PUMA recently dropped the newest addition to its retro-meet-future concept, the Future Rider Play On. For the launch, the leaping cat brand enlisted AR Visual artist Timo Helgert, aka Vacades, to imagine the sneaker through a futuristic lens in a series of trippy visuals.
The Future Rider Play On is heavily inspired by the Fast Rider, a PUMA model launched in the '80s. In line with PUMA’s “Futuro” approach, the new sneaker takes the aesthetic and the progressive ethos of this original design and brings it into 2020.
Similarly, in his visuals, Vacades takes elements from real-life and imagines them in a glossy, fantasy future. For the launch of the new Future Rider Play On, he applied this approach to the new sneaker, imaging them in a future reality. We caught up with him to talk about how he got into AR, the future of Instagram filters, and how he created the trippy visuals for PUMA.
Why and how did you become interested in AR?
It’s a long story. When I was about 14, I switched schools and there was nobody that I knew. So I was the outsider and fled into visuals, 3D design, and discovering new techniques. I wanted to explore it as much as I could, and since I cannot code, I used it for the arts. In the beginning, I started by creating short films for YouTube. I was 14 and I was crazy about Star Wars. I was like, "How do they do this? Do they use neon tubes?" I figured out that there's this entire world behind movies and some of the stuff is fake. I got my first 2D software and I tried to create fire, lasers, stuff like that. Then I had a bet with my father when I was 14. He said, if I get this grade, he's going to buy me a 3D program. And I did.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
One of my biggest inspirations is travel. Every time I go to a new place, I like to turn off my phone and really explore the city really slowly, getting lost on purpose, and then looking at things and trying to imagine the story behind it and seeing it through my lens. I’ve lived in Japan and Korea and here, for example, when I walked through Seoul or Toyko I was always thinking, "How will this look like in like 20, 50 or 100 years?" I'm always really curious about the future and I'm impatient to wait for it.
Did you take that same approach for this project?
Kind of. The biggest inspiration for these five movies is the last project that I did for PUMA. At that time I’d just come back from Tokyo. I have a friend there who's a photographer and at that time I was collaborating with different models based in Tokyo and I thought, "How can I take their style, which is photography of the real world, and combine it with my digital world?” I always try to combine digital with reality and then I thought, "Okay, maybe I should shoot them and then envision the city in a futuristic way, use holograms, reflective fashion. and illuminating clothes, and try to change reality with my technology." Because it's 3D, you can create whatever you want. Only your computer and your imagination is the limit. So, I try to go crazy.
Were you inspired by any parts of the shoe in particular?
The shoe is so colorful and features this really iconic green, so I made the model's fingernails green and the sunglasses. I basically took elements from the shoe and applied it to the scene. The background is mostly blue and I thought the green is a really great contrast to that and really sticks out and puts the focus on it.
Which elements of the video are virtual and which are based on real-life objects?
My work mixes digital and reality. Take the staircase in the warped rider video. This staircase is real, it's about 20 minutes away from my house. It’s fully 3D now but I didn't model it in 3D, I made it by taking about 200 pictures of it from different angles. Then there's a program called Photoscan which uses AI. I put in the pictures and the software knows the emitters – the tiny distances between things – and so it knows how far and how big things are and it recreates the scene for you. After it's processed the staircase becomes a 3D model and then you can do crazy things like warp it, distort it and even change the lighting.
Digital technologies are advancing quickly. What is one of the most exciting things you've seen recently?
One of the coolest things that I've seen is now you can use AI to motion capture real people. Early last year I was in LA and we wanted to create a specific dance and movement for Instagram for a campaign, but we didn't have a motion capturing suit near and all the studios there were too expensive. So, what we did was we used our iPhone and recorded the person and then the artificial intelligence analyzed, basically looked at the person and knew, "Okay this is a hand, this is the head, etcetera.” It rebuilt a 3D model from that, that moved exactly like the real person without having to hand animate it or having to book a really expensive studio.
What sort of possibilities will that lead to in the future?
We can already see the beginning with Instagram and all the filters because if you look at some of those face filters, they rebuild your face geometry in real-time. Even if you open your mouth or close your eyes and turn around, they do this all in real-time on a tiny phone and there are probably so many millions of users who are during that at the same time. This is already really impressive, but there are still some things missing like full body and shadows on your face. But this stuff is all possible in my software. If I have enough time I can calculate it. It's not possible on your iPhone because the technology is still not powerful enough, but I guess in the next few years this will come and yeah, maybe then we can do all this work with an iPhone.
Aside from that, what role do you think these technologies will have in the future of fashion?
I think one big topic in the future will be virtual fashion. For example, once it's possible to track the full body and not just your face, then you'll probably be able to apply digital fashion to your body. So instead of having to buy a really expensive outfit, you can use an app and preview it. Actually it already exists, but not mainstream. Instead of buying a really expensive crazy outfit, you could send them a selfie, they put this outfit on you and you can then download it and post it on your Instagram. I think this stuff, right now it's done manually by a designer, but once AI becomes better and the technology becomes better, I think we will see this a lot more.
So people would be able to post pictures of themselves wearing clothes that they've never owned?
Exactly, yeah. And also clothes that are not possible in reality. So, think of super crazy materials, transparent stuff, illuminated stuff. Things that are, by the rules of physics, not possible.
Do you see any risks that this could potentially bring?
Yeah. For example, if we take virtual fashion. This would be a picture, right, you wouldn't own the piece. The problem that I see is Instagram and the culture, it all being about getting more likes and more attention, that if you actually don’t own it and are not really experiencing it in reality and are happy with it. I guess that could be a problem in the future. It can give people more anxiety, I guess.
Have you got any exciting projects in the works?
I'm working on 12 projects right now in parallel. The most exciting one is a course that I'm working on. It's a course with 42 lessons where I teach normal graphic designers who are working with 2D technology the 3D workflow and how they can use it.
The PUMA Future Rider Play On is available now at puma.com and in select stores worldwide.