The Kai Face

I’m finally sharing the results of a very interesting art commission.

This is the Kai Face.

It is the biggest thing I’ve ever worked on, in terms of time I spent on it (indescribable), and also size – this is a piece not made for the internet. It’s going to be printed at least 2 metres tall.

At first glimpse at such a small size on a screen, it does not necessarily bear much impact. This is why I made a video. (I recommend switching settings to highest quality HD, fullscreen with volume up!)

The making of Kai Face

The commission was to create a large-scale piece, of a Chinese theme, to endlessly compel the eaters dining in the restaurant Kai Mayfair, London. This is an amazing award-winning Michelin star restaurant if you are ever lucky enough to eat there.

This was a very new thing for me to work on, and it was an exciting challenge upon which I embarked with Matthew at my right-hand side. It involved first shooting shedloads of beauty images of the model Alton, using a Phase One 645DF with IQ160 back. We used a specific macro lens (Phase One 120mm AF f/4.0 macro) to shoot extreme close ups of the eyes, nose and lips so I could add these into the image afterwards for maximum detail at large size. Shooting tethered into Capture One, we were able to zoom in and check details meticulously. This is very different to the way I usually work, and I enjoyed the slowed-down, perfectionist, tea-sipping pace.

Above and below – rough iPad shots of the shoot. Below are eyelashes!

I also shot a second model Jade Bianca, to be able to use parts of her face at will. What I would do in terms of surrealism was yet to discover. I shot many images of trinkets, patterns and textures on the day too.

Working out what to do on each part of the face was like embarking on twenty different pictures. Progress was made slowly but surely over 3 months in Photoshop. At least 17 large-format PSB files later, countless TIFFs, hundreds of ancient Chinese paintings and what seemed like ten million Photoshop-save tea breaks, it came together. For every tiny element that now sits in the image, there were at least 20 things that were rejected. I purposely wanted half of the image to remain like a beauty shot. I wanted the elements to appear sweeping in over the face, as if they were in the middle of movement. The most striking thing about the image is the blue eye – I wanted to incorporate a mystical sense of east meets west whilst keeping the image overall distinctly Chinese. However, I found that the less I thought rationally, the more creative I became. It was about the paintings slotting into the place they felt best.

I am used to making images primarily for the internet, so my habit is to zoom in and out constantly, checking how it looks small as well as medium size. But in order to really get a sense of this picture’s presence, I had to keep it zoomed in all the way as I worked on it, remembering how it will look at the end. There are lots and lots of tiny magical surreal details throughout the image, of animals, creatures, objects and people interacting with each other in a manner calling to mind my ‘Surreal Fashion’ series.

A few weeks before I finished it, I had a test print done at a metre wide to show to the client – at a Shoot Experience  no less, with a group of people watching as I nervously unrolled it. The reaction from them as we held it up in the sunlight at Lordship Park was amazing – it immediately put me at ease! Even though it was not finished, the ‘gist’ of it was there, and I felt re-motivated to keep working away at it. I wanted to make sure I was ‘in love’ with every part of it. I spent several more hours (spread over weeks) tweaking, refining, checking and double-checking every crevice of the image.

Towards its completion, I started to contemplate the idea of a series of these faces. Matthew suggested it and my ears pricked up. I like the idea of risky artistic adventures only that behold a power to produce something absolutely undeniably mega. They would be all humongous in size, brimming with the craft of months of toil, extremely limited edition. Time to completion unknown… but if there’s one thing I’m learning from life at the moment, it’s to take advantage of the unknowns, the uncertainties, the ugly things that this world faces – turn them on their head and use them as a reason to pursue wild ideas more than ever.

Shot with Phase One 645DF and IQ160. Thanks to Eric Joakim from Phase One. Model is Alton Mashbayar. Blue eye is model Jade Bianca. Assistant Matt Lennard. Make-up by Cristina Iravedra.

Thanks to Bernard Yeoh of Kai Mayfair for this wonderful opportunity, and I look forward to seeing it hanging ‘in the flesh’, for which it was made.

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Posted in Collaborations & commissions, Movies/audio, My images - versions & outtakes, Tutorials/'making of' on January 29th, 2013 | 17 Comments |


Comments for “The Kai Face”

    1. Goverment Shill
      6:05 pm on January 29th, 2013

      A whole series like this!! AWESOME!

    2. Joyce
      6:38 pm on January 29th, 2013

      Most beautiful work ever! Amazing!

