Thomas Burden’s 3D Typography Looks Real Enough to Touch

Posted in3D Visualization

When considering the fundamentals of typography, a few key elements are typically top of the list: contrast, consistency, alignment, white space, and color are among the heavy hitters. But the age of Cinema4D opens up whole new frontiers of creative dimensionality to access, and for typography, it’s all about texture.

What does a letter feel like? It’s impossible not to ask this question when experiencing the typographic works of UK-based animator, creative director, and 3D artist Thomas Burden. He creates and explores lively worlds of words and letters with textures that look realistic enough to touch.

I’ve previously chatted with another 3D typographer, Noah Camp, about his mesmerizing practice that focuses on capturing the texture of food within his lettering. Burden is dabbling in a similar space, though playing around mostly with synthetic textures like fabric and rubber. I was completely taken by Burden’s creations when I first came upon them, so I had to know more, and he graciously answered a few of my questions below.

How would you describe your personal aesthetic?

My personal aesthetic is mostly Japanese clothing brands that reference vintage British and US designs, which is a fancy way of describing what is essentially a lot of chore coats and work boots that scream “CREATIVE DAD.”

If you’re talking about my work, then that’s a lot more diffuse than my fashion sense— although it is mainly 3D typography these days. 

Where does your love of typography come from?

It comes down to the basic principle that all images are a form of storytelling, and illustrative typography is a real belt-and-braces approach to making a design as accessible as possible to a viewer. 

It’s a kind of a visual song, without sounding too wanky. The way a lyric is sung can really shape and/or emphasize its meaning, and I think good illustrative typography should do the same in an image. That definitely sounds like something someone else has said in the past, so apologies if my subconscious is playing plagiarist. My conscious mind fully agrees with the sentiment though.

Typography is also just the way I think. I’m definitely more of a designer/art director than an artist or illustrator. I like to keep a physical and mental file of visual references, but I only dip into it when I come up with a written concept to start with. All my projects start with written ideas, rather than an image with no concept behind it.

What tools and programs do you use the most for your practice?

I use Cinema4D for pretty much everything, although I use Photoshop, Illustrator, and After Effects on a daily basis too. I’m really wanting to get more into VR and interactive stuff at the moment though, so I’m starting to learn Spline, which is a great tool for simple and satisfying UX interactions. It’s also a great way to put off learning Houdini for a bit longer.

You seem to be drawn to certain types of textures in particular— balloons, squishy rubber, plastic. Why do you gravitate toward creating these textures in your work? What’s your process like for achieving this?

I’m drawn to a lot of different things, and my subconscious is always pulling me in different directions as I take in different inspirations, so I have to force myself to stick to one particular style for extended periods of time, but this is solely for commercial reasons though. As a freelancer, there is always a lot of pressure to specialize in one niche. A while back, I did nothing but neon type for a few years, but I stopped including it in my portfolio, as it was boring me to tears. So at the moment I’m on a squishy tip, which has coincided nicely with a real boom in the squishy type market— mainly because Maxon just made it a whole lot easier to do cloth sims in Cinema4D, and now everyone is doing it. Thus it’s turning up on a lot of moodboards. 

Why 3D animation? What is it about this form of creative expression that captivated you in the first place?

I think it has the most visual impact, especially when the main objective of most design work these days is just to get people to stop scrolling for a few seconds.