Xavier Segers is the Professional winner of the Site Specific Category. Find out how he created this award-winning project, and his plans for the future.
Welsh National Opera and Arcade London commissioned me to illustrate a world based on the opera, The Cunning Little Vixen. This resulted in a large interactive installation of 5 wooden multi-layered arches where visitors could explore the story via mobile devices using augmented reality.
The brief for me was to design and illustrate a series of 5 arches that would represent the world in which the vixen lived and to create illustrations of all the main characters which would later be brought to life through animation.
I searched and watched the opera on youtube to get a better understanding of the characters. I researched the composer Leoš Janáček as I wanted to do his legacy justice. Also knowing that my illustration would come alive and be animated I researched animal anatomy as I wanted the animals to be able to move naturally.
I used my trusty wacom drawing tablet to create my illustrations straight into illustrator.
Each one of the arches represents a certain time in the vixen’s life. The story shows her growing up and maturing. So the arches echo the seasons. Starting off with spring, then early summer, late summer, autumn and ending with winter. I also symbolised the passing of time with the position of the sun on each arch.
I’m used to working with a lot of texture in my work. But because these illustrations all had to be pure vectorial for technical reasons I had to take a different approach. I wanted the illustrations to be engaging from far away and also interesting up close. So I worked with lots of subtle patterns and lines to keep the illustrations dynamic.
This was my first ever time working on a project that involved augmented reality. So knowing that my illustrations would come alive and interact with visitors, made me think of them in totally new way. I needed to ensure there was a visual consistency throughout the installation that helped with the flow of the experience and supported the interactive media.
I nearly pulled out of this project in the very beginning. After jumping for joy hearing I was selected to be the illustrator on this project I got the sad news that my mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. After lots of talks and consideration I stuck with this project and being focussed on this project helped me a lot.
From beginning to end, It took me 7 weeks to finish all the illustrations and designs of the arches. Each of the 5 arches had 6 different layers on each side. – 7000 visitors came to the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff during the 1 month long exhibition. The installation was scheduled to travel throughout the UK for the next 2 years.
In hindsight I can honestly say there is very little I would have done differently.
I’ve learned that illustrations don’t just have to be on a paper medium. Find a vessel that suits your style and try new things out. No specific surface or technology should be safe for your work, go experiment and cross-pollinate!
The beauty of being a freelancer is that you never know what could be waiting around the corner. I will continue to work for design and ad agencies. I might look into representation, so I can potentially cast a wider net and catch some interesting projects.
A dream commission would be the opportunity to transform a certain space with my large scale illustrations. Being able to create immersive experiences that boosts interiors in hospitality, urban settings and museums. Creating the opportunity for visitors to get lost in a visual world or at least provide a very cool instagram post.
Favourite thing to draw
I love illustrating insects. Like in real life, insects come in countless shapes, patterns and textures. I love getting lost in the details of each little part and see how it can connect and potentially move.
During the project I worked at the Arcade office in Soho, London. This was a great opportunity to have instant feedback and being able to brainstorm about the entire project. It was peak summer, so there was lots of refreshing ice cream moments.
A big thank you (Diolch!) to Welsh National Opera for investing in innovative projects like this one that help people find their way to the world of opera. Another big thank you to Arcade London for taking me on this adventure, showing the spectacular world of AR and giving me the trust, freedom and support.