Tim John & Martin Schmitz

Page 1

Scenography Design





Cover Henri Nannen Award Giving 2007

You describe your work as sceno­ graphy, what is that? Martin Schmitz: Actually, it’s just being creative in a room. Tim John: Yes, for us it’s like the staging of a room, or a space. It can be a very small space – a postcard you flip up and it has a little room inside, or a whole huge booth for a car brand. Using our particular style, we go into the room and create scenarios and places. So the space itself comes first? Tim: The idea comes first. Then we have to figure out how to do it. Of course it helps if the client comes to us and says, “We have this room, and this product.” But that doesn’t happen every time.

And do the ideas come easily? Tim: It depends from case to case. One day a client calls you, and that same evening you’re standing under the shower when inspiration strikes: “I have the idea!” That’s just five minutes work. Then you bring it into the studio and check it the next day to see if it works or not… Other times, it’s five days of fighting and talking. Then you think “Yeah! We’ve got it.” And five seconds later “Oh no, that’s not it.” There’s an up and down. Sometimes super easy, other times, it’s hard.

Yet you always manage to keep humour in your work. Tim: We create spaces with style and fun. Scenography comes from the theatre originally. From the guy who makes the sets. To be playful and have fun is more based on the theatre than on real life. Martin: We try to tell a story. Well, not exactly tell a story. We build scenes which communicate with the viewer. You don’t look at the decoration alone, you find something you can interpret, or read, or think about. It looks like a dream or it’s just funny. It’s not just the material that talks to you – the scene interacts with the viewer.

Henri Nannen Award Giving 2007

So the viewer is involved, rather than just shown a scene? Tim: I like to make people laugh. When you stand in front of the shop window and there’s the dentist standing next to the homeless person and they both laugh and look at each other, they realise they’re not so different. It brings people together. I love creating these funny little stories. Our booth for Opel in Paris is one where we were able to do that. That looks like a challenge… Martin: Yes, it was huge! The wall at the back of the booth is 52 metres long and 6 metres high. Tim: It took this huge booth-building company 2 months to put the whole thing together. Even at that scale you’ve remained playful. Martin: Yes, we made this game where you can race different types of cars. It’s like at the old fairgrounds where you have those horse racing games. Tim: And in the middle there’s this big mechanical, moving stage. We built a cityscape, a model of Paris.

Martin: But there were some parts which we couldn’t do. There are some windmills left which we wanted to turn, but the money was gone. Tim: We try to dream till the very end! It seems you have a very personal approach. Martin: We try to choose the materials and how we work on the project. That way the project comes from us. When we build it ourselves we control the process of ‘coming alive’ for the design. Do you like to get hands-on straight away? Tim: It’s one of the things I like about the job we do. We have a few weeks at the start of a project, working on the computers, doing the planning. Then we shut down the systems and take our printed plans and start to build with our hands. That’s just so much fun!

For example, when I’m working on my motorcycle. You have an object there in 3 dimensions, so you can see it from all angles. From some perspectives it is just beautiful, but if you change the angle of view just a few degrees, it’s not perfect anymore. It’s not good at all. With 2D you have much greater control. Where does this approach come from? Tim: This 2D to 3D paper toy theatre style comes from my father, who used to build models for the museum and theatre. I learned about this as a boy and recognised there was magic in there. And you’ve become adept at bringing that magic to your own work. Tim: I’m not afraid of taking an old artist and saying “he’s so amazing” let’s take this style and bring it together with this other idea to make something new.

People always want to do their own thing, but there are already so many So your original ideas are expressed in beautiful things in the world. We take interesting ideas, styles, drawings and two dimensions? honour them by combining them with new techniques, bringing their magic to Tim: What we do is start with 2D and something new. make it into a kind of fake 3D. I like starting with 2D a lot. You can make things super perfect. It’s not like working in three dimensions, you can go a long way towards your vision very quickly.

Hermès Vitrines Fall 2013 Germany


Opel Mondial de l’Automobile Paris 2016


There’s this ‘once upon a time’ quality to your work, where does that come from? We are always a little bit in a dream world, and this world is set more in olden times than today! And yet you work with some very up to date brands, Opel for example. Tim: The Opel booth at last year’s Paris Motor show is a good example of how the magic works. They wanted us to bring in people from modern times. But I love people from old photographs. Like from 1910-20. There’s a magic there. However, they wanted modern people, so we tried modern day people. And the magic was gone. Just like that.

Does your process always start in 2D? Do you ever use 3D software? Tim: We like to start work in 2D, so we can be professional and accurate. If you start off 3D you can sit for months working on a sculpture and at the end of all that work, end up with something that’s still not good. But, if you start with a picture, you can take Photoshop and experiment. Take a shoe, make it red, put it under the girl. And say, ‘yes, this is the right shoe’. You can also show the client accurately, within a reasonable time. It makes things more affordable. So is it all about the concept for you? Tim: People are always so into the concept! I had a girlfriend once, who was an artist. She always said, ‘you don’t have a concept…’ And it was true, I didn’t. But, you know, a flower doesn’t need a concept to be beautiful. Of course, it wants to attract the bee, but I think, for me, sometimes you don’t need a concept.

