The Fantasy of "Pearl," with Julia Salnikova
A Rumfoords original content piece by the artist whose rich, luxurious and exaggerated avatar work has caught our eye.
Have you ever seen a model who lives in a shell and cries tears of floating pearls?
Neither had we, until Russian 3D artist and avatar designer Julia Salnikova created this piece of original virtual style content just for Rumfoords. It’s called “Pearl.”
Salnikova’s rich, luxurious and exaggerated avatar work is some of our very favorite we’ve discovered, but it’s her taste that makes the body of work stand out. Her worlds are not just refined but also youthful. Her work is as likely to confront you with a pixel-perfect face worthy of any global fashion campaign as it is a cartoonish T. Rex being ridden like a horse by a cowboy from some other future.
Virtual style should be beautiful. But Salnikova’s work proves it can be fun, have a sense of humor and, most importantly, embody the stylishness only achieved so far in the physical world and rarely in the virtual.
We sat down with the artist to dig into her process.
Rumfoords: You seem to really love working on portraits lately, and the work is absolutely gorgeous. Why did you begin making portraits?
Julia Salnikova: Thank you! I got into creating portraits during lockdown earlier this year. All photo studios were closed and some photoshoots had to be cancelled so I couldn’t get any new pictures to work with. I decided to replace real models with the digital ones, which meant I had to learn how to make avatars and 3D garments.
I find creating avatars very therapeutic, so I like to do them between client projects when there’s no rush. It almost feels like playing a more complex version of The Sims haha.
Faces are fascinating. You can get so many variations by just slightly changing some features and it’s very entertaining. One of my favorite parts is doing their makeup when the avatar is done, that’s another obsession of mine.
R: What’s the hardest art about making them?
JS: I think the most difficult part starts when your character is done and you need to integrate it in your scene. Sometimes it takes a while to find the right angle and the right pose, it’s very similar to taking photos.
R: You’ve done some self-portraits, too. How is it making those?
JS: I tried to make one a couple of months ago but then I decided to put that on hold because I felt like it needed some more work. Self portraits are always tricky because your perception of yourself might be a bit different from reality, even when you look in the mirror it doesn’t show your true reflection because the image is reversed. My friends actually said it was pretty accurate so I will definitely finish it when I have more time.
R: The portrait you made for Rumfoords is one of the most gorgeous 3D portraits we’ve ever seen. Who is she and why is she crying?
Julia Salnikova: I think I was just having a bad day when I was making this piece haha but when my mood changed I decided to also change the atmosphere of the render and added these peachy and pink tones.
R: Was it fun playing with her features, makeup and hair?
JS: I always find it fun. I think each character I create is a combination of faces I see on social media. Sometimes they’re inspired by a specific person and sometimes I just play around and see what happens. But to me these characters are not human, they’re a fantasy so I like to add alien-like features like these elf ears or exaggerate the bone structure.
R: How did she get on such a big shell?
JS: She lives there :)
R: There are tears, floating bubbles of water, pearls, a pool. Tell us about the aquatic theme here and what it means to you.
JS: These bubbles are also her tears that are transforming into a new shape.
Water is the main element in a lot of my works, but it’s not something I do intentionally. I guess water is just one of those things you never get bored of. I like seeing how it reflects the environment, gives the scene a new narrative and separates the space from this world. But I hope each viewer can interpret it in their own way.
R: The tree and sky in the background are gorgeous, too. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
JS: I feel like I have a mix of completely different concepts and ideas in my head and while working on projects I pull out some of them and combine them together. This time I was inspired by sakura trees and nature in Japan and Botticelli.
R: How can we get one of these bikinis?
JS: It doesn’t exist in real life but it was inspired by this brand called Creepyyeha. They had a pearl collection, which I really like, so I decided to make my own version.
R: You started your work in set design, right? Tell me a little bit about your transition from set design to 3D.
JS: I think it wasn’t until my final year of uni that I stumbled across some digital artworks on Instagram. I was so fascinated that it inspired me to start dabbling in the 3D world myself. I tried to create something without really knowing what kinds of software are out there and it didn’t go that well, it was like rocket science. But I kept practicing by creating images of some imaginary spaces. Later my renders became a bit more fashion-oriented and I would find some of my favorite fashion looks, crop them out and create backgrounds for them. After I got a little bit better I began to offer this digital alternative to photographers I would work with and it all just blew up from there.
I am based in Moscow and set design isn’t really a thing over here, unfortunately, so 3D allows me to work on projects I am actually interested in and collaborate with people from all over the world.
R: Has it been a weird transition?
JS: For me personally the only difference is that my 3D sets don’t exist in real life. It’s something I would definitely build if I got to work on a project with a crazy budget. Even the process is very similar. I think that’s why most of my 3D environments aren’t too far from reality and could be built in real life. Working on real sets is way more physically tiring though, so that’s another advantage of 3D.
R: What was the experience of learning 3D like?
JS: I had to do some renders here and there during my studies to visualize my projects, but, like I said, I wasn’t trying to do it professionally. I only started to take it seriously last summer. That’s when I built my first PC because I felt like this is what I want to explore as a career path.
I remember the first time I opened all those programs they looked pretty intimidating but once you get used to them everything is very straightforward. I’m not really good with technology so I still struggle sometimes. I don’t consider myself a complete expert and I’m still learning and trying to step up my game with every project.
R: I love when the set design and 3D converge, like in this piece you made. Obviously with real life set design it's expensive to hang out with penguins! How does working in 3D expand what's possible for your art?
Haha yes, budget is always an issue when it comes to real sets, unfortunately, and funnily enough, it’s always clients with the smallest budgets who have the most unrealistic demands. With 3D your possibilities are pretty much endless so I can’t even imagine not having this option now. I also love the fact that it allows me to explore many other disciplines and combine all of my interests such as fashion, music, animation.