New East Digital Archive

Goodbye utopia: using CGI worlds to confront our flawed reality

Computer-generated imagery, or CGI, is one of the most rapidly developing fields in contemporary visual culture. But while most of us see computer graphics as a means of mimicking or modifying reality, artists such as Russian motion designer Anatolii Belikov have other ideas — using CGI as a tool to better understand our turbulent times.

Before discovering CGI, Belikov studied chemistry, cycling through dozens of jobs before finding his passion for 3D storytelling. He has since worked for clients such as Adidas, Burberry, and Kenzon, although his personal work stands apart from his sleek commercial briefs.

In his own art, Belikov delves into flaws and imperfections, exploring objects which are mundane, dusty, or slightly damaged and working out how they could exist in the CGI universe. The darker underlying currents of our culture are also ruthlessly exposed. In the music video for Ukrainian artist Youra, Belikov created a suffocating burning response to the war in Ukraine and our general numbness to violence.

Belikov talked to The Calvert Journal about the nuances of working in 3D, the complexity of visual utopias and his inspiration.

The field of 3D design is often portrayed as a futuristic world where high technologies intertwine with utopian ideas, just how the creators of the internet imagined it as a place to escape from the limitations of the physical world. But 3D design promises visual utopias, yet asks for a lot in return.

3D design is similar to painting. As well as ideas, you need to have skill and craftsmanship. Of course, the speed at which new technologies develop and their increasing simplicity lower the entry threshold for artists every year. But at the same time, those things which seemed fresh and futuristic yesterday quickly end up looking like last year’s shiny but outdated iPhone. It’s this dichotomy of being free, yet not free that attracts me to 3D design.

The main drawback of 3D is that artists don’t like to discuss flaws, either within the medium itself, or in the world at large. CGI copies the real world instead of imagining how it could be. It’s about serving the industry, rather than society. 3D design aims for perfection, but I always think that this kind of mindset will just leave us treading on thin ice. Twentieth century history teaches us that utopian ideals can lead to very dark places. As a 3D artist, I’m not trying to be a futurologist but more like a therapist, working through certain things which the medium is trying to hide, forget, and ignore.

The video I made for Ukrainian musician Youra is an apocalyptic journey filmed on a selfie camera. Youra asked me to create the feeling of suffocation, with relief at the end. I started working on the video a few months after relocating to Ukraine, and I tried to reflect the feeling of inner conflict. Some might say that it’s too straightforward to make a video with lots of special effects, where it looks like we’re in Hell and everything is on fire. But how else could I show that my homeland is in a state of slow-burning war? Some people kill each other and some try to pretend everything is fine by taking selfies in restaurants. Suffocation can’t have a palatable face.