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As housing prices soar and even the rental market in London sees us bidding against each other for a reasonable place to live, somewhere we can commune in beauty, peace and mostly for free is the internet. That’s where Joe Mortell’s designs also (mostly) live. From sitting in Sims houses to drawing up his own surreal digital cribs nestled in awe-inspiring landscapes we discuss his references, working late and sci-fi landscapes.
Blending vintage furniture, imaginative 3D spaces and a wide range of colours ultimately sparks interest in your creative spaces and urges your audience to visit these given places (if only they could). What led you to an artistic career and was this always what you wanted to do?
When I was younger, I always gravitated towards anything I could be creative with. As soon as I got a computer I was hooked on creating things in Paint, Photoshop and designing levels in Rollercoaster Tycoon and Sims houses. I could sit there for hours and hours designing them, which is exactly what I still do!
Could you explain a bit about your creative process and what helps you stay energetically aligned and motivated to your work?
I’m always collecting inspiration and references that I see day-to-day. This helps me so much when I have times where I’m feeling  less inspired and motivated. I have tons of folders where I save ideas for architecture, furniture, lighting, details and outside spaces. More importantly, If I start to get an idea I’ll also save them into groups that I title with the idea for the scene. Some examples I have right now are called Desert Restaurant, Deep Diving Room, Modular Living. I’ll keep adding to them until I have a really solid picture in my mind, at which point I’ll start creating a scene. Only a small amount of my ideas folders turn into something but I keep them all as they might spark another idea later on. Whenever I have some spare time to design, I’ll look through them all and see if anything stands out that I can work on.
Looking across your various digital projects you continuously make your spaces feel comfortable and welcoming social areas that genuinely look fun to visit. Who and or what are some of your major inspirations in this regard?
My main influence mostly comes from the interior designs from the 60’s and 70’s. There’s so much from that period that inspires me and gives me lots of ideas. The organic shapes of the rooms and furniture together with the bold furniture they used were so brilliant. They also tended to be very comforting and welcoming spaces, which I aim to create with the scenes I make. In terms of my architectural influences, they come from the futuristic and natural shapes of John Lautner and Oscar Niemeyer.

You utilise both exterior and interior spaces across your work. Do you have a preference when creating and which one do you find more enjoyable to design?
I tend to switch between the two for extended amounts of time. I get to a point where I feel that I’ve experimented with the ideas I have for a type of scene then move on to something else to make sure I’m always challenging myself. If I had to pick, I would say that I enjoy designing outdoor spaces the most as I find that they can be the most surreal. There’s something really pleasing and relaxing about creating a room surrounded by nature.
What do you find is essential when starting a new space whether it be in the concept phase or beyond? Are there staples that you like to include across multiple projects?
I used to start a new scene by opening up Cinema 4D and just experimenting with it for hours until I found something that was working well. It was a process that led to completely random results but sometimes I would discover something new and exciting out of it. However, that process would most likely end up making me feel frustrated. I could sit there for hours and not get anything out of it.
So, how have you changed your process?
I’ve since switched my approach to ensure I have a starting point in my mind and collect a lot of references before I begin. Ideally, in each new scene I’ll be working on something I haven’t tried before. A different type of space, architecture or location. A common theme I have for most of my projects is that I will always place smaller, detailed objects throughout the scene to make it feel realistic and lived in. I’ve created a huge library of all of these and I’m constantly adding to it with each new scene.

Your unique visual aesthetic reminds me of some hyper futuristic ideals like something you would see in a film such as Blade Runner when it would depict perfection and or a utopia. Where do you find the furniture pieces you use in your projects and have you ever designed some of them yourself?
I’m glad! I’m really inspired by science fiction as a whole, especially any futuristic type of architecture. With a lot of sci-fi films, the direction they often take is to design everything crazily over the top. I really enjoy the way both Stanley Kubrick and Dennis Villeneuve design the sets in their films. They’re minimal without all of the unnecessary extra details that always seem to be added.
For the inspiration of furniture pieces, that’s part of the large ongoing collection of references. The  biggest folder I have is one for furniture pieces. I find most of them on the internet but also take photos of anything I see. I haven’t yet designed a piece myself but will definitely be creating one in the future. I’ve got an idea or two for a chair that would be great to try out.
Are there any specific pieces whether it be more recent or older that you feel most connected to and if so why?
I think, as with a lot of designers, I tend to only enjoy my most recent work  with the odd exception. You can’t help but look at most of your work with criticism! However, a scene I feel proud of is Shirinda Residence that I created a few months ago. For some time before, I had been mostly working with outdoor forest type scenes. In my head I had been building up  an idea for a futuristic capsule room that was set in a completely different type of place. It felt refreshing to do something different and I also felt it was a progression in where I wanted to take my work in the future.
What are some of your favourite collaborations you’ve had the opportunity to work on and are there any events and or artists that you would like to work with in the near future?
I recently finished a project with Mr Porter which is the largest I’ve completed so far. We created 15 different scenes that all belonged to one large world for their holiday campaign. As the project progressed we also came up with more ideas to take it further. We set up a green screen studio to record footage of models that were later placed in the scenes along with big murals that were painted in London.
As for collaborating with other artists, I’m planning more with other 3D designers this year which I’m excited about. Also, now that design festivals are starting again I’ll be going to as many as possible!

You seemingly find inspiration from video game worlds such as the Legend of Zelda series and the digital worlds of Super Mario Bros. and possibly even the Elder Scrolls series. Is this the case and if so what games and or gaming series have been impactful in your creative development?
Nintendo was definitely a big influence on me when I was growing up. Everything from playing Mario on the SNES, Pokemon red and blue on the gameboy and Zelda and more on the N64 and Gamecube. As I mentioned earlier, I also loved playing Rollercoaster Tycoon and the Sims. Both of which have the option to design your own levels, which I preferred far more than playing the games! I still remember the cheat codes for the original Sims that give you unlimited money so you can build whatever you want.
What have you found are some of the challenges and struggles you have had to overcome over the course of the pandemic and having to be isolated for so long? And have any of these difficulties shaped your work over this period?
For over a year before the lockdown, I was working freelance and was using my home as a work studio. So when the lockdown happened, my work life didn’t feel too different from before. However, with the extra time we had, I would end up working on projects later and later into the evenings. I enjoy working on my own 3D projects so much that if I don’t have anything else to do I will spend all my time on them. It can get quite unhealthy as I can have a stretch of a few days without even leaving the house! Now that we’re almost back to normal, I have to remind myself to at least go outside once a day otherwise I’ll be there all the time.
I wish you all the best in your future endeavours! What can we expect next from Joe Mortell and are there any events and or upcoming projects that you would like to highlight for our readers?
Thank you! At the moment I’ve just started exploring Unreal Engine that will allow people to explore the scenes I make in a fully immersive way. I’ve bought a VR headset for the first time and I’m so impressed with what’s possible on it. I’m also taking more time this year to collaborate with other 3D artists and set aside more time for my own personal work. There’s a long list of things that I want to learn and try out in the next few months!

Words
Trevor Stanner

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