December 2014 visual trends: retro sci-fi, riotous colour, real-world collage and childlike wonder (and Christmas)

Inspired by Zambia’s 1964 space race (an unsuccessful post-independence project), photographer Cristina de Middel has translated iconic NASA imagery into this context, giving it a distinctly African feel. Learn more about the project in the feature below.

This month you should be drawing inspiration from incredible Christmas window displays, projects that draw on the visual feel of the first Star Wars movie and some very different exhibitions.

Like it or lump it, it’s December – so there’s no avoiding Christmas. We’re not just going to focus on festive projects here and you probably finished your Christmas-related projects month ago – apart from occasional last-minute seasonal briefs or just designing cards for clients – but there’s much to be inspired by in other’s Christmas projects.

Creating a sense of awe and wonder is the key to nailing this season – and there are plenty of ways to kindle that childlike feeling; one of them is sheer graft.

Take a look at the windows of New York department store Bergdorf Goodman for a great example. Designed by David Hoey, a stalwart of the shop window scene, and then put together by more than 600 craftspeople, the meticulously crafted windows are themed around the arts, like Theatre and Literature.

Architecture features papercut sculptures inspired by old blueprints.

Read on to see more of David Hoey’s windows displays and many more inspiring festive and non-festive projects.

Painting is an entirely white-washed scene except for a small corner of a painting by artist John Gordon Gauld. It’s impressive, but even more so when you find out that this coloured section alone took four months to create on account of Gauld’s technique of layering diluted oil paint.

For tips from Hoey about creating the perfect window display, watch this insightful video.

Theatre is a Moulin Rouge-inspired riot of neon colour.

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Yes, Christmas is a time of tradition but don’t be afraid to break to mould too – it’s a good way of giving something immediate wow-factor. Fellow New York retailer Barneys took a risk this year commissioning director Baz Lurhmann and costume designer Catherine Martin – (who both worked of the film Moulin Rouge, coincidentally) to work on their eight windows.

Abandoning the normal static format entirely, the pair created a multi-sensory experience including video, live performance – including ice skaters and beatboxers – and huge kinetic sculptures by Chris Cole and Anthony Howe. Encouragement to look beyond expectations (and your normal skill set) to go the extra mile.

If you’re a designer or illustrator and think the world of windows couldn’t be further away from your work, think again. You only have to take a look at Swedish studio Snask’s redesign of magazine Printing Friends to see the crossover potential between Hoey’s craft and editorial design.

As part of the new look, Snask art-directed numerous still life shoots, including a paper-cut breakfast scene and woodland-themed typography, complete with taxidermy animals and woodland mist.

As if the birth of Christ wasn’t exciting enough, another monumental event – the release of trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens – occurred last week, holding huge promise for fans of the franchise. The film might not be due for release until this time next year, but be prepared for the understated, nostalgia-heavy approach of new director JJ Abrams to start filtering its way down to the creative industries pretty much immediately.

Notice how Abrams’ style nods to the integrity of the original films (as well as their earthy, desert-like palette), rather than the flashy CGI of more recent incarnations – a trend to bear in mind for film projects in 2015.

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In order to avoid straight up pastiche, it’s important to seek inspiration outside the Galactic Empire. For built environments, check out the work of architect Michael Jantzen, whose M-House is a portable modular system that can be adapted to users specifications.

Michael’s completed and concept structures look like 1970s versions of the future and would be a great starting point for a nostalgic alien city.

Afronauts, a photo series and now app, created by photographer Cristina de Middel, has a similar cosmic, mid-century feel. Inspired by Zambia’s 1964 space race (an unsuccessful post-independence project), the photographer translated iconic NASA imagery into this context, giving it a distinctly African feel.

If you missed the exhibition in June at PINTA gallery, never fear as de Middel has just released an Afronauts app where you can intact with and build on her imagery using your smartphone or tablet.

Another element to JJ’s trailer is his use of sound and precise sense of timing. Daniel Swan and David Rudnick have put both of these things to excellent effect in their new sci-fi video for RL Grime track Valhalla.

A dusty CG landscape is filled with stealth jets and futuristic helicopters, that swoop, chug and fire – all perfectly visualising the track’s sonic landscape.

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The world of art installations is going through a particularly fruitful period at the moment, both in the  traditional space of the gallery and beyond. Another fan of alien, desert landscapes, Ra Paulette has long been carving out his surreal, cathedral-like caves in Northern New Mexico.

A new film, due for general release next year, highlights the work of this incredible outsider artist, whose singular vision has rubbed so many of his clients up the wrong way that he has decided to abandon commissions entirely and focus on his masterpiece. Any creative dealing with environments, but game designers especially, could learn a lot from Paulette’s sculptural eye and composition – not to mention his approach to difficult clients.

Also manipulating the natural world to his will (but this time in a gallery context), artist Per Kristian Nygård has filled Oslo gallery Noplace with an undulating bed of verdant grass. It’s a simple idea, but incredibly effective – and something that could easily be replicated in set design, as a background for a film of photo shoot.

If both of these projects are a little too conceptual for your practice, take a look at an equally inspiring installation by Giacomo Bufarini, which opened at the Howard Griffin Gallery last week.

Instead of just opting for hanging his new works – frames from a recently completed graphic novel – on a white wall, Bufarini nodded to his street art heritage (you might better know him as RUN) by developing his characters into a 3D sculpture that transformed the gallery into a walk-in pop-up book.

Time-consuming but not expensive (he used just ink, paper and a little roller), it’s a good example of how to take your work from 2D to 3D, and a lesson in doing something special to present your work. And it worked, the buzz around the installation has meant that almost all of the work has sold, only two days into the show.

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