Opel Mondial de l’Automobile Paris 2016

Audi booth at Art Basel Design Miami Basel 2013

It can make people a little rigid. Tim: That’s right. For example, logos always have to be the same… So for Audi, on their booth at Art Basel, we said we wanted to make the Quattro logo out of cardboard. And they said ‘OK’! That looks like a big job too… Tim: Audi came to us late, so we only had 3 months from start to finish. It was a little heavy. Plus, we built it on our own, with the help of just a few friends. Each letter is 2m wide and 90cm deep, with 140 glued layers of cardboard bringing to life their little stories. Is cardboard easy to work with? Tim: The problem was that as we were working, the cardboard was reacting to the weather. If you opened the window to get some fresh air, that let in some humidity. The letters were growing a full 2 centimetres! That was really tough.

Choosing cardboard, where did that come from? Tim: Our professor always warned us – When you know a lot about materials you very soon stop innovating because you think, ‘No, it can’t be done’. The hardest thing is to throw this knowledge away and just be a kid and say, ‘Hey, why don’t we make this whole world out of tiny needles!’ Let’s see how we can do it… Is all that detail cut out by hand? Tim: Our work has a lot of detail. There’s a point at which you have to step back and let a machine do the work. You could spend you entire life cutting things out! So we use a computer controlled machine for the cutting. You send your Photoshop or Illustrator file to the machine, which is like a little drill that cuts out your design from a plate. I could do it with hand scissors but as we have so many ideas, why not use todays techniques since they allow us to do more? If you don’t always start from concepts, how do you come up with the stories you cut into the cardboard? Tim: It’s like, you can draw some lines on a piece of paper, just random lines. Then when you look into the lines you start to

see a face. And you say, hey, this is the nose. The eyes. Then you have a face, you have a special look…

the space, the client. Everything. And also you have the material. You can touch it…

The Audi job started like that, from a picture. You start from a picture and you see a little story in there. Then you pick up that story and you make it into a concept.

Is that connection with things important to you?

There are just so many variables in the real world. How do you get consist­ ently magical results? Tim: We try hard to get everything under control. The lighting, everything. We don’t like to say, ‘Let’s see what the sun does with our objects.’ Because most of the time this just doesn’t work at all. Martin: That’s why we always make models of our design. That must be a critical part of your process. Martin: It is, you can show a model to your client and he can understand you better. They can imagine what it would be like to stand in front of it as a 3 dimensional object. And also, we can check if all the parts work together, as we thought they would. You learn a lot about space and how you work with it. How the light works with it. That’s an important part of our working experience. In model building you find how you react, how the model reacts to

Tim: I come from the GDR, East Germany. And there, you don’t have so many things… so many toys. I remember taking apart my little motor boat to reconstruct the engine. I was always like that. When I was a little older I got into motorbikes and I always took apart the engine and looked at it to see how it worked. I was always learning. You went on to study product design, right? Tim: Yes, here in Hamburg, I studied for 7 years. And while I studied, to get some money, I was working for this guy who had old cinema projectors. I helped him build loops for artists working on 35 mm. I was working full time with materials. That’s also when I got to know Martin. He was always the guy standing on the ladder with a drill already in his hand, while other people were still talking. I liked that. Jumping into the work. Because there’s always guys who have ideas and only talk about them. I always used the time to get into the workshop to build stuff. That has continued since we left college and we’re learning more and more with every project.

Hermès Store Opening Düsseldorf 2015


Hermès Store Opening Düsseldorf 2015



Do individual projects evolve while you’re working on them?

Lighting must be a tough one to get right.

Can you predict what kind of work you’ll get next?

Martin: I think it’s always a process. Especially in the building. You find out that you have to do something differently because the construction demands it. Or it looks different to how you imagined.

Tim: This Opel project, that couldn’t have been done 20 years ago, because there were no LEDs.

Tim: No, it’s really random. Of course, people ask in September for something that will appear at Christmas so you know that’s coming. But, equally, someone could ask us a year in advance for big booth at a car show. It’s completely random.

Even when you think ‘That’s the perfect idea, come on let’s do it!’ Even then, we see things where we can make changes that will improve the end product. That’s why we always try to do the production ourselves, because you learn a lot and you can control the end result much more tightly.

We had to colour every flower, get different green modes that were just right. Not too blue but not too juicy, end of summer. There’s this thin line between end of spring and summer. You don’t want to be too cold, or too warm. It’s a fun thing to learn about.

In 2015 we had a lot of shop windows and wanted to do something big again. Then in 2016 we took on the Opel booth in Paris, that took something like 9 months! What do you look for in the projects you take on? Tim: There is a feeling that if you do too many shop windows you need to do something big again. Windows are small and our client does jewellery. They have a lot of brands in the window so the space you have left for creativity can sometimes be very small. So we think we need too do something big again. But now, since we did the Opel project, which was 2000 sq m. Something like that. That was big enough for the next few months, so we can do something small again.

