[ Sélène Vilaseca ] – Twelve years ago, I decided to travel from Paris to Buenos Aires, and a few months later, I was hired by an architectural visualization company. I had an architecture degree and I didn’t know much about 3D at that time. This was quite a new world for me and I remember coming upon MIR’ images at the very beginning. They were the ultimate reference at our office, a perfect blend between art and architecture.
In 2023, I’m still captivated by their powerful images and impressed by their ability to constantly reinvent themselves during the last 2 decades.
Mir is a small design studio based in Norway, run by 2 friends, Trond and Mats. They make images for many of the world’s most known architectural studios.
Let’s meet Trond!
Name : Trond Greve ANDERSEN
Birth year : 1979
Country : Norway
Studio : Mir
Position : Co-Founder / CEO
Website : https://www.mir.no/
Hi Trond, it’s truly a pleasure to share and explore different perspectives on the Architecture Visualization world with you. How would you introduce yourself and Mir to someone who doesn’t know anything about 3D visualization?
My experience is that people “on the outside” find our profession quite uninteresting. For 20 years I tried to manufacture an interesting way to talk about my professional life, then I gave up.
I’m curious about the name of the studio. What is the story behind it? How did you pick the name?
Where we are from on the west coast of Norway, we speak with this Edith Piaf kind of R-sound. Rrrrrrrr. The word just floats very good in our mouth. The name was decided at the end of the 1990s at which time we were heavily into this clunky space aesthetics, especially the Russian stuff. We also liked that it meant Peace or Love.
You started Mir with Mats. Your friendship is at the foundation of your company. How do you think Mats would describe you in a few words as a partner and a friend?
That would be too embarrassing for me to answer, so I asked him. Here’s what he wrote: “From my point of view Trond is my symbiotic partner. We share the basic worldview, ethics and intentions, but Trond offers a different perspective and many different skills than me. Trond sees people very well and actively cares about the people around him which is an important component in the company thanks to him. He also looks further ahead on the map, whereas I look at the upcoming turn right in front of us. It’s a great combo. Trond is a great friend and we can talk about all aspects of life, both the positive and negative things.
“Trond is my symbiotic partner.
He sees people very well and actively cares about people around him.“
You graduated from Bergen Academy of Art and Design at Visual communications. Do you think that not having an architecture background has been a fundamental asset in your career, leading you to think out of the box?
I am the kind of person who solves the Rubix Cube by moving around on the stickers. Even if I am not very smart, I know that my mind is more flexible than most, which allows me to find alternative ways. My experience with people who are more intelligent (like most architects) is that they are often very invested in ideas about truth and reality; they want to get things right, to be correct. Smart people are often not willing to fool themselves; for instance with notions about superstition or religion. If I find a way of looking at things beneficial to my own goals I have no problems convincing myself of whatever it might be. Creating my own narratives and believing in them has always been my super power.
“I am the kind of person
who solves the Rubix Cube
by moving around on the stickers. […]
Creating my own narratives
and believing in them
has always been my super power.”
What I perceive from Mir is this refreshing sense of humor. I think it gives a good dose of humbleness to your work, and that is quite uncommon to see in people with your level of professionalism. Is it part of your personality or just an attitude towards life?
We are in a situation where we have to challenge the opinion and taste of our co-workers and clients on a daily basis. This environment of honesty can sometimes be hard and kind of hurtful on people. Humor is a way to sweeten the message. By being light hearted, smiling and keeping eye contact we can show that we have good intent and never act out of malice or selfishness when we oppose thoughts.
Also, when we first started Mir, we realized that for many the creative world was not as much fun as they had imagined. We started this saying that “you have to be extra kind to the hard ones; they need love the most”. It has been a conscious decision to remind people around us that you can smile and do a good job at the same time.
You just released a book, The Mir Way. My congratulations on this new challenge, it looks very interesting and I can’t wait to get my copy! Without spoiling it, can you tell us a little bit about it?
The Mir Way is a book about how we run our studio and about how we think.
Under what circumstances was this project born? When did you feel the need to theorize and share your vision?
I have always theorized and shared. Already as a kid I started making photo albums where I wrote about my friends and everyday life. When I became a teenager I made skateboard movies that were almost like small documentaries. I still write and draw all the time. I think this obsession comes from curiosity and wanting to understand, to dig deeper into things and learn. Me and Mats and also the team have endless discussions about all kinds of theories every day at work. Sometimes it takes over everything and we have to tell each other that we have to shut up and get some work done. When we come up with something that feels true I write it down and often make some drawings to remember it better.
All of a sudden my work desk was covered with piles of Moleskine notebooks. I realized that this could become a book if I combined it with the wonderful images that the team makes.
Who did you write this book for?
Myself maybe? But I also wanted to show my team that they have something to be proud of. And that I am proud of them and what we do together.
What was your intention in publishing The Mir Way?
There really was no intention, I just felt that it had to be done. But now I see that writing down our ideas and showing them to “the world” forces us to invent new things and to move forward, which is a good thing.
I feel like all our community has its eyes on you, wondering what you’ll be doing next, and how you will continue to amaze us with your visuals.
How do you handle the pressure of being “the best” in architecture visualization? How do you maintain for all these years, day after day, this level of quality, dedication and discipline?
