Max Guther on his Ones to Watch portraits inspired by oil paintings

Taking his cue from Italian Renaissance portraiture, the illustrator gave this year’s cohort an identity worthy of the Pantheon.

28 February 2020
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4 minute read


If you’ve been on It’s Nice That this week, then you’ll have seen that we’ve just launched our Ones to Watch 20202020年欧洲杯赛程, a selection of 13 creatives and collectives who we predict have landmark years ahead of them. You’ll also have seen our visual identity for this initiative, featuring hyper-realistic 3D illustrated portraits of each individual creative, produced by the German illustrator Max Guther.

We’ve written about Max quite a few times before over the years (he was also a One to Watch2020年欧洲杯赛程 himself a few years back) and his work has mostly in the past consisted of human characters positioned in really beautifully constructed and detailed 3D environments. “I’m used to working in the isometric perspective with the focus on both interior and exterior design and larger zoom proximity, with a lot of small details of everyday life, several things to discover and more environmental stuff,” he explains.

His characters, he goes on, are also normally “more stereotyped figures”, not “real personalities” (this project from a couple of years ago is a good example of how he normally works with more archetypal human characters). So, in quite a few ways, this Ones to Watch project was a fresh departure for Max. “I was really curious about this brief being so different to most of my others,” he says. “Illustrating real people in such a closeup is something I never did before.”

Max and our creative team decided to take the brief in a new direction, too. In the past, our Ones to Watch identities have featured 2D illustrated portraits of each creative, with the creative facing the viewer. This year, our team set Max the starting point of thinking about oil paintings ranging from the Italian Renaissance to the Baroque. It was a brief he immediately responded to. Using rich and vibrant colours while drawing out the contrast between light and shadow, the portrayed person is shown in side-profile, evoking a certain majesty in its sublime aura. A regal atmosphere amplified in each individual Ones to Watch portrait.

2020年欧洲杯赛程The final outcome certainly gives this year’s cohort this level of almost godliness. But how did he go about creating these portraits? “I usually work with 3D and edit my illustrations in Photoshop later,” he says. “For this series of illustrations, I transformed the according details of every person by layering the portrait side-shot behind my 3d basic model to have an overview about individual characteristics.” One of the biggest challenges was capturing the “minute details and perfection of someone’s eye shape, haircut or cloth structure”, he says. To help with this, Max asked for profile photographs of each creative. That “helped a lot to get every detail”, he says, because “the camera doesn’t lie.”

GalleryMax Guther: Ones to Watch 2020 portraits


Reference image: Triple Profile Portrait, 1570 by Lucas De Heere


The identity also featured Selina Bernet’s Osram typeface

2020年欧洲杯赛程Once he had the 3D versions of the 2020 cohort, Max then applied a glossy finish to each. “The material and the profile display give a kind of heroic statue tint on the one hand, while on the other hand the colour and texture structure make them look human and add a natural and organic feeling to the personalities,” he explains. “While working in such a strict and straight perspective with neutral expressions, it’s great to achieve such a wide variety of profiles due to different hair style, face shape and clothing.”

While the Ones to Watch class of 2020 is all about casting the spotlight on the best emerging talent out there today, for Max, there was a sense of coming full circle. “The feature [back in 2018] helped me and my career a lot,” he says, “and I’ve had the possibility to work with a lot of great people on various interesting projects since then. And now, after two years, it’s such an honour to be included in this project again by portraying this new ’generation of creatives’.”

2020年欧洲杯赛程The 2020 identity also allowed him to try something new creatively. “After working on the Ones to Watch campaign, I’ll definitely try playing around more with perspective, zoom detail, colour palette, but especially with reality and fiction,” he says. “While working on a lot of commissions, it’s hard to find the time to play around and develop new possibilities. It’s actually awesome to have the trust of trying new directions within a commission like I had on this one.”

He’s going to be taking that further in the coming months, he tells us. “Having been in the drawer for quite a while, I had time to start a personal favourite surreal project at the start of this year,” he explains. “It’s definitely still in progress, but to give you an idea, it will display weird places and imaginary figures highlighted through surreal architecture, places that seem usual in the first place but aren’t. As I think I’m capable of showing how things are in a pretty realistic style, which I get most of my commissions for, I want to create scenes stretching reality.” Needless to say, we’ll keep you posted on that project too.

GalleryMax Guther: Ones to Watch 2020 portraits


2020年欧洲杯赛程Work in progress: Joy Yamusangie’s portrait


Final version: Joy Yamusangie’s portrait


2020年欧洲杯赛程Final version: Joy Yamusangie’s portrait


Work in progress: Portrait of Thibault Brevet from AATB


Final version: Portrait of Thibault Brevet from AATB


Final version: Portrait of Thibault Brevet from AATB

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About the Author

Matt Alagiah

Matt joined It’s Nice That as editor in October 2018. He was previously executive editor at Monocle magazine. Drop him a line with ideas and suggestions, or simply to say hello.


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