The French illustrator on building a complex world for Hermès
Few people play this game of scale better than Ugo. Few can match the level of skill and detail in his fantastical work, whether he’s working in print, on a mural, or for a commercial client.
As part of his ongoing relationship with Hermès, Ugo has recently completed a scarf for the French fashion brand. But Ugo being Ugo, what he did was create a whole new world, Hippopolis, where horses very much rule the roost. And he didn’t stop there, taking his design and turning it into a stunning animation which brings his strangely charming vision to life.
But while he is confident enough to follow his own creative instincts, Ugo always has the viewer in mind when he is working on an illustration, and he likes to toy with their perspective. That’s why he likes to build such mindbogglingly detailed imagery.
“When you’re quite far away, you see a cityscape for example, with a beginning and an end. But when you’re close to it, you can’t see the frame anymore. You are surrounded by the drawing, and thanks to all the details, your eyes can wander freely, going in a different direction every time.”
His style was perfectly suited to working with Hermès, whom he describes as a perfect client – “no brief, no real deadline. They respect the artist by giving them complete freedom.”
Ugo’s starting point was that he wanted to design something that felt very different from the other Hermès scarves, “something more like a painting, with a low skyline and a monumental architecture. Little by little Hippopolis was born.
“To go back to what I was saying about scale, when you are quite far away you see two giants horses jumping over each other, in a phantasmagoric city. Then, when you get closer, I told myself several little stories like horses going sledging or jumping from a balloon.”
And Ugo says he knew from the first sketches he wanted Hippopolis to be animated.
“I wanted to be able to take walks through this universe. All the designs were already done, so it was just a case of directing, cropping the drawing for the storyboard and telling my story.
“I’m happy with how it moves, really like I wanted, in a supernatural way. I think I like the contemplative moments best, when there are just buildings, birds and slow moving clouds.”
But still his games go on. Each time you watch the animation, you spot a new detail, an unexpected occurrence or a clever visual trick. Ugo’s worlds are a splendid place in which to lose yourself.