In the last decade 3D art has increasingly emerged as a legitimate form of art due not only to its massive exposure to the public, but mainly to the technological advancements that have allowed artists to single-handedly achieve production-quality results on a single workstation.
Filip Hodas is one of the first artists who have been heavily leveraging GPU render technology since its inception and pushing forward a new aesthetic. A trailblazer of hyperreal and ultra detailed environments, he has influenced tens of thousands of artists and opened a new realm of visual possibilities within the newly broadened limitations of 3D.
The 28-year-old Hodas is best known for his series Pop Culture Dystopia, which envisions decaying pop culture icons in desolate and abandoned post-apocalyptic landscapes.
His digital portraits depict pop idols including Mickey Mouse, Pac-Man, Hello Kitty, and the Mario Kart Mushrooms in a state of severe neglect and corrosion. Semi-robotic beings, graffitied, dirtied, and damaged beyond repair, from McDonald’s Happy Meal boxes and Coca-Cola cans.
In 2015, Hodas started a daily render project on his Instagram that lasted nearly 400 days and helped him gain initial traction online. Since then he has become one of the most followed 3D artists in the world, accumulating over 650,000 fans across his social media platforms. Several of Hodas’ renderings went viral and made the front page of numerous sites and social networks from Bored Panda and 9gag to Reddit. He has been included in several exhibitions across Europe. Hodas is based in Prague.
Hodas’ NFT Bikini Bottom is the most popular work from Pop Culture Dystopia.
How did your practice as a 3D artist begin?
I used to hang out with DJs and music artists and go to a lot of festivals, and I made 2D graphics, posters, and various promotional bits for them. Then I hit a plateau in terms of creativity, because there were always constraints about typography, legibility, size, logos, and so on. I decided to try to explore more personal work instead of just doing purely client-based projects. I always liked 3D as a medium, especially for stills, and I like the idea of creating virtual sets and taking pictures of them. So I decided to dive into cinema 4D and Octane Render. I noticed that since my last encounter with 3D, there have been a lot of advancements in terms of how quickly one can produce images, especially thanks to GPU rendering. So that got me really excited because that was one of the big hurdles, why I never really pursued 3D any further before I started doing daily projects, where I would create one piece every day, trying to get the hang of the basics, how to operate the tools. From my creative standpoint I explored what I find fun, what I want to explore. Ever since 2015 I’ve kept pushing to get out of my comfort zone, try new things, see what sticks and what doesn’t.
You started with dailies, but obviously your work evolved in a way that would make it impossible to do one piece every day. You started staging your work more. How did that happen, and how did you become a super detail-oriented type of artist?
There were a bunch of artists that I really looked up to when I was younger. There was this Slovakian artist, but he lives in Czech Republic, Marek Denko. He was doing insanely detailed stuff back in, like, 2006. It’s crazy. I always wanted to try something like that. But with the dailies, as you mentioned, I hit a plateau of what is achievable within a day. I didn’t really want to go down the route of using assets for everything, and I wanted to have a more personal touch in the work. So I decided to try spending a couple of days on a project instead of just one day. I started enjoying that, and it felt way more rewarding when I finished, because I could actually see the work put into each piece. All the effort, time, and overtime got a little bit out of hand in some ways. It started snowballing into trying to add too much and do almost everything from scratch. That became a little bit of a problem. I try to figure out a nice balance between doing something really detailed, but also not getting too hung up on tiny details that matter for me but aren’t a major point of the piece.
Your work is seemingly happy in terms of colors and themes, but there’s a lingering sense of sadness, especially later in your career. A sense of abandonment and these rundown elements, the deserted environments. What does that mean to you, and why did you start going down that road?
I think it was mainly due to the constraints of doing the early work in a much shorter time frame. I couldn’t really create as detailed or realistic work as I would love to, so I had to learn to create environments that seemed more “lived,” more consumed by happenings and time.
…from squeaky clean to “let me try to dirty this up”?
Yeah, exactly. I could afford it in terms of time. Also my skill set grew, and I learned how to utilize tools more efficiently. I could explore more of the whole workflow behind creating a model, texturing it properly, adding all these nooks and crannies and details and little bits of wear and tear. This was a big part of the sweet, slow, gradual abandonment of the simple, colorful things. I always try to do something that looks realistic, but not so there is an overarching theme where I trick the viewer into thinking, “Oh, this could be real, but it isn’t because…” In terms of emptiness or abandonment, I sort of view it as I had more space to build more worlds, or more story behind the pieces. Once I started putting in more time, I was like, “Oh, I don’t want this to just be like a shiny, cool thing.” I wanted to tell a little bit of a story or have a certain feeling. And that’s why I chose these pop culture themes. People can relate to these relics of childhood and past memories, to the melancholy of how it used to be fun but now is pretty much forgotten.
There’s a significant melancholic aspect to your work.
