’s what we always strive for in our work, to provoke a questioning response.”
Wang & Söderström are not alone in using hyper-real renders that blur the boundary between the digital and the tangible to ensnare roving eyes. This past year has seen a surge of illustrators venturing into 3D, fuelled by a “perfect storm” (as artist Alexis Christodoulou puts it) of more accessible software, faster render times and a deluge of clients keen to capture our embattled attentions. In fact, according to statistics released early this year, an adult spends on average 135 minutes of their day absorbed in social media. In all that scrolling, it’s the images that tickle the mind – that force us to pause and think, “What?” – which really stand out.
Like many practitioners working in the field, Wang & Söderström (both Swedish, but based in Copenhagen) found their way to 3D illustration indirectly. Anny, a product designer, and Tim, an architect, were using modelling software to build digital sketches of their products and spaces, before realising it was this beginning stage that was the most exciting. Today the pair specialise in creating illustrations (using software programmes Modo and 3D Studio Max) that hinge around collections of digital objects so tactile in appearance that they truly baffle the brain. Cubes of marble look cold to the touch, a wave of resin has just the right translucency, and you can almost feel the soft bristles on their hairy pompoms. But then there will be a wayward form, with an alien luminescence or unfamiliar texture, which quickly challenges your belief in its authenticity.