Freelancing in Lisbon: A Q&A With Graphic Artist Tiago Lourenço

Tiago Lourenço's hyper-real graphic design images show a depth of visual language we've rarely seen. We asked him how he does it, and what 3D imaging has to do with rock climbing.

Tiago Lourenço is an architect and a freelance computer graphics artist from Lisbon. He produces striking 3D images that seem at first glance to be high-resolution photos intended for a design magazine. With hundreds of minute details that create a hyper-real world, it’s easy to forget that these environments are all from Lourenço’s mind.

Rail Station by Tiago Lourenço

With an intimate knowledge of architecture, which he studied at the Lusíada University of Architecture, Lourenço understands space, weight, and materials better than most. It’s no wonder he is able to capture light, texture, and atmosphere with a seemingly effortless stroke of the trackpad.

Since his renderings borderline on pure art, we had to find out where the artist himself draws the line.

Your work is very technical. Where did you pick up your skills? 
My first few jobs after university were at small architecture firms, but I kept studying and practicing computer graphics however I could. Finally, I started working in CG as a generalist, until I was hired by Hugo Boss, where I stayed for four years. Now, as a freelancer, most of my work is geared towards the world of architecture, real estate, interior design, and construction.

Modern Villa by Tiago Lourenço

Do you consider computer graphics to be contemporary art?
CG blends art with technology. You put your passion, knowledge, creativity, and technique in each frame, like in a painting or a song. You need to understand the physics of a real camera to create an accurate and realistic image, but at the same time, you need to understand an image in terms of its composition. It is indeed an art.

How do you render your images? Do you start from a photo or draw it from scratch?My work approach changes depending on the specific task I have in my hands. But usually I use as many references as I can, like the objects in the scene, a certain type of light, the raw materials, even the emotion I want to capture. Once I have as many references as possible, I start from scratch. Photos, videos, and even memories are crucial to achieving a good result. For the actual rendering I use 3D software, such as 3D Studio Max, V-Ray, and others.

Vila Aroeira Sala by Tiago Lourenço

How do you come up with your ideas? What inspires you?
Inspiration can come from everywhere: from a song, a quote, or even something you overhear a stranger say on the street. That’s why art is so personal — only the author knows why that specific piece was created.

Where do you like to work if you leave the house with your computer? 
Sometimes I take my laptop to a kiosk at a city park, but you can find me in the café at Vertigo climbing wall if I’m working away from home. It’s usually quiet and I can concentrate there.

Is climbing a hobby of yours? Why?
Creativity plays a big role in climbing, actually. To set up a gym route, you need to visualize the moves that will need to be executed on that line. In an outdoor context, things are not much different. To open a route, you need to understand the rock, the wall, and the features, and make sure your body performs properly.
Carnaxide Villa by Tiago Lourenço 

Also, the process of beginning and ending a project also exists in climbing. When you start, a move might seem impossible, and then, with practice, the climber starts to connect the dots, until he reaches the top and moves on to the next challenge.

Some years ago, I did some renderings for a climbing company, which merged both my passions into one. Unfortunately, I can’t show the images due to copyright issues.
Where’s your favorite place to climb outdoors?
Nowadays, it’s in Meio Mango, near Cabo Espichel, a sea cliff located on the west side of the Setúbal Peninsula. It offers you unique conditions, especially in the winter, with warm temperatures and plenty of quiet, sunny days.
Quarto Interior Panoramic by Tiago Lourenço

What would you like to be doing in the future with your work? 
I would like to work with clients who are aware of an artist’s process. Rendering a building or villa should be much more than a simple real estate/commercial image. Adding a dramatic vibe to the composition is key, like playing with the elements, for example. This allows you to put emotion into the final product, which makes a rendering special. That’s why I use my free time to learn new techniques like rendering more complex materials and realistic light, for example, so I can accept architectural projects that are fused with nature, vegetation, rocks, etc.

In a perfect world, what would be your ideal project?
A dream project would be to recreate a classic Portuguese building, like the Sé de Lisboa or Mosteiro dos Jerónimos. I’d also be honored to work for an important architecture office like Álvaro Siza Vieira or Souto Moura.

What is life like as a freelancer for you? Do you think it’s a new concept for Portugal to not work in an office at a desk from 9 to 5?
Becoming a freelancer allows you to be more in control about what you create, but the idea is new for Portugal. Here, the working format is still nine to six and working as an artist in particular is not as respected as it should be. In other words, the only thing that matters to most clients are the technical requirements and the bottom line.

But good composition requires hidden details, proportion, and playing with the elements, which are never a waste of time or money.

What are you working on now?
I plan to develop an interactive tool for the SL Benfica stadium, where people could “navigate” through the stadium, like in an in-your-face video game.

What is your advice for those starting out in the field? Do you have any words of wisdom?
My advice for everyone is to be free! We all have to work to survive, so let’s have some fun with it. 

You can see more of Tiago Lourenço’s work on his website.

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