    3. ColonelKillgore
      7:16 pm on January 29th, 2013

      Can’t wait to see pictures of it hanging where it is intended to be!

    4. Troy Pearson
      2:20 pm on January 30th, 2013

      Best image I have ever seen! SOOOOOOOOOOO awesome, truly!!

    5. Steve
      2:30 pm on January 30th, 2013

      This is pure artistry. Amazing, such vision. Applause, applause, applause!

    6. karl bratby
      3:45 pm on January 30th, 2013

      stunning work.

    7. The Amazing Detail of Miss Aniela’s Kai Face | Fstoppers
      5:05 pm on January 30th, 2013

      [...] out Miss Aniela’s blog for more information, and her website for even more of her truly unique work. Contributed [...]

    8. Kayzar
      12:15 am on January 31st, 2013

      Would love to see a Photoshop behind the scenes video!

    9. Juan Prieto
      2:19 pm on January 31st, 2013

      The image is beautifully detailed. I can’t imagine how many hours must have been spent deciding which image goes where to create this composite. Beautiful work!

    10. Marcel
      12:03 pm on February 1st, 2013

      Really cool! This brings back old memories when I made a lot of art work in Photoshop. Every year I say to myself lets collect textures for an art work but I guess I’m to lazy :( Maybe this year this will change :P

    11. Miss Aniela
      12:20 pm on February 1st, 2013

      @ Kayzar – when I first thought about doing a video to show the process of making this image, I wanted to steer away from showing it in a Photoshop window for two reasons: (1) I wanted the focus to be on the artwork itself and the experience of watching it emerge organically, and (2) there actually is little difference/point in showing it in an ‘editing’ context anyway, because really all I did for hours/weeks/months is place different objects in areas, layer mask them, rinse and repeat… the technical side is actually not very interesting, just drawn-out and repetitive.

      @ marcel – I must say that the stamina required to maintain interest in the many hours of editing this was a challenge – and without the deadline element of it having been a commission by someone else, I probably never would have finished it. The deadline was only loose but I knew it had to get done, whereas on my own accord it would probably be sitting in my files half-baked. So if you can get into a position where you have strong discipline self-imposed, or where you are doing it for someone else, that makes all the difference. Have a goal and reach for it. If I do a series of these, I’m going to have to employ mega self-discipline, and heavily regiment the whole process! But that for me is part of the interesting newness of this way of working!

    12. The Kai Face - eine unglaubliche Arbeit von MissAniela |
      5:07 pm on February 1st, 2013

      [...] zur Entstehung des Fotos Kai Face könnt ihr im Blog von Miss Aniella [...]

    13. Miss Aniela: Surrealist Photographers Also Struggle | Callie Garp
      6:47 pm on February 15th, 2013

      [...] I have been intrigued by the intersection between art, textiles, culture and fashion. Both the creation of clothing and the photographs to market these clothes are interesting to me. I feel as though over the past 5 years or so I have notices a shift in magazines like Vogue and W towards more fanciful, creative and dare I say it, artsy spreads. I don’t know enough about the fashion industry to make any real sort of claim about the history of its marketing, but it would be interesting to learn more. Kai Face — please PLEASE read Aniela’s blog post on this commissioned project. [...]

    14. sean gabriel
      2:09 am on March 20th, 2013

      I love this idea. It looks interesting, and it’s a fresh/unique concept. But stop it because I already have too many project ideas that I don’t have time to try, ha! If you are open to any constructive criticism, I really like how the effects/images carve around the eyes of the subject, but I find the birds inside her lips to be distracting to my eye. I’ve been following your work for a while, amazing stuff!

    15. Content Marketing: A Return to the Renaissance? » Rocket
      4:38 pm on April 18th, 2013

      [...] insightful and beautiful outputs – the incredibly talented Natalie Dybisz has recently finished a commission for the Kai Restaurant in Mayfair. Again, it’s still promoting and decorating a restaurant, [...]

    16. Gordon C Burns
      9:00 am on April 26th, 2013

      Just wanted to express how awe-inspiring this piece is. I might have to start saving up the pennies so I can order a starter in Kai just so I can see it as intended. Love your choice of video presentation, you’re right that it’s all about the art and I kind of find the “speed drawings” to be over done and in my personal opinion pointless. Those who know compositing know the process and those who don’t wont gain any secret knowledge by watching a 1000x sped up video.

      May your success continue.


    17. Cardinal Guzman
      12:10 pm on November 6th, 2013

      Absolutely stunning result. Greta work and I love how you’ve explained the creative process.

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