A Film by Tim Richardson. Fashion by Iris van Herpen

Haute couture and sci-fi merge in new fashion short, Neon Rapture

April 26, 2023
Haute couture gets a techno-organic twist in director Tim Richardson’s ethereal short film, Neon Rapture.

Inspired by the futuristic work of fashion designer Iris van Herpen, Neon Rapture opens in a chamber filled with metallic, interlocking petals that form a womb around a floating female figure. Polished tendrils writhe around her, gradually transforming into the otherworldly look that closed van Herpen’s “Roots of Rebirth” show. As her form settles into place, the figure steps forward, striding through the avant-garde alien environment.
 

A collaboration between Richardson and van Herpen, Neon Rapture is the latest example of the fashion industry pushing forward. By digitizing the experience, collections are taking on new meanings, making even casual viewers rethink how far a piece (or idea) can go.
 

Building an origin story

“My goal with Neon Rapture was to make a sci-fi film set within a completely unique world—to create a new universe and story inspired by Iris Van Herpen’s futuristic body of work,” says Richardson of the film, which was released on NOWNESS during this year’s London Fashion Week. “It was important to connect the world of the film with her body of work. From there I was able to create the premise for the story—a mythic original story and ‘birth’—that embodied aspects of van Herpen’s oeuvre.”

At the center of that story is OMN1A, a character developed through a combination of motion-capture techniques and digital human design. The latter has opened up one of fashion’s first photoreal avatars, made to take van Herpen’s collection into the digital world. Fittingly, OMN1A is outfitted with a piece of couture that not only reflects van Herpen’s real-world design, but was based on the original pattern. This outfit wasn’t limited by real-world constraints, though, giving its creators the freedom to make its elements grow and shift with dramatic flair.
And OMNA1’s work isn’t over yet, as Richardson plans to extend her journey through two more chapters of Neon Rapture. As it unfurls, brands can see how one lane of virtual fashion might operate, long before things like avatar personalization and digital threads really take hold.
 

A new kind of stage

One challenge in bringing all of the elements of this ambitious project together was facilitating the testing and experimentation that would let Richardson—and van Herpen—fully realize the story they wanted to tell. The virtual environment of the Unreal Engine provided the opportunity to “direct” OMN1A in a pre-visualization of the film along with the lighting, camera angle, and other elements of the world before the sequence was processed—with the help of The Mill—through a more standard visual effects pipeline.

“The dynamic workflow of Unreal Engine enabled me to quickly test design and lighting ideas that became essential to the world of Neon Rapture,” said Richardson. “Specifically, we designed a custom animated lighting system that informed the unique aesthetic direction of the film.”
A Film by Tim Richardson. Fashion by Iris van Herpen
That virtual environment allowed Richardson and his team to share ideas and build on them in real time, remotely, while also giving them the power to explore van Herpen’s design in ways unavailable to traditional fashion shows and real-world cameras. Unreal allowed the camera to pan over, under, and around OMN1A with a physics-defying freedom that explores the intricate, painstakingly reproduced details of the design, with as much clarity as the world Richardson created around it. 
 
Film by Tim Richardson. Fashion by Iris van Herpen

“Unreal Engine was our stage,” he said of the unique opportunities the engine provided. “Once the production design was complete we began animating our cameras in-engine. This extended to virtual camera sessions where we were able to fully explore the potential of our motion capture performance footage.”
 

Fashion forward, virtually

Neon Rapture establishes a new level of visual fidelity for the myriad forms fashion can take in digital worlds. Whether in the metaverse, multiplayer gaming environments, or other virtual environments and narrative projects—it’s a conversation that’s just getting started.
A Film by Tim Richardson. Fashion by Iris van Herpen
The fashion industry has warmed to the possibilities presented by virtual worlds in recent years by delivering the sort of milestones that would have seemed like the stuff of science-fiction cinema just a short time ago. From Gucci releasing a digital sneaker that can be worn in multiplayer environments, to designer Gary James McQueen holding a digital fashion show, the future of fashion is looking increasingly virtual. The question is where will designers push the medium going forward?

By exploring the storytelling potential of van Herpen’s line, Richardson’s film delivers added value that goes beyond the catwalk to resonate with audiences where the line between physical and virtual worlds has become increasingly blurred.

“My goal for Neon Rapture is that it will become the digital benchmark for fashion,” says Richardson. “It’s the first time haute couture has been fully digitized and based on the original pattern of the designer. This combined with OMN1A, the first photoreal avatar in couture, creates a connection with the emotive and aesthetic aspects of the fashion experience.”

“This is the future,” he added, “and a direction I think will add a deeper connection to the dreamlike fantasies that fashion labels present.”

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