Tomek Makolski collaborates with Recom Farmhouse to create full CGI staging for an evocative slice of 80s Vegas life.Bored but ultra-glamorous, she stalks her enclosed world of a motel in purest yellow. The images are drenched in intense pastel yellows and blues, but below the surface gloss of this sunny palette, there’s tension in these moments out of time, a sense of detachment, drift and dream.
Why this solitary intermission in her life, just killing time?
Subtle cues in the setting hint at an ambivalent celebrity and faint, atmospheric menace.
A Look Behind The Scenes
We were delighted to collaborate with Tomek to bring this idea to life.
The model photography was already complete, so we began with her character, working collaboratively to imagine a setting for her that would be right for her aesthetic…stylish but faintly gritty.
With a huge variety of movements to choose from, we chose those that contributed to the atmosphere we are trying to build – strongly defined poses with interesting shapes – and built an environment for this character to inhabit.
A sense of place is central to creating realistic environments, even though we didn’t want to without being too explicit about the location. We settled on suburban Las Vegas as having the right combination of motel style that we needed to stage the scenes.
Searching to find a sweet spot between surrealism and reality, we created a realistic motel, and turned every part of yellow to add a jolt of unreality, as well as giving a stylishly minimal feel to the detailed environments.
Smaller cues such as her face in the poster on the wall, or in the magazines ,add to an almost subliminal sense of displacement.
It’s also a time capsule of 80s elements. The styling of the model had already been carefully considered – her sun visor, big hair channeling Faye Dunaway, the cut of her swimsuit – so we chose props such as the vending machine to enhance the feeling of a shift in time.
Tomek already had a moodboard of references, and we expanded on this with contemporary details for all elements – whether integral parts of the set like breeze blocks or railing designs, to objects like towers of cards and an oversized phone.Items like a baseball bat or broken glass contributed to the faint sense of unease, and the feeling of depth and difference in focus enhances the dream-like feeling of the series.
We wanted to use a different, more stripped back workflow on this project. The images were begun in Unreal, the CGI finished in Blender, and then composited and graded in Capture One.
Everything is CGI in the images except the model and the sun lounger – and in fact we we recreated the sun lounger in CGI for a seamless match between the real and the virtual.
We began the project in Unreal, so we could adjust all the elements of the set with maximum interactivity. In Unreal, we matched the lighting and angles of the CGI environment to the original model shots, and tested colours and props at lightning speed.
Instant feedback at high fidelity allowed us to be adventurous in art direction…moving the model around the set without the need to wait for renders. It’s a great platform for experimentation and taking chances.
With the creative decisions made, we moved the project into Blender for the last stage.
This meant we could render the final CGI environments in a high enough quality that we could go directly to compositing and colour grading – an interesting exercise for us to see how far we could push pure CGI.
Finally, we added the model in via Capture One with minimal colour work – just minimal grading to balance her correctly into the CGI backplate.
We hope you enjoy the way this collaboration blurs the line between fantasy and reality…we’re proud to have made the dream real.
Soundtrack: We recommend Bananarama and Fun Boy Three: Our Lips Are Sealed
Photographer: Tomek Makolski
Concept: Tomek Makolski & Michal Sek
Photographer’s Assistant: Adam Gocel