Taking Twists and Turns with 3D Artist Chris Labrooy

Courtesy of Chris Labrooy


January 10, 2019

In Chris Labrooy’s digital reality, his love of sports cars, California sun, and midcentury design fuses into pleasant mayhem. I spoke to Chris from his home studio in Scotland—where he crafts his instantly recognizable 3D illustrations—about design, Porsches, fake news, and how California is (sort of) overrated.

Why do some guys love drawing cars and motorcycles?

It’s hard to say how that starts! When you’re a kid you’re not really thinking about why you like things. For me it was cars and also sneakers. I would draw them all the time. It was always a side elevation. I would just have a stack of A4 paper and I would just draw. My dad was a helicopter engineer, but there’s no other real artist in the family. I don’t really know why I got into it.

When I went to school I did a lot of crafts and making, ceramics and glass, fine art painting. It was very broad. In my post-grad I got more into industrial design. When I was a kid I did want to design cars, but I remember reading stories how there’s a lot of people involved and big teams. I think that’s why I graduated toward the product side so I could work more independently.

What has your experience been like being repped by Debut?

I’ve been represented by Debut Art since 2011, and it’s good. You have lots of networks and relationships with art buyers and different clients. For me, I never worked in-house or ever actively went after an agency. I just did my thing, learned the craft, and made projects. I started to get a few clients, and Debut came to me.

I always concentrated on the work, that’s the most important thing. Concentrate on your projects, and if it’s good things will happen.

The building behind this elastic Nissan Skyline GT-R was inspired by architect Kisho Kurokawa’s Nakagin Capsule Tower in Tokyo. PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY CHRIS LABROOY.

What kind of marketing do you do independently now?

I don’t do any paid marketing. It’s all social media stuff. If I do a project I’ll spend a decent amount of time thinking how to present that project so it feels cohesive and robust. I get a lot of work through Instagram and Behance and being present in the social media space also.

Did you intentionally set out to build a specific look or aesthetic?

I never really thought about it at the time, I was always making projects, but I do have a consistent aesthetic. I don’t do hand-drawn illustration, it’s always 3D, glossy. It’s where my interests lead me. There’s also so much with cars!

Since you run your own studio, how do you divide your time between client work and personal projects?

I try to make time to do a personal project maybe 30% of my time. But with client work, it can be quite separate. Especially with cars, that’s really it’s own thing. I’ve done work with Porsche, Jaguar, Citroen. So personal work sometimes bleeds over into client work, too. I’m always open to all projects.

What about a terrible mini-van project?

Hah, maybe not! 

“I tend to focus on my experiences and my perspective of things. Like with some of the Porsche stuff, all the environments, they are familiar to me, and I’m inspired by them.” 

You’re a car guy—what are you driving these days, and what do you wish you were driving?

I’ve got a couple cars, a Porsche Cayenne Hybrid (it’s our family car) and a Porsche Cayman GT4. With the Porsches, I bought a Cayman maybe five years ago because I wanted a sports car. I wasn’t crazy about Porsche; it was just a cool car. But once I spent time with it I started to get more and more into them. I’m super happy with the GT4. It’s a perfect car. It’s got a great engine, right amount of power, a manual transmission. It’s a simple car. You turn the key and drive it. No options or menus. It’s pure in a way. I really like that. I do a lot of country driving on back roads and it’s the right size for that. It’s small and not very wide. I don’t ever want to get rid of it! Although, I have been looking at hot hatches, like the Focus RS, or the Civic Type R, that could be a good addition.

I’m curious about your take on 3D / CGI technology. First, what’s the right term? Are you a 3D artist or a CGI artist?

I think the most common is 3D artist. I use Cinema 4D. I do all my modeling in that, and all the texturing. For rendering I use V-Ray. I’ve used those tools for the last 11 years now, and I haven’t really changed. I’m all self-taught. That was quite a process. It’s a whole other ball game than Creative Suite. When you first open it it’s so complicated. There are so many menus and options and techniques. It takes years to really get into it.

What about this kind of work and “fake news?” Is that something you worry about?

It doesn’t come into my work. I don’t really think about it too much. The technology, it’s not like you can hit a button and make an image. Over time I think it will become more accessible, with libraries of assets. When it starts to mix with augmented and mixed reality it will get, well, pretty weird. The render engines, like you can see how good video games are getting. That kind of separation from what’s real and what’s not will just blur even more. Even the latest films, like Star Wars, they’re getting much better at replicating CGI characters. It’s notoriously difficult, but they’re getting much better. 

A photo illustration still from Chris Labrooy’s ‘Cut & Shut,’ a bright-and-bold, cartoonish (in a good way) video homage to iconic VW designs. PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY CHRIS LABROOY.

You seem to have this untethered imagination, creating anything and everything you can think of. Does having that many options ever hinder your work?

It’s tricky because you can literally do anything. But what I tend to do is focus on my experiences and my perspective of things. Like with some of the Porsche stuff, all the environments, they are familiar to me, and I’m inspired by them. Like New York, Palm Springs, California.

Your work is bright, colorful, playful, saturated, and often in the desert. But you made a lot of this work from Scotland, about as opposite an environment I can think of. How did that happen?

That’s part of the attraction. I can be sitting in the depths of winter in Scotland, and it’s cold and miserable, but my mind can wander, and looking back at those places, it can be a romantic thing. There is a romance about those places. My wife is from California, so I was traveling there a lot, and I still go once or twice a year. It’s just a vibe I’m really into.

Why Scotland?

I was born here. I grew up here. We’re quite happy here. You go to California, it’s cool for a vacation, but it starts to get a bit irritating. But it’s the same here, you get fed up with the winter and you want to go to California.

You run your studio out of your home. Do you ever have issues with getting distracted? Have you created a system?

I don’t really have a system. It just works for me. I don’t have to commute, I can pick my hours, I don’t really suffer with motivation or distraction, I don’t get distracted to go watch TV. I’m pretty good to get to my computer at 8am and just start doing stuff. The problem I have is getting out of the my home studio. I become obsessed. I’ll look at the clock and it’s like 10pm. That’s not unusual. Even with client work, I’ll work like five 10-hour days in a row. But I enjoy it.

What’s the next big project for Chris Labrooy?

The personal work never stops. It’s ongoing all the time. There’s always something in progress. I’m working on an animation for all the flamingo Porsche stuff. They happen over weeks and months. I always think as big as possible. When I make an environment I tend to make a lot. It could take a few weeks, the animations could take months.

A magazine cover