It’s All About the Idea

Mark Gmehling on combining traditional sketches and Cinema 4 to create ADC’s 2019 Festival campaign.

Artists often disagree on whether technology is a curse or a blessing. Illustrator and 3D designer Mark Gmehling is firmly in the latter camp, insisting that, nowadays, projects are best approached using a combination of traditional and modern skills. “Technology can help you save a lot of time, but it will never replace pen and pencil because they are a part of the emotional creative process that machines can’t do,” he explains. Captivated by drawing since he was a kid, Gmehling lives in Dortmund, Germany, and travels the world painting murals, and exhibiting his illustrations and other artwork in galleries. No matter what he’s doing, each project begins the same way, a pen-and-pencil sketch on paper that he then brings into Cinema 4D to model.

“People think, ‘Well, I don’t have an idea yet, but if I do this in 3D it’ll look amazing.’ But that doesn’t make sense,” he says, “because you need to know what you want to achieve before you lose yourself in all of the possibilities.” Think traditionally, Gmehling advises, and then use technology as an efficient way to create what you’ve envisioned. (Check out his portfolio here

It’s hard to argue with a guy who uses spray paint on walls as deftly as Cinema 4D. And, recently, after being admitted to the prestigious Art Directors Club Germany (ADC), Gmehling demonstrated once again how artists can use technology to augment their creative ideas when he designed the print campaign, teaser and opening video for ADC’s 2019 Festival. “It was a big honor to be invited to join ADC and then, a few weeks later, be asked to illustrate the campaign,” he recalls. “They wanted me to do it because they like my style, which I’ve become famous for now because I left my job in marketing to create my own universe of aesthetics that’s mostly about portraying the drama of human life using very abstract characters.”

Bringing ADC’s Manifesto to Life

Founded in New York in 1920, ADC is a leading professional association for the advertising industry. Each year, artists submit their work for judging by ADC festival juries; the award being among the most coveted in the communications field. For Gmehling, the event feels like an almost religious time of worship and adoration, “kind of the church congress of the industry,” he explains. So he pitched the idea of creating a campaign in which gods would depict key points of the ADC Creative Communication Manifesto.

Just as an idea needs to meet the manifesto’s criteria to be excellent, he explained, in this case an idea needs to pass muster with all seven of the gods. This idea was met with some head shaking, at first. “It wasn’t easy to convince all of them to take this approach because it wasn’t bold and loud with typography shouting facts at viewers,” he recalls. But with the trust of ADC’s President, Heinrich Paravicini, and support from Burkhard Müller (Mutabor Design, Hamburg), Gmehling convinced them to try something completely different. “I like to tell stories with my illustrations, and the way we did this gives people a chance to study each illustration and interpret it in their own ways. Why not catch people’s attention by being different?”

Using a combination of Cinema 4D and Photoshop for print, and C4D and After Effects for the videos, Gmehling modeled, textured, lit and rendered every part of the project himself while juggling other work between January and May. Global Illumination added some magic to the print renders, but he used a few different tricks to render the videos efficiently, including ambient occlusion and a depth map. “Animation deadlines were uber tight, so I needed to come up with a superfast rendering solution,” he recalls, “no lights at all just luminant materials in combination with ambient occlusion, reflection and depth map, which saved my ass.”

Great Ideas are Fueled by Hearts on Fire

Gmehling sees the gods as embodying artists’ inner aspiration, “Kind of like the gods in our heads who expect excellence as we work,” he explains. In keeping with the manifesto, each scene includes a god, and a whole lot of other characters created in his signature style, depicting one of ADC’s seven tenets: Excellent Creative Communication Has—an idea, is clear, is convincing, is perfectly crafted, is fun, is conductive and is neither racist nor discriminating.

Judging by comments and the number of festival prints people have purchased so far, the scene in which excellent creative communication is perfectly crafted is just about everybody’s favorite. Gmehling likes it a lot too: “Here you’ve got the god of perfection and below him are all the people who have to make an idea a reality,” he explains. “He is sitting there and there is a lot of blood, sweat and tears with the people in the cellar doing all of the work, including the Umpa Lumpas (from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory), who are constantly feeding the fire to keep the heart of creativity and passion burning. It’s a role I see myself in, too, after my convincing “mouthwork” turns the concept into handwork/reality.”

People are also keen on the scene stressing the importance of making communication fun.  “This is about how a good idea that it is fun and infectious can go viral, which is one of the goals of communication,” he says, pointing out the roller coaster and banana boats, all of the emoticons, balloons and business people throwing their briefcases in the air and stage diving once they spot the joyful idea.

“Making people smile, gets them out of their daily grind, and is one of the best things you can do as an artist,” Gmehling says, adding that he’s grateful to have had this opportunity to showcase his work. “You know, a lot of people think that when you use technology, you’re just pressing the Create Dinosaur button and then there’s a dinosaur. But that’s not how it works. You’ve got to learn the basics of creation and design first and go from there.”

Meleah Maynard is a writer and editor in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

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