Breuninger Flagship Store Christmas 2010

Breuninger Flagship Store Christmas 2009



Like the windows you’ve done for Hermès. How did those come about? Tim: That’s a funny story. When I was just setting up the studio, I read an article about Paul Smith. I was so impressed by this guy who was so funny and sharp. I said ‘I have to work for Paul Smith.’ I made a little model of a boat with some old guys on it. On the roof they have a Paul Smith shoe and from the side comes in a lady’s hand, holding an umbrella over the shoe because it’s raining. So you have this little Monty Python scene. I worked for one month solid.

Did you contact him up front? Tim: I didn’t call him or anything. I just put it into a package and sent it to him. A few days later I got a letter from him, hand written. He said ‘This is amazing, please come and visit me for a cup of tea.’ So I flew to London and visited him for an hour. We had a laugh together, but he said straight away he didn’t have a job for me. ‘But I love the style and I a have a friend who’s working for Hermès in Paris. I’m going to show him what you’ve done.’

And then in 2013 Hermès came a calling? Tim: That was in Munich and all stores across Germany. I did a model with a little motor inside. I built the circular theatre to turn, presented it to Hermès, and they liked it a lot. What happens to all those little worlds you create when the show’s over? Tim: Everything is so specific that we can’t use it elsewhere. It’s always for a special moment. So, mostly, I think it goes into storage for a few years then they trash it! It’s a sad story.

Proposal Paul Smith Shop Vitrines 2010

You can’t take it home with you?

So you’re always looking forward?

Tim: I like to get rid of all the stuff as it allows my mind to become free again. If we kept everything in our little ­workshop it would be stuffed full of old things.

Tim: If people come up to me and say, ‘That’s really great work.’ I can never see it. I just see the faults. I stand there and say ‘come on we can really get it better. We have to go back to the workshop and improve it!’

My aunt, she has all these old pictures she’s painted. I think she should get rid of them, move them out of sight and start with a clean slate. The old is yesterday. I always look back and just see the things we could do better. I want to do new things, better. Martin: We keep the models to remember things by.

I don’t think we’ll ever be finished learning. From one job to the next you see something and think, okay, next time we have to do better.

And what can we look forward to seeing from you next? Well, a guy came to me about making a museum based on the Brothers Grimm, here in Hamburg. That’s a very exciting project. So, hopefully, next year we’ll be making some fairytale story scenes.



01 CHRISTOPH NIEMANN Illustration 02 MICHEL MALLARD Creative Direction 03 FUN FACTORY Product Design 04 ANDREAS UEBELE Signage Design 05 HARRI PECCINOTTI Photography 06 KUSTAA SAKSI Illustration 07 5.5 DESIGNERS Product Design 08 NIKLAUS TROXLER Graphic Design 09 JOACHIM SAUTER Media Design 10 MICHAEL JOHNSON Graphic Design 11 ELVIS POMPILIO Fashion Design 12 STEFAN DIEZ Industrial Design 13 CHRISTIAN SCHNEIDER Sound Design 14 MARIO LOMBARDO Editorial Design 15 SAM HECHT Industrial Design 16 SONJA STUMMERER & MARTIN HABLESREITER Food Design 17 LERNERT & SANDER Art & Design 18 MURAT GÜNAK Automotive Design 19 NICOLAS BOURQUIN Editorial Design 20 SISSEL TOLAAS Scent Design 21 CHRISTOPHE PILLET Product Design 22 MIRKO BORSCHE Editorial Design 23 PAUL PRIESTMAN Transportation Design 24 BRUCE DUCKWORTH Packaging Design 25 ERIK SPIEKERMANN Graphic Design 26 KLAUS-PETER SIEMSSEN Light Design 27 EDUARDO AIRES Corporate Design 28 PHILIPPE APELOIG Graphic Design 29 A LEXANDRA MURRAY-LESLIE High Techne Fashion Design 30 PLEIX Video & Installation Design 31 LA FILLE D'O Fashion Design 32 RUEDI BAUR Graphic Design 33 ROMAIN URHAUSEN Product design 34 MR BINGO Illustration design 35 KIKI VAN EIJK Product Design 36 JEAN-PAUL LESPAGNARD Fashion Design 37 PE’L SCHLECHTER Graphic Design

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with Carrérotondes asbl MAPPING AUGUST. An Infographic Challenge


PUBLISHER Design Friends COORDINATION Heike Fries LAYOUT Sebastian Reiter INTERVIEW Mark Penfold PRINT Imprimerie Schlimé PRINT RUN 500 (Limited edition) ISBN 978-99959-947-9-2 PRICE 5 € DESIGN FRIENDS Association sans but lucratif (Luxembourg) BOARDMEMBERS Nadine Clemens (President) Mike Koedinger (Vice-president) Anabel Witry (Secretary) Guido Kröger (Treasurer) COUNSELORS Heike Fries, Silvano Vidale This catalogue is published for Tim John's & Martin Schmitz’s lecture at Mudam Luxembourg on March 22, 2017, organized by Design Friends. PUBLISHED WITH THE SUPPORT OF


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