Questions with Kelly Richardson

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December 8th, 2015

Kelly Richardson is a Canadian artist now living in the UK who has been widely acclaimed around the globe. Today, Kelly is considered one of the leading representatives of a new generation of artists working with digital technologies to create hyper-realistic and highly detailed landscapes. Her work is built around large-scale video installations and photographic prints, mixing real footage and digital compositions.

Through this new form of artistic and digital experience, the artist aims to picture imaginative visions of what our tomorrow may look like. Stunning, meticulous and quite mysterious, Kelly’s heavily detailed landscapes are convincing enough to take us on an incredible journey to the future while encouraging us to pay attention to our present.

Kelly, as a visual artist, mainly works with video to create large-scale moving landscapes which are usually a combination of real and constructed elements. Her immersive installations act as “moving photographs or paintings” or "to borrow a term from the film industry, set extensions where the work leads viewers into another time and place.”

Richardson’s most recent pieces of works are currently presented at SMoCA (Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art) through January 2016. The exhibition, entitled “Tales of the Horizon”, features two large-scale video installations: Mariner 9 and Orion Tide, as well as Kelly latest photographic prints Pillars of Dawn.


We had the great chance to talk with Kelly about her work, her inspiration and of course, her use of Clarisse!



Your latest works are currently displayed at SMoCA, can you tell us a little bit about this exhibition?

There are three main installations in Tales on the Horizon at SMoCA (Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art), Arizona. Mariner 9 presents a 55 foot by 12 foot  video installation of a panoramic view of a Martian landscape set hundreds of years into the future, littered with the rusting remains from various missions to the planet. Despite its suggested abandoned state, several of the spacecraft continue to partially function, to do their intended jobs, to ultimately find signs of life, possibly transmitting the data back to no one. The second video, Orion Tide presents a Roswell-esque desert with spurts of light and smoke endlessly taking off into the dark night sky. As with all of my work, there are several potential explanations for these eruptions. We could be witnessing war, rockets for space exploration on a grand scale or perhaps a forced mass exodus from a planet no longer capable of sustaining life as we know it. The third series of works presented in Tales on the Horizon are from a new body of digital prints. Pillars of Dawn imagines a landscape in which environmental conditions have entirely crystallized the terrain

Where does the idea of "Tales on the Horizon" come from? Where do  you find your inspiration?

The title for the exhibition references our potential future. All of the works included in the exhibition present possible futures, or at least are in some way plausible. My inspiration mainly comes from a combination of news or real world issues, popular cinema, art history and literature.

What are the main challenges you face when beginning a new artwork?

As I always start with the idea rather than a particular set of skills; the challenge with all works is how to best approach production/post production. The particularities around the specific requirements for the digital effects needed for each work varies from piece to piece. For Mariner 9, the main challenges were to create a sustained view of a faithful Mars terrain three times the width of high definition as photo realistically as possible, in the middle of a dust storm. Numerous professional digital effects artists warned me that it couldn’t be done, so pulling that off was no small feat. For Pillars of Dawn, the main challenge was in crystalizing the terrain as realistically as possible, the geometry of which crippled 3D programs which I had used previously. Luckily, I discovered Clarisse!

Which leads me to my next question: how did you first hear about Clarisse?

I was introduced to Clarisse by my partner Mark Jobe who had become aware of the software program during the initial phase of research into creating Pillars of Dawn, among other works. After watching promotional videos for the software, the first thing that piqued our interest was the claim that it could handle massive amounts of geometry which my work often requires. Creating big prints where detail is observable meant that we couldn’t cheat the effect with a texture. Rather, I wanted it look as believable and natural as possible. After downloading the demo and playing around, within a few hours it was clear that the scatterer and point cloud functionality would make Pillars of Dawn possible, where other 3D programs we had attempted to use simply couldn’t cope.


From your perspective as an artist, what do innovative technologies such as Clarisse bring to your work?

The main thing that I struggle with in my practice on the whole is the limitations software often puts on the work. My ideas and related aesthetic demands coupled with challenging formats (in the case of Mariner 9 the video installation was 3 times the width of standard high definition) and length of the works (20 minutes minimum) are often incredibly difficult to realize on a practical level. Clarisse removed a major limitation in its ability to juggle such a vast amount of geometry with ease. It was and is really exciting to be using software that has facilitated aesthetics and concepts that other programs haven’t been capable of in our experience. Clarisse has become an essential tool in my practice.

Your landscapes are hyper-realistic, was it difficult to render so highly detailed scenes?

In the end we had somewhere in the region of 33 million pieces of geometry with primitive counts in excess of 28 billion per image. The 40” x 40” prints took about 10 hours to render each, which from my experience is really rather quick.



How did Clarisse help you in the process of making your work a reality?

Apart from the ability to handle crazy amounts of geometry as mentioned, we also found that sharing assets between scenes was an excellent, time saving feature for this particular work. The instant visual feedback was also hugely beneficial. As well as enabling quicker production, the realtime preview provides an artist friendly approach to producing imagery. It took about a month to feel comfortable using Clarisse. There were aspects of the program which we hadn’t experienced before but it quickly became second nature. Overall we found it to be user friendly and accessible.

Can you tell us a bit more about your future works?

There are two larger video installations which are currently in development which I can’t make public just yet as I like to surprise viewers. But one of them, in which Clarisse’s use will be essential in creating, makes the production of all previous work look like a walk in the park by comparison.

To learn more about Kelly Richardson and her works, click here!