Personally I am not even close to being “the best” in archviz. Many of the artists that work and have worked at Mir are much better at making images than me. But it is true that we (Mir) suffer under a certain kind of expectation that we sometimes find it hard to live up to. People remember our best work, and they have never seen the most shitty things we have made. It can keep me awake at night.
I might not be a super strong artist – I am too unpredictable to claim that title- but I do have a strong intuition for how things will be perceived and received. My main role now is to use the legacy we have built with Mir to create a kind of safe playground with few distractions for the artists around me so that they can deliver the quality that Mir is known for.
“People remember our best work, and they have never seen the most shitty things we have made. It can keep me awake at night.”
I love the unique combination in Mir between nature and technology, between the place where you live, where you work and what you’re doing.
This duality is nicely represented in The Mir Way movie : two white silhouettes are moving through an outstanding natural setting. It looks like they are in an initiation, almost spiritual quest.
Metaphorically speaking, is it kind of your quest for the Holy Grail?
Nature is obviously a big part of your daily inspiration. How does this deep-rooted identity affect your approach to visualization?
I didn’t understand how important nature was for me until I started experiencing anxiety attacks. For years I had enormous problems connecting to the world around me because I was afraid of everything. Then some friends invited me to come along on a week-long fishing trip and it changed my life completely. Since then I have spent whatever time I can outdoors.
The Mir Way movie with me and Mats walking around in the forest is not an “artistic” creation. It is how we live our life, walking or running around in exactly that kind of terrain (it is filmed right behind Mats house). I love hanging out in nature, foraging for berries or mushrooms; The Mir Way book is showing how the process of making something is also about finding it.
“The Mir Way book is showing how the process of making something is also about finding it.”
Besides “Nature”, what and who are your sources of inspiration ?
I am very inspired by Mats. We are like different species. I hide my feelings behind an armor of self consciousness while Mats goes to battle naked and vulnerable. We are both easily inspired but I pretend not to be. What attracted me to Mats and to seek him out as a partner for Mir was his raw enthusiasm and willingness to not adjust his meanings and reactions to his audience. Enthusiasm is our common ground, and none of us can stop being inspired or happy to just do stuff; it almost doesn’t matter what we do as long as we do something.
Between the two of us we have the following hobbies that we derive inspiration from:
Downhill biking, trail running, fly fishing, drawing, snowboarding, building race cars and other stuff (Mats has built his own workshop), foraging, food, microbiology, literature, art and fashion, gardening.
We’ve all been through a very dark time with the COVID-19 pandemic. There has been a before and an after for many of us. Uncertainty has taken various forms and has given rise to a cascade of personal and social dimensions.
How has the pandemic impacted Mir? on a human level, the relationship with your clients, the team and the workflow?
It sounds incredibly arrogant and in a sense ungrateful to say so, but the pandemic changed very little for me. I am probably more introverted than most people, so the pandemic came as a nice break. All the things I appreciate the most kept on despite the pandemic; reading books, creating stuff, being outdoors and with my family.
If anything, Covid to me was a reminder that my goal of living a more simple and independent life is actually viable. I think in general we are too dependent on structures that crumble under no weight at all. We are one random virus or Putin away from chaos at any time.
“All the things I appreciate the most kept on despite the pandemic: reading books, creating stuff, being outdoors and with my family.”
The technological advances in hardware and software today allow more people to enter the architectural visualization field with less effort and experience.
Do you feel that our profession is unwittingly in a race against a backdrop of rapid technological progress, requiring us to continually update our skills to stay current?
You have certainly heard about the new Artificial Intelligence programs, like DALL-E 2 or Midjourney : have you tried any of these text-to-image tools? If yes, what is your experience feedback?
Do you think these emerging tools are threatening our profession and digital art in general?
I actually have a running Midjourney subscription that I have to cancel. Thank you for reminding me. AIs are extremely fascinating from a technological perspective, but I find it equally boring. I became an artist because I want to be creative and inventive and figure out things about myself and others. Making images with Midjourney is not more interesting than cleaning the kitchen to me.
That said, this technology is going to change everything about how we make images. I believe that the majority of artists in the archviz game will either be out of jobs or have to integrate with the architect offices within just a few years. I can not see that things will continue to be like it is now, especially in the mid- and lower range of the market. My nostradamus prediction of today is that AIs will find their way into the render engines and then it is game over. Architects will be able to make the most wonderful images of their project without having to deal with annoying artists. I am just praying that there is some room for two old guys and a team of nerds somewhere when that happens.
Ecology is a global concern these days. Are you personally sensitive to environmental issues? What is your studio’s approach to reducing environmental footprint?
My approach to environment issues is to try to build enthusiasm and positivity about life in general and show how nature should be part of the human experience. Inspiration and enthusiasm are important because it makes people act. I hope that reminding people that we live in a beautiful world can get people out of the sofa and get their head out of their own ass.
I believe that it is very limited what we can do as “archviz professionals” to change anything directly. But we refuse to work on obviously violent projects such as Neom, The Qatar Cup and also salmon farming here in Norway. No one should buy Atlantic farmed salmon from open nets. They have made the Wild Salmon an endangered species.
“Inspiration and enthusiasm are important because it makes people act.
I hope that reminding people that we live in a beautiful world
can get people out of the sofa and get their head out of their own ass.”
To conclude, what advice would you give to your younger self?
“You can not be happy and deliver world leading creative work for a long time if you don’t pay attention to the symbiosis between brain and body.”
Interviz #1 – 16.01.2023 by Sélène Vilaseca