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Leonel Mendes ‘Visions Of The Future’ Interview

Leonel Mendes, a young Portuguese illustrator, was recently announced as overall winner of the still-image category in the BBC’s international Visions of the Future competition. His haunting piece was picked by a panel of respected judges including Aardman Animation’s very own BAFTA nominated Director, Steve Harding-Hill:

“The reason I picked this drawing is that I thought it was a stunning, simple, thought-provoking image. The idea of our children being led and blinded by technology. It is a very bleak view of the future and the role of technology in it. I thought it was cold, horrific, powerful, but also it was like satire – it is almost like it has already come true,”. 

Leonel takes some time away from the newly-found spotlight to speak to VoxelArcade about his inspirations and enduring love affair with technology and the future. 

Congratulations on winning the still-image category, Leonel! Probably a daft question, but how do you feel about it all now?!

I’m really happy to have won this competition as I really didn’t expect to! What is really strange though is the fact that people are calling me “the Portuguese man with the best vision of the future”. There is a lot wrong in that sentence! But I shouldn’t be too negative about something so good and fortunate happening to me.

Why do you say it’s wrong to be called that? Is it because you don’t see your vision as the most accurate or that it’s just strange having this much attention on one idea?

It might sound odd but I’m actually bitter about some things. I know I’m not supposed to be frustrated after something good has happened to me and it is kind of hard to explain. Firstly, the illustration was made in 2011 and although a lot of people saw it then, only now is it being acknowledged because of the BBC’s competition. I guess it’s just strange that it should take a competition to get some recognition in the arts! Secondly, the Portuguese press are using the news that I won this competition as a way to ‘show’ that the Portuguese are great and advanced somehow – but we really aren’t! The fact that I am Portuguese had absolutely no effect on the creation of the image – technology affects everyone. Lastly, I guess I feel somewhat invaded and embarrassed by all the attention.

I’m still the same person. It was just their view of me that changed.

Your illustration is a simple and yet harrowing concept. Can you explain to us the thought process behind the piece and how it evolved and developed?

Yes, the illustration is quite simple – it’s in black and white and I think that adds to the effect. The concept is really big, though, with many interpretations. You could say the baby is blind and deaf and technology is guiding him, but to me this is a metaphor for the interaction between human biology and technology.

Americas Winner - Alex Augusto Araujo Martins, Brazil

Americas Winner – Alex Augusto Araujo Martins, Brazil

Do you see this as a literal development? Do you see a world where technology and biology merge as one?

I think that someday the unification between technology and biology might become true. But it might also be a symbiosis, meaning we would never lose our genetic background. This piece’s title is “Richard Dawkins was here”, because I had recently read “The Selfish Gene” and became obsessed by the ‘meme versus gene’ idea. There is always that feeling in my mind that memes will eventually be a living, non-biological organism. But that’s Science fiction for now at least!

How exactly was the illustration made? Is it hand-drawn or made using technology?

I made the two different elements in the piece using two different methods – that also helps to illustrate the concept in a meta-way. The baby was drawn with a regular black pen on paper, representing the natural side of things. The wires and cables were made using Adobe Illustrator. So between the two elements there are some hints at what I was thinking of at the time.

Many pieces in the competition, including your own, feature a dark overtone. Given that the majority of us seem so keen to embrace technology, why the widespread fear?

I’m getting that a lot! People feel like the future is bleak and scary. I actually don’t feel that way. Sure, there will be bad things that happen, but also good!

This piece may have an unsettling effect on people, but when I was working on it, I thought of it in a lighter way. I think of it as a metaphor for something that is already happening. To me something like a simple pair of glasses is technology that is used to enhance biology. And if you consider medicine, phones, computers, cars and other equipment that we as humans need to live, one could say we are already at this point of connection between organic life and technology. So it is not so bleak. The future will be as the present is.

When we get there it will be normal. It’s all a matter of reference and relativity.

Africa and Middle East Winner - Qahtan Ibrahim, Iraq

Africa and Middle East Winner – Qahtan Ibrahim, Iraq

So you could say that the sense of fear is imposed by the viewer, not the creator. Do you think this is perhaps because people worry about their own relationship with technology – that they maybe use it without pause for thought and that your illustration maybe made them stop and think?

I think that is exactly the reason! You are absolutely right! I simply don’t get that fear because I think about the future probably much more than the average person might. Much of my work is based upon the theme of ‘future’ – hundreds of years ahead – so it’s where I feel comfortable. But to others who don’t focus so far ahead – maybe that’s why they feel that it’s somehow a cold and dark message?

