In the midst of the pandemic last year, Nick Knight faced a dilemma: how to create a fashion campaign while global travel was banned, and shoots were all but impossible? The answer was clear – in the absence of physical gatherings, 3D scanning and CGI were the only options. Using iPhone software, Kendall Jenner 3D scanned her own face from her home in Los Angeles, while in London, digital designer Tom Wandrag began mocking up a digital version of the famed American model and influencer. In order to carefully construct Jenner's likeness, Wandrag needed to focus on the fine details, like the angle of her cheekbones and the way she moved her lips. The resulting campaign film saw a CGI rendering of Jenner amble and skateboard around a brightly lit, fictitious space seemingly suspended in the middle of a blue sky. 3D technology ended up saving the day, but this was not Knight's first rodeo, nor will it be his last – he's had his sights set on 3D processes for over two decades now.
To mark the launch of SHOWstudio in November 2000, two projects that utilised new, cutting-edge technologies were released. Knight describes his first experiment with 3D scanning the year before as 'probably one of the most exciting and eye-opening moments in my career.' In Sweet, images of a 3D-scanned Jane How came out twisted and glitchy – How's head appeared like a classical Roman bust, but smashed up and hollowed out. For the second project, J-Walk, Knight put leading catwalk coach J. Alexander in a motion capture suit to record his iconic strut. The final film ended up as a more abstract affair: a flurry of colourful dots flitting around in space, like a living, breathing Yayoi Kusama painting. Reflecting on these projects today, Knight says that 'the possibilities seemed so vast and the implications both for art and society seemed incredibly exciting.' Since those early days, Knight has incorporated pioneering 3D scanning and motion capturing technologies into much of his work; for a 25-foot sculpture of Naomi Campbell in London's Somerset House (2006), a monochromatic music video for Kanye West's 'BLKKK SKKKN HEAD' (2013), and a multi-layered, 3D fashion film #asif (2014).
Now, Knight has collaborated with British artist and musician Robert Del Naja on a series of abstract, hallucinogenic 3D-scanned images for The New Order Magazine. Del Naja's beginnings as a graffiti artist in Bristol are referenced; in one image from the shoot, Del Naja joins forces with a robotic machine and a spray paint can to create an artwork on a piece of paper – an apt meeting of man and machine. Other images containing bursts of spray paint colour are glitchy and frenetic, just like Knight's first ever experiments in 3D. 'Glitches are digital mistakes and failures of the system,' he says. 'I have always loved the way that chance, randomness and the unexpected allow you to see things that you would never have thought about before. In what can be seen as a dry, mechanical medium such as digital image-making, the glitch enters a moment of chaos and chance which feels closer to life.'
The image chosen for the magazine cover is an anonymous, haunting portrait – after being 3D scanned, Del Naja was then 3D printed into a shimmering gold sculpture. An error with the scan caused the ultimate glitch, leaving the musician with no face; instead, the bust is shaped like a medieval knight's helmet with an ominous, horizontal breathing slit. After talking with Del Naja about the possibilities of AI, Knight decided that printing his image out as a sculpture was the best way to represent him. 'I liked the way it felt that I was linking past ways of making a portrait with the newest ways,' he says.
And following a long and illustrious working relationship – Knight created a microscopic, composite image of a black beetle for the Mezzanine (1998) album sleeve, and later shot glass figures through with bullets for the cover of 100th Window (2003) – The New Order Magazine images signal the start of a more experimental collaborative chapter for the pair. 'It is hardly a surprise if I told you I loved Massive Attack's music,' says Knight. 'The world needs music that is that deep and that emotional.' Who says digital image-making can't be just as emotional? The glitches exist with reason – machines, like humans, are equally capable of making mistakes.