I’m not quite sure, to be honest. With the first images — like the Happy Meal, Pac-Man, Space Invaders, and Mario — I suppose I was remembering how I used to adore these things when I was younger. I grew up in a post-communist country, so when I was younger a lot of Western culture was just starting to get here. For instance, Happy Meals were a really special and big deal for me. Back then there weren’t that many McDonald’s in Prague, and when they opened one quite close to my home I wanted to go there all the time. I’d even force my parents to take me there to celebrate my birthdays.
The same with old computer games. We didn’t have a computer at home until I was eight, and all the computers we had at school were super old. So while people elsewhere played cool 3D games in the ’90s and early 2000s, my friends and I would play vintage games on 486 computers for hours every day in the computer lab at school. Both of these memories seem a bit bizarre to me now, but I can’t help but feel a bit melancholic.
I guess this sort of vibe translated over to the rest of the series, because I wanted to make it both visually and thematically unified.
Your work often portrays nature reclaiming what we took away from it.
I believe nature will always find a way to survive, even if people think we can control it. Last year I went on a trip to the Chernobyl exclusion zone and I was just amazed at how quickly nature took over the ghost town of Pripyat. The accident happened in 1986 and it contaminated the area so much that all the plants died for years. But now, just thirty-five years later, it is really hard to tell you’re in an abandoned town. It looks like a regular forest with apartment buildings, schools, hospitals, and factories scattered across it.
There are a few things that recur in your world, and overall there’s a dystopian mood and atmosphere. In some pieces in particular, like the Dr. McDonald Airplane and the Starbucks, there’s also a PopCap element of pop culture, brands that have kind of decayed. Is that a critique of consumerism? Is there a political element to it?
Yes, but when I try to figure out ideas for a series or concept, I usually like to work with subverting expectations. For instance, with the plastic pollution series, I also work with the irony of the absurdity of the piece. And if there is an eye, it’s really nice for it to have a little bit of extra meaning, maybe in an environmental direction, or even a little political. I don’t get too deep into that, because people can interpret things in very different ways and I don’t get a kick out of trying to explain things over and over. You know, I prefer that the work speak for itself. I think it’s very clear that, for instance, plastics are a big issue. So I don’t see it as some shocking artistic point of view. I just communicate it is a problem and here is an absurd way of displaying it or reversing it.
People see Beeple in your work, but you were actually the trailblazer of this style. Is that true?
I think everything is an iteration of something else, in a way. My work was very influenced by Mark Denko, as I mentioned, but it was also heavily influenced by Simon Stålenhag and loads of concept artists I’ve seen, because that’s a big part of my inspiration process. I tried to look mostly in other media in 3D and to incorporate parts of what I like. It can be architecture, photography, sculpture, 2D art concept, or whatever. I like to pick and choose elements and put them together. In terms of 3D that was popularized on Instagram, I don’t remember anyone doing something like this. So I guess in a way, yes. But I think it was a pretty natural process.
Bikini Bottom, the piece you contributed to the K21 Collection, suggests the themes of decay, abandonment, and being kind of forgotten or out of style. What does this piece mean to you? And why did you pick it out of all your pop icon series?
I picked it because I mostly see the technical part of it. I know that I spent crazy amounts of time on the floor texture and I tried to go super-realistic with everything and do everything from scratch. For the environment I’ve done a fair amount of research about draining canals in LA — not sure I’ll ever utilize this knowledge in a meaningful way again! It was probably the most complex piece I’d done until that point. I also think there is this thing about SpongeBob in general. It’s very much a kids’ show, but compared to other kids’ shows, if you watch it as an adult there is something the kids don’t see or realize. I don’t think there are many shows that have this sort of underlying thing that adults can pick up on while the kids are just oblivious. From the conceptual standpoint, I thought SpongeBob is this washed up guy under the bridge with the water gone. It’s an empty canal, and he’s sitting there, rusty and old. I really enjoyed it because he has such a jolly face and the expression is so happy, but it’s a dire situation. I like the weird juxtaposition of emotions or vibes. That’s why I thought it would be a good choice for K21. It’s probably my favorite piece in the series to this day.
So you think it’s a parable of, let’s say, the American movie star?
Yeah. I can totally see some parallels there!
It’s a critique of consumerism and hype culture, the movie business, fandom quickly forgetting their idols. It’s a story of misery. A lot of your work is basically saying, “Yeah, everything is being forgotten, will be forgotten, will be gone. And will rot for good.” When you run out of popular items, what’s next in your work?
I have a long, long list of ideas. But it’s really difficult for me to pick one, because I always like to work in series. After years of trying, I figured out that I am not capable of continuously creating one style/concept — it quickly stops being fun and starts being a chore. So these series always encapsulate one feeling or vibe or stylistic theme. It’s a bigger commitment than it probably would be if I worked in separate, single images because I have to create several pieces that work together. If I do the first one and realize, “Oh, this isn’t working out,” then I wasted a lot of time and effort on this whole concept. So I’m still trying to decide which to do. It might take a while, but hopefully we’ll get there this year at least.