How much of yourself do you see in the illustration? Would you class yourself as a digital-native, plugged-in from birth, or do you see this more as a vision of what our children will become?

Its clear that new generations will have a higher degree of interaction with technology and information from the start, but I feel that it’s not bad at all. To me it’s like the second, technological revolution since the first, industrial one.

My own love of technology was forged when I saw Akira by Katsuhiro Otomo and developed when I played Final Fantasy VII. These things seemingly have no true relation with technology as we know it but I was just blown away by the “magic” of technology.

Today, I feel that I have a colder, more rationalised view of the role of technology in the future. I owe a lot of that to “2001 – A Space Odyssey”, because it was one of the only movies about the future that I saw that didn’t use the “oppressed people” or “dark empire” angle. “Ghost in The Shell” is another film that was not afraid to imagine a world where power is distributed.

I think the future could bring true democracy, with both its good and bad points.

We hear that you’re a keen gamer, Leonel, so what games have you been playing lately? What is it about these games that you are most drawn to?

Dude, Minecraft! It’s just an amazing experience, binding people, creating art, teaching programming skills and general principles like tidiness and good manners. There is so much that can be said about this game and the next generation of games that pick up on its legacy will be amazing. Voxel-based randomly generation terrains are something that still has a lot of room to grow, and will be very important in the future.

DayZ is amazing too – and it’s not just a zombie game. When I first played this game with a friend through Skype, I got a surge of adrenaline like I had never experienced before. It was night time by the way, which probably helped! The fact that it is a MOD just makes it even more relevant, because it shows that big producers don’t always know what the consumer wants.

Dark Souls has such a well-balanced feeling of power that is really hard to find in games. The enormous number of weapons and different attack patterns are amazing, and the PVP community, even with all of its hacking on PC, is a demonstration that multiplayer games are key to the future.

The Half-Life legacy is well-known, but Garry’s MOD is amazing. I see the future of gaming having a lot more of these modded, crafting games where the community can just go crazy!

And Journey. It is beautiful. Period.

Europe & Overall Winner - Leonel David Mendes, Portugal

Europe & Overall Winner – Leonel David Mendes, Portugal

Gaming has changed greatly over the last decade with the emergence of the casual gamer, mobile gaming and motion controls. Some traditional gamers don’t seem to approve of this. What’s your take on this ? Where do you think gaming will go next?

I think there is a growing need for ‘no brainer’ games today, and I can see why. Games are an escape, and casual and mobile gaming gives the non-hardcore gamer a chance to appreciate its benefits. And yes, I would argue that there are indeed benefits to playing games!

I think that gaming will only really continue to evolve when we see better use of new peripherals, like motion controls and augmented reality, that completely change the experience, rather than just add to what we already have. So far, they’ve not been put to best use.

Narrative in games is something that we’re extremely passionate about at VoxelArcade, with superb examples such as Bioshock Infinite driving the medium forwards. What’s your personal take on narrative in games?

I’ve been playing Bioshock Infinite with a friend and it’s truly amazing. When we got to the point [SPOILERS] where you have to choose to throw the #77 ball at the couple or at the announcer, I really froze. The racism is a little strong, but people shouldn’t be phased by it. Although it’s an amazing game, I do feel as though racism is used as a bit of a ‘hook’ to shock people and get them talking about it. But, well, so is violence – and it’s a cornerstone of any good, epic drama.

To me, storytelling is the greatest and oldest art. Video games are a somewhat new medium and I feel that they change the way you can tell a story – mostly because of pacing. The player controls pacing. He/she chooses when and where to go, what to do – and to me, that changes everything! I think that there is still some way to go with storytelling in games and I can’t wait to see what happens next!

We understand that you’re developing your own game, Leonel? Can you tell us a little more about it and explain the process that you’re working through?

I certainly am! I’m slowly developing a game of my own called Cogita, but I do lack programming skills! I’m working on it with an American friend of mine via Google Docs – you can see some of our early design work here.

I want to create a game where the player can build a dwelling and, through doing so, learn scientific facts along the way. I’m aiming for a big emphasis on building communities and forging friendships with other players. It’s really in the very first stages of development though and we’re looking for others who are willing to contribute their time and talents!

With our sincerest thanks to Leonel for his time and talents! VA

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Husband. Parent. Gamer. Go figure.

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One Comment

  1. Stunning imagery

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