LDF22: Meet Sai Aya and the Bibendum Series

Displaying curated items from The Conran Shop but not quite in the way you might expect, we foray into the virtual realm with a new immersive installation in collaboration with It’s Nice That. Six digital designers have taken on the challenge, one of whom is Sai Aya from the CGI and AR design duo Morbo. 

Sai Aya is a digital designer, art director and co-founder of Morbo Ltd, a London-based 3D design and animation studio. Their practice focuses on futuristic visual expression and imagination. Sai’s renderings depict ethereal visions: creating an experience of wonder and escapism with an invitation for the mind to relax in the digital realm. Their works have a sense of comfort and familiarity yet incorporate a surreal touch of a utopian, dreamlike world. They aim to evoke a strong response from the viewer, where not only the eyes wonder but the feelings, too. 

Sai reworks Lucy Kurrein’s ageless Bibendum series, exclusively available at The Conran Shop. The chair and sofa collection is named after the Michelin Man, who is so dear to our brand. Playing with lines of the 60s revised in a contemporary key, the Bibendum's design is built around stackability: its swivelling seat and backrest seem to have been created by simply stacking the cushions on top of each other.

Read Sai's interview below, to learn more about their work and inspiration.

1. Welcome to The Conran Shop, Sai! Please could you tell our readers all about you?

Hi, thank you for having me. I'm Sai, a CG designer currently based in London.

I grew up playing Nintendo and watching Pixar movies: when I was six, I got a GameBoy and would spend my days playing Pokemon and Super Mario. I was intrigued by the beautifully coloured cartoonish art style; I remember the landscapes with greenery, cave waterfalls, and bubbling lava. I think these elements still play a massive inspiration in my work today.

In 2018, I stumbled across a post on Instagram of a hyper-real image; I couldn't believe it. It was so dreamlike and surreal. I immediately thought, "I need to learn how to create that." That's how I discovered the software Cinema 4D which was free for students, so I immersed all my time in watching youtube tutorials, experimenting and learning the basics throughout my years at university. I studied at Chelsea College of Arts in Spatial Design, and gravitating toward the medium of 3D enabled a spark in my creative process on my final major project. To me, it was a new way of communicating my ideas by creating technical drawings and rendering visualisations.

I started freelancing right after graduating. I was lucky enough to receive commissions whilst also dedicating time to self-initiated projects, understanding and implementing concepts in Cinema 4D. Then, toward the end of 2020, I co-founded Morbo, a creative studio for 3D design and animation. Together my studio partner and I have worked on art direction, moving image campaigns, music videos and merging live action with CGI.

2. How did your relationship with It’s Nice That begin?

It's Nice That approached me as a creative for this project. I've been a massive fan for almost a decade, and it was lovely to work with them as it's been an exciting opportunity and collaboration.

3. Please take us through your journey in reimagining Lucy Kurrein’s Bibendum Lounge Chair for Meet Me in the Metaverse; what was your favourite part of the process?

The chair has both a contemporary and nostalgic feel making it a great addition to a fluid space. The chair remains current despite the passing of time, allowing it not to age, so it was only natural to me to present the chair in an uncanny atmospheric landscape, embracing its adaptability.

The project approach started at a language level, writing a few words and then digging into visual inspiration before I saw a solid image in my mind. I'm terrible at sketching, so I skip that part; I begin directly in Cinema 4D. I love the ability to create almost anything without constraints. It allows the freedom to explore, test, fail, and redo.

I ensure I have collected all the reference images when beginning a new scene. I start with simple objects, placing lights and using a camera to initiate a perspective. Then it's a constant state of experimenting with models, textures, and colour combinations; having the freedom to see what comes out is fun and unpredictable. Sometimes it can be frustrating; hours go by, and you have nothing. Yet, it is my favourite part; I love seeing the progress. Next, I refine all the scene elements and work towards finalising the lighting and shading process. Once I am happy with the desired outcome, I'll do some quick test renders for review.

Finally, animation can be long, not necessarily the process itself but the rendering, where the computer slowly calculates millions of pixels that move every frame. But, the final reveal of the completed animation is always a surprise; it's nerve-racking and exciting at the same time.

4. What does the Metaverse mean to you?

It's always existed; it's the internet's evolution. Its become an intuitive use for us, becoming more immersive and adopted in daily life. To me, it's space for boundless possibilities, and there is a version of reality for everyone. So I'm excited to see how it'll progress.

5. As we celebrate the 20th London Design Festival, what is the importance of such events for artists and designers?

Representing the creativity and innovation of global creatives in one city is wonderful. For artists and designers, it offers numerous possibilities to explore, experience and forge meaningful connections. It's also nice to see works in in real life instead of on a screen.

6. Finally, what does the future hold for you?

More collaborations with creatives that are not necessarily 3D-related!

Meet Me in the Metaverse may be over, but you can still shop the LDF22 edit today.