James Orlando: Creating Surreal Worlds with Gaming Technology

When James Orlando landed his dream job as an art director at a fashion magazine, the print industry was already in decline. To survive decreasing budgets, Orlando dove into digital technology to remain relevant. Through this work, Orlando gained an innovative approach to digital and virtual, which he currently employs as a resident at NEW INC, the New Museums’ tech incubator. The 10,000 met with Orlando at NEW INC to discuss his multi-faceted career and the future of digital experiences.

As the Art Director of Bullett Media, a magazine and web media company covering fashion, art, film and music, Orlando was challenged to find alternate solutions to traditionally high cost photo shoots. Originally a print magazine, Bullett suffered when the print industry saw sales, and soon budgets, start to decline. To maintain Bullett’s look, he started compositing stock photography into his images and building 3D sets with cinema 4D, which led to Orlando saving “thousands of dollars in set design production fees” from choosing to work more digitally.

A preview of Orlando’s upcoming show at Cooper Union

As Orlando continued to explore the digital arts, he was promoted to Creative Director and spearheaded projects, such as Bullett’s iPad app, but didn’t feel creatively fulfilled. “[The work] was great, but still I wanted to make the content more immersive, creating more of an interactive work.” He was producing imaginative settings, but wondered, “why can’t they be made into an environment?” This potential was realized during a shoot in 2013 with Hatsune Miku, a Japanese holographic pop star. A model was used in the shoot with imposed costuming and wigs and Orlando created the “artificial environment” to accompany the shoot. That was when Orlando discovered his interest in the “bridge between artificial and real, and the moments where you can’t understand which is which.”

From that point, Orlando began researching ways to take immersive environments further, such as a digital campaign space, as print media continued to decline. “I had this moment where I realized I could be art directing digital spaces like real spaces, and I thought, what could I learn from video games? Why am I so stuck in this photo space that is just so static and un-evolved? I just wanted more.” This path of exploratory thinking led Orlando to apply and be accepted into NEW INC. Orlando is secretive about his project, but says it relates to exploring the boundaries of artificial environments and immersive digital experiences.

As an incubator, NEW INC offers members the ability to work side-by-side with creative professionals in other disciplines. During his current tenure there, Orlando has been able to connect and explore with different game developers and glimpse the future of gaming platforms. These connections have led to additional projects for Orlando, such as submitting work into the show Babycastles Living (featured at the top of this article), a virtual reality exhibition designed around furniture objects by Pinkhouse.

Orlando’s next exhibition will be at Cooper Union early next year. In the meantime, he continues to work with fashion clients who come to him looking to build alternate environments for campaigns. Creating a single set for a photo shoot could take anywhere from a day to a week, “just depending on how detailed I want to get into it.” Orlando often refers back to traditional tools for creative brainstorming, including drawing and working from mood boards. Sometimes he just wings it since his environments “take place in a world where physics doesn’t always exist. It’s fun to not have rules.”

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